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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Case of Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr is the last Westerner being held at Guantanamo Bay. His story is a bit convoluted. He was born in Toronto. But his father -- who was no model citizen -- decreed that his son should travel to Afghanistan and be indoctrinated by the Taliban.

When the United States invaded that country after September 11th, Khadr was fighting alongside his tutors. During a firefight with American soldiers, he is alleged to have thrown a grenade at an American Green Beret and killed him. Khadr himself was wounded in the battle. The details are a bit sketchy. Initially, the officer in charge of the American forces wrote that the insurgent who had thrown the grenade had been killed. Later, he rewrote his report, claiming that Khadr was responsible for the soldier's death. Khadr was fifteen when he was taken to Guantanamo. He is now twenty-three.

During those eight years, all other prisoners from Western nations -- Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Britain -- have been repatriated and faced courts in their own countries. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have asked Stephen Harper's government to bring Khadr home. The government has repeatedly said it will not take him back.

While at Guantonomo, Khadr was interrogated by agents from CSIS -- the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service -- Canada's version of the CIA. Their methods included sleep deprivation. He was also interrogated by American agents, one of whom has testified that he told Khadr there were incidents of Afghan boys being raped by "four big black guys" to extract confessions from them.

In January, 2010, Khadr's case was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada. The court ruled that Khadr's rights -- which are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- had been violated. It did not recommend a specific remedy. But it did tell the government that it had to rectify the situation. The government's response was to send a diplomatic note to Washington, requesting that Canadian collected evidence not be used in Khadr's prosecution. It said nothing about the evidence collected and the methods used by his American interrogators.

Frustrated by the government's tepid response, Khadr's lawyers brought suit in a lower Canadian court, which ruled earlier this month that the government had a week to draw up a list of remedies to rectify the violation of Khadr's constitutional rights. In the meantime, Khadr went before a military tribunal and announced that he had fired his military defence attorney -- something the judge would not allow. He also revealed that he had been offered a plea bargain -- a thirty year sentence, including five of the years spent at Guantanamo, and twenty five years to be spent in a Canadian prison. He had rejected the deal, he said, because, "I have been used too many times when I was a child, and that's why I'm here -- taking the blame for things I didn't have a choice in doing, but was forced to do by elders."

The Harper government is appealing the latest court ruling. It has no intention of bringing Khadr home. It would much rather let the American justice system deal with him. It argues that the government's right to set foreign policy trumps the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- a surprising shift for a political party which claims that government intrudes tyrannically on individual liberties, and which insists that the courts have been negligent when it comes to delivering swift and sure justice. The truth is that Mr. Harper and his colleagues believe that Canada's laws are to be obeyed when it is convenient to do so. They are shrewd folks. But they are entirely devoid of courage.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Kyl Doctrine

There are those who claim that racism is behind the impassioned opposition to Barack Obama. And, as the placards of Obama the Witch Doctor attest, there is some truth to that claim. But, last week, what really drives Republican opposition to the president became -- as Richard Nixon used to say -- "perfectly clear."

In an interview with Chris Wallace, Senator Jon Kyl explained why Republicans opposed aid to the unemployed but proposed making the Bush tax cuts permanent. "You do need to offset the cost of increased spending," he said. "And that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."

The next day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that all Republicans were singing from the same hymnal: "There is no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue," he said. "They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think that what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."

In The Washington Post, Ezra Klein admitted to being not just angry but sad, because "it's hard to see the country prospering when one of its two major political parties is this economically illiterate." Paul Krugman, however, was grateful for Kyl and McConnell's candor. "They've now made it clear, in case anyone had doubts," he wrote in The New York Times, "that their previous posturing on the deficit was entirely hypocritical. If they really do have the kind of electoral win they're expecting, they won't try to reduce the deficit -- they'll try to make it explode by demanding even more budget busting tax cuts."

The Republican program is not new. It has been the centerpiece of the party's ideology for thirty years. And, as Naomi Klein documented so thoroughly in her book, The Shock Doctrine, it is a program which has been applied around the world with devastating results. It aims to "starve the beast" of government by, as Krugman says, "deliberately creating a fiscal crisis in the belief that the crisis can be used to push through unpopular policies, like dismantling Social Security."

What is striking is that the Republicans have learned nothing over the last two years. The crisis is upon us; and their response is to stand pat. They continue to believe -- like the ignorant islanders in King Kong -- that those who the chairman of BP recently referred to as "the little people" must be sacrificed to the Great Ape of the Markets. They have not learned the simple truth behind Franklin Roosevelt 's assertion:

We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals. We now know that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that, in the long run, economic morality pays.

