Saturday, October 31, 2009

History Repeating, History Repeated?

Michael Ignatieff in a very familiar situation

Writing in an op/ed column in the Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan recounts the recent trials and tribulations of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and casts them in an interesting -- and familiar -- light:
"The leader of the opposition, after supporting the minority government's budget, decides that he would like to force an election after all. He publicly announces his intention to defeat the government, leaving the Prime Minister lots of time to react. Then the roof caves in at Stornoway.

The government whips up a storm of public opposition to an election, telling people that they will lose benefits that were in the budget but have not yet passed through Parliament. Helping the government to survive, Jack Layton offers crucial support in return for policy concessions that will please NDP supporters. At a major turning point, the unity of the opposition is threatened as the leader loses the support of a key member of the caucus.

Public reaction is savage. People say they don't want an election, and the opposition falls to rock-bottom standing in the polls while the government soars. Pundits indulge in a feeding frenzy over the badly wounded body of the opposition leader. They deride his strategy. They demand that he reveal the platform he will run on in the next election campaign. They speculate that his political career is over. In response, the leader replaces his chief of staff and contemplates further changes in his retinue.
As Flanagan notes, this certainly describes Michael Ignatieff's experience since September. But it also describes the experience of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2005, back when he was occupying Ignatieff's current office.

"After initially supporting Paul Martin's budget, Mr Harper decided to defeat the government when embarrassing revelations started to trickle out from the Gomery inquiry into the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

Then everything happened as just described. The government mobilized public opinion against an election, the NDP changed sides, Belinda Stronach defected to the Liberals, Conservative poll numbers nosedived, Mr Harper was savaged in the media and he reorganized his office.
Of course, there are many differences afoot. The Gomery Inquiry was already underway when Harper made his intentions to defeat the Martin government clear. Canadians already knew that an embarrassment of riches had been stolen by the Liberal party under the guise of the Sponsorship Program.

What we didn't yet know was the brazen flagrance with which the scandal was perpetrated.

Recently, the Liberal party has been making a lot of noise about a disproportionate amount of stimulus funds being spend on projects in their ridings. When asked to disclose precisely where money was being spent, and one what projects, the Tories decided to bury Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page with virtually every document related to the matter.

But there are numerous other factors involved in the matter, including the requirements of regional parity, as well as an alleged disproportionate number of project applications from municipalities within Conservative-held ridings.

It seems highly unlikely that an adscam-level scandal is going to emerge to rescue Ignatieff from his current circumstance.

Still, Flanagan has in his hands the power to improve his party's circumstances, and put it in a position where it can compete with the Conservative party for the privilege to govern the country.

Flanagan describes the steps Ignatieff needs to take very simply:

First, study what Harper did to turn his fortunes around. (Unshockingly, Flanagan suggests some of his own work.) Second, when moving to defeat the government, move quickly. Third, have a reason to defeat the government. Have a pretext.

Many Canadians were confused about Ignatieff's eagerness to defeat the government. It seemed very sudden, and Ignatieff seemed to lack an issue underiding the move other than Harper's time allegedly being "up".

The recent move to recruit Peter Donolo back into the Liberal leader's office suggests that Ignatieff may be following a similar game plan to Harper's. But, as Flanagan notes, it won't be enough on its own:
"Mr Ignatieff has messed up big-time, but the outlook doesn't have to be entirely bleak. Since he has been imitating Mr Harper so closely, he can take solace from the fact that the Conservative leader bounced back, winning the next election and becoming prime minister less than a year after his time of troubles in spring 2005.

Replacing a chief of staff won't solve anything (in politics, the person who is fired is seldom to blame for what went wrong), but it can be an occasion for starting over.

The key is self-interrogation. Someone who wants the ultimate prize of becoming PM has to accept responsibility for all the things that go wrong along the way and figure out how not to repeat those errors (while realizing he will inevitably make others). That's the most important lesson of Mr. Harper's annus horribilis of 2005: that a leader can rebound from disaster to triumph if he accepts responsibility for his mistakes and learns to avoid them in the future.
Of course, there is one potential weakness in Flanagan's advice to Ignatieff.

In following Flanagan's advice, Ignatieff would be trying to emulate the Stephen Harper of 2005. But if the Prime Minister has shown anything over the past three years, it's that Harper has a repertoire packed full of politically savvy maneuvers.

Michael Ignatieff can't fully expect to be able to use Stephen Harper's playbook from 2005 to be able to beat the Harper of today. When Ignatieff's time to move against Harper finally comes, he'd better be able to have a play of his own to call.

Don't Turn Out the Light...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yes, This Spanking Will Continue...

...Until these children smarten up

Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart addressed the matter of the controversy surrounding the Obama administration and its recent comments on Fox News.

"What I think is fair to say about Fox -- and certainly it's the way we view it -- is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party," White House communications director Anita Dunn had told CNN. "They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is."

This, of course, has attracted a great deal of scrutiny regarding MSNBC and its cozy relationship with the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

There's very little question in the minds of most people that MSNBC has been acting as the pro-Democrat version of Fox News. But some people want to pretend otherwise.

The Daily Show clip, featured only in part above (and more on this later) sheds some light on not only how Fox News has synergized its news and opinion reporting, but how many other news networks do as well.

As his case study, Stewart uses insipid the school song controversy that erupted last year.

The story was drug up months later by Matt Drudge, at which point Fox took up the issue.

The story was reported in the morning during the network's news cycle, then commented upon later by the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck (Alan Colmes was not available for comment).

The next news cycle -- back to reporting again -- would then report upon the commentary offered by the network's pundits.

Curiously enough, this is where the Media Matters video ends. But the segment continued after the portion that Media Matters chooses to show viewers, and what followed was every bit as enlightening -- about MSNBC -- as the rest was about Fox.

The segment continued with a CNN interview with White House advisor Valerie Jarret. When asked if Fox News was biased, Jarret explained that "of course Fox News is biased." But when asked about whether or not MSNBC was biased, Jarret began to soften up and back off. "I don't want to just generalize all Fox is biased or that another station is biased."

There may have been a reason why Jarret suddenly became so reluctant to declare any news network to be biased. After all, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow had recently met privately with US President Barack Obama. When challenged on this, Olbermann essentially defended the meeting as koscher because George W Bush had done the same thing with Fox News personalities.

Olbermann had previously criticized the cozy relationship between Fox News and the Bush administration.

Stewart suggested that Jarret should of said "of course MSNBC is biased, but they agree with us so we're not fighting with them."

When Jarret later suggested that the administration was going to "speak truth to power", Stewart could only muster an incredulous "what the fuck!?" (Watch it, Stewart, that's our bit. I'm looking at you too, Olbermann. -ed) It's almost as if the Obama administration doesn't understand that they're the power.

But there's a reason why Media Matters cut the clip before getting to this point. They decline to report on MSNBC's ideological excesses because they share MSNBC's bias.

For example, Media Matters makes no mention whatsoever of Contessa Brewer's own adventures in creating the news. Brewer's famed race-baiting episode in which MSNBC edited news footage to conceal the race of a man with a gun is not mentioned on the Media Matters website.

One of the two mentions of Brewer from August 2009 -- when the incident occurred -- however, provides a telling point about Media Matters and their complaint that Fox News creates its own news.

In the story, Brewer interjects her own political views into an interview concerning an op/ed article written by Nancy Pelosi. Brewer's interview addresses complaints by Fox News that Pelosi was accusing opponents of health care reform of being un-American.

In this particular sense, Fox News commentators don't just create Fox's news. They also create MSNBC's.

From a marketing perspective, this actually makes perfect sense. As Stewart notes, Fox News has news anchors, but nobody knows who they are. They aren't marketable. The real bread and butter of the Fox News network is their commentators.

So -- for good or ill -- this synergy is a natural extension of the for-profit news industry. News anchors report the news. Commentators offer their opinion. Then later news anchors, because the ad sales for highly-rated commentary shows are so lucrative, report on the commentary taking place to lure viewers back to watch the pundits offer their take.

