Monday, August 31, 2009

Time to Turn Back the Tide of Afghan Defeatism

Murray Dobbin crows about "failure" of democracy in Afghanistan

In the "Saving Private Brian" episode of Family Guy, Brian and Stewie are trying to get out of enlisted service in Iraq -- an enlistment that is actually illegal, as Stewie is a baby and Brian is a dog -- by intentionally shooting each other in the foot and calling it an accident.

Even after Stewie and Brian are told that they're out of luck, as being wounded isn't enough to be sent home, their fortune drastically turns. Democracy kicks in.

Suddenly, a human pyramid of Iraqi prisoners collapses into a laughing pile of identical fratboys. Terrorists filming the beheading an American prisoner become barbers instead administering a shave. Burka wearing women transform into trampy women working a bikini carwash, spraying each others' chests while they make out.

Seth MacFarlane's message is a simple one: the notion that democracy will magically and automatically heal all the ills of Iraq is a silly notion.

Meanwhile, in an op/ed column appearing in both The Tyee and the ideologically parochial, Murray Dobbin insists that the outcome of the Afghan election is actually meaningless. He insists that American aid provided to the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of the country rendered democracy impossible, and that the United States has undermined Afghan democracy because an independant and secular democracy in Afghanistan would surely thwart American imperialist ambitions.

In a particularly revelatory turn, Dobbin even goes so far as to open his column with a quote from Karl Marx.

The complaints of people like Dobbin -- that a perfect democracy has, as yet, failed to emerge in Afghanistan -- are every bit as silly as the rosy visions of a post-democratic Iraqi miracle that MacFarlane critiques.

Dobbin trots out numerous polls -- suggesting that, among other things, Americans don't agree that they're winning the war in Afghanistan, that Americans want a troop decrease, and that Americans do not believe that the Afghan election will produce an "effective government" -- to support his argument that introducing democracy in Afghanistan is a lost cause.

But for someone who clearly fancies himself a historian, Dobbin is uniquely ignorant to history.

Nowhere in the world, in all of history, has a functional and vibrant democracy popped up overnight. Ever.

Even in the United States -- if one were to take that to be a rough model for democracy -- the early years of the union were marred by an ineffective federal government. At one point in early American history, the state of Maryland threatened to secede from the Union because the other states refused to help them quell various militia uprisings.

Even the establishment of British democracy was marked by civil war between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. History speaks for itself -- even Cromwell's victory, on behalf of Parliament and at the head of the new model army resulted in what was actually a military dictatorship under Cromwell. A fully-developed British democracy was still centuries of incremental change away.

Likewise, a fully-developed, fully-functioning democracy in the western model is a long way -- likely a very long way -- away in Afghanistan. That there is not yet such a democracy in Afghanistan is not a failure, and it doesn't mean we should abandon Afghans to their own devices and to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

Rather, it means that the western world needs to afford Afghan democracy time and space in which to grow.

In Fear's Empire, Benjamin Barber reminds us that a democracy imposed by an outside power -- at least, as this author would add, without domestic support for it -- is not truly a democracy. The same goes for a democracy in which the form of that democracy is imposed.

The democracy in Afghanistan may not resemble a western democracy as closely as we would like. But nearly every western democracy in existence today has grown and taken form over a matter of literally centuries. The slow development of the Afghan state is not sufficient excuse to abandon it.

One should recall that Americans once wrote off Iraq as a lost cause as well. But improvements over the past two years in Iraqi stability show that insurgencies -- even insurgencies as determined as the Taliban and their allies -- can be fought, contained and, given the right mixture of time and determination, defeated.

As Hugh Segal would remind us, the costs of abandoning Afghanistan are great, and would expand beyond Afghanistan into Pakistan and even India. It cannot be allowed to happen, no matter how utterly indifferent individuals like Dobbin seem to be in regards to whether or not it does.

The defeatism of Dobbin and his contemporaries requires that we ignore successes and pay attention only to the challenges and setbacks in Afghanistan. But considering that they don't have a credible frame of reference from the very beginning of their critique, there is very little reason to give their criticisms any more credit than their thinly-veiled conspiracy theories are due.

Democracy is not a magical panacea that will solve every problem Afghanistan faces. Nor should defeatists like Murray Dobbin be allowed to denigrate efforts there on the basis that it hasn't sprung up overnight.

The Burning Stupid of Canada's Extreme Left

From the same people who brought you the insidious Ollie North/Taliban conspiracy theory comes this recent gem in which John Baglow, aka "Dr Dawg", takes issue with a less recent National Post Full Comment blogpost by Raphael Alexander.

In the post, Raphael renews the call for the trial of Omar Khadr to begin:
"Seven years in prison without trial is certainly a lengthy incarceration without due process, and I am concerned that we may never get to see Omar Khadr’s day in court."
What emerges as so distasteful however, is the notion that Alexander would think that Khadr is likely guilty:"
...This is still a man 22 years of age who, if released in the next few years, would still have his entire life to make amends with his fellow Canadian citizens, to whom he has brought shame and embarrassment"
"Seven years without trial -- and still guilty," Baglow complains.

Which leads one to ask themselves this question:

What, precisely, do John Baglow and company think Omar Khadr was doing in Afghanistan in the first place? Enjoying tea and crumpets?

One really does wonder. Because, as Mike from (Ir)Rational Reasons seems to indicate, they really may have no clue whatsoever:
"Raph does not even entertain the possibility that Omar is not guilty of the crime his is accused of and is the victim of his circumstances - brought to Afghanistan by his father at a young age and brought up in that environment.

Its simple: if he is guilty of an actual crime, produce the evidence and convict him. Now. Otherwise, bring him home and let him go. Now.
Apparently, in the mind of Mike -- and one wonders how many share his particularly fevered and hazardous way of thinking -- a "not guilty" verdict in a trial means that Omar Khadr walks free immediately.

And if a judge were particularly reckless with Canadian national security, that very well may be the case.

After all, Canadians know full well what Omar Khadr was doing in Afghanistan -- or, rather, what Ahmed Said Khadr was doing on the many occasions when he had his family overseas. In 2003, Ahmed, a known Al Qaida financier, was killed in a firefight in Pakistan.

He was continuing to indoctrinate his children in his militant Islamic religious beliefs, and involving them in militant Islamic groups. In 2002, Ahmed Khadr sent Omar with a band of Arab Muslims who associated Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Al Qaida leader.

Ahmed Khadr had a habit of putting his sons into warzones that should disquiet even the most unscrupulous "peace" activist -- the kind of "peace" activist that have often been willing to participate in rallies with the Khadrs. Not only did Ahmed Khadr expose Omar to the rigours of warfare, but his son Abdul Karim Khadr was paralyzed during the same firefight in which Ahmed himself was killed.

Omar Khadr is a child soldier -- not simply a child soldier, but a child terrorist soldier. And that makes his prospect of immediate release far cloudier than Mike is giving it credit for.

Demobilizing child soldiers is a long and arduous process. Child soldiers need to be provided with education and psychiatric care. The rehabilitation of Omar Khadr would only be further complicated by the fact that his enlistment as a child soldier was also a gross act of child abuse -- even though he and his family may not recognize it.

To turn Khadr loose into the public would be allowing a ticking time bomb to go free. While Mike is close to spot-on when he notes the resentment that comes with seven years of imprisonment without trial -- only another reason why said detention is a miscarriage of justice -- but to credit that with any militancy is to ignore his family history, and ignore what his father indoctrinated him in, and subjected him to.

Considering Mike's long and far-from-rational history of lunacy, one should be far from surprised to find that he has so little grasp of these concepts.

That he can't conceive of the very real possibility -- even likelihood -- that a child soldier indoctrinated in Islamic militancy could be dangerous is just another example of the burning stupidity of Canada's far left.

Sometimes You Really Can't Go Home Again

Harper's former contemporaries unimpressed by Senate appointments

The question that has been on the minds of many Canadians since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent appointment of nine new Senators this week, has been this:

What would his old Reform party contemporaries think of this?

In fact, that question has been on the minds of many since last December, when Harper appointed another 18 Senators to Parliament's upper chamber.

