Friday, November 19, 2010

The Jig Is Up

On Wednesday, the unelected Senate -- that chamber of "sober second thought" -- killed a climate change bill which had been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. Its demise was made possible because the Prime Minister did precisely what he had fumed about in the past: he packed the Upper Chamber with his own partisans.

Liberal senators did not call for a vote to pass the bill. They voted to bring it to the floor for debate. The Conservatives simply killed the bill. The Prime Minister made no attempt to defend the tactic. He condemned the bill as a job killer. And he reaffirmed that his government's environmental policy was to wait until the Americans decided to act on that file.

The vote will not go down in history as a profile in courage. But, since its inception, this government has acted like a gang of school yard bullies. One does not look to them them for courage. However, the vote again illustrated that this Prime Minister and his minions are no democrats. During the previous week -- in yet another illustration of his faith in autocracy -- Mr. Harper announced that the policy of extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is an executive decision. Parliament, he said, could debate the decision; but it had no right to vote on it.

This is the same man who prorogued Parliament twice in the last four years. On both occasions, he was on the ropes. If votes of confidence had been allowed to proceed, his government would have fallen. This is the man who sneered when Jack Layton suggested talking with the Taliban -- the very policy which is now being pursued. This is the prime minister who dismissed as spineless the Liberal suggestion that the Canadian mission to Afghanistan be extended in order to establish the foundations of a civil society in that woe begotten corner of the globe. The Prime Minister's hypocrisy is stunning.

It is abundantly clear that Stephen Harper's word is worthless. It is the Canadian equivalent of monopoly money. Jim Prentice understood that his mission as the Minister of the Environment was to do nothing. He decided to go to where the real money is. It's beginning to look like Peter Mackay is ready to return his property to the bank and leave the game.

Consider who will be left: John Baird -- full of sound and fury -- can claim no great legislative achievements. Jim Fahlerty's record is depressingly consistent: as both a provincial and a federal Minister of Finance, he has left mountains of debt in his wake. And Tony Clement has proved that he can dance to whatever tune the prime minister chooses. He simply can't compose one of his own.

The Harper government has managed to survive. But it has run from every challenge -- until the United States has acted. And then it has chimed in with a timorous "Me, too." It has marked time. The jig is up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Looking Back In Sadness

I have, on more than one occasion, expressed my admiration for the work of James Travers. On this Remembrance Day, he wrote of his father who "learned to be a soldier at Kingston's Royal Military College" and his uncle who "died soon after wearing pilot's wings for the first time."

They would, he wrote, not recognize the Canada of 2010. "They wouldn't understand a country where patriotism is partisan, where men and women in uniform are used as political props or where death and sports are shamelessly conflated on Hockey Night in Canada."

For we have become a mean spirited country and -- according to the prime minister -- we have done it as a matter of principle. But, as Lawrence Martin made clear this week, the prime minister's principles are pure piffle -- whether they be government accountability, fiscal frugality, a firm commitment to an end date in Afghanistan, or the free market sale of Canadian assets like potash.

Many of us never accepted those principles. What is remarkable is that Harper is still selling himself as a Conservative. For the truth is that he is no such thing. His convictions are totally malleable and are easily altered by his quest for power.

He seems to have befuddled Canadians. But the rest of the world has his number. Under Harper's leadership, Travers wrote:
Canada fell from global grace because it is no longer a modest but constant light among nations. Rather than holding steady, it flickers in the gusting winds of great challenges -- among them Arab Israeli peace, African poverty and climate change -- that are to this generation what world wars were to our parents and grandparents.

Canada, like its prime minister, has become puffed up by its own self importance. It is worth remembering that we used to be a much different -- and a much better -- country.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Victory for Wooden-headedness

In the week the Republican Party took back control of the House of Representatives, Richard Cohen weighed in on the subject of Sarah Palin: "The fierce stupidity of this woman," he wrote, "is hard to comprehend. It is the well from which she draws her political sustenance." It's obvious that many Americans have been drinking from the same well.

The historian Barbara Tuchman had another term for the Palin Effect. In The March of Folly, she defined "wooden-headedness," as "the source of self deception:"

It consists [she wrote] in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring and rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

For the simple truth is that the mess Mr. Obama inherited will take more than two years to clean up; and the Republican objective -- stated with laser like clarity by Mitch McConnell -- is to make Obama a one term president.

When John Boehner says that his priorities are the "peoples' priorities" one must ask, "Which people?" That is what the mid-term elections were all about -- which people will be served. The Republicans have been very successful over the last thirty years in convincing common folk that the priorities of the wealthy are their priorities -- even though the facts point to a much different conclusion.

At the end of his life, Mark Twain -- who, like modern American voters, had no respect for Congress -- concluded that there was little hope for "the damned human race." Thornton Wilder was a little more charitable."Wherever you come near the human race," said the stage manager in Our Town, "there's layers and layers of nonsense."

Rand Paul declared last night that he and his ilk have arrived to take back the country. It will be interesting -- and truly sad -- to see what they do to it.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mad As Hell

James Travers is one of the most astute political analysts in Canada. Writing in The Toronto Star on Thursday, he observed that voter anger in both Canada and the United States is fueled "more by disillusionment than by ideology." Sifting through the entrails of Ontario's municipal elections -- particularly Rob Ford's storming of Toronto's mayoral barricades -- he wrote:

Seeping north from our stricken southern neighbour is the slow realization that the great political divide is no longer between right-leaning conservatives and left-leaning liberals. What now separates elites from the madding crowd is optimism and pessimism, secure pensions and vanishing jobs and, most of all, privileged access to a system that can be so profitably gamed.

The Tea Party crowd -- and we have them north of the border, too -- is appallingly ignorant of their countries' constitutions. In the United States, Christine O'Donnell questions the separation of church and state. In Canada, a right wing rump believes we elect a Prime Minister, not a local member of the national legislature. They do not understand that, when the government loses the confidence of the house, another party or parties can assume power without an election.

Travers rightly traces a line between Pierre Elliott Trudeau's concentration of power in the office of the Prime Minister -- largely a response to the October Crisis of 1970 -- to Jean Chretien's benevolent dictatorship through to Stephen Harper's pursuit of a majority at any cost.

Lost along the way was trust in a system that, despite its many faults, could once be counted on to act in the best interest of most citizens, most of the time. Growing in the vacuum created by lies, fraud and countless broken promises is the acidic judgment that parties are guided by self interest and the powerful few who whisper in their ear.

Voters are mad as hell. They understand that the game is fixed. But, if that anger is married to ignorance, we will all be worse off than we are. Next week's election in the United States -- and the coming election in Canada -- will be more than referendums on the politics of the present. They will, indeed, be tests of the wisdom of the people. For, when all is said and done, the old saw is still true: we get the politicians we deserve.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Learning Nothing from History

Back in the last century, when I taught high school in the Province of Quebec, the Ministry of Education insisted that every student take Canadian History. But there was no requirement that every student pass the course.