MSNBC does the same thing -- commenting on Fox News' commentary, so their pundits can later offer their take on the matter, as they so often do during segments such as Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World".

But MSNBC creates its own news, too. Of course, MSNBC has different methods of creating the news. Returning to Brewer and her race-baiting episode, MSNBC concealed the race of the man in question (as mentioned previously, he was black) in order to mix it with sensationalist implication in order to insist that white racists were planning an armed insurrection or assassination attempt against the President.

When called to account for the incident, MSNBC didn't issue a mea culpa, but rather stated that Brewer was commenting not on the specific incident at hand, but rather on a general state of affairs.

For the record, here's Brewer once again, putting her news anchor-y on public display once more:

Because with the American economy in the midst of a full-on meltdown at the time (February 2009), the real story is the guy standing next to Rick Stantelli and whether or not he has a YouTube channel.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Naw, There's Nothing Wrong With MSNBC!

Hateful Left won't admit sorrowful state of MSNBC

A nonsensical (and one-line, to boot) blog post at Enormous Thriving Plants has prominently revealed, once again, the blinkers that any ideologue must don in order to justify and promote their worldview.

At issue was a recent appearance on ABC News by Laura Ingraham, in which she was her usual demagogic self. She went so far as to suggest that Barack Obama's administration was more "impassioned" about Fox News than about Islamic terrorism.

It's not shocking that Ingraham would make such an inherently stupid argument. While any Presidential administration's commentary about a news organization is inappropriate and quite possibly even unethical, it isn't as if Fox News hasn't earned its scorn. It most certainly has.

But then there is the other side of the coin.

As the Obama administration plods further and further through its mandate it becomes more and more apparent that they've settled into Fox's old role as the sychophantic attack dog of the government.

Many left-wing ideologues will go to spectacular lengths to pretend that this isn't so, and that Fox News is still worse than anything MSNBC has ever imagined becoming. Take the spectacularly self-"unaware" serial annoyance Sparky, who insists the difference between Fox and MSNBC is that MSNBC just reports the News, while Fox creates it:
"Yeah, 'cause the MSNBC commenters get their left-wing talking points pushed onto the MSNBC news shows...
Media differentiate Beck's 'opinions' from Wallace's 'news,' but record shows Wallace repeatedly echoes Beck
Oh wait, that's FOX?
Oh right, Patrick makes another false equivalence--unshocking how he does that again.
Wanna back up any of your crap, Patrick? Show how 'MSNBC have become everything FOX was'?
Or are you comfortable in making yet another baseless accusation, have it disproven (again) and add it to your ever growing list of wrongs.
You just love being wrong, don't you? You might want to seek help for that.
No one with any sense would ever accuse Fox News of being a paragon of journalistic integrity.

But no one can realistically claim that MSNBC only reports the news in a "just the facts" fashion. In fact, when MSNBC recently couldn't find sufficient evidence for their claims that a racially-motivated assassination attempt on Barack Obama was imminent, they simply made it up:

If MSNBC promoted Brewer as a commentator or pundit, that would be one thing. But they don't. They promote Brewer as a News Anchor, and that brings with it certain expectations, which Brewer -- and MSNBC as a whole -- consistently flaunt.

In fact, MSNBC's efforts at creating a story didn't stop there. When Ingraham's partner-in-demagoguery, Rush Limbaugh recently made a bid to become part of an investor's group purchasing the NFL's St Louis Rams, MSNBC stirred up outrage by reporting quotes attributed to Limbaugh that he apparently has never uttered.

And while some MSNBC anchors have clearly crossed that line between reporting the news and creating the news, some of them have just mastered the art of asking stupid questions:

That's Contessa Brewer asking John Ziegler why Sarah Palin was offended by David Letterman's Top 10 list. After Ziegler explained to Brewer that Letterman calling her "slutty" and suggesting that Bristol Palin was publicly impregnated by Alex Rodriguez while Palin herself watched, Brewer actually asked the question again.

So not only has Brewer mastered the art of asking stupid questions, she's mastered the art of asking stupid questions twice.

At the end of the interview, Brewer complains that Ziegler has insulted her and asks for his mic to be cut off -- and it is.

It's unsurprising that neither Audrey nor Sparky will admit to the sorry state of MSNBC. Both have consistently shown that the only factor that truly determines if they'll applaud or oppose almost anything is whether or not it comes from a source reputed to share their extreme ideological bent.

That MSNBC will prove troublesome for the Obama administration's newly found desire to serve as the arbiter of which networks are and aren't "real news" networks isn't exactly a secret, nor is it even a marginal opinion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Modus Operandi of the Living Dead, Redux

Or, explaining intellectualism to people too lazy to be intellectuals

Readers of the Nexus will by now be familiar with Enormous Thriving Plants' Audrey, and her numerous ill-avised attempts to declare the death of intellectual conservatism.

Well, Audrey is at it once again. This time her complaint is about a Jonah Goldberg op/ed column "defending" Glenn Beck.

In the column, Goldberg simply posits that Beck is a conservative alternative to left-wing figures like Michael Moore, Janeane Garofalo, Al Franken and Keith Olbermann -- the last of whom he says "pretends he's Edward R Murrow reincarnated when he's really Al Franken with more important hair". He notes that the critical response to Beck is one that has been repeated over and over again.

Goldberg's argument is, indeed, that Beck has made conservatism more accessible and less pretentious than individuals like William F Buckey ever could.

But he also notes that Beck has been extremely successful in promoting serious works of conservative intellectualism (Audrey goes so far as to surround "serious works" with quotation marks).

Audrey concludes with a less-than-austere plea: "Please, Jonah... continue to join Beck, Palin, Meghan McCain, and Joe the Plumber in the ongoing effort at making conservatism 'more accessible'. If only Buckley were still alive to witness the 'intellectualism' of it all."

Interestingly enough, even Goldberg himself notes that many of the criticisms raised against Beck are valid -- and they most certainly are.

The problem for individuals like Audrey is that they advance their arguments -- in this case, trying to further an argument that conservative intellectualism is a spent force -- under the guise of intellectualism while acting in a manner that strongly suggests that they have no clue what intellectualism is, much less are they prepared to engage in it.

Intellectualism works rather simply: one fashions an argument, makes their argument, and then defends it against the counter-arguments of those who disagree.

It's become utterly obvious that people like Audrey disagree with the arguments of people like Goldberg, but the problem for them is (oddly enough) one well described by this particular commentator (who mostly speaks in words small enough that Audrey can understand them):
"If you don't like something, you say that it sucks, then you make a buncha more things against it.

But the thing is, half of these people who are against it aren't making anything. All they're doing is posting TinyURL links to child pornography, and they're, uh, you know, writing 'desu desu desu desu' a lot. And I tell ya, I've been doing that stuff for years and it is entertaining, but don't expect your opinion to be taken [to be] any more valuable than mine.
It's a sad statement on the level of Audrey's intellectual skill when her folly can be so easily be revealled by an online miscreant in a Guy Fawkes mask.

But few people have ever described the level of discourse that emanates from Enormous Thriving Plants -- and from the vast majority of her blogging compatriots in the Hateful Left -- better.

So while Audrey can run down the works of Jonah Goldberg to her heart's content, she cannot escape from the reality that at least Goldberg has produced an argument, while Audrey hasn't.

Certainly, she can offer the political blogging equivalent of "desu desu desu" to her heart's content. But until she can offer a cogent argument in response to Goldberg's work, at what point does she honestly expect her opinion to be taken to be more valuable than his? Or, for that point, anyone else's?

No one can stop Audrey from offering snickers in response to the works of conservative intellectuals. But seeing as how laughter is not, in itself, an argument, that would still leave Audrey's own brand of intellectualism (un)dead in the water.

Chretien Digs His Hooks In

More Chretien insiders join Ignatieff's staff

When Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff recently overruled a decision made by then-Quebec lieutenant Denis Coderre in favour of Martin Cauchon, it was speculated that Jean Chretien was pulling strings behind the scenes.

