Sunday, January 31, 2010

Disaster Captialism of the Unbelievers

Atheists ramming "humanism" down the throats of Haitians?

The recent earthquake in Haiti has inspired a long-overdue outpouring of public sympathy for the impoverished country.

That certainly hasn't been restricted to religious believers. But anyone familiar with academically dubious pseudo-economics is familiar with Naomi Klein's shock doctrine, and may even recognize lements of it within the approach of various atheist groups to the Haitian disaster.

The shock doctrine holds that free market capitalists exploit disaster in order to impliment their programs. Where there are disasters, they exploit them. Where there are no disasters, they create them.

Atheists certainly didn't cause the earthquate in Haiti. But some may raise the argument that they've proven more than willing to exploit it.

It began shortly after the earthquake, when Richard Dawkiins launched his Non-Believers Giving Aid project.

The idea seemed to be that with all the religious-based aid organizations providing aid to Haiti, what was really needed was a secular alternative. (One wonders why it is that the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, among others, weren't sufficient.)

According to Dawkins the point of this is -- quelle suprise -- proving that atheists are morally and intellectually superior to believers.

Likewise, various universities are sending "humanist chaplains" to Haiti to help administer moral and spiritual support for the victims of the earthquake.

One may question the wisdom of sending atheist chaplains -- however an oxymoron this may seem to be -- to a country like Haiti. Haiti is one of the most predominantly religious countries in the world. An intriguing combination of Catholicism and voodoo is practiced by up to 85% of Haitians.

Some could view all of this to nearly force-feeding atheism to Haitians after a disaster. In all likelihood, it really isn't, and is merely born out of naivete.

Politcal Studies Epic Fail

When one is so intent to building a blogging career (however far as one would consider blogging a "career") on nitpicking, it's only inevitable that this practice is going to get one burned.

Especially when one isn't terribly bright.

Such is the case for Audrey of Enormous Thriving Plants, whose efforts at nit-picking recently resulted in what is going to be a very humilating experience for her.

It isn't her first tragic experience trying to argue over Canadian political science.

In an earlier attempt at nitpicking, Audrey objected to the notion that Canadians vote for their Prime Minister. Instead, Audrey decided to argue the matter from the perspective of a 19th century-era political theory that allowed Canadians to elect Members of Parliament, then the Governor General to select the Prime Minister according to their unencumbered judgement.

Audrey's argument overlooked more than a century of Constitutional convention which has clearly impressed upon the office of the Governor General that whichever party wins a plurality in an election is expected to be designated as the government.

(A clear exception was the King-Byng affair, wherein William Lyon MacKenzie King, having failed to win such a plurality, approached the Governor General before a government was appointed with a temporarily-workable coalition with the Progressive Party. It helped that Mackenzie King declined to resign as Prime Minister following the election.)

Audrey failed to recognize the statement as one that was simultaneously positive -- reflecting the effect that an individual's vote has on the selection of the government through their effect on the formation of Parliamentary caucus -- and also normative -- reflecting the understanding Canadians have about this process when they cast their vote.

Audrey failed to recognize that, however indirectly, Canadians do get to elect their Prime Minister -- unless one is living in the 19th century.

Recent attempts at nitpicking, however, have revealed that Audrey very much is living in the 19th century -- although living in it as if she knows nothing about what actually happened at that time.

Audrey's ill-conceived attempt at nitpicking was based on a number of assertions:

-That Canada is not formally a confederacy.
-That Canada is a decentralized constitutional monarchy.

One of these statements is actually true in the sense that Audrey asserts.

Oddly enough, it's the one concerning an argument that was never in place. (A search of the post in question for the word "confederacy" yields interesting results.)

Audrey would, of course, be correct to suggest that Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy. She is actually correct to state that Canada is highly decentralized.

However, Audrey's argument fails on a crucial point: in 1867 the provinces that joined to form the Dominion of Canada -- Eastern Canada (Quebec), Western Canada (Ontario), New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island -- were colonies of an entity that no longer exists. Moreover, the federal state that was established was also a colony.

But this is no longer the case.

The British Empire has long been dismantled. Canada attained full sovereignty over a period of 115 years. Among the key milestones were the Balfour Declaration of 1926, the Citizenship Act (1946), and the re-patriation of the Constitution in 1982.

If Canadian Confederation -- the agreement under which the country was established -- were dissolved, sovereignty could not be retained by a federal government that would cease to exist. Furthermore, there is no British Empire to recover sovereignty that was conclusively ceded in 1982.

The only political entities to which full sovereignty could revert under such conditions is to each province. (The Territories are a much more arguable point.)

As a result, a Canadian state that is not a Confederacy by nature of its creation has effectively become a Confederacy by nature of its function, and as a consequence of historical circumstance.

Unless, of course, Audrey would like to argue that the federal government has the power to unilaterally re-draw the boundaries of each province and force them to unify with a foreign country.

Which would make the idea of Audrey as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister an intriguing prospect:

"Guess what, provinces? You're our bitches. That's right."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Poirier Makes the Smart Call

Poirier appointment planned to eliminate by-election

When Stephen Harper's new batch of Premiers takes their place among the members of Canada's upper chamber, one of them -- New Brunswick's Rose May Poirier -- will be absent.