Fortunately, many of Harper's Reform party colleagues have been vocal on the subject, and they aren't entirely happy.

"It does look a little top-heavy, inside out, shall we say," said Deborah Grey, the MP for whom Harper went to work for upon her election to Parliament. "That will rankle lots of people."

"You better be ready to run for an elected seat," she added, referring to Harper's new batch of Senators.

Myron Thompson admitted to sympathizing with Harper for the position he's been in, but doesn't accept that as an excuse. "We don't like to see him go that route at all," he said. "The average strong conservative would say, 'Stay the course.'"

Former MPs Bob Mills and Ray Speaker seem much more comfortable with the appointments.

Tom Flanagan admitted that even he was taken by surprise when Harper appointed Carolyn Stewart-Olsen.

Naturally, Harper's political opponents have been quite vocal on the subject of these appointments. As Maclean's magazine writer Andrew Coyne notes, Harper's appointments may well have given them something to cry about. That may have even been the intent.

Yet the one individual who has been oddly quiet on the issue is former Reform party leader and Harper mentor Preston Manning. It was Manning's dedication to the issue of Senate reform that put, and has kept, it as a substantive issue in Canadian politics.

One would think that Manning would have something to say about Harper's Senate appointments, but has all along declined to comment.

Ever since Harper became Conservative party leader and Prime Minister, however, Manning has made a point of restraining his criticisms of Harper to those that are constructive and not damaging.

It isn't inconceivable that Manning's silence on the matter is indicative that he takes significant umbrage with it. A Manning 20 years younger may have even leaped back into the political fray over the issue.

It's all enough to make one wonder what would be said if Harper and his former colleagues sat down over a private dinner. Sometimes, one really can't go home again, and it isn't outrageous to wonder if Stephen Harper's former Reform party colleagues would welcome him as enthusiastically as once before.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Inglourious War

As some have no doubt noted, Quentin Tarantino needed some serious balls to rewrite the history of World War II with Inglourious Basterds.

But in doing so, the film -- in which Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads his borderline-psychotic band of guerillas on a mission to assassinate Adolph Hitler -- sheds some light on one of the more inglorious aspects of war:

Psychological warfare.

The Basterds' Mission is primarily one of psychological warfare -- to leave behind them a wake of mutilated Nazis so long that their comrades will not be able to sleep at night, and will be able to think of little else other than the prospects of running across the Basterds on a road somewhere -- a misfortune very likely to be the last a Nazi soldier would ever suffer.

Psychological warfare is no newer an idea today than it was when it was in World War II. Although the techniques used for psychological warfare have changed over the centuries, the goal remains essentially the same: to get one's enemy spreading propaganda, self-custom-made to spread the maximum amount of debilitating fear possible.

More modern psychological warfare techniques often involve using the cultural fears of the enemy against them.

For example, in Nicaragua the US Central Intelligence Agency would kidnap enemy soldiers, kill them and leave them to be found with two puncture marks in their neck.

Terrified enemy soldiers would believe they were under siege by vampires. Their lost sleep at night would quickly become a marked advantage for the United States and their allies in Nicaragua (admittedly, not one of the proudest moments in US history).

In Inglourious Basterds the Basterds enjoy another psychological advantage over their Nazi enemies -- they are Jewish. And just as their actions against the Nazis they encounter (even the survivors) seem to carry strong connotations of revenge, the beliefs held by many Germans and Eastern Europeans that Jews had magical powers -- also invoked later in the movie -- certainly makes their job easier.

Particularly terrifying to the Nazis is Sargeant Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, who likes to beat defiant Nazis to death with a baseball bat. So long as a few Nazis remain alive to see his baseball-inspired brutality, the Basterds tend to get the information they're after.

In World War II as it really occurred -- without the miracle hail mary play to kill Hitler -- psychological warfare centred largely around the concept of "total war". The idea was to inflict personal costs so grave on the enemy as a whole and weaken their resolve.

Entire cities -- in both Germany and Britain -- were bombed entirely to the ground in the effort to make the populace of either country fear their enemy's bombers so fully that they would lose sleep at night.

On the high seas, the submarine warfare conducted by German U-Boats was aimed at the same result.

Psychological warfare is being waged today with a broadened mandate to convince enemy combatants to surrender and to convince the civilian population that an invading or occupying force is not their enemy. These are the techniques being deployed in Afghanistan today.

Psychological warfare, especially as presented in Inglourious Basterds, is often a dirty affair. But it unquestionably contributes to the winning of wars.

The Idolatry of Anti-Blasphemy

Criticism is essential to religion

A prominent global controversy recently has been the proposal of various anti-blasphemy laws, including a proposed anti-blasphemy resolution at the United Nations.

One of the western states farthest along in the introduction of an anti-blasphemy law is Ireland, where an anti-blasphemy law is set to take effect in October.

The law will impose hefty fines on anyone who "publishes or utters matter that is (intentionally meant to be) grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."

Unsurprisingly, the law has a vociferous critic in Richard Dawkins.

"It is a wretched, backward, uncivilized regression to the Middle Ages," Dawkins said.

And while Dawkins -- who himself in the name of his quest to "enlighten" humanity by helping to wipe out religion would lead humanity back into the Dark Ages -- is so often so wrong about matters entailing religion, this is one time he is right about it.

Anti-blasphemy laws -- even in places like Ireland, where violence has traditionally surrounded religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants -- place the intellectual and philosophical development of religious thought in peril by threatening to outlaw criticism.

In Ireland, the anti-blasphemy law -- which Justice Minister Dermot Ahern insists merely clarifies anti-blasphemy provisions in the Irish Constitution -- is quite clearly aimed at attempting to quell tensions between Catholics and Protestants by giving the government a means to punish those who stir up tensions between the two.

But as a club with which critics of either religions -- or Christianity in general -- could be threatened with, this law not only clearly plays to the hypothetical and often-imagined "right not to be offended", but also to an imagined right to not have to think about their religion.

Few things could be more devastating to any religion, especially Christianity. CS Lewis once wrote that being a Christian is hard intellectual work. One has to continually be able to reconcile their religious beliefs against real-world realities, or risk falling into dogmatism.

Ireland's anti-blasphemy law imperils the hard intellectual work of the proper-thinking Christian, and serves to encourage the kind of intellectual sloth that gives rise to dogmatism in the first place.

This is the peril of the idolatry of anti-blasphemy.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rule One For Not Having Your Character Defamed

Don't defame your own character

All the way back in January of this year, many many Canadians had a bone to pick with Erik Millett.

Millett, as some may recall, was the principal of Belleisle Elementary school, where singing of "O Canada" was scaled back to one per month. He had also been a Green Party candidate in the 2008 federal election -- apparently only the most recent of many to embarrass his party.

The reaction to Millett's decision was swift and uncompromising: Canadians were rightly outraged by his decision, in which he had sought to placate the parents of two students -- an extreme minority of students.

Millett's decision enraged one man to the extent that he threatened to beat him senseless. That man has since (quite rightly) been convicted of uttering threats.

Millett's decision prompted significant criticism, including by Conservative MPs Mike Allen, Keith Ashfield and Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, who noted that Millett had proved that "he has no appreciation for the sensitivity of some issues."

Like the national anthem.

Thompson, who is so outraged over the response to his decision to scale back "O Canada" that he has reportedly taken issue to the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission,

"I have contacted the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission and I will be pursuing the question of accommodation around this issue of through the Human Rights Commission and hopefully some clarity will come from the ruling they provide," Millet said at the time.

Of course, considering the activist nature of Canadian Human Rights Commissions, Millett must full well expect that the ruling that is handed down will be in his favour -- even if it means that, paradoxically, his school will fail to accommodate the parents of the vast majority of students in his school.

Millett has apparently become so bold in his one man dissent-busting mission that he's threatening to sue Greg Thompson over his comments, complaining that they are defamatory.

Yet one can suspect that the parents of Belleisle elementary school who signed a petition to force the daily singing of "O Canada" back into their childrens' school would likely share Greg Thompson's opinion -- that Millett has been extremely insensitive to their views on the singing of "O Canada", all in the name of placating the tyranny of a minority.