Those looking for signs that Chretien is becoming more involved with the Liberal party need look no further than news that Peter Donolo, Chretien's former director of communications, is about to take control of Ignatieff's staff.

Moreover, Donolo will be charged with setting the Opposition Leader's Office straight, and he's expected to be authorized to make any staffing changes necessary.

This is far from a complete takeover of the party infrastructure by Chretien. But if Michael Ignatieff can't turn Liberal fortunes around, and soon, it's not unreasonable to look at Peter Donolo as another domino Jean Chretien can use to help topple Ignatieff.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Medium the Pro-Abortion Movement Cannot Silence

Law and Order discusses abortion

A recent episode of Law and Order has apparently provoked quite the controversy amongst the pro-abortion movement.

In the episode, Detectives Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are investigating the murder of Dr Walter Benning, an abortion doctor killed while attending his church.

Dr Benning is clearly a stand-in for Dr George Tiller, who was murdered earlier this year while attending his own church.

Eventually, they identify Wayne Grogan (PJ Sosko) as their suspect. Grogan is defended by Roger Jenkins (Richard Thomas), who also acts as the legal advisor for a Crisis Pregnancy Centre.

He defends Grogan with a justification defense. They argue that, as Grogan was -- in his own mind, at least -- acting in defense of a single viable unborn child set to be born with a medical condition that would render her skin fragile, although she could survive the condition.

Based on the survivability of the condition, the judge in the case allows Grogan and Jenkins to present their justification defense.

The battle lines over the case are clearly drawn between the characters. Bernard is fervently anti-abortion, Lupo is pro-abortion. Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) is anti-abortion, and Assistant District Attorney Conny Rubirose (Alana De La Garza) is stridently pro-abortion.

Despite the fact that both Bernard and McCoy oppose abortion, they pursue Dr Bennet's murderer to the fullest extent of their ability. McCoy even helps suppress knowledge that Dr Benning had apparently finished an abortion after a child was born live during a partial-birth abortion.

Oddly enough it's Rubirose, who is so strongly in favour of legalized abortion that she refers to the anti-abortion movement as "anti-choice", who discloses the matter to the defense.

While the pro-abortion movement is decrying the episode as presenting "almost every deranged anti-abortion talking point can be found in the episode — comparing anti-choicers to the civil rights movement — with little or no pro-choice rebuttal," they're overlooking the fact that virtually every argument of the pro-abortion movement is presented.

Numerous women in the episode note that seeking an abortion is the most difficult decision they will ever face, and many women display the emotional distress that many women feel after the fact. Even witnesses on the stand who oppose abortion agree that doctors such as Dr Benning provide a necessary medical service for the women who need it.

In the end, Grogan is quite rightly convicted. Even if Dr Benning was performing illegal abortions, Grogan's act was still an act of terrorism, and had to be treated accordingly.

What individuals like JJ are really outraged about isn't that the anti-abortion case was presented without pro-aboriton rebuttal, but rather that it was presented at all.

It's one thing for pro-abortion protesters to show up at an anti-abortion speech and disrupt the event so that the presenter cannot speak. It's entirely another for the pro-abortion movement to attempt to barge into the living rooms of every home watching Law and Order and prevent them from watching the show because it presents sides of the abortion debate that they don't want to be heard.

They can accomplish one of these things -- they cannot accomplish the other, and it seems to positively embitter them that the anti-abortion message has (although not unopposed within the episode itself) found a medium that they cannot silence.

(Although the producers of Law and Order may want to watch out for this lunatic sitting behind them in church.)

Go Back to The Fucking Drawing Board, Gordon

British PM recruting professional asshole

Observers of politics have often suggested that a mean streak often proves to be a real asset in politics.

But if it's Simon Cowell's mean streak that has attracted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to attempt to recruit him into the Labour Party, he may want to think again. There are some varieties of mean that simply cannot be tolerated in public life.

"Simon Cowell is a rare combination. He's incredibly rich and comes from a posh background but has the common touch," explained Chas Newkey-Burden. "He can push so many different buttons and this makes him a red hot prospect for politicians. They would run over each other to get to his side. The public is so cheesed off with politics at the moment and an endorsement from him could just swing it for one of the parties."

Speculation has it that if Cowell agrees to run for the Labour Party, Brown will have him knighted.

But although Cowell's often-vicious barbs could make him very effective for the Labour Party during Question Period -- either as a government or opposition MP -- the idea in politics is generally to attract voters, not repulse them.

Cowell's vicious treatment of would-be pop stars is one thing. But Simon Cowell's venomous nature very likely wouldn't stand in the public eye.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Demanding Better, part four

What the Fuck!? Files Vol. 8: Who Wants to Vacation in Libya Anyway?

And Moammar Gadhafi wonders why he rides the international short bus

After Moammar Gadhafi almost got sat in the corner on his way back from humiliating himself at the United Nations, Gadhafi has decided that, doggone it, Canadians just aren't welcome in Libya.

So there.

It wasn't enough that Gadhafi ran away from a well-deserved dressing-down over the hero's welcome he organized for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, one of the men responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, apparently he's now telling Canadians that they aren't welcome in his sandbox.

"We are aware of the difficulties experienced by a few Canadian citizens interested in visiting Libya," said a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. "Minister Cannon was in Libya last week where the issue was discussed. We are working towards a positive resolution of the matter."

Of course, any proper-thinking Canadian is wondering to themselves right now: precisely what is the fucking problem?

If we really want a positive resolution to this particular matter, it's as simple as this: tell Moammar Gadhafi to go kill himself and die slow.

Jesus Christ. This is a guy who wasn't welcome in New Jersey, of all fucking places.

Thank Fucking God

Buzz Hargrove not interested in federal politics

When it was suggested that Buzz Hargrove may enter politics after retiring as the President of the Canadian Auto Workers union, it was difficult to take him seriously.

After all, Hargrove had alredy been kicked out of the NDP after it was judged that his endorsement of various Liberal candidates had violated the party's constitution. Hargrove had also proven to be a liability for Liberal leader Paul Martin when he called on Quebeckers to vote for the Bloc Quebecois during a Liberal party press conference.

But apparently Hargrove did take the idea of running for Parliament seriously -- at least for a little while.

But what dissuaded Hargrove wasn't the notion that a great many Canadians wouldn't want to vote for him, but rather the idea that federal politics was simply too acrimonious.

"It seems like every day in the House and the legislatures across the country, political parties of all stripes are just trying to find a way that they can attack the personal side of individual members of Parliament or the prime minister or whoever," Hargrove explained. "And that's not the politics that I grew up with. You stuck with issues and you challenged people on issues and what they stood for. So I just didn't see standing up in the House and criticizing somebody for an expense sheet that they billed for a coffee or something as being very substantive or contributing much to the country."

Of course, one may wonder what issue Hargrove was really challenging Stephen Harper on when he suggested that Harper's view of Canada was a separatist vision of Canada.

Martin was left will little recourse but to interject, stating that he had never doubted Harper's patriotism.

Buzz Hargrove's previous forays into federal politics have uniformly proven to be trainwrecks for whatever hapless party happened to be involved with him at the time.

That's why a great many Canadians should breathe a sign of relief when they find out that Hargrove is uninterested in federal politics. At least the admittedly viperous nature of Canadian politics has turned out to be good for something.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hmmmm. Yeah. About That Whole "Religious Nonsense" Thing...

Arrogance and historical ignorance rarely combine well

Readers of the Nexus will almost certainly remember Audrey, the proprietor of Enormous Thriving Plants, hanging her intellectual rear end out for a good flogging.

In the post in question, Audrey takes aim at One Nation Under God, a painting by Jon McNaughton featuring numerous American historical figures receiving the US Constitution from Jesus Christ.

In particular, Audrey dismisses the painting as "religious nonsense", as if that alone were enough to dispell the message it promotes.

Some other responses to the painting accuse it of being historically inaccurate, as if McNaughton would be shocked to learn that Jesus himself hadn't written and delivered the American Constition to that country's founding fathers.