Poirier's appointment won't take effect until February 28th. There's a reason for this.

Poirier is one of two sitting provincial legislators -- the other being Ontario MPP Bob Runciman -- to be appointed as one of Harper's newest batch of Senators. Her appointment will take effect later in order to eliminate the need for a by-election in her riding of Rogersville-Kouchibouguac.

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham must call an election by September 27, 2010.

"Being in close proximity that we are to the next general election on September 27, if the appointment would have been made, effectively, then a byelection would have needed to be called," Poirier explained. "I think that's an unnecessary expense for the taxpayers of New Brunswick."

Bob Runciman's constituents in Leeds-Grenville won't be so fortunate. As Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty doesn't have to call an election until October 10, 2011, they will have to endure a by-election to fill Runciman's place in Queen's Park.

The upside is that at least they will have representation in the interim betwen Runcman's appointment and that election. Poirier's constituents will not -- an unfortunate downside.

Conversely, Runciman's appointment to the red chamber will deprive Queen's Park of its strongest voice for Senate reform.

The delay in Rose May Poirier's appointment taking effect is a shrewd fiscal move. Although Bob Runciman is a worthy appointee to the Senate, his is not so much. This, sadly, is the kind of thing that will happen when active legislators are appointed to the Senate.

Fiction in the Purest Sense of the Word

The Trojan Horse is a miniseries that likely played well to the paranoia of individuals like Mel Hurtig and David Orchard, who have long argued that trade arrangements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America) would eventually lead to the absorption of Canada into the United States.

It's unsurprising that Paul Gross -- who both produced and starred in the miniseries -- would embrace these concerns so readily. He's been firmly establishing his credentials as a Canadian nationalist for a while now. Passchendaele was the result of his laudible efforts to use film as a tool for teaching Canadian history. He even spent years playing a Mountie on Due South. He's long become an underappreciated staple of Canadian culture.

But it's interesting to note the hysteria underlying The Trojan Horse. As it turns out, the scenario portrayed in this film could actually never happen as it unfolds in the film.

In the film, Canadians narrowly vote to join the United States. In a scene reminiscent of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum, the margin of victory for the "yes" side is less than one percent.

Under the arrangement, Canadian confederation would be dissolved, and Canada would be reorganized into six states for the purpose of amalgamation with the United States.

Yet according to the way the Canadian constitution actually functions, this could never happen.

For one thing, the film's writers seem to have forgotten -- or at least overlooked -- the fact that Canadian federalism is a product of the provinces themselves. Even if Canadian confederation were dissolved -- which would only result in the establishment of fifteen new independent states in North America.

The decision about whether to amalgamate with other provinces could only take place on a province-by-province basis. It couldn't be decided by a national referendum.

Because the dissolution of confederation would render these provinces into states independent of one another, deciding such a matter by national referendum would violate the individual sovereignty of each new country. For example, a "yes" voter in Alberta would effectively be helping to decide the course of Quebec, even over the objections of "no" voters in Quebec. This is evidently something that is simply not feasible.

Even if the provinces agreed to amalgamate into larger states, they could not do so until after confederation was dissolved. Furthermore, this would be subject to significant negotiation between each and every province.

Last but not least, each state would be left with the choice of either joining the United States or remaining independent. It's extremely unlikely that Quebec would agree to join the United States, making the scenario presented in The Trojan Horse even more unfeasible.

Aside from this, The Trojan Horse plucks all the right nationalist strings. The sight of the American flag flying over the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill seems not only unnatural, but is actually extremely unsettling.

While it's an interesting scenario to consider, The Trojan Horse is simply far too removed from Constitutional reality in Canada to be worth taken seriously.

Fortunately, the miniseries is entertaining enough to still be worth watching.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Red Chamber Turns Blue

Stephen Harper makes five new appointments to Senate

Stephen Harper finally made his expected Senate appointments toay, as his party finally put itself in the driver's seat in the upper house.

Bob Runciman, Vim Kochhar, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, Elizabeth Marshall and Rose-May Poirier will all be joiing the Conservative Senate caucus.

While Harper's last batch of Senators -- featuring among them former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers (who admitted he knew nothing about politics) -- was considered by many Canadians to be sub-par. This particular batch is much, much better.

Bob Runciman is an outspoken advocate of Senate reform. He even introduced a recent bill that would empower the government of Ontario to hold elections for Senate nominees. (The bill was defeated by the McGuinty Liberals.)

Vim Kochhar will add another member to the Conservative Aboriginal Caucus. He's a successful aboriginal businessman, and is also a Trustee of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu is a feirce advocate of victims' rights in Canada. He will almost certainly bolster the Tories' anti-crime agenda, and should lend additional credibility to the Conservatives' crime agenda.

Elizabeth Marshall is formerly the Auditor General of New Brunswick.

Rose-May Poirier is a former Cabinet Minister with portfolios dealing with Local Government, Aboriginal Affairs and Human Resources.