If Erik Millett doesn't want his character defamed, he shouldn't defame his own character by making decisions that justify the criticisms made of him.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Northern Thoughts and Reflections - "Erik Millett Won't Go Away"

Look Hard Enough For Something And You Will Find It

The quest to discredit conservative activism continues

In an op/ed column for the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida State University Associate Professor Dr Andy Opel offers an "anatatomy of a photograph" that he believes is quite damning of opponents of US President Barack Obama's health care reform package.

In the photo, pictured left, a man is shown speaking with Opel in what appears to be a quite angry tone. Opel treats it -- and his experiences at a Town Hall meeting on health care -- as evidence that those protesting Obama's health care reforms are using "intimidation and threats of violence" to advance their agenda.

This despite the fact that the man in the picture seems to be pointing at Opel with sheet of paper clutched between his middle and ring fingers.

Even through his own reporting, the story that Opel presents does not materialize. What materializes in its stead is a story about the desperation with which advocates of health care reform are attempting to marginalize and demonize their adversaries.

As with most such stories, it isn't a pretty picture. It begins with Opel going looking for a confrontation:
"On Tuesday, I went to Tallahassee City Hall to attend a forum on health care reform that featured Congressman Allen Boyd as a panelist. The hall was full when I arrived, but outside I found a large group of people participating in a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the James Madison Institute. Some were carrying signs ranging from a swastika with a red line through it to another that read, 'Government Healthcare makes me sick!'

As someone who supports health care reform and would like to see universal coverage in the US, I was curious to find out what was motivating the resistance to health care reform and why anyone would be so hostile to proposals that will provide health coverage to the 46 million people who currently lack access to medical care.
To most people, this would actually be perfectly evident: one way or the other, these people simply do not see this issue the same way Opel does. Opel, like many committed ideologues, doesn't seem to understand this, let alone does he understand how someone may see the issue differently.

But, as it stands, Opel doesn't really seem interested in it at all. He seems perfectly content to portray opponents of health care reform as base brutes.
"What I found, and what the photo I was pictured in on Wednesday's front page revealed, was that many people who are resisting the current government initiatives would rather use intimidation and threats of violence instead of rational debate to advance their agenda."
The picture does seem rather tense, but still a far cry short of impending violence.

It's also perfectly evident from Opel's body language in the picture that he doesn't feel the slightest bit intimidated by the man with whom he is arguing. If anything, his body language is every bit as confrontational.

But that, sadly, isn't Opel's only argument. Despite the folly of recent efforts to invoke racism as part of the health care debate, Opel conflates concerns about illegal immigrants and where they would get their health care into evidence of some kind of white supremacist agenda -- much like MSNBC concealing the race of a man with an assault rifle in order to suggest that he's white.
"Among the people to whom I did talk at length, a number of themes emerged.

One thing that quickly became clear was that this is not really a debate about health care. Within a matter of moments, multiple conversations turned to the issue of 'illegal immigration.' These individuals mistakenly believed that their tax money would be paying for the health care of 'illegal immigrants.' This was followed by criticisms of US immigration policy, border security and a slew of racist comments against non-English speakers and the poor.
Interestingly enough, the question of illegal immigrants and how they would access health care can't be as easily separated as Opel would like to believe.

After all, it isn't as if amnesty for illegal immigrants -- who, for the record, have broken the law by virtue of their method of entry into the United States -- is a cause that has never been championed by the Democratic party.

Concern over illegal immigration, and the massive security risk it poses to the United States not only in terms of terrorism, but also in terms of issues such as organized crime and drug smuggling, is a legitimate issue. Trying to delegitimize that concern is a service to no one.

Of Dr Opel's legitimate concerns is the misinformed nature of many health care reform opponents:
"I also discovered that there are parallel worlds when it comes to statistics about health care. When I asked individuals if they were content to let 46 million people go without health care, I was met with the repeated line, 'It's not 46 million.' I would then ask how many were uninsured, and the repeated answer was that most of the 46 million were 'illegal immigrants' and that the real number was fewer than 10 million and those people could pay for insurance but choose not to.

These opinions contradict data from the US Census Bureau, which documents 46 million uninsured American citizens in the US in 2007.

A similar disconnect occurred around my attempts to compare US health care spending and outcomes with other developed countries. According to the people I spoke with, health care systems in Canada, England, Germany and elsewhere are all on the verge of collapse and those countries are looking to replicate the current US model. These ideas challenge World Health Organization data that rank overall US health care as 37th in the world, 24th in life expectancy, all while we pay nearly twice as much in health care costs per person as any country in the world. Paying more for less is not an indication of a healthy marketplace, but these protestors were ready to defend the current system at any cost.

Finally, the number of senior citizens protesting 'government run health care' stood out with great irony. When I asked a man holding an 'Obama = Socialism' sign if he wanted to give up his Medicare, I was told that Medicare was underfunded.
Certainly a great many more Americans would share Opel's enthusiasm for health care reform if they were aware of the facts surrounding the state of health care in the United States. They may not necessarily be eager to embrace the health care models of Canada, Britain or Germany, but they would almost certainly be in favour of some kind of structural reform.

But the greatest irony of Opel's column is only about to emerge:
"These intellectual and ideological disconnects are a reminder of the power of niche media to create echo chambers that allow us to live in isolated worlds where our own views are rarely challenged and demagogues offer bumper-sticker slogans instead of policy solutions. Examples include Sarah Palin, who spread the 'death panel' lie; Fox News host Glenn Beck, who has called President Obama a racist and joked about poisoning Nancy Pelosi; and Rush Limbaugh, with his ongoing accusations of Obama's policies paralleling those of the Nazis."
To be fair, the reporting of media outlets such as FOX News on a great many topics -- including health care reform -- has been of rather dubious merit.

But then again, so has the reporting of outlets such as MSNBC. For Opel to decry the "intellectual and ideological disconnects" of Palin, Beck and Limbaugh is one thing. What of the "intellectual and ideological disconnects" of Contessa Brewer, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann?

Not only is Opel content to ignore them -- conflating concerns over the costs of health care reforms, whether or not citizens will provide the benefits of such to non-citizens, and the scope of reform with racism -- Opel is more than content to embrace them on his own.

It seems that, as far as echo chambers go, Opel is more than content to be just another voice ringing through the chamber.
"When US Senator Chuck Grassley repeats Palin's lies and groups like Americans for Prosperity host two clips of Glenn Beck on the front page of their Web site, we can see the echo chamber at work, propagating myths as political reality and fanning the flames of fear and insecurity in a time of economic crisis and demographic change in the US."
We can also see the echo chamber at work when Opel joins the chorus of those trying to delegitimize those who dissent from their own views. And when people such as Brewer and Maddow make bold predictions that an assassination attempt is imminent, what are they playing to but the politics of fear?

It's one thing to decry the alleged fear mongering of one's opponents. It's another thing to do it while fear mongering on your own.
"As conservative politicians and media pundits exploit fear for political gain at the expense of any real health care solution, we all suffer from the economic drag of an inefficient health care system and the moral failing of a society unwilling to care for its most vulnerable."
One has to imagine that Andy Opel believes he's doing fellow advocates of health care reform quite the favour.

The truth is very different.

When Opel falls all over himself to deligimize his political opponents he reveals himself to be every bit as misguided, dishonest and unprincipled as his ideological adversaries. He shows that he is exploiting the same echo chamber, and he is doing so secure in the knowledge that those within that chamber will not seek any outside information or perspective.

There is a great deal of security to be found in such an echo chamber. For example, Contessa Brewer, Toure and Dylan Ratigan have yet to retract their report in which they edited footage in order to obscure the race of a gun-bearing individual at an Obama rally so they could suggest white racists were planning Obama's assassination. They don't actually need to. Because those viewing their show very likely may have never watched a story about the rally in question on a competing network. Although they know full well they've misrepresented the story in question, they need never admit it. That is the power of the echo chamber.