It's a facetious argument, and clearly intended to be as such. But with metaphor so frequently proving to be the lifeblood of art, one couldn't accuse the painting's criics of reading too much into the work. Indeed, they could be accused of reading far too little into it.

Factually, Jesus Christ did not deliver the US Constitution in person, and most certainly not before George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, JFK and various archetypical characters. But Christian values were deeply imbedded in the establishment of the United States from the very conception of the British colonies.

As it turns out, Audrey and the sleaze who tend to populate Wonkette are only a few among the many, many people who could benefit from familiarizing themselves with the work of Molly Worthen.

Worthen's historical work has traced the influence of Christianity through the development of the United States in the form of the civil religion.

A civil religion is a political discourse that takes on the sacred elements of religion.

According to Worthen, the American civil religion is built around establishing the American colonies, and later the United States, as "God's model society", a social bluepint that could then be exported back to Britain and to the rest of the world. She identifies Reverend John Winthrop, the original Governor of Massachussets, as a central figure in the establishment of the American civil religion, the first man to speak of the American colonies as a "shining city on the hill", that enduring vision of American exceptionalism.

The spread of the Puritan religion westward in the wake of the Puritan's disillusionment with Britain led first to the undermining of religion as the central focus in people's lives by more imperative matters of survival, but eventually to various religious revivals -- which, according to Worthen, actually originated in Canada -- and eventually to the rise of Evangelical Christianity.

The influence of Evangelical Christianity can be found in notions such as the separation of Church and State -- Evanglical faith did seek to conversions, but demanded voluntary conversions, as opposed to conversions mandated or encouraged by the state.

In this, Secular Humanists and Evangelical Christians worked closely together.

As many of the critics of McNaughton's painting have pointed out, the US Constitution indeed doesn't explicitly refer to God or Christianity at any point.

But this doesn't mean that Christian principles -- particularly those promoted by Reverend Winthrop -- didn't deeply embody these values.

For example, in his speech "A Model of Christian Charity", Winthrop called upon his congregation "first to hold conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of his power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole."

There is clearly a message of religious tolerance -- which is enshrined within the US Constitution in its support of religious freedom -- in this message.

Winthrop continued: "as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great king will haue many stewards..."

Herein there is clearly support for the division of powers between the branches of government, as mandated by the US Constitution.

"That every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection. From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy, out of any particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the creature, man."

If one were surprised to find how similiar this seems to "all men are created equal", as it is written in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence, they really shouldn't be.

In fact, the influence of Christian thought -- especially that of Reverend Winthrop -- runs deeply through the Declaration.

As others have noted, this doesn't justify any use of the Declaration to suggest that the United States should inherently prefer Christianity to any other religion, or that Churh and State should be intertwined. Once again, American Evangelical Christians of the 18th century worked stridently to prevent this.

Uniting the various figures appearing in the painting -- many of whom are notably atheists, or are at least suggested to be believers in other religions -- is a religious inclusivist view of the United States, written in the tradition of not an American thinker, but rather of a British one: CS Lewis.

Lewis' philosophy regarding other religions was that any good work performed by the believer of another religion contributed to the Christian God's benevolent purpose, and so was actually done in the name of that God, even if purportedly done in the name of another.

What emerges from this particular strain of thought is the notion of multiple paths to the same God -- one that McNaughton hints at with his explanation of the intended meaning of the archetypical immigrant featured in his painting.

For those well-educated enough and open-minded enough to examine McNaughton's work for what it is, it becomes evident that McNaughton's work is not in favour of "theocracy" (as the sensationalist charge has been), but is rather simply symbolic of what Jon McNaughton sees as the state of the United States of America, both at present and historically.

Not everyone will agree with him. Not everyone will agree that Roe v Wade or Everson v Board of Education have been damaging to the United States.

But to ignore history is to forfeit heritage, and vice versa. To pretend that Jon McNaughton should be faulted for painting about the demonstrably deep Christian heritage of the United States is to demand that the history books be rewritten.

As much as the knee-jerk reaction to McNaughton's painting carries deep streaks of Philistinism, it's also akin to historical revisionism, and that is the real nonsense.

Poisoning the Well

Fundamentalist atheists pose a challenge for atheism

Some Nexus readers may recall a recent post referencing a painting called "Jesus Does his Nails", a painting that became more popular surrounding the Blasphemy Day organized earlier this October.

As it turns out, at least one prominent atheist has a bone to pick witht his particular painting.

"I wouldn't want this on my wall," Stuart Jordan, an advisor for the Centre For Inquiry, which exhibits the painting in one of their offices.

Some atheists have sought to distance themselves not only from this painting, but also from the attitude behind it -- one which insists that ridicule is the best way to approach the debate surrounding atheism and religion, as opposed to open, honest and (shudder to say) gracious debate.

"It's really a national debate among people with a secular orientation about how far do we want to go in promoting a secular society through emphasizing the 'new atheism,'" Jordan mused. "And some are very much for it, and some are opposed to it on the grounds that they feel this is largely a religious country, and if it's pushed the wrong way, this is going to insult many of the religious people who should be shown respect even if we don't agree with them on all issues."

"What we wanted were thoughtful, incisive and concise critiques of religion," CFI CEO Robert Lindsay added. "We were not trying to insult believers."

Yet many prominent atheists don't seem to agree with Linday and Jordan on the matter of the proper approach.

The most famous atheists -- Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and Christopher Hitchens -- are diametrically opposed to having a respectful debate with religious people, and are unabashedly proud of it.

"If I said to a Protestant or Quaker or Muslim, 'Hey, at least I respect your belief,' I would be telling a lie," Hitchens said. "I believe it's more honest, more brave, more courageous simply to state your own position."

Often, these particular atheists will simply feign ignorance. For example, PZ Myers got a very strong reaction when he posted a picture of a communion wafer penetrated by a nail, driven to a wall.

"People got very angry," he grumbled. "I don't know why. I mean, it's just a cracker, right?"

And therein may lie the true issue regarding this methodological divide between atheists. Individuals like Stuart Joran and Robert Lindsay seem to get it. PZ Myers and Christopher Hitchens unequivocally do not.

If Myers understood the significance of communion wafers to Catholics and Lutherans, he would understand that symbolically, they are not just crackers. Catholics and Lutherans accept communion wafers as symbolic of their messiah. In extreme cases, some Catholics and Lutherans may even still believe that, upon consecration, communion wafers transubstantiate into the very flesh of Jesus Christ.

When Myers treats that symbol contemtuously, he treats Catholics and Lutherans contemptuously.

Certainly, a great number of people have learned the hard way how little headway can be made with a debating opponent whom you seem bound and determined to treat with contempt.

The tactics Myers used in this particular case don't advance greater understanding of atheism, they simply satisfy the contempt that he and his (many, many) followers feel for religious believers.

These kinds of tactics will win few converts. As one of Richard Dawkins' "four horsemen" of atheism, one would expect that Myers would be a little more deliberate about the kind of tactics he's using.

Stuart Jordan and Robert Lindsay clearly understand this. A more moderate approach to the debate between atheism and religion earns more space for engagement between atheists and religious believers, and makes it far more likely that they can potentially win converts from religious believers.

Even Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Centre For Inquiry, apparently deeply takes issue with Dawkins, Myers, Hitchens and company.

"I consider them atheist fundamentalists," said Paul Kurtz. "They're anti-religious, and they're mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they're very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good."

What PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens accomplish is nothing more or less than poisoning the well of religious debate.

Sadly, there are numerous fools who are more than happy to help them do it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Conservatives Hate Art... ... ...Right?

More from the "philosophical left" on the "death of conservative intellectualism"

Admittedly, one of the fun things about keeping an eye on the portion of the far left who so frequently and applaud the alleged death of intellectual conservatism is noting precisely how often it is that they simply lack any kind of cogent argument.

In attempting to stake out intellectualism as the sole province of the left, many of these individuals have refined a rather curious argumentative technique -- that of picking out various bits of minutiae and using them as the basis of an ad hominem attack against the whole of American conservatism.