That's a very promising batch of Senators -- and a marked improvement on blatantly partisan appointments like that of Doug Finley.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Dan Shields - "He Is Tightenng His Grip"

Russ Campbell - "Interesting Timing for Bob Runciman's Senate Appointment"

Curiosity Cat - "Welcome to the Harper Senate Majority, Courtesy of Michael Ignatieff

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tony Blair: Wanted Dead or Alive

(By George Monbiot)

If former British Prime Minister Tony Blair thought that the Iraq inquiry mas making settling his legacy uncomfortable, he may have no idea just how bad things can be.

George Monbiot recently offered a reward for anyone who successfully manages to place Blair under a citizen's arrest.

Some would interpret this as essentially placing a bounty on a former head of government. Others, like UBC Professor and former NDP candidate Michael Byers, see it differently.

"Speaking within the British context, with the British police being in most instances quite respectful of citizen rights—including in most instances not carrying arms—yes, I think it is a brilliant idea,” Byers said. “I wouldn’t want to recommend someone in another country with less historic respect for citizens’ rights to try this, because the police might react excessively. But certainly in the UK, George Monbiot has thought this out, and the recommendations I think are quite reasonable.”

"I think there is a strong case against Mr. Blair for the crime of aggression,” Byers continued. “The crime of aggression did not make it into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court because of a lack of agreement among negotiating states, but it is still part of customary international law and exists in the statute books of several countries. So yes, without saying definitively that Blair is guilty, there is a case to be answered. Certainly, from a purely legal perspective, he is open to arrest and prosecution.”

Some, of course, disagree with Monbiot's bounty -- he offers up the first 100 pounds stirling out of his own pocket.

Oddly enough, an arrest of Tony Blair would probably be one of the best things for his party. Facing an election in 2010, Gordon Brown must be thinking that Blair would better serve him anywhere but in the election -- even if that means he's standing trial at the Hague.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

One of History's Innovative Chroniclers Falls Silent

Reports have emerged that today, at the age of 87 years, American historian Howard Zinn has passed away.

Zinn reached international acclaim with his book A People's History of the United States, in which he attempted to assess American history from the perspective of various oppressed groups.

He was also an active leader during the Vietnam War, in which he led a campaign of civil disobedience. He also established seven indispensible guidelines for campaigns of civil disobedience -- an invaluable contribution to the art of the peaceful protest.

Zinn never pretended that his works were meant to be politically neutral in any way. But, contrary to the work of some modern politically-motivated historians, he at the very least relied upon facts, as opposed to relying on an ability to twist, distort, or manufacture facts of their own.

The discipline of history will sorely miss Howard Zinn. Regardless of one's views on the political nature of Zinn's work, history has lost one of its glittering stars today.

Thanks Again, Ward!

Ward Churchill practically endorses Tom Lucero for Repbulican nominee

A recent campaign ad from Tom Lucero, who is seeking the Repubican party nomination for Colarado's fourth district, envoked the spectre of the firing of Ward Churchill, the plagiarzing and data-forging "academic" fired from the University of Colorado.

There was a certain petulant brilliance in the ad: taking advantage of a popular public branding of Churchill as a loud-mouthed asshole, and branding Lucero has the kind of guy who will stand up to an asshole.

The branding message of the ad is crystal clear: if Lucero can deal with Churchill, he can deal with anything the Democrats may throw his way in Washington.

More recently, Churchill himself lent Lucero a hand in his effor to brand himself as the ideal Republiican to seek the seat in question.

"I can think of no one who better reflects the principles and integrity of Colorado Republicans than Tom Lucero," Churchill quipped. "Who knows? He might even have what it takes to be the next Dick Cheney."

Churchill couldn't possibly intend to help Lucero win the Republican nomination, but he very well may have. In fact, he may have just helped Lucero win the election in November.

“At this point in the campaign, we are thrilled to have such a ringing endorsement of Republican values from Ward Churchill,” Lucero replied. “Churchill's comments help further the message that our campaign is trying to communicate.”

Whether or not Ward Churchill's denunciation of Tom Lucero helps him win a seat in the House of Represenatives will have to wait until November to be seen. But if Lucero does win, one can look forward to Lucero thanking Churchill in his victory speech.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Running Against an Asshole: It's Crazy Enough to Work

Running in a crowded race for the Republican nomination in Colarado's fourth district, Tom Lucero has taken an interesting approach to the race.

Instead of running against his three opponents, Lucero has chosen to run against Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado Professor he successfully fired after he embarrassed the institution one too many times.

The ad even drops the name of Bill Ayers -- the former Weather Underground terrorist who was catapulted into a position of international prominence by his relationship with Barack Obama.

"Remember Bill Ayers? Ward Churchill's friend?" the narrator asks, as words in red bold font appear over images of newspapers and of Churchill himself. "Little Eichmanns? Stated more 9/11s are necessary? Proclaimed 'I don't answer to Tom Lucero'."

"Took care of that mess in Colorado," Lucero then complains, beaming proudly. He then goes on to discuss what he would like to accomplish in Washington as the 4th district's congressman.