Just like MSNBC may even find some who are legitimately racist among those opposing Brack Obama's health care reform, Dr Andy Opel clearly went looking for a confrontation with ignorant opponents of health care reform. He evidently looked hard enough to find it. But that is no surprise.

When one looks hard enough for something they want to find, they may even convince themselves they've found it.

The Cure for Maoism

Globe and Mail scribe Jan Wong long ago discovered the cure for Maoism: actually traveling to communist China.

In Red China Blues, Wong chronicles her journey to China as a young communist-leaning student, and her later return as a Globe and Mail foreign correspondent.

As it turns out, if Wong's example holds true, that the cure for Maoism is actually seeing how Chinese society shaped up under Maoist principles, and watching how that particular ideology was rendered utterly meaningless by the communist state's paradoxical turn toward capitalism.

Even Wong's account of the student protests at Tienanmen Square reveals how much of the revolutionary fervour of Chinese society was adopted purely for show. Wong recounts for readers the contrast in the protesters' behaviour when the television cameras were on them as opposed to when they were not -- one protester atop a car, energetically waving a pro-democracy banner when the television cameras were on him, then slumped over the next.

Even the latter-day worship of chairman Mao has a hollow feel to it when one considers the extent to which leaders like Deng Xiaoping have led China away from Mao's ideology.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Presumably, the Wrong Kind of Journalist

Senate becoming retirement home for journalists?

Writing in a blog post on the Georgia Straight website, Charlie Smith seems to be taking issue with the appointment of journalists to the Senate.

Smith notes that it seems to be happening more and more often. Linda Frum Sokolowski was appointed to the Senate yesterday. She was preceded in December 2008 by former CTV personality Mike Duffy, another appointment that Smith seemed to take enough umbrage with to identify within the very title of his post.

Frum and Duffy's fellow journalists in the upper chamber include Conservative Pamela Wallin, as well as Liberals Joan Fraser and Jim Munson. Conservative Pat Carney and Liberal Laurier LaPierre both recently retired.

Smith -- whom one assumes wouldn't accept a Senatorial appointment if offered one -- muses that a revolving door between journalism and the Senate has emerged, similar to one between politics and lobbying.

"The problem with the revolving door is that it creates an incentive for politicians and political aides to try to curry favour with those special interests," Smith writes. "They know that if they play their cards right, they won't have to worry about finding employment when their government service ends."

"Now, we're in the strange situation of having a revolving door for journalists," Smith continues. "If they don't step on too many toes, they know they might be in a position to land in the Senate, thanks to the actions of recent prime ministers."

Smith seems to be suggesting that the allure of political patronage may provide incentive for journalists to be biased in their work.

The problem is that the two individuals who Smith seems to single out for special treatment -- Duffy and Frum -- don't really support his argument.

Many Liberals like to point to Mike Duffy's treatment of Stephane Dion's abortive CTV interview as evidence of media bias. Yet they still can't account for the fact that Dion's functional illiteracy in English is fair game within Canadian politics -- after all, functional illiteracy in French so often has proven to be.

In fact, many viewers of Mike Duffy Live often accused him of being a Liberal hack -- but such things are apparently so easily forgotten.

Linda Frum, meanwhile, was a columnist for the National Post, and several other publications. Columnists, whose trade tends to be opinion writing, rarely pretend to be impartial. Only an individual whose media literacy suffers to a spectacular degree would attempt to argue they are, or even should be.

Despite Smith's objection to the appointment of journalists as Senators -- and four of 105 members hardly represents a deluge of journalists in the upper chamber -- politics is actually an ideal trade for journalists.

As journalists, the job of the reporter is to ask the questions that need to be asked, and tell the stories that need to be told. The job of the political reporter is to dig in the dark corners of government and tell the citizenry what they find.

The work of government -- especially recently -- is often conducted in various panels of inquiry, where a journalist's skills would serve them -- and their country -- particularly well.

When one considers this, one begins to wonder if Charlie Smith's objections to journalists, particularly Mike Duffy and Linda Frum, isn't really with journalists accepting political appointments, but rather if they're simply being offered to who Smith regards as the wrong journalists.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Montreal Simon - "Stephen Harper and the House of Pork"

One Supposes That "Elected Senate" Thing Is Looking a Whole Lot Better Now

Stephen Harper appoints underwhelming batch of new Senators

For Canadian opposition leaders who have opposed Senate reform under extremely specious pretenses, one would have to imagine that an elected Senate must look pretty good today.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed nine new Senators to Canada's upper chamber. His choices are far from inspiring.

One has to wonder if NDP leader Jack Layton is rethinking his argument that Canadians would be confused by Senatorial elections when he reviews Harper's new appointments to the red chamber. Perhaps Stephane Dion would have fewer objections to "piecemeal" reforms, as opposed to broad-sweeping reforms, if he stopped to think about it today.

The Conservative party will henceforth be further represented in the Senate by Jacques Demers, former Nunavut Premier Dennis Patterson, Tory election campaign chairman Doug Finley, Conservative party President Don Plett, Linda Frum, Judith Seidman, former Harper spokesperson Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, Kelvin Ogilvie, and Claude Carignan.

While some of the appointments can be justified on the merit of the appointees, some of them clearly cannot. One further is utterly baffling.

So far as the necessary evil -- necessary so long as the opposition continues to oppose Senate form on less-than-inspired grounds -- of appointed Senators goes, Patterson, Frum, Seidman and Oglivie can be easily justified.

As the former Premier of Nunavut, Patterson can bring his expertise to bear on relations between the federal government and the Territories -- something that has been notably neglected over the past few decades. Patterson was also involved in the negotiations that led to the establishment of Nunavut in the first place. As far as unelected Senators go, Patterson is as worthy as any.

Linda Frum Sokolowski, sister of David Frum and daughter of Barbara Frum, spent three years as a board member of the Ontario Arts Council. Her work as a journalist stands apart -- although infuriating to ideological opponents of conservatism (then again, perhaps that's why she stands apart).

Judith Seidman's work as a medical researcher will help round out expertise on matters related to health care in the Senate.

Former Acadia President Dr Kelvin Oglivie also has solid medical credentials. He's considered by many to be a global leader in biotechnology, including genetic engineering. His appointment will certainly broaden the Senate's expertise on bio-ethics.

While these appointments were wisely made, some were not.

Of those appointments regarding which wisdom was rather lacking, Claude Carignan is the most defensible of them. A Conservative candidate defeated in the 2008 federal election, Carignan was also the mayor of Saint Eustache, Quebec. His presence will certainly help the government in terms of municipal affairs.

When one regards the appointments of Stewart-Olsen, Plett and Finley, one simply expected better from Stephen Harper. Their presence in the Senate is as partisan hacks, pure and simple.

The appointment of Jacques Demers is more than a little puzzling. While his story -- becoming an NHL coach and winning the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 -- is inspiring, his appointment shares the same virtues as that of the Liberal appointment of Frank Mahovolich: slim and none.

At least Liberal MP Ken Dryden -- also a former Hab -- and former Liberal MP Red Kelly had to win to get into Parliament.

When one considers that, in Harper's batch of appointments, only four of the nine can be justified based on their own merits, one has to imagine that an elected Senate must look much better to them now.

An elected Senate certainly wouldn't bar partisan hacks from the upper chamber. But at least in an elected Senate, individuals like Carignan, Finley, Plett, Stewart-Olsen and Demers would have to win an election to get into Parliament.

That prospect alone should help still the tongues of those who, out of partisan self-interest, continue to oppose Senate reform.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Joseph Uranowski - Senate Appointments, Harpocrisy, and Awesomeness"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Conciliator?

Mulroney wants Tories to kiss and make up

When Conservatives gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Brian Mulroney's 1984 majority government victory -- one of only two for the party in the past quarter century, and only three in the past 60 years -- Mulroney wants the party to be more than simply a celebration of a past triumph.

He wants the Conservative party to kiss and make up.

"It's in the interest of all Conservatives -- Progressive Conservatives and the latter-day group -- to come together in support of common principles," Mulroney recently told Canadian Press.

How welcome, precisely, Mulroney's call to reconcile is in the mind of Stephen Harper is likely only truly known to Harper himself -- who will not attend the party, as he will be in the United States on that day -- or perhaps his wife, Laureen.