That memory came to mind on Friday, when I read Paul Krugman's column in The New York Times. On the subject of the British government's new austerity measures, Krugman wrote:

Both the new British budget announced on Wednesday and the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement might have come straight from the desk of Andrew Mellon, the Treasury Secretary who told Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression by liquidating the farmers, liquidating the workers, and driving down wages. Or if you prefer more British precedents, it echoes the Snowden budget of 1931 which tried to restore confidence but ended up deepening the economic crisis.

So too were there significant historical cautions about invading Afghanistan -- from Alexander the Great, to Great Britain, to the Soviet Union. If there is one thing that marks Western political elites, it is their appalling ignorance of history. And it is that ignorance which led Krugman to declare that:

Maybe Britain will get lucky and something will come along to rescue the economy. But the best guess is that Britain in 2011 will look like Britain in 1931, or the United States in 1937, or Japan in 1997. That is, premature fiscal austerity will lead to a renewed economic slump. As always, those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Harry Truman said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." That's why the Quebec Ministry of Education's insistence that every student take history but not pass it was so woodenheaded. I'm beginning to wonder if the same rule applied in several international jurisdictions.

And, lest Canadians begin to feel smug about their own situation, they should remember that the Harper government plans to turn off the stimulus taps in March, 2011. In fact, at last summer's G20 Conference in Toronto, the Prime Minister worked hard to get members to accept the very policy which he and Mr. Cameron plan to follow.

The lemmings are on the march.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Search of Sanity

Perhaps Frank Rich is right. Sanity will not return to American politics until there is "a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis." Until then, he wrote in Sunday's New York Times:

Don't expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day -- no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they'll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. . . Not for the first time in history -- and not just American history -- fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial "elites."

Even if Republicans regain control of both houses, Barack Obama will still be president on November 3rd. What will he do? What should he have done before Americans reached this crossroads? In the most recent edition of The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky wrote an extremely perceptive analysis of what has gone wrong for the Democrats:

In American politics, Republicans routinely speak in broad themes and tend to blur the details, while Democrats typically ignore broad themes and focus on details. Republicans, for example, routinely speak of "liberty" and "freedom" and couch practically all their initiatives -- tax cuts, deregulation, and so forth -- within these large categories. Democrats, on the other hand, talk more about specific programs and policies and steer clear of big themes.
What Democrats have typically not done well since Reagan's time is to connect their policies to their larger beliefs. In fact they have usually tried to hide those beliefs, or change the conversation when the subject arose. The result has been for many years that the Republicans have been able to present their philosophy as somehow truly "American," while attacking the Democratic belief system as contrary to American values.

Many commentators have noted that, while Ronald Reagan sought to repeal much of what Roosevelt put in place, his leadership template came straight from Roosevelt. President Obama will have to face whatever the storm leaves behind on November 3rd. In preparing for the aftermath, he could do worse than to return to Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech -- delivered a month after Pearl Harbor. In that address, Roosevelt enumerated what he saw as the four essentials -- not just for Americans, but for all human beings:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want -- which translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which translated into world terms, means a world reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit a physical act of aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world. This is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our time and our generation.That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Roosevelt's speech married vision and and poetry -- something Obama did during the 2008 campaign -- but something he has not done in office and something he is not doing now. The President has often expressed his admiration for Mr. Lincoln. One hopes he has the same admiration for Mr. Roosevelt. And one hopes that Roosevelt will act as a muse as Mr. Obama addresses his nation in the future.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

He Didn't See It Coming

"If any Canadian woke up this morning," Robert Silver wrote in yesterday's Globe and Mail, "still under the mistaken impression that Stephen Harper is some kind of political strategic genius, surely to God the result of the UN Security Council vote has put that once trendy canard to rest once and for all."

Canada was rewarded yesterday with the same kind of shrug Mr. Harper has shown the United Nations during his entire time in office. His two speeches in the last couple of weeks marked the first time he had addressed the UN since he first came to office in 2006. During the last UN Climate Conference he was conspicuously absent. And he has pointedly let it be known that his time is better spent chatting up the locals at a northern Tim Horton's.

The Harperites reacted to their defeat by claiming the members of the General Assembly are less "principled" than the Government of Canada. But, once again, Silver had their number:

I say other than unwavering support for Israel and indifference towards Africa, can you articulate those unpopular but principled positions? Moreover, did those principled positions suddenly become popular in the last 24 hours in a quickly shifting public opinion environment? Surely Harper had some clue before the vote that Canada's foreign policy couldn't carry two thirds of the countries?

And that is the point. The Prime Minister didn't see it coming -- just as he didn't see the Great Recession coming. When he was re-elected, he forecast a "small surplus." On the day Canada's bid for a Security Council seat failed, Jim Flaherty announced the biggest annual deficit in Canadian history -- $55 billion. And historians pointed out it was 63 years ago to the day that Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to defuse the Suez Crisis.

The day after the Security Council defeat, Allen Gottlieb -- who served both Conservative and Liberal prime ministers in Washington -- noted how the Foreign Affairs Department, located in the building which bears Pearson's name, has slipped into obscurity during the Harper years:

In Ottawa, power and influence have shifted away from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council. Afghanistan and climate change are handled by agencies outside of Foreign Affairs. Three deputy ministers report directly to the Prime Minister on foreign and national security affairs.

And, of course, the Harperites blamed Michael Ignatieff for the loss. "Not being able to speak with one voice as a country had a negative impact on Canada's bid," said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. That statement completely ignored the letter which Harper sent to The Wall Street Journal after Jean Chretien politely refused to join George W. Bush's Coalition of the Willing: "For the first time in history," Harper wrote, "the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need." He was certain that Canadians were on his side; they were, he said, "overwhelmingly with us." Such was not the case. Once again, he missed the boat.

The Tory propaganda machine has told us repeatedly that the Prime Minister is blindingly brilliant. It becomes more apparent with each passing day that Mr. Harper is simply blind. The General Assembly served notice yesterday that they get it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This Angry Season

In the United States, the conventional wisdom holds that, when the nation is on the wrong track, "we the people" will set it right. It's a comforting thought. But, in this angry season, one must ask if that axiom is always true. There is a pathological quality to much of the anger one sees and hears these days. When Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Carl Paladino keep returning to the refrain that Americans are mad as hell, it is worth remembering the late Lee Atwater's explanation of how the so called "Southern Strategy" worked:

You start out in 1954 saying 'Nigger, Nigger, Nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a by product of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. . .' We want to cut this' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'nigger, nigger.'

Given the assertions that President Obama is a Muslim alien and Kenyan anti-colonialist, one wonders how much of the anger stems from an unemployment rate of 9.6%, and how much of it is a socially sanctioned way to yell, "nigger, nigger."

I do not wish to minimize the legitimate anger Americans feel towards those from both parties whose faith in unregulated capitalism has led to the loss of their homes and their jobs. Those whose 99 weeks of unemployment insurance have expired are in a particularly precarious position. Their fury is completely understandable. But, when Rand Paul muses that he might not have voted for the Civil Rights Act, and when those protesting the recently passed health care bill throw the "N" epithet at people like John Lewis, it is clear that there is more than unemployment behind their rage.