In most cases it's considered poor taste to campaign against someone who isn't running in it.

But there's a certain tactical brilliance to Lucero's tactics, especially in the Republiican primary. The glimmer in his eye and the smile on his face demonstrate an unabashedly no-nonsense attitude toward the Churchill affair, reaching out to the viewer and sharing a "yeah, fuck that guy" moment with them.

Moreover, publicly campaigning against Churchill could give Lucero an opportunity to correct the one looming issue remaining from the Churchill firing -- the wrongful termination lawsuit that Churchill inexplicably won after being fired for academic misconduct (although he was denied reinstatement).

If Lucero can successfully draw the Churchill issue back into the public eye, he can remind the public that Churchill was actually fired for his considerable past of academic misconduct -- stemming from cases of plagiarism and forgery of data -- after Churchill had embarrassed his institution one too many times.

In fact, Churchill's firing wasn't the only bone that the crazed dissident had to pick with Lucero. He also didn't approve of Lucero's demands that the University of Colorado's course offerings be vetted at a time that the University was facing a choice between reining in an out-of-control budget amidst incredible wastefulness or having to continually go to the state for increases of funding to the school -- something that would have necessitated ongoing tax increases.

"The larger framing was articulated by one of the regents, Tom Lucero, at the regents meeting the other night: I want a justification for the existence of whole departments. I want to review the tenure system altogether," Churchilll once whined. "I want every course justified to my satisfaction."

"How could Tom Lucero possibly have assimilated the knowledge to pass scholarly judgment on the individual courses and their content and the scholarship that attends them in all these different areas?" he asked.

"This is transparently clear: Anything that he doesn’t like, whether he knows anything about it or not, is to be gone," Churchill pouted. "He has announced—telegraphed—the fact that he doesn’t like anything having to do with cultural studies, ethnic studies, dissident political studies, gay rights. None of that has anything to do with proper scholarship in his mind, not that he knows a goddamned thing about any of it. And it’s not that he’s a particularly malevolent individual. He’s representative of the whole. That’s the mentality that goes into this. This is a book-burning exercise. It’s a stifling of political discourse."

That's awfully rich coming from an individual who once insisted that speech that he doesn't like -- such as Columbus Day celebrations shouldn't be allowed to happen.

In fact, as it turned out, Tom Lucero's desire to vet the course offerings at the U of C had nothing to do with wanting to "stifle political discourse", but rather had everything to do with bringing the institution's budget under control so that it wouldn't have to periodically force tax increases on the citizens of Colorado.

Certainly, these kinds of concerns mean something to an individual like Ward Churchill, who see universities as little more than a platform from which they can force their political views on their students.

(Contrary to popular views individuals like Churchill are actually a minority among university faculties -- often an outspoken and powerful minority, but a minority nonetheless.)

With the exception of a collection of far-left lunatics who seemed to believe that Ward Churchill should have been allowed to forge data, plagiarize and humiliate his insitution at will, most people seem to understand that Ward Churchill is, frankly, an asshole.

For Tom Lucero, campaigning against that asshole might just be crazy enough to work.

At the very least, it's fun.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back It Up, John -- Back It Up

A recent move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper predictaby has one of Canada's Whiniest Wankers rather upset.

Writing about the appointment of Ian McPhail as the new chairman of the RCMP Commission of Public Complaints, John Baglow insists that the previous chairman, Paul Kennedy, wasn't re-appointed because Harper's government was offended by his official report:
"A Conservative real estate lawyer has been appointed 'interim chair' of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Ian McPhail replaces outgoing chair Paul Kennedy, whose critical reports offended the Harper administration."
The critical report that Baglow refers directly to is the Robert Dzienkanski case, in which a Polish immigrant to Canada was brutally tasered to death by RCMP officers responding to his frustrated outburst.

Kennedy's report was indeed scathing.

The problem for Baglow is that there doesn't seem to be any support for Baglow's caim that Kennedy's report on the Dzienkanski affair offended the government.

In fact, the closest to criticism of Kennedy by the "Harper administration" that seems to be available is criticism by Conservative backbench MP Blake Richards. Richards didn't speak specifically about the Dzienkanski case, but merely criticized "bureaucrats and paper-pushers".

That's a far cry from denouncing Kennedy for his rightly-scathing report on the Dzienanski incident.

Baglow is right about one thing: McPhail is an excessively poor selection as interim chairman of the Public Complaints Commission. Moreover, this isn't the first time the Harper government has chosen an RCMP-related appointee poorly.

Then again, McPhail is only being appointed as interim chairman of the Public Complaints Commission. Presumably, the hunt for a more suitable permanent chairman is continuing. If it isn't, it should be.

That being said, this just doesn't justify John Baglow making unsubstantiated claims that are clearly intended to use the death of Robert Dzienkanski to provoke outrage against the Harper government.

Requests that Baglow substantiate this claim -- that Kennedy was not re-appointed becauase of the Dzienkansi report -- with some evidence have, unfortunately, not only been ignored, but have actually been deleted.

That's unfortunately how John Baglow operates. He doesn't handle dissent very well -- even when he's just being asked to back up his own claims.