But a reconciliation between the Harper wing of the Conservative party and Mulroney loyalists -- some of whom surely continue to harbour some grudges over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, and even after 20 years the feeling likely remains very much mutual -- would bear many dividends for the party.

For one thing, it would reunite the party with activists who unequivocally know how to win in Quebec.

For Conservatives wary of declining polling numbers in La Belle Province, Mulroney would urge them not to write the province off as a lost cause. "When I became leader [in 1983] we had one seat in Quebec," he said. "Our first election in 1984 we got 58 seats -- and 50 per cent of the popular vote. Then in 1988 we got 63 seats of the 74 here."

"We had quite a following here," Mulroney recalled. "We were able to do some things that people remember favourably."

A reconciliation with the Mulroney camp would expand the party's expertise in fighting elections in Quebec. Considering that Harper's Diefenbaker-esque dealings with Mario Dumont and the Action Democratique du Quebec haven't fully beared fruit -- likely due to the admittedly-woeful state of the ADQ -- the Conservative party could put that kind of experience to good use.

There is no modern-day Maurice Duplessis to help the party reap an electoral windfall in Quebec.

A reconciliation between the Harper and Mulroney camps could even help pave the way for an eventual return by current Quebec Premier Jean Charest to federal politics as a high-profile member -- and likely eventual leader -- of the party.

The Liberal party evidently never really knew what to do with the Stephane Dion package -- a dedicated separatist-fighter with solid credentials on the environment. It probably helped that the Dion package was never really legit, but with Charest it is undisputable. The Tories would do well to avail themselves of his potential return. A reconciliation would go a long way.

In Mulroney's mind, at least it isn't out of the question. He seems to bear Stephen Harper no ill will in regards to the issues that have emerged between them. In fact, he doesn't seem very distressed by it all.

"He severed relations with me, which, when you've been prime minister, doesn't really mean very much to you. There's nothing that I worry about [that] Mr Harper can or cannot do," Mulroney explained.

In fact, Mulroney seems to recognize much of himself in Stephen Harper.

"Because you can’t elect anybody based on that hard-core thing," Mulroney added. "Mr Harper was smart enough to realize that and to figure out how you get elected in this country."

"I was conservative -— right of centre —- on some important issues, which he is, and slightly left of centre, or centrist, on some important social issues."

Of course, it isn't merely in the interest of all conservatives to heal some of the remaining rifts in the Conservative party -- it's also in the interest of all Canadians.

Canada can't be governed on liberalism alone and, as paleoconservative political scientist Barry Cooper would note, the Harper government's turn away from contrived public virtue-based governance and back toward economic pragmatism should be considered a welcome one.

Anything that strengthens the Conservative party -- in fact, anything that strengthens almost any political party -- will, by extension, also be good for Canada.

Mulroney likely isn't being entirely unselfish in his motives for wanting to see the Conservative party kiss and make up. In the eyes of many, Mulroney was the greatest Conservative since sir John A MacDonald -- or at least since John Diefenbaker. Helping the Conservative party further unite itself under any banner would only further cement that legacy.

Brian Mulroney's precise motivation is actually irrelevant. All that really matters is getting the Conservative party back on track again, fully united.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death of a Dynasty Death of a Dream?

Will health care reform die with Ted Kennedy?

At the age of 77, Edward Kennedy passed away last night after a lengthy fight with brain cancer.

In the wake of his passing, many are insisting that his passing is the death of the Kennedy dynasty. As the longest-living of the Kennedy brothers -- John and Robert both met with unfortunately young demises -- Ted Kennedy's passing is at the very least the end of an era.

(Arnold Schwarzenegger, husband to Maria Schriver, continues to govern California. One may question whether or not the Kennedy dynasty is truly dead.)

But some fear that more than simply that era may end with Kennedy's passing. Some worry that Barack Obama's health care reform ambitions -- long championed by Kennedy -- may ultimately die with him.

The so-called public option the Democrats have been pushing as part of their reform package has, amidst vociferous public dissent and the Democrats' own political clumsiness, seemingly become a dead option, as the Democrats seem to have sounded a near-full retreat on the issue.

As Andrew Cohen notes, Ted Kennedy contacted Massachussets governor Deval Patrick via letter and asked him to appoint a replacement for Kennedy in the event of his seat becoming vacant -- as it has today.

Kennedy seems to have been very aware that his passing was quickly approaching. These past few weeks must have been very difficult for him, as he watched a combination of legitimate fiscal concern and sheer hysteria combine with his personal political quest to tear his country apart once again.

Now that Edward Kennedy has passed away, observers are now left to wonder precisely what fate awaits the Obama health care reform package. Will supporters be galvanized by Kennedy's passing and become more determined to make his legacy a reality? Or will they lose heart for another decade?

Only time -- and the resolve of Barack Obama -- will tell.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Same Old Attitude = Same Old Problem

Old problems need new solutions -- politicians shouldn't be criticized for listening

When the Conservative party recently announced the formation of its Aboriginal Caucus -- led by MP Rod Bruinooge and also featuring MPs Leona Aglukkaq, Shelly Glover and Rob Clarke as well as Senators Patrick Brazeau and Gerry St Germain -- Canada's opposition parties found a convenient way of distracting people from the fact that the Tories can boast more aboriginals in their caucus than any other party.

They pointed to a speech delivered to the caucus by Calvin Helin and accused the caucus of heresy in regard to aboriginal affairs.

Helin is the author of Dances With Dependency. In the book he argues that the old system of political clientelism and paternalism has shoehorned Canada's First Nations into a position of poverty-perpetuating economic dependency. He also identifies a severe democratic deficit in many First Nations, as the leadership of organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs are elected not by the citizens of First Nations, but rather by chiefs.

Helin argues that many of these chiefs are tending not to the needs and interests of their constituents, but rather to their own institutional interests, and he insists that they need to be changed.

Among the Conservative aboriginal caucus, Patrick Brazeau formerly served as the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Perhaps the most revelatory comments about the entire issue came from Liberal MP Anita Neville, who simply wrote off Helin's speech as "nonsense".

"I'd rather them hear from the [native] leadership and not someone who is critical of the leadership," Neville said.

Of course, if Helin were simply another white man perpetually looking down his nose at aboriginals -- a comment often made about Tom Flanagan, and sometimes not without merit -- that very much would be one thing. But Helin is a member of BC's Tsimshian First Nation. His father Barry is a hereditary chief of the Gitlaan tribe, and his mother Verna is a member of the royal House of 'Wiiseeks of the Ginaxangiik tribe.

In other words, Calvin Helin would actually stand to personally benefit from maintaining the current political structure of First Nations governance. When such an individual is calling for change, our federal politicians should listen.

That individuals like Neville would suggest that politicians should only listen to First Nations leaders and ignore their critics is not only extremely foolish, it's also tacitly undemocratic.

Opposition leaders sputter in outrage when the government appears to be ignoring dissent. To institutionally exclude dissenters from the debate is to do much worse than ignore them.

Rod Bruinooge, Patrick Brazeau and the rest of the Conservative Aboriginal Caucus are listening. Considering that decades of Liberal party-backed clientelist and paternalist aboriginal policies have left aboriginals mired in poverty, individuals like Neville could stand to listen, too -- or at the very least hold their tongues while others do.

No Free Ride for Lizzie May in Saanich

Intrepid Green to challenge May's candidacy, leadership in BC riding

If Elizabeth May thought she was going to walk the red carpet to a nomination in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, she was wrong.

A challenger has emerged, and he wants to throw down the gauntlet on more than just May's desire to run in the riding -- he wants to challenge her leadership.

"I'm concerned about democracy both in Canada and the Green Party," says Stuart Hertzog, who says that the party's centralization of power away from riding associations and toward the national council has harmed the party. "As a result, many of the local groups have just withered away and all the action is taking place at the national level."

Hertzog is a veteran of both the BC Green Party and the recently defunct Green Party of Alberta.

Hertzog particularly disagrees with May's insistence that the party focus almost single-mindedly on getting her elected the next time the writ is dropped.