The Kyl Doctrine is economically immoral. And it proves that Roosevelt got it right seventy-five years ago when he declared, "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Republican Tragedy

Republican senators reverted to speaking in code two weeks ago at Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing. Her nomination was suspect, they suggested, because she had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Senators Hatch and Coburn said that they "weren't sure they could have voted to confirm Marshall to the court;" and Senator Kyl suggested that Marshall advanced "the agenda of certain classes of litigants." Given the fact that Marshall argued successfully for the desegregation of public schools, it was pretty clear which "litigants" Kyl had in mind.

The hearing took place in the week Senator Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, died. Byrd had once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and had written to Mississippi senator Theodore Bilbo that "I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels."

But, unlike Strom Thurmond -- who left the Democrats and joined the Republicans -- Byrd's thinking evolved over time. As Barack Obama revealed in The Audacity of Hope, Byrd knew that those words would follow him to his grave. "I only have one regret, you know," he told Obama. "The foolishness of youth." If anything, rather than evolving, the Republican Party has devolved.

Few now remember when one of the rare African Americans in Congress was a Republican from Massachusetts, Senator Edward Brooke. And fewer still remember when the man who filled President Obama's former Senate seat was a liberal Republican named Charles Percy. One wonders what they think about the transformation of their party. Indeed, one wonders what Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, would think of the modern Republican Party. If he had merely fallen asleep in April of 1865, and -- like Rip Van Winkle -- had awakened at the dawn of this new century, I suspect that his careworn face would become more haggard still.

As he traced the tragic arc of his party during the last one hundred and fifty years, he would find a kindred spirit in the governor of his neighbouring state of Wisconsin, Robert La Follette -- who was, as Jo Mari suggested in The American Radical -- "arguably the most important and recognized leader of the opposition to the growing dominance of corporations over Government." He would nod approvingly as Dwight Eisenhower declared, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

But his brow would darken as he watched Barry Goldwater carry the Party's standard in 1964. He would be infuriated by Watergate. And he would weep at the invasion of Iraq. He would conclude that his party was not ruled by its better angels, but by its darkest demons -- and that it was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The man who signed The Emancipation Proclamation would look at at the Republican response to Kagan as a betrayal of everything the party stood for after the Civil War. And the man who wrote The Gettysburg Address would call out those who speak in code.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Canadian Custer

On the day after the leaders of the G20 nations left Toronto -- and left city workers to clean up after the weekend's mayhem -- John Ibbitson wrote that the summit was "a signal achievement for the Prime Minister, who set those targets and lobbied hard for other nations to embrace them."

On the same day, Paul Krugman looked at the targets and concluded: "We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a Third Depression.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world -- most recently at last weekend's deeply discouraging G20 meeting -- governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

Mr. Ibbitson saw Canada leading the way, showing the rest of the world how to tighten its belt:

Now Mr. Harper has succeeded in convincing his peers that the time is right for other governments to follow Canada in shifting to deficit cutting. And once again he has an internationally certified mandate to chop government programs and search for additional revenue.

It bears repeating that Mr. Harper didn't see the Great Recession coming. He refused to read the signs. The problem now, wrote Krugman in Friday's New York Times, is that

This conventional wisdom isn't based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite's imagination -- specifically on what I've come to think of as the invisible bond vigilante and the confidence fairy.

Krugman then went on to define "bond vigilantes" as "investors who pull the plug on governments they perceive as unable or unwilling to pay their debts." These vultures believe that all countries -- particularly the United States -- are like Greece -- and that "(a) the bond vigilantes are about to attack America and (b) spending anything more on stimulus will set them off."

But, wrote Krugman, "what we do on stimulus over the next couple of years has almost no bearing on our ability to deal with these long range problems." If inflation is indeed a tsunami which is about to sink the world's economies, there should be some upward movement in interest rates. But, after a slight uptick three months ago, interest rates have once again headed for the basement. The facts simply don't support the fears.

Mr. Harper is a very shrewd political animal. But, when it comes to factual analysis, he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He is planning to build a series of new prisons in anticipation of a crime wave, even though crime (according to Statistics Canada) has declined year after year. The rate of violent crime has remained stable for ten years. His government offers unconditional support for Israel, ignoring the fact that the continued construction of settlements on occupied land and the blockade of Gaza contributes to the misery there.

The truth is that Mr. Harper's certitude is based on faith not fact. And he continues to believe that because he earned a Master's degree at the University of Calgary he is an economist. George Armstrong Custer graduated from West Point; but that did not make him a general. Mr. Ibbitson believes that the Prime Minister deserves kudos for leading the charge against world deficits. Historians may well look at the Toronto Summit and conclude that it was Mr. Harper's Little Big Horn.

This blog entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.