Tell us More About Democracy, Lizzie May

Elizabeth May dodging leadership review

Elizabeth May is facing ever-looming questions about her efforts to avoid a leadership review she must face later this year.

Among resignations and lay offs from the party's national organization, May is leading a party that remains indebted from the 2008 election campaign, and seems to be increasingly losing faith in her leadership.

"Elizabeth is a weak political leader, but she is strong enough to dominate the $2-million-a-year, 9,000-member Green Party," said John Oglivie, a prominent critic of May's. "This is now the ‘Elizabeth May Party of Canada.' Get used to it."

This has to be a tough criticism for May, considering the extent to which she has criticized Stephen Harper's attitude toward democracy. Like May, Harper is often accused of dominating his own party.

May has admitted that the extent to which her critics are allowed access to conference call meetings of the national council has troubled her.

"It would be disingenuous to say it never bugged me, but does it bother me at any large level? No," May said. "It is what it is. Can you imagine any other federal party allowing any member to listen in on council calls?"

May campaigned against the rule that requires the Green Party leader to face a review every four years -- this year would be her first review.

Now, talks are underway within the party's national council to curtail the review.

If May wants to lecture the country on democracy, perhaps she should start by insisting that she face this mandated leadership review.

Eizabeth May can't lecture the rest of the country about democracy if she can't practice it within her own party. It's time for Lizzie May the would-be democrat to put up or shut up.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Canadians Have Spoken

And they are in favour of democracy

Today, thousands of Canadians spoke out across Canada.

It's impossible to disapprove of their verdict: they are in favour of democracy.

Certainly, not all Canadians agree about the recent Proroguement of Parliament. In particular, not all Canadians believe that it was undemocratic. This author, for example, does not agree that the proroguement was undemocratic.

The proroguement of Parliament is entirely constitutional, and has been routine throughout Canada's history -- particularly when a government is preparing a significant policy shift, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper currently is.

Many Canadians don't agree that this is sufficient reason to prorogue Parliament. That is their opinion, and they are entitled to it.

Some Canadians argue that the Conservatives are attempting to avoid questions about the torture of Afghan detainees. Many of them are partisan Liberals avoding addressing their own party's direct responsibility in that matter.

But those who attended the rallies out of a sincere belief that the proroguement was undemocratic have delivered a verdict that deserves respect, even if one doesn't agree with it.

In particular, 3,000 people attended a rally on Parliament Hill to protest the proroguement.

Which reminds one that just over a year previous, Canadians spoke out. It was impossible to disapprove of their verdict: they were in favour of democracy then, and are in favour of it still.

In particular, 3,000 people attended a rally on Parliament Hill to protest the Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois Coalition, proponents of which wanted to implemented without an election, and almost immediately following an election in which Stephane Dion, the leader of the Coalition, had rejected it.

Many Canadians argued that the Coalition was entirely constitutional, and thus democratic.

It seems that regardless of who perpetrates a perceived affront to democracy, Canadians will come out and protest against it. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with either assessment of either controversy, this is a very encouraging fact.

Canadians are very much in favour of democracy -- we're merely in disagreement regarding what threatens it.

Few things could be more democratically healthy than that.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Scott Tribe - "My Call: The Anti-Prorogue Rallies Are a Success

John Steins - "When Will We Prorogue Harper?"

Steven Whitworth - "The Regina Anti-Prorogue Rally"

Hip Hop & Politics: A Battle of Images

As the world looks back on Barack Obama's first year as President of the United States, it's easy to draw the conclusion that he doesn't have much to celebrate.

His health care bill has sparked a controversy that seems to be slowly eating the United States alive. He can barely get carbon cap-and-trade on the agenda. And despite his best attempt at a direct intervention, his party managed to lose the iconic Ted Kennedy's Senate seat when their candidate simply declined to campaign.

Things worth celebrating are few and far between for Obama. Even his Nobel Peace Prize threatened to reduce that noble institution to a complete sham when it dawned on the world that he hadn't yet earned it -- and the months since haven't gotten him much closer.

If Obama has anything to celebrate, however, it's an important moral victory: his Presidency may well re-shape black culture in the United States in a way that many had hoped, but few had dared actually imagine.

In Barack and Curtis: Manhood, Power and Respect, a number of commentators consider Obama's Presidency, and compare it to some of what many consider to be the conventional popular black culture: gangsta rap music.

Obama's Presidency may, to date, have floundered in the face of his own party's impotence. But whereas once upon a time many black youths may have believed the best they could hope for was to be a basketball player or a rapper, many of those youths will now grow up in a time where there has been a black President.

That so many rappers who otherwise would have had little to say about politics -- particularly individuals like Jay-Z and Ludacris -- worked so hard to help Obama become President even seems to suggest that many of those who won't profit from this change are ready to see it happen.

That's a very profound reality.

If many of the black youths growing up in impoverished neighbourhoods ever believed they could grow up to be President one day, those days are today.