Moreover, when people like retired Utah Supreme Court Justice A.H. Ellett argue for the repeal of the 13th, 14 and 15th Amendments to the Constitution -- the so called "Reconstruction Amendments" -- you know there is a lot more in the mix that just joblessness. Justice Ellett wrote:

The validity, or should we say the invalidity, of the Civil War Amendments is very important to reinstating the inalienable rights of free white citizens of the United States of America. At every juncture where the government of the United States of America and/or the governments of the several States attempt to usurp inalienable rights, the Civil War amendments are ultimately claimed to be the authority for such deprivations of rights.

And precisely what right or rights have those amendments breached? Before 1865, white Americans were immune African American political influence. Ellet pulls no punches. In his view, the Constitution was desecrated by the extension of the franchise -- and the right to hold office -- to America's citizens of color. Before the Civil War:

. . . only White State citizens held the privileges and immunities known to Article IV, Section 2 among the several States, and no State could confer that Constitutional protection on any other race. In consequence thereof, the "also" could not authorize a "non white" to be an Officer of the United States government.

Two years ago, when Barack Obama was elected president, a significant majority of Americans were euphoric that their country had finally torn down its most significant barrier. At the same time, a significant minority ground their teeth in disgust. How much of the angry rhetoric comes from those who not only want to repeal the New Deal but who also want to repeal the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments?

This November, Americans will be asked to distinguish between legitimate anger -- which is an extension of their economic situation -- and an illness which is as old as the Republic itself. Their choice will ultimately prove the truth or falsehood of the conventional wisdom.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

When Ignorance Is King

Last week, Peter Mackay decided to rescind an invitation to Zijad Delic -- the Executive Director of the Canadian Islamic Congress -- from a defence department event marking Islamic History Month. His reason for taking back the invitation was that Delic's predecessor, Mohamed Elmasry, had proclaimed publicly that Israeli soldiers of 18 were fair targets for suicide bombers because they were "not innocent." When Zelic assumed the leadership of the CIC, he pointedly disavowed those comments.

James Travers noted in Tuesday's Toronto Star that:

Elmasry's comments pushed a couple of closely connected political hot buttons. Stephen Harper's Middle East policy skews hard to Israel and a Christian fringe firmly in the Conservative camp believes there's a connection between the restoration of Israel's biblical borders and the rapturous return of Christ.

These are the same people who firmly believe that Bishop James Usher correctly determined that the Almighty began creation on "the night preceding Sunday 23 October, 4004 B.C." Modern science has turned Bishop Usher into a laughing stock. MacKay's decision should have turned him into a laughing stock. Instead, it sowed more seeds of division and stoked the anger of Canadian Muslims, not to mention Muslims around the world.

One would think that public reaction to the prorogation of Parliament -- and the universal condemnation the government faced when it decided to deep six the long census form -- would cause the Harper Party to think twice about such obviously volatile decisions. But they have had no such epiphany.

These folks must believe that God is on their side -- or perhaps they are simply stupid. But, as Lawrence Martin's recently released book Harperland makes clear, these decisions can be traced back directly to the Prime Minister himself. As Don Martin wrote in his review of the book, "There's no absence of malice in this prime minister's political conduct. At times, malice is all there is . . ."

Malice is the handmaid of Ignorance. Any nation which chooses to put Ignorance in the driver's seat is in deep trouble.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Whose Populism?

As tens of thousands of Americans gathered on the National Mall this past weekend, Frank Rich -- in the New York Times -- warned them and their supporters not to underestimate the "useful idiocy" of the Tea Party's most recent star, Christine O'Donnell. For comedians -- particularly Bill Mahar -- she is the gift which keeps on giving. But, Rich wrote:

O'Donnell is particularly needed now because most of the other Republican Tea Party standard bearers lack genuine anti-government or proletarian cred. Joe Miller and Ken Buck, the Senate candidates in Alaska and Colorado, actually are graduates of elite universities like those O'Donnell lied about attending. Rick Scott, the populist running for governor of Florida, was chief executive of a health care corporation that scooped up so many Medicare and Medicaid payments, it had to settle charges for defrauding taxpayers. Rand Paul, the scion of a congressman, is an ophthalmologist whose calls for spending restraint don't extend to his own Medicare income. Carl Paladino, the truculent man of the people of New York, grew his fortune as a developer with government handouts and favors. His California bookend, Carly Fiorina, received a golden parachute worth as much as $42 million from Hewlett-Packard, where she liquidated 20 thousand jobs.

O'Donnell, on the other hand, claims that her income for the last two years has been $5,800. That information -- like her assertion that she attended Oxford University -- may be a figment of her overactive imagination. But she is the only Tea Party candidate who appears to be lower middle class. Like the Gary Cooper character in Frank Capra's film, Meet John Doe, she is the perfect dupe for the sugar daddies -- as detailed by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker -- who are funding a pseudo populist rebellion.

The rally on the Mall was a late and desperate attempt to generate another kind of populism. Its target audience was the disenchanted progressives who are angry that health care did not include a public option and that American troops are still in Afghanistan. If they sit this election out, it's clear that -- while the change Obama has brought may not be the change they believed in -- the Republicans will ensure that there is no change at all.

Rich's colleague, Bob Herbert, wrote again on Saturday that what the country needs is real populism:

One in five American kids was living in poverty in 2009. Across the country, once solidly middle class families are lining up at food pantries and soup kitchens for groceries or a hot meal. In New York City, a startling indicator of the continuing economic crisis is the rise in the number of homes that don't have kitchens.

O'Donnell would seem to fit that profile. If, like John Doe in the Capra film, she would turn on her benefactors and explain what they stood to gain by the return of Republicans to power, she would -- despite all her other foolish statements -- gain some credibility. But don't count on it.

Despite the elaborate subterfuge, John Boehner let the cat out of the bag last Friday. "We are not," he said, "going to be any different than we've been." That statement should convince all sorts of disillusioned Democrats to go to the track and start placing their bets.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spinning the Absurd

"The Harper government's spin machine," Jeffrey Simpson wrote this week, "is so pervasive and over the top, daily exposure leads to the dilemma of laughing or crying." This is particularly true when the propagandists assume their usual self congratulatory tone and trumpet claims about Canada which are clearly untrue:

As in, Canada is "a clean energy superpower," a claim demonstrably false by any conceivable international measure. As in, Canada is "a free trade leader," a claim belied, among other yardsticks, by being shut out of the Pacific trade talks and being an obstacle to a deal at the World Trade Organization, both courtesy of agricultural supply management. As in, Canada is an economic model for debt management, a claim destroyed last week by the OECD, which lumped personal, provincial and federal debt together and showed Canada to be among the most indebted of member countries.

The Harper crew is nothing if not boastful. But the party line in defence of the purchase of new F-35 fighter jets has taken spinning the absurd to a new level. The new mantra is that we need the jets to defend ourselves from a Russian attack. Thus, we were told that our old CF 18's recently convinced a Russian bomber -- a prop driven aircraft which has been flying patrols in international air space since the beginning of the Cold War -- to head back home, as it has been doing for fifty years.

The story has all the ear marks of little boys showing the other kids in the neighbourhood their new toys -- a clear case of "Mine is bigger than yours." It should be funny. But, in truth, it's offensive. In both Canada and the United States we have elected leaders who have no experience of war. This writer is among those who have not known combat. And, while I would not wish that experience on anyone, it's clear to me that those who have been caught in the middle of a war have a much different mindset than those who now give the orders to dispatch soldiers around the world.