Audrey, the proprietor of Enormous Thriving Plants, has proven to be an amusing case study in this argumentative technique (one employed not by the entire left, but rather by the extreme portion of the political left who subsist nearly entirely on promoting hatred and contempt of their ideological opponents -- the hateful left identified here so long ago).

Recently, it seems, Audrey wants to talk about art. More specifically, Audrey wants to talk about the work of Jon McNaughton, and his piece "One Nation Under God".

Audrey insists that she has "no idea where this fits into the conservative game of denunciation", but notes that "the mouse-over text associated with of 'Professor', 'Immigrant', 'Mr Hollywood', 'Liberal News Reporter', and even 'Thomas Payne' are absolutely priceless."

Naughton has done viewers of his painting the service (or, some would argue, disservice, as art is often best left up to the interpretation of the viewer) of sharing the intended symbolism of each figure to appear in his painting.

It's clear that McNaughton has little use for the Professor, the Liberal News Reporter of Mr Hollywood.

McNaughton accuses the Professor of being contemptuous of viewpoints other than his own, and freely admits that this figure is a stand-in for the so-called "educational elite", and accuses him of believing that his intelligence makes him equal to God.

The Liberal News Reporter is accused of attempting to impose her own bias upon other people through her reporting. (To be fair, many liberal jorunalists have been earning this more recently.)

Mr Hollywood appears to be an extremely sleazy individual -- and its interesting to note that Satan himself stands over his left shoulder. McNaughton describes Mr Hollywood as particularly contemptuous of the Supreme Court Judge and the Pregnant Woman (the latter of whom, although she stands among a group that McNaughton seems to imply is under the influence of Satan, stands out as a message of hope), and is once more responsible for spreading a "liberal bias".

There's a good deal in McNaughton's painting that virtually anyone could disagree with, and that's actually a great strength in it: it provokes debate among those who are willing.

Audrey's objections to the treatment of the Professor, Liberal News Reporter and Mr Hollywood are actually understandable -- this is where the debate comes in. Objections to the treatment of the Supreme Court Judge would be warranted as well.

Audrey's specific objection to the treatment of the Immigrant and Thomas Payne are a little less defensible.

In regards to the Immigrant, McNaughton notes that "there are many good people in America, they are not all Christian." McNaughton seems to suggest that he believes that many newcomers to the United States wouldn't recognize it as a Christian country, and would be surprised to find religious freedom in a country founded on many of the principles of Christianity.

Writing about Thomas Payne, McNaughton states that Payne's role in winning the Revolutionary War was "indisputable", and notes that it's less important that Payne was an atheist, and more important that he was simply a good man.

One wonders what Audrey's objection would be to the revelation that there is, indeed, a place for everyone within McNaughton's theology.

But Audrey seems to miss all of this.

In the evident absence of anything better to say, she simply proclaims: "The good news is that Jesus is back, and he's armed with the the US Constitution! Take that, you heathen!"

There's great irony in this statement, one which only goes to demonstrates what becomes more and more obvious the longer Audrey blogs: the ideologically-imposed limits of her understandings of virtually any subject, particularly the multi-faceted relationship between religion and politics.

The Economics of Debt

The Secret History of the Credit Card sheds some light on what has persisted as a dark corner of the global economy: the debt-based economy of the credit card.

The film outlines how banks and credit card companies have profited by encouraging customers to accumulate debts that prove to be, in many cases, unmanagable.

The marketing of debt proves exremely profitable in cases where credit card companies can collect returns incrementally greater than the funds loaned.

It's unsurprising that credit card companies would embrace this kind of a business model. What's troubling is that their business model seems to thrive on extending increasing levels of credit to people who cannot afford it.

Certainly, banks and credit card companies can earn tidy profit by abusing credit card fees and hiking rates.

But short-sighted executives seem to have chosen the route of steadily increasing the amount to which individuals are becoming indebted via credit cards as opposed to receiving the most timely returns on that company's investment -- and each card issued, each account opened, and each loan issued very much does represent an investment by the company.

If the recent financial collapse and ensuing recession has shown anything, it's that business designs that rely on the accumulation of unmanagable debt will inevitably face the risk of coming out on the wrong end of a bankruptcy -- or even a few thousand bankruptcies.

The economic peril of allowing financial institutions too free a hand has become tragically apparent over the last year. The time has come to put the regulatory leash back on credit card companies.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dwain Lingenfelter and the Politics of Ambition

Saskatchewan NDP leader accused of undermining predecessor

When Dwain Lingenfelter was elected leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, many hailed his coming as trouble for Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party.

Lingenfelter was pegged as a political brawler -- as someone who would get down and dirty with the government.

But it was Lingenfelter himself who stumbled away from the Legislature with a black eye, as Wall dropped what could be seen as a political atom bomb on the NDP leader, when he told the Legislature about a phone call he received from Lingenfelter in 2003.

"He phoned me at my home before the '04 election to give me advice on how to beat the former leader of the NDP," Wall announced. "It was just towards the end of summer and he was saying, 'You know [Lorne Calvert] has this summer tour every year.'"

Wall would later correct himself by explaining he was speaking about the 2003 election.

Wall insists that Lingenfelter suggest the Saskatchewan party "be a little bit more aggressive" with Calvert and organize protests on each stop of his annual summer tour.

Wall says Lingenfelter shared the NDP playbook used against Grant Devine.

"He was telling me about the tactics they'd used in the 1980s against Mr Devine," Wall added.

If Lingenfelter's goal in making the alleged phone call -- he insists he "doesn't recall" making it -- was to engineer Calvert's defeat and clear the way for Lingenfelter to replace him, it didn't quite work out like that.

The NDP held onto a slim two seat majority in the Legislature, as the Liberal party who had propped up Calvert's government after the 1999 election (in which the NDP won half the seats in the Legislature plus retaining the Speaker of the House) was utterly wiped out. They haven't elected a member since.

The 2003 election didn't result in the replacement of Lorne Calvert, but it was the last election contested with Elwin Hermanson at the helm of the Saskatchewan Party. Wall replaced him and went on to defeat the NDP in the 2007 election.

For his own part, Lingenfelter insists that Wall is just using the tactics of distraction.

"He tried to change the channel yesterday to something other than finance, and today he's trying to change it so the press run off in a different direction and talk about other things," Lingenfelter said. "The issue here is finance and the fiscal state of the province, and this is what I'm hearing from the public."

Lingenfelter's motives in making such a phone call would be a matter of speculation. He was considered a lock to replace Roy Romanow as the leader of the NDP before he left to work in the private sector in 2000.

Having lost an acrimonious leadership contest to Calvert would have made his actions make a little more sense. In the absence of this, one has to assume that either Lingenfelter didn't approve of Calvert's actions as Premier, or that he may not have made the call.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Bill Boyd, however, with whom Lingenfelter is said to maintain a friendship, has noted that Lingenfelter has frequently given him advice.

Whether Lingenfelter's alleged phone call was made out of his love for fostering a good political scrap or in support of his own political ambitions is knowledge that only one individual -- Dwain Lingenfelter himself -- is privy to.

He likely has some 'splainin' to do within his own caucus.

Michael Ignatieff: The Say Anything Liberal

Ignatieff makes misleading statements regarding Maher Arar

One sad trait that has become common of many politicians is the tendency to say anything to get elected.

In Canada, many people feel that politicians from the Liberal party are especially prone to this unfortunate affliction. After comments recently made by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, this will likely become a more popular assessment of him.

Speaking to The Observer in September, Ignatieff suggested that Canada sent Arar to Syria to be tortured.

"Canada sent Maher Arar to Syria, and a court found that he had been subjected to extraordinary rendition, that his claims [of torture] were true and that he had delivered no intelligence to anybody," Ignatieff fumed. "It was a disgrace. So, we don't do it. Ever. Period. Off the table. We don't get other people to do our dirty work for us, and we don't do dirty work ever."

Those actually familiar with the Arar case will immediately recognize the problem with Ignatieff's statements. The problem is that they are categorically false.

Arar was not sent to Syria by Canada. In fact, Arar was sent to Syria by the United States as an act of "extraordinary rendition". They were, however, acting under false intelligence passed along by the RCMP.