Whatever Barack Obama does with his Presidency from this point forth, there is one thing he cannot afford to do: he cannot afford to not deliver on the promises he has made -- not merely to himself, but to an entire culture of people.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cold War Mentalities Demand Weapons That Can be Watched

As tends to be the trend more than ever, the Watchmen director's cut incorporates additional footage into the film.

While the bulk of the new scenes actually deal with the character of Rorschach, the additional scenes also expand greatly on the character of Dr Manhattan, and shed interesting light on his relationship with the Comedian.

The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) form something of an odd couple in the Watchmen. The Comedian is nihilistic and sociopathic, while Manhattan seems largely indifferent to the plight of humanity. In their own way, each is fundamentally disconnected from their central humanity.

The two are shown together fighting in Vietnam, a conflict won in the alternate timeline of the film because of Manhattan's involvement. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that Manhattan has no idea why he's exploding Viet Cong guerillas so effortlessly. He could just as easily be exploding Muslim mujahideen on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Comedian is skullduggery embodied. In the film's opening credits he's even depicted assassinating John F Kennedy.

While Dr Manhattan clearly represents the sheer mass intimidation of the nuclear deterrent, the Comedian represents the activities of the world's intelligence services, spy agencies, and covert "black ops" forces.

In time, Dr Manhattan becomes a figure greater than the United States' entire nuclear arsenal, and in time greater than the United States itself. Meanwhile, the Comedian slips into obscurity, his exploits the subject of state secrets.

Dr Manhattan, in the eyes of the US government, is a weapon too overwhelming to be kept secret, and controlling him is considered to be of paramount importance. The government even attempts to force Laurie Jupiter, aka the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) to devote hersef to keeping him satisfied and compliant with the government's wishes.

The far-less-powerful Comedian, meanwhile, is effectively discarded after use, and slips into the kind of obscurity that powerful states reserve for their ugliest secrets.

This has become the state of affairs in the post-Cold War world: with the exception the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons are being sought not as a means of protecting themselves against an imminent threat, but as a means of keeping one's enemies in line.

Iran, for example, is seeking nuclear weapons not as a means of defending itself against an imminent threat -- as the United States' and Israel's primary antagonisms with Iran revolve around the country's nuclear weapons program -- but rather as a means of intimidating the world into giving in to its demands.

With an individual like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holding the Presidency of Iran, Iran is as likely to use nuclear weapons to intimidate the world's smaller states than they are to reserve them as a defensive weapon against the US or Israel.

Just like the fictional United States of The Watchmen, they won't keep those weapons secret. It's what they do in the dark -- often to their own people -- that they'll keep secret.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Canada Can Stand to Change a Little

New thinking on foreign policy was badly needed

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, there have predictably been some people he hasn't been able to please.

Unsurprisingly, Frances Russell has been one of them. For good reason, Harper -- and many other Canadians -- don't seem particularly distressed by this.

Many Canadians have recognized this for a positive development -- particularly as it pertains to foreign policy.

As Roy Rempel would note, Canada has long lacked any kind of coherent foreign policy, and has instead relied on a network of finely-crafted platitudes wrapped around obselete Pearsonian peacekeeping missions that have often proven ill-suited to the current state of the world -- as in Rwanda and Somalia.

Russell, for one, longs for the dreamland of yesteryear.

"The federal Conservatives are proving every day they don't need a majority to transform Canada," Russell laments.

"Aside from their swift and generous response to the Haitian earthquake -- what better way to douse the rogue prorogue furor? -- the Conservatives are backing away from internationalism, expunging most if not all of Canada's powerful human rights and humanitarian language from the lexicon of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade," she continues.

(Sure. The response to the Haiti catastrophe had nothing at all to do with humanitarianism, and everything to do with the proroguement. Sheesh, it seems like Harper just can't win.)

The flipside of this claim is that it simply isn't true. The Conservative government has shown a robust -- although not unlimited -- commitment to Canada's mission in Afghanistan, a UN-mandated mission of combination state building and fighting extremism.

Moreover, Canada also signed onto the treaty banning cluster munitions -- although after securing assurances that Canadian commanders wouldn't be held responsible if allied forces used the (quite rightly) controversial weapons.

That is internationalism, even if it isn't the kind of internationalism that Russell prefers -- one built more on the platitudes of soft power without backing it with the capabilities of hard power. Even Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff recognized the danger of this a long time ago.

"According to Embassy, Canada's Foreign Affairs Newspaper, Conservative staffers directed DFAIT bureaucrats to stop using policy language created by the former Liberal government immediately upon taking office in 2006," Russell complains.

"Chief among the forbidden phrases are 'human security,' 'public diplomacy,' 'good governance,' 'gender equality,' 'child soldiers,' and 'international humanitarian law,'" she continues. "Instead, the Conservatives' lexicon features 'human rights,' 'the rule of law,' 'democracy,' 'democratic development,' 'equality of men and women,' 'children in armed conflict' and 'international law.'"

What Russell objects to is many of the same foreign policy concepts, albeit stripped of left-wing ideological qualifiers.

"Children in armed conflict" clearly denotes the sense that all children in the midst of an armed conflict pose a dilemma to the global community -- armed and unarmed children alike. "Equality of men and women" recognizes that equality means equality, as opposed to some of the thinly-veiled ideological causes sponsored under the guise of "gender equality" (a phrase that says nothing about men or women, but somehow has always been tailored toward women).