My father's generation -- those who managed to come home from World War II -- were not boastful. They lost spouses, family members and friends to bigger and better weapons. They understood war in terms of human cost and human loss. They saw human cruelty up close. And, having been there, they did not want to return. When he came home, my father refused to keep a gun in the house, saying he had had enough of them during the war. And, he said, he owed his survival to "pure dumb luck."

He passed away last year -- having voted for the Harper government in 2006. But I cannot imagine that he would nod approvingly at the PMO's latest absurdity. He had the kind of experience which is beyond the comprehension of Mr. Harper his silly band of patriots.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Marching Toward Insanity

On Thursday, outside a hardware store in suburban Washington, the Republicans unveiled their platform for the midterm election, calling their document A Pledge to America. The prologue was full of traditional Republican boilerplate:

We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty, wider opportunity, a robust defense, and national economic prosperity.
We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life and the private and faith based organizations that form the core of our American values.

The problem -- as with any political platform -- is that the devil is in the details. And a close reading of "The Pledge" reveals that Republicans, indeed, plan to give the devil his due. Specifically, they propose to:

1. Roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving at least $100 billion dollars in the first year alone.
2. Repeal and replace the government take over of health care.
3. Make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

There is a great deal in the document about the tyranny of big government. But, as Paul Krugman points out, the Republican platform is essentially a "war on arithmetic:"

The document repeatedly condemns federal debt -- 16 times by my account. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade -- about $700 billion more than the Obama administration's tax proposals.

There is a legitimate argument to be made about when the Bush tax cuts should be phased out. And it bears repeating that the plan was, indeed, to phase them out. But what Republicans really want is to enter a time warp -- to return to a time when the Bush economic program was in place, and when there was no national health insurance program.

However, they want more than that: they want to privatize social security. Taking their cue from former House Leader Dick Armey, a number of Republican candidates now refer to Social Security as a "ponzi scheme." Not only do they want to roll back Obamacare. They want to roll back the New Deal.

Never mind that the financial meltdown of 2008 proved exactly why Social Security should not be privatized. Never mind that Bush's own advisers warned that the cost of administering a private social security program would rise from 0.9% to 5%. That is all minutiae. The real problem, they say, is government.

That was Ronald Reagan's line. We now have thirty years of data on the success of Reagan's experiment. Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." What "The Pledge" makes clear is that losing the 2008 election has driven the Republican Party crazy.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Harry Knew and Stephen Doesn't

As the government's attempt to scrap the long gun registry goes down to defeat, it is already plotting its next move. Having erected billboards in the ridings of MP's who previously voted against the registry, it is now revving up its election rhetoric, claiming that the death of the registry is an example of what would happen if Canada was governed by "a separatist coalition."

In a speech at the Chateau Laurier yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty began fanning the flames of paranoia. He has given this speech before:

Under an Ignatieff-NDP-Bloc Quebecois government, nothing would be safe. No part of our economy would be spared. No taxpayer would avoid the hit. Any coalition that would give the NDP access to taxpayer's wallets should strike fear in regular Canadians. What's more, any coalition that would give a veto on national policy to a party dedicated to the break up of our country is unacceptable.
A review of recent history reveals that the Harper government recognized Quebec as "a nation within a nation." A review of more ancient history reveals that less than fifty years ago -- when the country elected successive minority governments -- Parliament brought in the Canada Pension Plan, Medicare and a Canadian flag. These achievements required cooperation.

Both Mr. Layton and Mr. Ignatieff have suggested that all parties work to fix the weaknesses in the registry. But Mr. Harper and company are a peculiar species. They appear to have been born without a cooperative gene in their bodies. More importantly, they appear to have no sense of history. And, therefore, they are ill equipped to face the future.

Harry Truman said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." If there is one thing that is striking about the Harperites, it is how rarely they refer to historical precedent. Their ignorance of history goes a long way to explain their inability to make inroads in Quebec. That ignorance -- and Mr. Harper's appalling people skills -- are the reasons he leads a minority government.

Deborah Grey once said of the Prime Minister, "People skills? He was more fond of policy. Constituency work seemed like a grind to him." Like Richard Nixon, he is an introvert who is deeply suspicious of those around him. He sees opponents as enemies; and the paranoia his mistrust breeds makes cooperation with them impossible.

When it came to Richard Nixon, President Truman did not mince words: "Richard Nixon is a no good lying bastard," he said. "He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in."

It's clear that, in the coming election, the government will try to scare voters to death. If Canadians have a sense of history -- and if they remember what happened to Richard Nixon -- they will send Mr. Harper and company to the opposition benches.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When Lunacy Masquerades As Scholarship

In the most recent edition of Forbes Magazine, Dinesh D'Souza writes that "Barack Obama is the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history." Given the renewed health of Wall Street and the fact that General Motors is once again turning a profit, D'Souza's assertion is certainly suspect.

But even more suspect is what Newt Gingrich has called D'Souza's "stunning insight" into Obama's character. D'Souza, claims that -- you've heard this one before -- the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. He first paints a scurrilous portrait of the president's father. "So who was Barack Obama Sr?" he asks:

He was a Luo tribesman who grew up in Kenya and studied at Harvard. He was a polygamist who had, over the course of his lifetime, four wives and eight children. One of his sons, Mark Obama, has accused him of abuse and wife beating. He was also a regular drunk driver who got into numerous accidents, killing a man in one and causing his own legs to be amputated due to injury in another. In 1982 he got drunk in a bar in Nairobi and drove into a tree, killing himself.

The president is not the first man to have had a no count for a father. He's certainly not the first president who has risen from less than auspicious circumstances. President Reagan's father had a less than healthy taste for strong brew. And President Clinton's stepfather -- whose name Clinton bears -- could be, we are told, a very hard man. None of us gets to choose our parents.

But having maligned the senior Obama, D'Sousa then goes on to assert that the president is living out his father's frustrated dreams. Like his father, D'Sousa writes, the president is an anti-colonialist:

From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

These assertions seem to be directly at odds with Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. But D'Souza simply ignores Afghanistan. In fact, the whole article ignores facts which contradict its central assertions. It is an example of argument from innuendo; and, as scholarship, it is pure bunk.

Mr. D'Souza is a graduate of Dartmouth. He is currently president of King's College in New York City. Mr. Gingrich holds a doctorate from Tulane. Both men are reputedly smart fellows. One wonders. . .

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Failed Elite

"What is a failed elite?" John Ralston Saul asks in his most recent book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. He then answers his own question:

One afraid of ideas, afraid to talk to the citizenry through ideas, afraid to encourage the wide discussion of ideas in order to find the basis for its actions, unable to act except in a veiled or populist manner, afraid of the idea of power except as an expression of interests. A failed elite would rather sell than buy, rather trade in wealth than create it. They would rather be employees than owners, managers than risk takers. Some people believe that elites fail because of their particular ideology. But ideologies are usually the refuge of the fearful.