"I think it's a desperate move. I think it's a sign the Green Party has failed to build a grass roots base of support right across this country," says Hertzog.

The demise of the Green Party of Alberta could certainly be taken as evidence of Hertzog's assertions. Elections Alberta recently canceled the party's registration in the province because required financial statements hadn't been filed.

A party that was building grass roots support, membership and an infrastructure of activists would never lose its registration on such mundane grounds. A party that is obsessively focused on lionizing its leaders very well may, and apparently has.

Like May, Hertzog would effectively be a parachute candidate. Unlike May, however, Hertzog lives in neighbouring Victoria, whereas May would be parachuting in all the way from her unwinnable Nova Scotia riding and her extremely ill-advised obsession with defeating Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay.

Hopefully, Stuart Hertzog's bid to defeat Elizabeth May for the Green nomination in Saanich-Gulf Islands will sound a clarion call to other Canadian Greens who want May out of the party leadership.

The longer she remains at the helm of the party, the worse off they will be.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Stuart Hertzog - "Why I am Standing as a Nomination Candidate

Mark Kersten - "May to be Challenged for Saanich-Gulf Islands Nomination"

Dan Shields - "Elizabeth May Decides on a Riding"

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Recipe For Unsustainable Health Care

Cameron's proposed NHS policy uncharacteristic and foolish

In the midst of a controversy surrounding a Tory MP's criticisms of the National Health Service, British Conservative party leader has managed to provoke a controversy within his own caucus.

In response to scathing criticisms stemming from Daniel Hannan's recent voicing of criticisms of the NHS on Fox News, Cameron has proposed to commit to annually increasing government spending on the NHS at a rate exceeding inflation.

Naturally, this has created a division within his party caucus. What he may not have expected is that his caucus would so firmly align against his proposal.

Only 29% of Cameron's caucus agreed with his plan. 62% of his MPs disagreed.

Furthermore, only 33% agreed that the current funding model for the NHS would be sustainable for another period of 60 years. 62% didn't.

The same poll of Cameron's MPs found that they wanted the introduction of a broader role for private health insurance.

Former Conservative Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe has called for wealthy Britons to use private health care in order to relieve undue strain on the public system -- something that would likely require a greater role for private health care.

"We urgently need the debate -- I think politicians of all parties have shied away from it for too long," she said. "We should look without prejudice at a range of options."

And while there's certainly nothing wrong with Widdecombe's call for a greater debate, one can certainly expect the Labour party -- which has been so utterly ham-fisted over Daniel Hannan's remarks -- to take full advantage of both her comments and the results of this particular poll.

Perhaps the greater problem for Cameron, however, is that his MPs are perfectly justified in opposing his proposal.

Allowing the funding of any government program -- even one as integral as health care -- to increase at a rate greater than inflation is a recipe for an absolute fiscal disaster.

If the funding for the National Health Service increased at a rate greater than inflation, it would be unsustainable well within the 60 year window the ComRes poll uses as its frame of reference.

Certainly, David Cameron cannot allow the Labour party to have a free hand in painting his party with the "secret agenda" tar brush that so successfully managed to mar his party's Canadian counterpart.

But Cameron needs to focus on responsible policies, and make sure that any policy he proposes can be sustainable. He should be more than happy to leave the politics of irresponsibility to his opponents.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A World War II History Moment

God bless Quentin Tarantino, he makes fantastic movies.

Few directors would dare rewrite the history of World War II, as Tarantino endeavours to this weekend with Inglourious Basterds, a film about a group of Jewish American soldiers who kill and scalp Nazis in a bid to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

Of all the countries occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, Poland was most harmed. Of the 6,000,000 killed during the Holocaust, fully 3,000,000 of them were Polish Jews.

Just as the characters of Inglourious Basterds take matters rather personally and into their own hands, so did the Free Polish forces who escaped the annexation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Like their French counterparts, the Free French Army under General Charles de Gaulle, they fought honourably for the freedom of their country, even while their country was under a horrific occupation.

This is their story, and the story of their greatest triumph.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Is It With These People and Racism?

If there's anything many left-wingers have realized over the last few years, it seems to be that they can make race an issue about anything. Ever.

In a recent segment on MSNBC, Contessa Brewer, Dylan Ratigan and Toure attempted to write off protesters showing up to Barack Obama's Town Hall meetings with guns as white racists out to harm a black President.

There was, sadly, only one detail that didn't add up -- the man featured in the newscast wasn't everything its hosts claimed he was.

"There are questions about whether this has racial overtones," Brewer said, as the image of a man wearing a white shirt with an AR-15 assault rifle appeared on screen. "Here you have a man of colour in the Presidency and white people showing up with guns strapped to their waists or to their legs."

"It sounds simplistic when you put it that way, but it is real that there is tremendous anger in this country about government, the way government seems to be taking over the country, anger about a black person being president," Toure added. "Just several upheavals in the country over the last ten years from 9/11, to the economic tsunami, to the black man becoming president and, you know, we see these hate groups rising up and this is definitely part of that."

"Angry at government and racism, you put those two together," later added Ratigan.

Fortunately, MSNBC's cameras weren't the only ones on hand at the Arizona rally.

CNN's cameras were also present, and interviewed this "white man with a gun". Who, unfortunately for Brewer, Ratigan, Toure and MSNBC, wasn't actually white.


But portraying conservative activists as racists has recently proven to be the bread and butter of MSNBC. When Janeane Garofalo insisted that protesters at Tea Bag rallies were "about hating a black man in the White House. This is about racism straight-up," host Keith Olbermann could do nothing but nod his head in agreement.

Garofalo has since remained unrepentant about her foray onto the political low road. Olbermann himself has also had remarkably little to say about his participation in a blatant bastardization of racial politics.

So many of those paying attention to the American left-wing media must surely be beginning to wonder more frequently: what is it with these people and racism? If they so desperately need to edit their footage so as to obscure the race of the subject of a newscast, perhaps their fixation has become an evidently unhealthy one.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 2009 Book Club Selection: Open & Shut, John Ibbitson

John Ibbitson makes case for open politics in Canada

Open & Shut: Why America Has Barack Obama and Canada Has Stephen Harper, draws more than a few conclusions that many Canadians wouldn't be entirely happy with.

Ibbitson lays out the case that the United States is essentially more democratic than Canada, and that Canada could never have a Prime Minister like Barack Obama unless we make some serious changes to our electoral system.

More than anything, Ibbitson points to the American system of primary elections, in which nominees for offices such as the President or state Governor are chosen by the people through an electoral process.

What emerges is a real possibility for "underdog" candidates like Barack Obama to triumph over "inevitable" candidates like Hilary Clinton to get their chance at the Presidency -- and, in the process, help galvanize the issues that are really on the citizenry's mind.

As Preston Manning recently pointed out in a Globe and Mail op/ed, many unexpected parties are experimenting with primary elections within systems that naysayers would insist aren't designed to accommodate them.

Ibbitson also makes the case for an elected judiciary in Canada, noting that most objective accounts credit the American judiciary -- which is elected, and even the President-appointed Supreme Court has greater democratic mechanisms in place -- with a stronger record than its Canadian counterpart.

There are some proposals in Open and Shut that many Canadians wouldn't be nearly so eager to follow. Ibbitson calls for an ever-greater level of integration with the United States that would make a great many Canadian nationalists uneasy.

But the ideas contained in Open and Shut are important, and very worth discussing. The Globe and Mail has convened a public policy wiki for that very purpose -- one that should warrant the attention of any Canadian concerned about the future of the country.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Could Sue-Ann Levy Curb Liberal Election Plans?

A Tory win would signal trouble in Toronto for Liberals

To say that Toronto has been a Conservative party wasteland for the last 10 years would be an understatement.

Since Mike Harris merged the various municipalities surrounding Toronto into the modern "megacity" of Toronto, the Conservative party has never elected a single candidate in the city -- neither provincially nor federally.

The nomination of Sue-Ann Levy -- a "married lesbian" and frequent critic of Toronto mayor David Miller -- seems to have given the Ontario Progressive Conservative party a very real opportunity to break the long shut out suffered by Conservatives in the city.