"International law" strips the ideological impetus from "international humanitarian law", and instead recognizes something that doesn't necessarily define international law, but rather must operate within its confines.

"Democratic development" clearly indicates that good governance tends to happen within democratic states, where citizens are empowered to decide the direction of their country. It's something that tends not to happen under communist states or dictatorships.

Even the Human Security narrative has returned with the Will to Intervene doctrine, a recent upgrade on the Responsibility to Protect Russell alludes to.

The same rejection Canada's former embedded state ideology applies to domestic developments that Russell predictably decries.

"Since 2006, the Conservatives have either axed or slashed funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, the Status of Women, the Canadian Council of Social Development, the Court Challenges Program, the Canadian Policy Research Networks, the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Volunteer Canada, the Canadian Health Network, the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, Family Service Canada and Centres of Excellence, among many others," Russell writes.

But it doesn't take Barry Cooper to recognize that the organizations and bodies that Russell alludes to represented the embedding of a left-wing ideology within the embedded state.

These are things that many Canadians would agree could have stood to change a little -- although many more Canadians (like Cooper) would insist that Canada could stand to change a lot.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has surely learned that you can't please everyone. Clearly, he isn't about to start with the defenders of a tired and discredited old leftism.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Defense of Rex

Murray Dobbin picking on Rex Murphy

As usual, Murray Dobbin has a bone to pick. And as usual, it's with someone whose worldview starkly deviates from his own, and someone who has found a position of prominence from which to express it.

Dobbin is evidently so threatened by Murphy that has launched the "Not Rex Contest", looking for someone they feel can counter him -- somthing of an anti-Rex.

“We’re looking for someone who isn’t pompous, occasionally uses facts and reflects the values of the vast majority of Canadians,” Dobbin muses.

“Most commentators and columnists at least occasionally refer to some facts.”

Of course, Dobbin's problem with Murphy isn't that he never makes reference to any facts -- that would be untrue. Dobbin's problem with Murphy is that he makes reference to facts that Dobbin doesn't like, and would rather were ignored.

This becomes immediately evident as one considers the content of the contest's webpage.

"Only those who actually share the values and aspirations of the majority of Canadians; who trust that a genuine democracy would actually deliver what Canadians want, who don't think it's a good idea to give corporations almost unlimited and totally unregulated power and who - unlike Rex - understand that there is no serious scientific debate about humans' role in the climate crises, need apply or be nominated," the contest webpage insists.

First off, one may want to ask the editors of Rabble who they think they are to determine the "values and aspirations of the majority of Canadians". The very idea that a website that deliberately excludes vast swaths of Canadians from participation could do this is, quite frankly, a pompous notion.

Moreover, their insistence that the anti-Rex must "understand that there is no serious scientific debate about humans' role in the climate crisis" would have to presume that there is debate.

But whether the Rabblers like it or not, there very much is a debate, now more than ever before. After all, previous claims that there was no debate relied on the idea of "settled science". Now that the climategate emails have shown us the extent to which climate alarmists have engineered the peer review process to exclude dissent, this claim has been fundamentally undermined.

Without an open and honest peer review process, the climate alarmists have no scientific consensus.

Rex Murphy has been one of the Canadian mainstream media journalists to recognize this simple, inescapable fact. And for that the editors of clearly resent him very deeply.

“When Rex denies climate change, that has an impact," Dobbin says. "But a lot of people are despairing over the state of the CBC, the National in particular, and in this case Rex is sort of symbolic.”

In other words, Rex Murphy is symbolic of the failure of Dobbin and his cohorts to banish any dissenting views from the public sphere -- regardless of how desperately they would like to.

There's no better reason why Murphy should continue to be at home on the CBC: the National desperately needs someone who is willing to call a spade a spade.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

One year ago, the Democrats appeared unbeatable. They had captured all three houses, had a slim super majority in the Senate, and were being buoyed by popular support. The Republican Party resembled a snake trying to eat itself and many liberal bloggers speculated that this was the final end of the GOP. Now with the senate election in Massachusetts, the seat of the late Ted Kennedy, an almost certain victory for the Republicans and polls indicated the Republicans poised for an amazing recovery, commentators are asking “How did this happen?” The answer is surprisingly simple– the Democrats are pussies.

It’s not like the Democrats haven’t had several opportunities to appease and even re-energize their base. For example, easy motions for them would have been to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. All it would take to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” would be an order from Obama, as he is the commander in chief, and it would have had most of the left wing celebrating in joy. And with the United States desperately in need of troops, it would have been hard for the Republicans to argue against the logic of “It doesn’t matter if you are straight, so long as you can shoot straight.”

I guess you could argue the Democrats’ have been using their political capital on Health Care Reform, where it sounds like the Democrats don’t have support. By the sounds of the rhetoric from Tea Bagger movement and the Republican Party, you’d think that reform wasn’t popular in the United States. However, even the controversial “Public Option” has had considerable support throughout the nation. It really shouldn’t be the Republicans hammering the Democrats on this issue. It should be the other way around.