When looking back on the four years since the Harper government came to power, it is remarkable to note how its prime directive has been fear: fear of debt; fear of "unreported crime;" fear of the other -- whether they be Tamils, Muslims or "a separatist coalition."

They are not the only failed elite. Much the same can be said of the Opposition, and -- in the United States -- the second Bush administration, and now the Tea Party, which is overwhelmingly white and wealthy. As time passes, failed elites become increasingly divorced from the citizenry they supposedly serve. James Travers, in yesterday's column, notes that trend in Ottawa:

Always a place apart, the village huddled below the Peace Tower is less and less like, or connected to, the rest of the country. Insulated from the worst of hard times and obsessed with scoring partisan points, the national capital has lost touch with Canadians focused more on pressing personal and local issues.

Our leaders, Saul says, refuse to recognize that "we are a Metis nation," which has historically been committed to the Aboriginal concept of the ever expanding circle. Instead, taking their cue from Mike Harris' so called "Common Sense Revolution," they see Canadians as a collection of interest groups to be played off one against the other. Their strategy -- divide and conquer -- is as old as it is inappropriate for this country.

Saul points out that, like Canada's aboriginal peoples, we have traditionally negotiated solutions to problems -- like national health care or Quebec separatism. Quite simply, we solve problems by talking our way through them. The Harper government has a hard time talking its way through anything. When things get sticky, it prorogues Parliament. It would much rather proclaim policy, as it did this summer with its decision to eliminate the long census form.

The result is anger and cynicism everywhere -- sure signs that our so called "best and brightest" are intellectually exhausted.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Now Is The Time

Last week, in Cleveland, Barack Obama took inspiration from a former Republican president. "In the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln," Obama said, "I also believe that government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves."

The Republicans have travelled a long way since Lincoln's election. The Party of the Little Man still claims that title. But its policies belie that claim. For the last thirty years, Republicans have given their blessing to a growing income gap. And, today, as they stand four square with the wealthy, Obama is right when he says:

Make no mistake: [They] believe we should also give a permanent tax cut to the wealthiest two percent of Americans. With all the other budgetary pressures we have -- with all the Republicans' talk about wanting to shrink the deficit -- they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next ten years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 to folks who are already millionaires. These are among the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge.

David Frum claims that Republicans have branded themselves the party of fear and anger. But they have no program. If, as some pundits expect, they take control of Congress in November, they

will arrive pre-exhausted, without ideas, ready to do business with K Street from Day 1. This is not good news. But it's also unfortunately not surprising news. For 24 months an emotionally intense opposition to the president has been unsupported by anything like a Republican policy agenda.

And it is that vacuum at the center of the Republican Party which is so deeply troubling. Up to this point they have, indeed, made something out of nothing. If the Democrats are to succeed in November, they will have to convince Americans that anger and fear are no substitutes for ideas. But that won't give them control of the agenda. For that to happen, Obama will have to convince a majority of voters that he understands their frustrations and that he is in it for them.

Bill Moyers likes to tell the story of the relationship which existed between his father -- a modestly educated man -- and Franklin Roosevelt. Apparently, the two never met. But, Moyers wrote, "When Roosevelt was president, [my father] knew he had a friend in the White House."

Obama's single greatest failure to date has been his inability to convince ordinary folks that they have a friend in the White House. The speech in Cleveland could be a turning point. But it's late in the game.

Now is the time for the president to return to the rhetoric which got him elected.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Harper

Canada's "new" Conservative Party -- and its Prime Minister -- were diagnosed long ago by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson understood that even the most humane person has a dark side, which is only held in check by social convention. The problem for Conservatives -- as James Laxer recently noted -- is that they are only conservative when they are held in check by a strong opposition. And -- at least until recently -- that opposition has been pretty feeble.

The Harperites' dark souls are really libertarian; and, as libertarians, they hate conventions -- any conventions, whether they are census forms, long gun registries, or the institution of Parliament itself. Their ultimate goal is to free themselves of limits -- any limits. Their problem is that Canadians are suspicious of their intentions.

So, at election time, Mr. Harper dons a blue sweater -- the equivalent of a white lab coat -- makes his rounds, and adopts his best bedside manner. Once elected, he retreats into the basement, mixes up that potion of mean spirited policies, and attempts to accomplish by stealth what he can't accomplish in the light of day.

The problem would be difficult enough if Harper were the only Hyde in the party. But, as James Travers observes in Thursday's Toronto Star, there are other Hydes lurking in the party's basement. In the run up to the vote on the long gun registry, two lesser Hydes -- James Bezan and Garry Breitkreuz -- have found their way out of the lab. Bezan

hee-hawed his way on to You Tube -- complete with horse and cowboy hat -- and Breitkruez mused about a clandestine police scheme to wrench guns from cold Canadian hands. Along with looking and sounding foolish, the two Conservative MP's exposed the soft underbelly of a Harper strategy that once seemed bulletproof.

The problem for Dr. Jekyll the Prime Minister is that he finds it increasingly difficult to control his dark side. It shows up at very inopportune times -- during elections, for instance -- and in the lazy days of summer, when he thinks Canadians aren't paying attention. Now he finds it hard to control the lesser Hydes within his party.

We all know how the story ends.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labour Day, 2010

Last week, as we drove into downtown Toronto, my wife spotted a fellow sleeping on a bench. He was covered with a green garbage bag. Luckily, the week had been unseasonably warm. The poignancy of his situation hit us with some force because, two hours earlier, we had watched a clip about a house which had recently come on the market in Edmonton, Alberta. It was a cavernous place, equipped with the latest technology, including a driveway complete with several drains and submerged electric cables. The owner would part with his property for a mere $5.25 million.

In Canada, there is something faintly ridiculous about owning a heated driveway. It conjures up images of pre-World War II France, sitting smugly behind the Maginot Line, certain that it could avoid invasion -- either by the Germans or the armies of Old Man Winter. In four months time, the guy on the bench will be scrambling to find whatever protection he can.

I thought of him again when we got home and I read Bob Herbert's column in Saturday's New York Times. Herbert told the story of sixteen janitors who had been laid off from their jobs at a "luxury complex" owned by J.P. Morgan Chase. The janitors had been paid the princely sum of $13.50 an hour. Herbert noted wryly that each janitor's weekly take home pay "wouldn't cover Jamie Dimon's [Morgan Chase's chief executive] dinner tab." Morgan Chase's second quarter profit was $4.8 billion.

And so, on this Labour Day -- in both Canada and the United States -- we find ourselves facing The Great Divide. The numbers of the homeless and the unemployed are growing exponentially, while the captains of the economy -- thanks to taxpayer bailouts -- continue to proper, moving from one palace to another.

In the meantime, the word "shared" -- as in "shared risk," "shared sacrifice," "shared responsibility" and (as Robert Reich has pointed out ) "shared prosperity" -- has disappeared from the public lexicon. The irony, as Reich also observes, is that the economy will never recover unless and until we rediscover a sense of shared prosperity.

Labour Day used to be about shared prosperity. Today, with only 7% of the private workforce unionized, there is little to celebrate. The fellow on the bench knows that. He is easy to ignore. But we ignore him at our peril.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Clocks Are Striking 13

On the same weekend that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and insisted they were "reclaiming the Civil Rights Movement," Frank Rich -- in The New York Times -- wrote about the weatlthy trinity who are giving Beck and Palin their financial mojo -- Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles. And, wrote Rich, these three are not a new species:

You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League's crusade against the New Deal "socialism" of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our president.