Furthermore, no court of law has ever issued findings of fact in regards to Arar's case.

Ignatieff was making the statement in an effort to sweep away questions about The Lesser Evil, a book in which Ignatieff wrote on the topic of torture.

The essential theme of the book is torture as a moral evil. Ignatieff famously suggests that the western world may have to deal in evil in order to defeat the evil of terrorism, although Ignatieff noted the importance of understanding that torture is evil.

Ignatieff also seems to suggest that torture could be considered permissable if it were formally legalized.

Unsurprisingly, the controversy surrounding those comments has followed him ever since his entry into federal politics.

As Michael Byers notes, the Arar affair is a matter on which Ignatieff ought to be knowledgable enough to not make the kind of mistakes he's made in this case. "For him to get the facts wrong on the highest profile case of torture involving a Canadian citizen is deeply worrying," Byers said. "It suggests a certain lack of attention to detail, and perhaps even concern, on a matter that was engaging the Canadian public, a commission of inquiry, and courts in both Canada and the United States at the very same time that he was expressing opinions on torture in The New York Times."

Ignatieff indeed ought to full well know better about the Maher Arar case. On top of the flagrant errors made in his comments on the matter, there's one other thing that Ignatieff ought to have known.

When the United States deported Arar to Syria, the party that he now leads was in power, and governed during the entire time Arar was being held without charge in Syria.

Other bloggers writing about this:

Canadian Sentinel - "TS: Ignatieff Wrong Re Arar"

Victor Wong - "So, Did the Liberals Want Maher Arar Tortured, Mr Waffle?"

Hatrock's Cave - "Iggy the Wrong on Maher Arar"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Canadian Conservatism's Troubled Symmetry

Two provinces, two parties, two different directions, and one big problem for Canadian Conservatives

While Alberta's Wildrose Alliance was meeting this past weekend to elect Danielle Smith the new leader of the party, another provincial conservative party was meeting to elect its leader.

The Action Democratique du Quebec met and elected Gilles Taillon as its new leader -- only the second in its entire history.

There are many similarities between the circumstances faced by the two parties, and each leader.

Each party has few seats in the provincial legislature, and each faces the monumental task of building its organization. Unfortunately for the ADQ, this is where the similarities stop.

The Wildrose Alliance is coming off of an exciting and vibrant leadership campaign in which ideas were strongly contested between the two competitors: namely, whether the party would proceed in a libertarian or social conservative direction (the party chose the course of libertarianism).

The ADQ, meanwhile, is stumbling out of a leadership contest in which personal animosity and smear politics seemed to be the order of the day.

While the Alliance leadership campaign attracted national attention, the ADQ contest was largely invisible on the national stage.

If Smith's election as the leader of the Alliance is truly one of the most exciting developments in the history of Canadian conservatism, the election of Taillon as the ADQ leader was purely underwhelming. This is unfortunate not only for the ADQ, but for Canadian conservatism as a whole.

In Daifallah's estimation, Taillon's prospects as the leader of the ADQ are sorely limited by a number of factors.

"Taillon is well-known, but he’s an uninspiring choice for a party looking to renew. He’s the oldest of the three major Quebec party leaders, questions about his health abound and he lost his seat in the National Assembly in the last election," Daifallah notes. "His politics are decidedly centrist. If he has his way, there will likely be little difference between the ADQ and the Parti Québécois. A number of prominent conservative ADQ members have already quit since Sunday."

"Taillon’s centrist approach is particularly unfortunate given that more and more Quebecers are coming to realize the unsustainability of their massive welfare programs and statist business model," Daifallah continues. "The prospects in Quebec for a party advocating smaller government and more personal responsibility should improve in the coming years."

The problem is that, unless Taillon steers his party back away from the centre, Quebec will have no such party to take advantage of such an ideological shift in the province.

Quebec is one of two provinces in Canada with no active provincial Conservative party. In Saskatchewan the banner of conservative politics is being carried by Brad Wall's Saskatchewan party. Although a provincial Progressive Conservative party remains registered, it doesn't run candidates.

If one considers provinces where a provincial Conservative party remains active but is politically marginal, the case of British Columbia stands out as well.

Likewise, the decimation of the New Brunswick PCs -- a ship since righted by Bernard Lord -- by the Confederation of Regions party isn't as far in past as many New Brunswick Tories would like to pretend.

If Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Alliance are successful, Alberta could soon be added to this list. Historically when Albertans have changed governments they practically erase the preceding government. Social Credit and the United Farmers of Alberta were once mighty political forces. Today Social Credit is entirely peripheral to Albertan politics.

The problem that quickly emerges is not for Canadian conservatives, but rather for Canadian Conservatives. While cross-party cooperation in matters of federal politics is far from ruled out, it can be politically perilous for conservative politicians -- particularly in Saskatchewan, and possibly soon in Alberta -- to be seen working too closely with the federal incarnation of a party they have either worked so hard to depose (as would be the case in Alberta) or has a troubled history (as is the case in Saskatchewan).

It can be particularly unseemingly in terms of the recruitment of federal candidates out of provincial ranks. While such a transition is far from unheard of -- in particular, federal Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski was formerly the General Manager of the Saskatchewan party.

By comparison, however, the Liberal party and NDP each have provincial parties in every province in Canada. While the Liberal party isn't particularly strong in Alberta, or especially in Saskatchewan, it can freely shuttle candidates back and forth between provincial and federal parties. A clear example is Dr Eric Hoskins, who was an unsuccessful federal candidate before running for the McGuinty Liberals in St Paul's.

In Quebec and Saskatchewan the Tories may get occasional help from the Saskatchewan party or the ADQ, but it has to do the bulk of its organizing and recruitment entirely on its own.

Provincial parties also offer the potential advantage -- or disadvantage -- of having another party to help build the brand image. If there is a shift underway the likes of which Daifallah suggests, the Conservative party currently has no provincial party there to help them take advantage of this shift.

It's on this note that it would perhaps be partially irrelevant if Quebec had a conservative leader like Danielle Smith -- at least for capital-C Conservatives. For small-c conservatives, it would be like a dream.

But like any political movement, conservatives fare best when they work together. Anything that impedes that kind of cooperation should properly be viewed as an impediment -- even if an impediment that some conservatives will view as a necessary evil.

It's long been past time for Canadian conservatives to learn to moderate themselves from within their provincial parties, as opposed to having to build entire vote- and activist-splitting alternative parties.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Hard Decision on Human Rights Commissions

Contentious choice between abolition and reform

The hot debate over Canada's Human Rights Commissions hasn't been particularly firey recently.

That being said, if anyone can be expected to have a particularly strong opinion on the CHRC and its provincial counterparts, it's University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper.

Cooper, whose published work -- both with and without his frequent collaborator, David Bercuson -- focuses on the politics of public virtue, seems to see the HRCs as the most utterly blatant embodiment of the embedded state. Consequently, he seems to find a great deal of affinity for the opponents of the HRCs:
"For those who have never taken the time to read dry legal documents, consider that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act declares that hate speech is constituted by words that are likely to expose somebody to hatred or contempt - and what that has meant for Canadians.

In early October, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant gave testimony before the House of Commons justice committee, currently considering whether section 13 should be repealed. Their remarks, available on You Tube, provide a short but thorough examination of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and its works.

They argue that the censorship implications of section 13 are an abomination in a constitutional democracy, that section 13 is the reason for so many complaints, and is why the entire administrative structure of this taxpayer-supported, government-backed human rights industry is broken past the point where it can be fixed. Any country, at least where freedom of expression and speech is truly valued, would have dissolved this outfit years ago.
Whether or not the censorship facilitated by section 13 is warranted or justified is a matter for some debate.

Most Canadians would likely agree that protecting minorities in Canada -- whether they be defined as such by their ethnicity, sexuality or religion -- is worth reasonably curtailing free speech in cases where the intent is evidently to incite hatred or contempt against them.