Even as federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff insists his party hasn't yet decided whether or not to defeat Stephen Harper's government in September, the implications of a Levy victory in the September 17 by-election would likely force Ignatieff to blink.

Recent calls for Premier Dalton McGunity to delay the by-election have led many to speculate that the provincial Liberals are worried they may lose the contest.

Coming from the Toronto Sun, one would be tempted to discard that kind of speculation. But when it appears in the Toronto Star, it quickly becomes apparent that the hype may well be real.

Levy has a variety of issues she can attack the McGuinty government on. Before one even looks at the eHealth scandal, there are the matters of a slew of new municipal taxes for which Levy blames the provincial government.

There also seems to be a lack of faith in Liberal candidate Dr Eric Hoskins' will to match Levy blow-for-blow.

"It's a smart candidate for Hudak," admitted a Liberal insider. "She'll be a puncher and will Hoskins be a counterpuncher? I don't know."

There is also the matter of Dr Hoskins' defeat in his 2008 bid to become the Member of Parliament for Haldmand-Norfolk, a contest he lost to Diane Finley. There are also questions about whether or not Dr Hoskins' previous work -- he's a co-founder and the current President of War Child Canada -- will be of use in Queen's Park.

If Levy manages to emerge victorious from the September 17 vote Canadians can expect Michael Ignatieff to think twice about making a play for a fall election. But at least he'll be better off than Dalton McGuinty. For the current Ontario Premier, that could prove to be the beginning of the end.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

MJ Murphy - "The Downside of Sue-Ann Levy"

Dr Roy Eappen - "Sue-Ann Levy"

Let it Rain on Health Care Fraud

As the debate over health care in the United States (and in other countries) continues, it often helps to remember that it is hardly a new debate.

Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker was released in 1997. It was a film adaptation of a 1995 book by John Grisham -- which was probably one of fewer than five books that has ever drawn tears from this author.

In the film, Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) is a graduate just out of law school when he encounters the legal profession in all of its ugliness. In a market overloaded with lawyers, Baylor ends up in the cutthroat employ of "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), a strong-arm lawyer with a taste for chasing ambulances and expertise in "stolen evidence".

When Stone is forced to leave the country before he has to face down a grand jury over some seeming connections to organized crime, Baylor is forced to take on the case of Donny Ray Black (Johnny Whitworth), a leukemia patient who is being denied treatment by a health insurance company that sold his mother, Dot (Mary Kay Place) a cheap insurance policy.

Attempting to weasle their way out of paying for a live-saving bone marrow transplant, the company is prepared to simply let Donnie die while they attempt to dismiss his case with the cooperation of a dishonest circuit judge. But when the presiding judge passes away from a heart attack, he's replaced by Justice Tyrone Kipler (Danny Glover), a former activist lawyer.

The company and their lawyer, Leo Drummond (John Voight), are in for some bad news: they're going to trial.

Despite the inexperience of Baylor, it's going to prove costly for them.

In the course of the trial, the testimony of Jackie Lemancyzk (Virgina Madsen) makes it evident that denying all claims in the hopes that the policy holder won't pursue legal action was integral to Great Benefit's scheme in which the cheap health insurance policies were sold door-to-door.

To make the scheme even more infuriating, the company attempted to dismiss bone marrow transplants as "experimental procedures", even as they were planning to invest in bone marrow clinics because they had become a standard procedure for treating leukemia.

In the film, Great Benefit has activated more than 90,000 of the policies sold to the Blacks, yet paid out on barely more than 1,000 of 11,000 claims.

Denying people the benefits they have paid good money -- maybe not a lot of money, but good money -- for has proven to be very profitable for the company.

The scheme presented in The Rainmaker could be viewed as the oft-hidden underside of health insurance fraud -- insurance fraud by insurance companies, who double-deal behind the scenes in order to profit from medical procedures they don't want to pay for.

The arguments made by Drummond in the case -- that forcing health insurance companies to actually pay out the benefits they collect for would cause insurance rates to become unaffordable, and eventually put the health insurance industry in government control.

The similarity to arguments being used against President Barack Obama's health care reform plan should probably be seen as less than coincidental.

In the end, the consequences for the company prove to be catastrophic for them. For their victims, it has -- and will -- prove to be much, much worse.

In the film, Drummond and numerous Great Benefit executives claim they were merely denying claims so they would have time to investigate possible fraudulent claims -- which is ironic when one considers that their denial of benefits are, themselves, fraudulent.

The kinds of schemes portrayed in The Rainmaker represent nothing more than white collar crime under a dishonest guise of legality. These cases shouldn't merely be a matter for civil courts -- they should be a matter for criminal law. Insurance companies using any such scheme should be prosecuted to the fullest extent to the law, up to and including for manslaughter if their victims -- patients being denied benefits they've paid for -- die.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

David Cameron's Health Care Dilemma

Disrupt party unity or give Gordon Brown a massive gift?

As the health care debate continues to rage in the United States and (sadly to a much lesser extent) in Canada, British Conservative party leader David Cameron is facing a health care debate of his very own.

He's essentially been presented with two options -- severely punish a group of Tory MPs, led by Daniel Hannan, who have endorsed the views of American opponents of health care reform who have also targeted Britain's National Health Service as an example of why Americans do not want to institute universal health care.

"I wouldn’t wish it on anybody," Hannan told FOX News. "We have a system where the most salient facts of it you get huge waiting lists, you have bad survival rates and you would much rather fall ill in the US."

The Labour party wasted no time whatsoever in jumping all over Hannan's remarks, treating them, in a "secret agenda"-esque manner, as the secret "true policy" of the British Conservative party on health care.

"This lays bare the Tories' deep ambivalence towards the NHS," said British Health Secretary Andy Burnham. "Their election strategy is not to talk about it. Cameron knows there is deep hostility towards it within his ranks."

"Hannan is not the only one. Many senior Tory MPs privately agree with him," Burham added. "Mr Cameron looks rattled today. Dan Hannan's attack lays bare the real face of the face Tory Party."

"Despite Cameron's frantic backtracking, it's clear he and Hannan are much closer than he wants people to think," he concluded.

Which is actually rather different from Cameron actually had to say about the NHS.

"One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you're injured or fall ill - no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you've got - you know that the NHS will look after you," Cameron said.

It should be no surprise that Cameron has been so quick to defend the NHS. Hannan's comments have jeopardized a long-standing rebuilding and rebranding program by the Conservative party, one that has placed it well-poised to win a Blair-esque majority in the next general election.

And with some very stormy political clouds ahead, it's of little surprise that Gordon Brown is eager to jump on Hannan's remarks in an attempt to derail the Tory train.

"It is understandable that the Conservative leadership have tried to distance themselves from those in Tory ranks who criticise the NHS," Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently remarked. "But the truth is that there are two Tory faces on the NHS. Behind all the recent talk of commitment, the party has not truly been reformed."

To make matters worse for Cameron, Burnham has called on Cameron to bar Hannan and the other members of the Atlantic Bridge Group from the upcoming Conservative party conference.

Which clearly places David Cameron in something of a quandry: if he forbids Daniel Hannan and the other members of the Atlantic Bridge Group from attending his party's convention, it will sew disunity within his party and disrupt Tory momentum. If he allows them to attend, Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham will use it as an opportunity to continue smearing the Tories with "hidden agenda" fear mongering.

Unfortunately in Britain -- as in Canada -- the focus on the political side of the health care debate has disrupted any attempt to substantively discuss the issues surrounding the matter.

For example, health care quality in Britain has seemingly stagnated over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, forcing David Cameron to juggle his support of the NHS with Daniel Hannan's criticisms of it draws attention away from issues such as this. Whatever they may have to say about it in public, Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham are not really doing the British public any good by trying to transform the NHS into a political hand grenade.

The Unseen Side of the Levy Candidacy

Columnist's Tory candidacy provides outlet for inter-caucus tensions

There are actually a variety of different takes on Sue-Ann Levy's decision to run in the upcoming by-election in St Paul's.