Jane Mayer, in the New Yorker, recently exposed the cabal. And she reminded her readers that David and Charles' father, Fred, was one of the original Birchers -- who considered Dwight Eisenhower a Communist agent. Rather than reclaiming the Civil Rights Movement, the elder Koch claimed that the movement was part of a larger conspiracy: "The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America," he wrote.

Paranoia is nothing new in American politics. On the day following Rich's column, Paul Krugman wrote that, during the Clinton administration, Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife were funding the same army. They were on the march then, claiming that (somehow) Hilary Clinton was implicated in Vince Foster's death. The difference this time is that The Paranoid Army has more money and a bigger megaphone. "It will be an ugly scene," Krugman wrote:

and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990's were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we're still suffering from the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930's, and we can't afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that's what we're likely to get.

Facing the same kind of opposition, Franklin Roosevelt met his detractors head on."The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty," he said," is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government."

Murdoch and the Kochs would like Americans to believe that they are leading a popular revolt. Their strategy rests on the assumption that voters will forget that Beck -- who said Saturday that "we must be better than what we've allowed ourselves to become" -- also said (of President Obama) "I believe this guy is a racist [with] a deep seated hatred of white people." The trinity is also betting that Americans will forget that Sarah Palin recently defended Laura Schlessinger's use of the word "nigger" and advised her to "reload."

It's as if Martin Luther King had been a spokesman for the Klan. And that Americans -- or at least a significant number of them -- now live in an Orwellian alternative reality, where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength -- and the clocks are striking 13.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Imperial Burden

Back in June, The Canadian Press revealed that, in March 2009, Stephen Harper sat down to lunch with Rupert Murdoch. Also present was the president of Fox News, Roger Ailes, who was instrumental in bringing Rush Limbaugh to television, and who has since given Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly prominent perches at Fox. The CP story leaked after Pierre Karl Peladeau hired Kory Teneycke -- who joined the Harper-Murdoch-Ailes affair -- to oversee the start up of Peladeau's Sun TV News Channel.

A coincidence? Hardly. But, Jeffrey Simpson advised his readers, there was no need to push the panic button:

Sun TV isn't going to make, break or even influence the shape of Canadian politics, whatever the ideological fervour of Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former spokesman now in charge of assembling the Sun TV challenge.

And, besides, Simpson wrote, The Canadian Radio and Television Commission was not likely to grant Sun TV a "basic" licence -- which would require all cable systems to carry the channel. The commission has placed a moratorium on such licences.

Then, less than a week ago, Lawrence Martin reported the rumour that Mr. Harper was seeking to replace the head of the CRTC, Konrad von Finckenstein -- who would oppose Sun's application -- with someone more to the prime minister's liking. Thus, von Finckenstein would join a growing list of civil servants who Harper has removed because they have been thorns in his government's side.

The recent police response at the G20 Summit, the counter intuitive drive to dismantle the long gun registry, the attempt to shackle Statistics Canada, and now the news that Mr. Harper's former spokesman seeks to establish "Fox News North" offer proof that the Harperites are on a mission. That mission is to establish long term control of the levers of power and to remake this small corner of the world. They approach it with the same zeal nineteenth century British Imperialists displayed when they set out to "civilize" those they considered "naked savages."

Harper's vision is a 21st century version of "the white man's burden," the purpose of which is to purge his charges of what he considers dangerously radical tendencies -- and, in the process, to make true believers of us all. Applying that vision over a century and a half ago was disastrous. Colonialism's legacy was the First World War. The longer these people remain in office, the longer the trail of debris they leave in their wake. One hopes that the sun will soon set on the Harperite Empire.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Price of Empire

Chalmers Johnson has led an interesting life. Trained as a political scientist with a special interest in Asia, he was a strong Anti-Communist, who worked as a consultant for the C.I.A. and supported the War in Vietnam. During those years, he wrote, he was

irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia] . . . . As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America's imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect I wish I had stood with the anti war movement. For all its naivete and unruliness, it was right and American policy was wrong.

It is that perspective which informs Johnson's latest book, Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope. In a recent article at TomDispatch, Chalmers reevaluates American foreign policy, almost fifty years after Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August was first published. And he asks the question which no one else dares to ask:

What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us?

He then answers that question: "Not likely. . . .the main fears you might hear in Washington -- if anyone bothered to wonder what would happen should we begin to dismantle our empire -- would prove but chimeras."

That is not to say that Washington would then cast aside a hornet's nest of troubles:

In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession -- none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons and bribes for petty dictators.

But there is an alternative. It is, says Chalmers, to invest in productive, not destructive, industries and to invest in America's infrastructure and its people. "Unfortunately," he writes, "I don't see that happening.

My own role these past 20 years has been that of Cassandra, whom the gods gave the gift of foreseeing the future, but also cursed because no one believed her. I wish I could be more optimistic about what's in store for the U.S. Instead there isn't a day that our own guns of August don't continue to haunt me.

Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Johnson can hope that Americans awake a sadder but a wiser people on the morrow morn -- particularly in the week after the last combat brigade has left Iraq.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preston Manning on Stephen Harper

This week, the Harper government began walking two more civil servants -- Veterans Ombudsman Col. Pat Stogran and RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak -- to the exits. Both men were charged with holding the government accountable for its actions -- something Mr. Harper claimed he and his party stood for, without exception.

But that was before Mr. Harper became Prime Minister. Now Stogran and Cheliak join a long list of people who were fired or let go because they did their jobs. Meanwhile, Mr. Harper has retreated to his bunker, staying out of the limelight, while other ministers -- like Tony Clement and Stockwell Day -- take the heat for his decisions.

What is interesting is that this is nothing new. In his book, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy, Preston Manning recounts how Stephen Harper simply had a hard time working with others. Manning writes, for instance, of how Harper objected to the appointment of Rick Anderson as the Reform Party's campaign director. Anderson had supported the Charlottetown Accord; and Harper simply didn't trust him. But it went beyond that. Anderson was Harper's intellectual equal. And, Manning wrote, Harper
had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many, perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy. And Stephen, at this point, was really not prepared to be a team player or team builder.

Mr. Harper has never been one to work collaboratively. Manning recounts how, in 1992, he quit as the party's Chief Policy Officer to concentrate on his own election campaign. This was "a blow to our overall campaign effort, and it put more of a burden on those who had to fill the gap left by his withdrawal." Despite his desertion, Harper was one of 52 Reformers elected to Parliament in 1993.

But, as another election approached in 1996, he began to fear that the team, which he had done so little to build, was going to lose:

Rather than pitching in to help turn things around [Manning wrote] Stephen again chose to withdraw. This was now the third time that Stephen had vacated the field prior to a battle -- the first time when he retreated from our Charlottetown Accord campaign, the second time when he withdrew from the 1993 national election campaign to concentrate solely on his own riding.

And six months prior to the election, Harper resigned his seat and went back to Calgary, to become the head of the National Citizens Coalition, where the only other person who worked in the organization's office was his secretary.