The trouble is there's no objective test for the intent to incite hatred or contempt. More Canadians still would likely agree that a more worthy course of action would be to censor cases where speech clearly intends to incite violence is likely another matter altogether.

Even Levant and Steyn would likely be more than happy to support that.

Of course, it's important to note that Steyn and Levant can hardly be considered impartial judges of the Commission, considering their run-ins with it:
"Both Steyn and Levant have encountered Canada’s human rights bureaucrats first hand and written about their hair-raising experiences. The larger story, of an out-of-control bureaucracy that transformed itself from an organization charged with conciliation of differences among citizens into a politically motivated attack organ, should also trouble Canadians."
Levant's and Steyn's troubling experience with the HRCs -- finding themselves having to defend themselves against complaints that should have been summarily dismissed -- have revealled that the CHRC has taken on the most eggregious features of the embedded state.

Human Rights Commissioner Dean Steacy once famously remarked that "freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value."

Yer if Steacy had consulted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the law that the CHRC is charged with upholding -- he would see that the right to freedom of speech and expression are enshrined within that document. In his eager embrace of the role of speech/thought police, Steacy had disregarded the purpose for the Commission's existence.

In its place, Steacy and his fellow Commissioners seem to have replaced the continued existence of the commission itself and the preservation of its censorship powers as the raison d'etre of the CHRC.

Out of genuine reverence for the concept of human rights and true detestation of discrimination, Canadians have approved of the existence of these commissions, but have often been shocked at the HRCs' excesses:
"Because most of us are in favour of human rights, Canadians have accorded the benefit of the doubt to anything calling itself a human rights commission. That favourable impression has depended on maintaining a veil of ignorance over how these bodies actually operate. After Steyn and Levant (among others) made their operations public, it is clear to all but the willfully blind that their reason is entirely undeserved.

Instead of dealing with genuine civil liberties, Canada’s human rights commissions have taken upon themselves such tasks as censoring cartoons and jokes, preventing RCMP instructors at Depot in Regina from raising their voices at recruits, or compelling a fast-food restaurant to keep an employee whose medical condition makes it impossible for her to comply with the company’s hand-washing policy.

They have invented new categories of crime and imposed lifetime bans on uttering opinions that hurt the feelings of someone or other. Senior counsel for the CHRC has advanced the opinion that their job is to end hate, a very human, though not particularly, edifying emotion.

They aspire to become more than a thought or speech police; they seek to be an emotion police.

In order to achieve these ambitions, members of the CHRC have joined neo-Nazi websites and posted messages on them in the hopes of provoking some dim-witted hatemonger to post something equally vile. Then one of their friends or even colleagues would be able to lodge a complaint.

In a real court (and to common sense) this is entrapment by an agent provocateur. In the kangaroo courts of Canada’s human rights commissions, it’s standard operating procedure.

Moreover, the CHRC employees are perfectly aware that what they are doing cannot stand the light of day. On at least one occasion they hacked their way into a wi-fi account of an Ottawa woman and posted their musings from her account. Incidentally, all this malfeasance by your tax-supported servants has been documented in sworn testimony by CHRC staff.
The methods employed by the CHRC have proven to be very successful.
"With such procedures at their disposal, it is no wonder that, until last month, the CHRC had a 100 per cent conviction rate -- the envy in this respect of North Korea and Cuba, which occasionally stumble in the administration of justice. Naturally the CHRC announced it would appeal this stain on its perfect record."
Of course, what Cooper might have meant to say was that the CHRC has a near-perfect conviction rate in cases it has chosen to pursue. As many should recall, the complaint against Mark Steyn was dismissed, as was the complaint against Levant.

As it turns out, however, one of the most striking issues surrounding the HRCs is the manner in which they often exceed their mandate. The task of conciliating two conflicting parties has often been cast out the window in the preference for punishing them.

As Patrick Nugent, the counsel for Dr Darren Lund in Alberta's Boissoin v Lund case notes, HRCs are not supposed to make punitive judgements. They are, however, allowed to require defendents to pay damages for their actions, but Nugent himself notes that HRCs often cross this particular line, as he suggests they did in Alberta.

"At the centre of the power of the human rights bureaucracy is a justification of the censorship provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act, namely section 13. It is based on a massive yet legally untested expansion of a nearly 20-year-old decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, in the 'Taylor case.' In that decision the Court decided that hate speech by a neo-Nazi meant 'extreme feelings of opprobrium and enmity' against a group, and not 'subjective opinion of offensiveness.' Today human rights officials have completely reversed the ruling."
With the many, many valid questions that have been raised about the CHRC by its growing stable of critics, one would expect that the Commissions would be prepared to meet some of that criticism by opening their organization to the light of day.

Instead, the CHRC has indulged itself in Nixonian politics, replete with an "enemies list" drafted by its Chief Commissioner:
"Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the controversy over the human rights commissions is the response of the Chief Commissioner of the CHRC. She has complained long and loud of unfair criticism and announced: 'I have a file' on her critics. 'I’m a public servant ... and I’m not going to sit by.' As Terry O’Neill, who is on the list, wrote in the National Post early in October: 'Big Sister’s been watching me.'"
This represents just another embedded state tendency by the CHRC. Instead of coming clean about the Commission's excesses and promising to do better, Jennifer Lynch is instead investigating her critics.

With all of these troublesome facts about the HRCs afoot, it's unsurprising that Cooper comes down firmly on the side of abolishing them altogether:
"The duty of Parliament is clear. Remove not just the offensive section 13. Dismantle the entire Orwellian structure."
But Canadians recognize the key role that the CHRC and its provincial counterparts play. Abolishing the commissions would be throwing this baby out with the bathwater.

Reforming the commissions, toughening the standard of evidence required in panel hearings, and placing stronger constraints on the censorship powers of the commissions is a course of action that would be preferable to all Canadians.

Regardless of what Canadian Human Rights Commissioners may want Canadians to believe, the status quo is simply not tolerable.

Time to Start Getting the Message, Ed

Barbarians not at the gates -- yet

In the world of Albertan politics, few people's words carry more weight than that of Preston Manning.

So when Manning speculates that Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Alliance may very well be a serious threat to Premier Ed Stelmach and the Progressive Conservative party, it's time for Stelmach to listen.

Stelmach's state of mind in the wake of Smith's victory to become the leader of the Alliance has been a matter of some speculation. Stelmach insists he isn't worried about the Alliance.

"It's like when you get into a hockey game," he recently told reporters. "You get all pumped for it. There'll be a lot said, but we're still focused on our plan for Alberta. We still have a sizeable majority. The people gave us a strong mandate to do what's right for Albertans."

"We have a sizable majority; people gave us a strong mandate to do what's right for all Albertans," Stelmach added more recently. "We'll continue to do that."

Of course, if a mandate is a static notion, Stelmach would be entirely correct. In teh 2008 provincial election won 53% of the popular vote -- albeit in an election in which few Albertans voted.

But if one were to accept an argument that the notion of a mandate is a more of a living sentiment of whom the citizenry have entrusted with the moral authority to govern, one could make the argument that Stelmach's mandate has been significantly eroded.

Of course no reasonable individual expects a government to govern according to polls. And with the Conservative party still commanding the support of 38% of Albertans -- still a plurality -- the Tories remain well-situated to continue governing.

“You have to keep in mind the Conservatives still lead in all categories,” says Faron Ellis, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge. “The barbarians are not at the gates of the legislature just yet.”

But the key words should be considered "just yet".

Preston Manning -- an individual who could well have become Premier in Stelmach's place, if he had opted to enter the contest -- has recently noted that Stelmach's government appears tired and troubled in the eyes of Albertans, and all Smith needs to do is present appealing policy to become an ominous threat.

"We're halfway there in the sense that there is a party that's been long in office and does appear to be struggling to have anything new or different to contribute," Manning mused. "It has yet to be seen whether the Wildrose Alliance has the other side of the equation."

When Paul Hinman, Smith's successor as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, won the recent by-election in Calgary-Elbow, he won on a campaign slogan that encouraged voters in the riding to "send a message to Ed".