Some have hailed Levy as a dream candidate. Some have insisted Levy's candidacy will be embarrassing for the party. Some have merely panned it as surprising.

While running a "married lesbian" under the umbrella of a party led by someone who came into his leadership on the strength of former Premier Mike Harris' support certainly helps to soften the party image, there's also a much-overlooked underside to Levy's candidacy.

The Levy candidacy provides the party with a release valve for internal tensions over whether or not the party should involve itself in municipal politics.

Earlier this month, a spat took place within the Progressive Conservative caucus when MPP Bill Murdoch spoke out against Norm Sterling's proposal that the party advocate for the extension of party politics to municipal government.

"I think the problem in big cities is that they do not have political party structure. The councillors never present a vision for the city. They talk about stop signs, they talk about playgrounds, they talk about bus stops. They each have their own little fiefdoms, and they tend to those fiefdoms. Councillors do not have an interest in the whole, only in their own bailiwick," Sterling suggested. "We have to have party politics because there is nothing to force individual councillors to take a position on the general direction of the city as a whole. We don’t see strong government under the current system."

Sterling had even proposed using powers granted provincial governments under the Constitution to impose this change.

"The provincial governments have constitutional authority and mandate to deal with municipalities and it is incumbent on us to look at some different models and see if we can do better than we are doing now," he added.

Murdoch denounced the proposal, suggesting it "takes away the right of the members [city councillors] to think for themselves." Murdoch mused that getting political parties involved in municipal politics could lead to city councillors taking directions from party officials.

Hudak chose not to get directly involved in the debate, simply noting that the Ontario PC party has no policy on the matter. He did, however, Appoint Murdoch to his shadow cabinet as critic for Municipal Affairs (rural). That could certainly be viewed as an implicit endorsement of Murdoch's views.

Levy is known as a vociferous critic of Toronto Mayor David Miller. Her candidacy could be interpreted as an olive branch to Sterling and his supporters who believe the party should be involved in municipal politics -- at least to the extent that the party would have a much stronger voice.

It should be noted that the Sterling/Murdoch dispute has had previous episodes -- Sterling was previously offended by Murdoch's opposition to John Tory's policy regarding religious school funding -- but has been relatively quiet since this most recent confrontation.

But if Sue-Ann Levy's nomination can soothe some of the bruised egos over the party's policies on Municipal Affairs, that's merely another benefit Hudak will reap from her candidacy.

Considering the anxiety of many St Paul's Liberals over the by-election, this is likely just the icing on the cake. But hey. Icing's icing.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Matt Guerin - "Sue-Ann Levy's candidacy doesn't mean Tim Hudak's gone centrist..."

Dr Roy Eappen - "Ontario Grits scared?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

MSNBC Wants You... To Be Scared Shitless

John Acton once famously remarked that "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

As one apprises the state of the American left-leaning media, the former part of this maxim becomes almost immediately apparent.

Once upon a time, the American left-wing derided the excesses of FOX News and other right-leaning media outlets. They were (often quite rightly) accused of being toadies for the governing Republican party, fear mongering, and otherwise helping to steamroll political dissent.

A recent segment from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show serves as a perfect example, wherein Maddow seeks to stir up fear of anti-health care reform protesters by comparing them to anti-abortion terrorists.

In an interview with Dr George Hearn -- who himself has had many threats made against his life -- Maddow attempts to conflate as closely as possible those who are protesting health care reform with violent anti-abortion zealots.

Appearing on the show, Hearn offers a very illustrative account of how he sees the abortion debate and how it turned to violent. It's clearly his view -- for example, he insists the anti-abortion movement of becoming more and more "harsh and aggressive in their rhetoric" (they have), but declines to note that the pro-abortion movement has become more and more harsh and aggressive in its rhetoric, to the extent that applaud and celebrate acts of violence against anti-abortion activists.

Hearn and Maddow insist that violence perpetrated against anti-abortion extremists sets a trend toward political violence that will spill over into the health care debate. Yet neither of them provide any substantive examples of the health care debate moving in this direction.

Not that there hasn't been any cause for concern. The presence of two gun-toting individuals at Barack Obama's health care town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week is clearly an eye-opener.

But on his own show, Hardball, Chris Matthews clearly put on his Bill O'Reilly hat before hosting William Kostric, interrupting him numerous times, and bombarding him with numerous irrelevant questions.

"Who did you vote for last November?"

"What do you think of President Obama?"

"Do you have any problems with his legitimacy as President?"

"You're not part of the birther movement or anything like that?"

"Where are you on the issue of whether he's a legitimate President of the United States?"

"You're not making any claim that he's not a citizen?"

Kostric clearly is not the sharpest individual, as only an idiot would bring a gun to meeting where any international leader. But for Matthews to work as hard as he did attempting to portray Kostric as an erstwhile assassin just shows how far left-leaning media outlets like MSNBC are willing to in order to use fear tactics to marginalize the opponents of health care reform.

Certainly, there has been a lot of inflammatory nonsense peddled under the guise of legitimate dissent on this issue. Sarah Palin's recent self-humiliation is a perfect example of this.

But setting up a universal health care system is a costly proposition, regardless of what model the United States elects to follow. Individuals like Kostric have every reason to be concerned. The efforts of individuals like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow splendidly illustrate precisely how far they're willing to go in order to terrify people from their bully pulpit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Keep the Arms Industry Away From District 9

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie District 9. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Sci-fi film presents terrifying view of Arms Industry

Films as deep and uniquely thoughtful as District 9 come along very rarely.

District 9 is such a deep film that it's difficult to decide where, precisely, to begin with it. The film, essentially a Harry Turtledove-esque alternate history of South African Apartheid in which an alien spacecraft appeared in the sky over Johannesburg in approximately 1981 -- at the height of the international controversy over Apartheid.

The aliens, referred to by the derogatory epithet "prawns", were eventually segregated into a slum outside of the city. The government is now planning to forcibly move the aliens -- who seem listless and purposeless in the wake of the apparent death of their leadership -- to a refugee camp 200 miles away from the city.

Multi-National United (MNU) is the corporation that eventually wins a contract from the South African government to manage alien affairs. MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of the operation, and immediately puts his pencil-pushing skills to work, much to the infuriating chagrin of the mercenaries MNU employs to forcibly move the aliens.

But an opportunity quickly presents itself to MNU -- one of the world's foremost weapons manufacturers -- in the form of the bumbling Wikus.

When Wikus manages to expose himself to a chemical that begins to alter his DNA -- replacing it with alien DNA -- he suddenly becomes the missing link in the company's efforts to unlock the secret of the alien weaponry. The alien weapons, it turns out, can only be fired by the aliens. They feature a sort of DNA trigger lock.

When it's discovered that the transformation Wikus is undergoing has enabled him to fire these weapons, the MNU science division -- which has been undertaking some rather horrific experiments on the aliens -- quickly decides to remove Wikus' organs while he's still alive in order to find out how human and alien DNA can be combined.

Wikus' father in law himself hands down the decision without so much as the first hint of moral difficulty.

Sadly, history is full of examples that show us how quickly scientific ethics can break down once scientists commit themselves to developing new methods of destroying life.

The shocking history of medical experimentation in Nazi Germany shows how quickly science's ethical rules can be discarded -- especially if one has subjects that are deemed to be not human or less than fully human to experiment on.

The sheer power of the alien weaponry in District 9 only adds to the terrifying dilemmas that emerge once science is committed to creating weapons.

Greed and ruthlessness have rarely combined well in human history, especially not when the arms industry is involved. The black market trade in weapons has enabled many civil and ethnic conflicts to continue unabated. In many cases, arms manufacturers have used black market dealers to keep these activities at an arm's length.

If MNU successfully unlocked the secret of using the alien weaponry in District 9, one would imagine they wouldn't hesitate to sell those secrets to the Nigerian gangs hiding out in the alien slum -- some of whom have resorted to eating alien body parts in an effort to gain their powers and use their weapons.

District 9 reminds us of why the arms industry has to be monitored and regulated very closely. Even those who favour minimal levels of government regulation of anything must admit that giving this industry a free hand to develop and sell arms is a terrible, terrible idea.