Those who know Stephen Harper best -- those who have worked with him from the beginning -- long ago reached the conclusion which Andrew Coyne voiced this week in the pages of Macleans:

And the Prime Minister? Consider how his image has changed over the years. Once he was viewed as rigid, but upright; doctrinaire, but with a certain integrity. Over time that gave way to a more Machiavellian cast. Perhaps it was true, it was said, that he would do anything and say anything to hold on to power, but you had to admire his cunning.

But now? After so many miscues, unforced errors, too clever tricks and utter botch ups, does anyone still cling to the "strategic genius" view of Stephen Harper?

Holden Caulfield had a simpler, more direct phrase to describe people like the Prime Minister. He is, to put it plainly, a "phony."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Tipping Point

"A democracy which refuses to heed the will of the majority as routinely as it embraces the narrow interests of a vocal fringe," Alec Bruce wrote in the Times and Transcript this week, "is no democracy at all; it is, by ambition and practice, an elected oligarchy."

In the face of opposition from over 200 organizations, the Harperites can only point to three organizations -- the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and The National Citizens Coalition -- which support their decision to abandon the long census form. No matter, wrote Bruce,

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet have, for years, waged a stunningly successful campaign against the twin concepts of expertise and collaboration in political culture. Their hard line right wing mentality has extolled the virtue of certitude in all matters of state, as bias and presumption have proscribed the meritorious, once meretricious, qualifications for public office. Meanwhile, reasonable dissent has become the province of eggheads, elitists and other assorted traitors.

Add to that the confirmation -- contained in emails from Statistics Canada -- that the agency never supported the government's decision to abandon the long form -- as Tony Clement claimed -- and you have a tipping point.

"Canadians witnessed the disgusting spectacle," Jeffrey Simpson wrote in The Globe and Mail

of careerist ministers -- Industry's Tony Clement in the lead -- tap dancing to the Prime Minister's tune. Their justification for dispensing with the long form -- the best chance of getting the most accurate data -- was a melange of distortions, misrepresentations and exaggerations of so gross a kind that Canadians recoiled in indignation.

The history of the Harper government has been a series of blunders -- from sabotaging his chance at majority rule by making intemperate comments about cultural organizations, and thus alienating Quebec supporters -- to attempting to eliminate funding for opposition parties six weeks after that election and proroguing Parliament to avoid a vote of confidence -- to proroguing Parliament yet again this year when questions about how Afghan prisoners were handled by Canadian authorities made it too hot in the parliamentary kitchen. Each blunder has been an over reach -- an attempt by an oligarchical prime minister to have his way and answer to no one.

The census decision is yet another example of Harper's insistence that he does what he does because he can. Only this time it's clear that, in spinning the rationale for the decision, he and his ministers have simply not told the truth. And the public understands that destroying Statscan's data base will make it easier for them to not tell the truth.

Jeffrey Simpson is right on target: "The long form will return. Voters won't."

The Trials of Jeremiah

There must have been times over the last couple of years when Bob Herbert felt like Jeremiah -- warning that a reckoning was on the way, and being ignored by those who might be able to avoid it. His frustration was evident in Saturday's New York Times:

The country is a mess. The economy is horrendous, and millions of American families are running out of ammunition in their fight against destitution. Steadily increasing numbers of middle class families, who never thought they'd be seeking charity, have been showing up at food pantries.

Throughout the battle for health care reform and the battle for Wall Street reform, Herbert has written that the government's first priority should be job creation. While it is true -- as Peter Orzag stoutly maintained -- that the best way to control ballooning deficits is to control health care costs, it is also true that, for average Americans, the best way to pay the bills is to be employed.

Herbert is in good company. Like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, he believes that without government supported employment, the economy will not recover:

The problem with the U.S. economy today, as it was during the Great Depression, is the absence of sufficient demand for goods and services. Consumers, struggling with sky high unemployment and staggering debt loads, are tapped out. The economy cannot be made healthy again, and there is no chance of doing anything substantial about budget deficits, as long as so many millions of people are left with essentially no purchasing power. Jobs are the only real answer.

And there is plenty of work to do. Like the TVA and the Interstate Highway System -- two pertinent examples -- investments must be made in America's infrastructure, to ensure the nation's economic viability in the 21st Century. Those investments will require a staggering amount of money -- a thought which sends modern Republicans into apoplexy. But Herbert correctly quotes Franklin Roosevelt, "You cannot borrow your way out of debt, but you can invest your way into a sounder future."

Roosevelt's proposition will be tested in November. If one believes the polls, that proposition may go down to defeat. However, the very Republicans whose poll numbers have them dreaming of a return to power, may be President Obama's salvation. As Eugene Robinson reminded readers of The Washington Post and The Moderate Voice last week:

Democrats may be facing a tough fight this fall, but Republicans are giving them plenty of material to work with. In several high-profile contests, candidates who won nominations with fervent tea party support appear to be in the process of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In Colorado, the Republican candidate for governor sees urban cyclists as part of a United Nations conspiracy. In Nevada, Sharon Angle wants the press to ask her only the questions she chooses to answer. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon, the wife of the man behind the WWE, has been known to enter the ring with other brutish bores and kick men in the crotch. And, in Kentucky, Rand Paul has expressed doubts about the wisdom of the Civil Rights Act.

Herbert's premonition that it's a hard rain's a gonna fall on Democrats may be justified. Certainly, he would say, they should have seen it coming. On the other hand, with candidates like Angle, McMahon and Paul, the tide may run the other way.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Say That Again?

As President Obama's approval numbers tanked again last week, Michael Steele donned a red hat, emblazoned with the logo "Fire Pelosi," and kicked off a six week bus tour. He was jubilant as he spoke to a crowd in Kansas City, predicting that he and the RNC would send Pelosi to "the back of the bus."

One could be forgiven for thinking that one's hearing was faulty. But a few weeks ago -- speaking about the war in Afghanistan -- Steele said, "This war was of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

And shortly after assuming the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, Steele claimed that Obama's election was a fluke: "The problem we have with this president," he said, "is we don't know him. He was not vetted, folks. . . . He was not vetted because the press fell in love with the black man running for office." The longest primary season in American political history somehow did not register with Mr. Steele.

Alot of history has not registered with Mr. Steele. On the subject of the stimulus package, he said, " Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job." He was, of course, conveniently forgetting that he used to be the Lt. Governor of Maryland.

His gaffes have not gone unnoticed. William Kristol has suggested that he should be guided to the door marked Exit. Steele, however, has an answer for his critics: "I'm very introspective about things. I'm a cause and effect kind of guy. So, if I do something there's a reason for it. . . It may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there is a logic behind it."

Mr. Steele's logic increasingly eludes even members of his own party. Perhaps that's because he has -- in the now famous words of one of George W. Bush's advisers -- left "the reality based community." There was a time when those who checked out of that community resided in the Twilight Zone.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Party of the Paranoid

Errol Mendes raised hackles on the right two days ago when -- in a column in the Ottawa Citizen -- he wrote that Stephen Harper's war against the public service increasingly makes his government look like a dictatorship. "It is primarily in totalitarian regimes," Mendes wrote,

that there is little use for an independent public service, or judicial or quasi-judicial bodies that seek to promote the public interest regardless of politics. The undermining of the public service of Canada should be one of the most important ballot box issues in the coming federal election.