If as luminous an authority on Albertan politics as Preston Manning believes Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Alliance could become a threat to the Alberta Tories, it's time for Ed to start getting that message.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Even if You Never, Ever Succeed

Just keep pretending. After all, as long as your base buys the disingenuous "criticism of Barack Obama is racism" angle, it doesn't matter if it's actually true, does it?

October, 2009 Book Club Selection: It's the Regime, Stupid!, Barry Cooper

Barry Cooper challenges presumptions of Canadians

One year ago this week, Canadians were getting accustomed to the reality of another Stephen Harper government, as well as another minority.

In It's the Regime, Stupid!: A Report From the Cowboy West on Why Stephen Harper Matters, Barry Cooper lays out his case for viewing Harper as a historic Prime Minister.

Cooper argues that Canada's regime -- defined as the entrenched political culture of a country, defining who is entitled to govern, by what means they are chosen, and what for -- is changing. He embraces the argument that a country's regime tends to coalesce around its economic centre. He argues that as Western Canada becomes the economic engine of the company, so will they also become its political engine, defining the values according to which the country will be governed.

As David Warren recently noted, Cooper doesn't seem to think Harper's tenure as Prime Minister is the source of these changes, but rather a symptom of them.

If this is truly the case, one is led to ponder what, precisely, this will mean for Canada.

There has been a good deal of talk recently about the emergence of a new "natural governign party" in Canada. The arguments Cooper presents in his book -- a great deal of it about how the politics of public virtue combined with the notion of the Liberal party as the "natural government" to create a sense of entitlement that led to the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars for the direct benefit of the Liberal party.

This should lead Canadians to wonder if having a natural governing party is really something they want at all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Derailing (and Re-Railing) The Train of Public Virtue

Time for the Conservative Party to offer its own model of public virtue

Writing in an op/ed in the Ottawa Citizen, David Warren offers his take on Barry Cooper's recent opus It's the Regime, Stupid!.

Cooper is one of the better-kept secrets of Canadian political science: a paleo-conservative with one eye on Canada's past, another on its future, and his finger on the pulse of Canada's present.

Cooper's book offers a scathing critique of Laurenti-o-centric politics and where it has led the country:
"Looked at from another angle, we are the curious aggregate of 'two founding cultures' -- the combination of French Canadian nationalist whining and extortion, with the old English Canadian Loyalist junction and anti-American malice, in a kleptomanic welfare state -- fuelled by revenue appropriated from Western Canadian resources.

This is not exactly my way of looking at post-war Canada, and perhaps an over-simplification of Cooper's, but there's a lot of truth in it all the same. A 'regime,' which we may fairly associate with the Liberal party (though spread through other parties by such mechanisms as the 'sacred trust' of our dysfunctional medicare system), has embedded itself in Canadian life, in the form of a self-interested and self-serving federal bureaucracy of extraordinary size.

The notion that Canada consists centrally of ourselves -- the Laurentianistas -- plus imperial extensions east, north, and west, would come very close to being the irritant that has inspired Cooper to produce his string of pearls on Canadian politics, the most memorable of which before the book now published was entitled,
Deconfederation (1991), co-written with David Bercuson. It was a book that proposed to call Quebec's separatist bluff, by sketching out the benefits to the Rest of Canada over and above the transaction costs, if Quebec would only leave."
Cooper's and Bercuson's argument circulated around the notion of the politics of public virtue. Although they argued that the politics of public virtue -- leaing Canada inexorably into the era of the welfare state -- actually originated with John Diefenbaker, who they identify as the first Prime Minister to govern with social justice as a central preoccupation (although the traces of this notion can be identified earlier at the provincial level, in the Saskatchewan government of Tommy Douglas and Alberta government of -- believe it or not -- William Aberhart), it was the fight against Quebec separatism that truly entrenched those ideals as central to Canadian governance.

The Liberals struggles to find ways to fund their efforts to use democratic socialism to soften the demand for Quebec sovereignty often led to ham-fisted attempts to suck revenue out of the Western provinces, and often became as big a threat to national unity as anything imagined by Rene Levesque or Luicen Bouchard.

The growing public bureaucracy became a symbol to the west of the country financing Liberal attempts to pander to Quebec separatism at Western Canada's expense.

The election of (briefly) Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney as Prime Minister did little to stem this slide itno a bureaucratic and self-interested state. By the time Paul Martin -- who at times seemed to possess the will to turn the tide -- his party's own excesses in twisting Canadian governance to their own benefit finally bit him.

The election of Stephen Harper resulted not only from the nadir of the sense of entitlement born out of the Liberal party's vision of the politics of public virtue, but also of a slowly-emerging distaste for that particular status quo, and a desire for real change.

But, just as the Liberal vision of the politics of public virtue was fraught with peril, so is Warren's view of how Stephen Harper should proceed:
"My own view, that Harper's political strategy is simply to remain in power for as long as possible, governing with as much common sense as circumstances will allow, until the hegemony of the Liberal party recedes into memory, would probably answer to Cooper's requirements. Harper is a transitional figure; not the new regime but the man who allows one to emerge over time. He is astute in his grasp of his own limitations.

In particular, he must stay in power until the threat has passed of the Liberals replacing their old divide-and-conquer 'national unity' fraud, with a new divide-and-conquer environmentalist fraud. The global warming hysteria -- seized upon by bureaucrats all over the world as the means to advance and consolidate the Nanny State -- is itself receding. We must wait it out.
Warren's view seems to be that the Conservative party should simply outwait the allegedly waning surge of environmentalism. But this may is an ultimately short-sighted view.

The enthusiasm for the apocalyptic view of environmentalism may indeed be waning -- it's usually difficult to tell for certain.

But to pretend that the Liberal party couldn't profit politically from a new environmental focus is naive. Even if Canadians stop fearing an environmental apocalypse, the environment is still central to the issue of quality of life.

This is the conservative angle on the environmental issue. Even if apocalyptic zealots are outraged at the very idea that an environmental catastrophe may not be as imminent as activist scientists have insisted it is.

The other issue with Warren's thesis is the notion of Stephen Harper needing to remain in power for as long as possible.

The strength of Cooper's thesis is that it reflects a change in the purpose of Canadian government. Retaining power for power's own sake -- or even out-waiting political changes that may favour his party -- doesn't reflect these changes away from aelf-serving politics of public virtue and toward more responsible and accountable government.

Harper achieved this by doing what Tom Flanagan described as "tightening the screws" on government -- not only through a program of tax cuts, but also by trimming old Liberal party-era social engineering projects, as embodied by the court challenges program and by the ideological direction of the Status of Women.

Some would have expected that Harper's re-adjustment of the Royal Commission for the Status of Women -- as well as suggestions that Harper has treated women as a "left-wing fringe group" -- it seems that female voters are continually softening toward Harper.

The termination of the Liberal agenda of social engineering via various pet projects doesn't seem nearly as threatening to many Canadians as left-wing Canadians would have the rest of us believe.

Last but not least, dismissing national unity and environmentalism as fraudulent is intellectually perilous. Canada came within less than a percentage point of breaking up during the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum because the Liberal government of Jean Chretien was inattentive to, and bungled, the national unity file. Not because concerns regarding national unity are fraudulent.

Brian Lee Crowley has recently noted (and Denis Stairs noted before him), demographic shifts within Quebec will soon take the teeth out of Quebec separatism. This will change the form the national unity debate takes in Canada, but it will not lay the issue to rest.

Likewise environmentalism is not fraudulent. Whether the action taken on preserving the environment is taken to head off an apocalypse or is taken simply to improve the quality of life of Canadians, the issue of the environment is crucial.

The Conservative party needs to stop short of abolishing the politics of public virtue, and instead offer Canadians an alternative to the tired version of it to which they had once resigned themselves.

A conservative version of the politics of public virtue will very likely share the most compelling elements of the Liberal version. The difference, of course, should be that the conservative model shouldn't rely on state action to achieve that vision, but rather make it possible for citizens to accomplish those goals on their own -- even if the state provides some help along the way.