What prompted Mendes column was the resignation of Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada. Sheikh joined a growing list of public servants who Mr. Harper either fired or replaced, because they did not bow appropriately before the throne. Among the departed were:

Peter Tinley of the Military Complaints Commission, Linda Keen of the Nuclear Safety Commission, Paul Kennedy of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, Adrian Measner of the Wheat Board, John Reid and Robert Marleau of the Information Commissioner's Office, Bernard Shapiro, the former ethics commissioner, Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer of Canada, and, of course, at the front of the firing line is Kevin Page of the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Harper's suspicion of the public service has become pathological. That became absolutely clear, later in the week when Stockwell Day brushed aside suggestions that the new prisons the government says are a priority are not required, because the crime rate in Canada has been dropping for ten years. Those numbers, said Day, were not to be believed. The real problem is unreported crimes. In 1993, 42% of victims reported crimes. In 2004, 34% reported crimes."Those numbers are alarming," Day said, "and it shows how we can't take a liberal view of crime [or] suggest that it's barely happening at all." The numbers are vague. But the bogeyman gets bigger.

Day did not indicate how the government would find these unreported criminals. So the question of how those empty cells will be filled remains unanswered. It is worth remembering that Day's cabinet colleague, Jim Flaherty -- when he ran for the leadership of the Ontario Conservative Party -- suggested that the homeless should be swept off the streets and put in jail for their own protection.

It is also worth remembering that the driving force behind Harper's Conservatives are left overs from Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution. Lawrence Martin wrote last week in The Globe and Mail, that the Harris stamp on policy is best symbolized by Harper's replacement of Ian Brodie with Guy Giorno, Harris' right hand man. "The changeover," Martin wrote, "may come to be seen as the turning point in Mr. Harper's governance, the moment when the die was cast, when the chance of these Conservatives ever becoming a big tent party ended."

Giorno's ascent marked the point where paranoia became the prime directive in the Prime Minister's Office. One need look no further than the police response at the recent G20 summit. It is no accident that the government's response bears striking similarities to the Ipperwash Confrontation, where Mr. Harris allegedly told the Ontario Provincial Police that he "wanted the [expletive deleted] Indians out of the park."

Americans learned during Richard Nixon's presidency that paranoia in power can shake the foundations of a democracy. A word to the wise.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Back to the Future?

Two competing narratives appear to be making the rounds these days. The first is the saga of The Failed Salesman, in which Barack Obama -- a kind of 21st century Willy Loman -- crashes and burns in the wreckage his dreams inspired. The second is a fourth installment of Back to the Future, in which the Republican Party dusts off its political flux capacitor, rides into Washington, takes back Congress, builds a national monument to Arthur Laffer and rewrites history. The first narrative leaves Democrats depressed; the second leaves Republicans energized.

Those who favour either narrative should read The Political Genius of Supply Side Economics, by Martin Wolf, which appeared last Sunday in The Financial Times. "To understand modern Republican thinking on fiscal policy," Wolf wrote

we need to go back to perhaps the most politically brilliant (albeit economically unconvincing) idea in the history of fiscal policy: "supply-side economics." Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets, because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.
The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits, and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch?

The problem, of course, is that Americans have been running up a tab at the cafeteria for thirty years. And Mr. Obama has been stuck with the bill. In an era of low interest rates, he has tried to consolidate the debt -- and included the cost of two wars in the total. Faced for the first time in thirty years with real numbers, Americans are scared; and they blame Obama for building the mountain they must now climb.

But what is truly ironic, Wolf writes, is that if Republicans regain power, they will build a higher mountain:

This is extraordinarily dangerous. The danger does not arise from the fiscal deficits of today, but to the attitudes to fiscal policy, over the long run, of one of the two main parties. Those radical conservatives (a small minority, I hope) who want to destroy the credit of the U.S. federal government may well succeed. If so, that would be the end of the U.S. era of global dominance. The destruction of fiscal credibility could be the outcome of the policies of the party that considers itself the most patriotic.

Wolf reminds his readers that "conservative" in Britain means something very different than it does in the United States. As E.J. Dionne recently noted, David Cameron -- the new Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom -- has increased the Value Added Tax from 17.5% to 20%. And Paul Krugman, who has criticized the president's economic policy as being too little too late, warned his readers last Thursday that "Mr. Obama may not be the politician of their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares."

The first three installments of Back to the Future were highly entertaining and made a fortune at the box office. The fourth installment would bomb. More importantly, it would bankrupt the country.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Big Lie

We now know how many Canadians complained about the long census form the last time it arrived on their doorsteps four years ago. Statistics Canada received a total of 166 complaints from the 12 million Canadians who received the survey. So, the Harper government says, it is simply responding to public pressure. Something doesn't add up.

And Stockwell Day says, "Do you think it is right that you can threaten your neighbour with jail time if she doesn't tell you if she has mental issues or not? Or who does what chores in the house? Or whether she is a Jew or not? Don't you find that one even a little bit chilling?" Apparently not. But remember this is the man who, as leader of the Reform Party, claimed that the St. Lawrence River flowed into the Great Lakes and not into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

And then there is Vic Teows, who plans to spend $9.5 billion over the next five years to fight a rising tide of crime -- even though the latest data from Statistics Canada confirms, James Travers writes, "a decade long trend. Overall, there is 17 percent less crime now than in 1999. Better still, most offences are minor, and heinous, violent crime has fallen so far that it's now less than one quarter of one percent of the shrinking total."

One is tempted to conclude that stupidity has gone viral. But Paul Saurette is on to something when he says that the key to understanding what is going on can be found in Tom Flanagan's book, Harper's Team:

Winning elections and controlling the government as often as possible is the most effective way of shifting the public philosophy. Who would deny that Canada's present climate of opinion has been fostered by the Liberal Party's long term dominance of federal institutions? If you control the government, you choose judges, appoint the senior civil service, fund or de-fund advocacy groups, and do many other things that gradually influence the climate of opinion.

For conservatives it has always been about control. They are threatened by facts, because facts undermine their policy prescriptions. And the best way to maintain control is to destroy the evidence. Without evidence they can have a truly Orwellian influence on Canadian society. The Ministry of Justice can morph into the Ministry of Punishment; the Ministry of Finance can morph into the Ministry of Wealth Consolidation; the PMO can morph into the Ministry of Propaganda; and the Prime Minister can morph into -- well, we already have a flood of evidence: two prorogations of Parliament, a how to guide for disrupting parliamentary committees, refusing to allow Parliamentarians to see Afghan prisoner files. We know who -- and what -- he is.

Following Joesph Goebbels strategy, the Harperites know that the most grandiose lies will be accepted as truth, if they are repeated often enough. But Goebbels did not have to do battle with Statistics Canada. And as long as Statistics Canada mines data which contradicts their public proclamations, the transformation the Conservatives seek will be beyond their reach.

Mr. Harper, Mr. Clement and their benchmates are no democrats. And they know exactly what they are doing.