SurveyUSA: 77% in favor. – June 2009

NYTimes/CBS: 65% in favor. – September 25, 2009

WAPO/ABC: 57% in favor – October 20, 2009

Reuters: 59.9% in favor.- December 3, 2009

As for the Republicans, they really reorganized themselves into a cohesive force yet. There is still no clear leader of the Republican Party, they haven’t been proposing real alternatives to the Democrats Health Care Reform Bill, and the Tea Bag movement is an unorganized mass that just seems angry with the government. All they’ve done is walk lock and step too oppose the Democrats at every turn. This is a problem for the Democrats and their supporters because they can’t then explain how George W. Bush and the Republicans got to pass so much legislation.

My theory is that the Democrats are so worried about pissing other groups off, they are unwilling to push through things if it looks like there is strong opposition. Repeal “Don’t ask don’t tell?” what about all of those anti-gay lobbyists that would cry bloody murder about it? Lift the blockade on Cuba? There would be a riot in Florida about how the US has turned its back on the Cuban Exile community. NEWS FLASH DEMOCRATS – THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE FOR ANYWAYS, DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO PLEASE THEM.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans don’t really seek to please the voters that didn’t vote for them, they actually do try and please their base. They give their voters the tax cuts, military increases, and security measures that they think their base wants. The Democrats seem to make a lot of promises, but only make half hearted attempts at delivering them. It isn’t a way to run a country, and isn’t a way to win future elections. The end result is going to be the Republicans getting their base out and voting, while the Democrats will have their base sitting at home being depressed about life.

If the Democrats want any chance in 2012, they have to stop using the Republicans like a crutch, go out there and kick ass. People voted them in for a reason, and it’s about time for them to deliver.

Liberal Party Position On Term Limits Not Altogether Unreasonable

Longer term limits not a bad idea

With speculation regarding Stephen Harper's five upcoming Senate appointments still rife, it was only a matter of time until speculation regarding a Senate reform package began.

According to The Hill Times the Conservative Party is planning to introduce a Senate reform package that will feature elected Senators and term limits.

Liberal Democratic Reform Critic Marlene Jennings explains that while her party opposes eight-year term limits, as outlined in previous Conservative legislation, they would support a longer 12-year term limit.

Further elaborating on the Liberal objection to the legislation, Jennings notes that a Prime Minister serving two or more full-year terms could potentially end up appointing every Senator in the chamber.

There's nothing at all unreasonable about objections to that.

Jennifer Smith, a political scientist at Dalhousie University, offers some objections that are far from reasonable. In fact, many of them are just plain silly.

In particular, Smith seems to object to the notion of elected Senators.

"It violates the spirit of the Constitution because clearly the understanding is the Prime Minister will appoint whomever is elected," Smith insisted. "That would compromise the power of the Crown to appoint whomever it wishes to the Senate, subject to the specifications outlined in the constitution itself. That's what the constitutional issue hinges on as far as I'm concerned."

But Smith seems to be pretending that constitutional convention hasn't changed this already.

In the most formal sense, the Prime Minister doesn't even make Senate appointments. On a constitutional basis, the Crown, as represented by the Governor General, makes the actual appointments. Canada's independence from the British Empire and the reduction of the Governor General from an office of Royal oversight to a largely ceremonial office has instead empowered the Prime Minister to make the actual selections for the Senate.

Simply put, the Crown cannot appoint anyone it wishes to the Senate -- consitutional convention prevents it.

Smith also seems to be confused about the Senate's role in terms of policymaking.

"Certainly an elected Upper House is going to give you some regional representation, there's no doubt about that, but I'm very doubtful that it's going to give you sober second thought because sober second thought is something a second House does, vis à vis what comes to it from the first," Smith continued. "Sober second thought is not what people who run in big provincial wide elections want to engage in, they think they're more important than that. They want to engage in policymaking, not in reviewing what other policymakers have proposed."

Of course, the Senate actually does engage in policymaking. The constitution allows Senators to intitiate legislation in the upper chamber. The primary exception is that Senators may not attempt to legislate on fiscal matters.

Moreover, Senators can amend non-fiscal legislation and send it back to the House of Commons.

Jennifer Smith seems to be confused about the specific policymaking powers of the Senate.

Marlene Jennings, meanwhile, can't seem to resist the urge to finish her thoughts to the Hill Times on a disingenuous note.

"[Senate reform] needs a substantive and honest debate, and that's not what we're getting from the Conservatives." she concluded.

The problem with this, of course, is that the Liberal Party, particularly under Stephane Dion, argued that the purusing Senate reform on a piecemeal basis risked introducing unintended consequences into the matter, and that broad reform would be preferable.

Dion never seemed to want to admit that this was a silly argument -- that the unintended consequences of broad reform would be broad in scope, and the unintended consequences of incremental reform would be narrower in scope, and easier to correct.

The Liberal Party position on term limits is actually very reasonable. But that doesn't mean that their contributions to the Senate reform debate have been substantive or honest. More often that not, they've been precisely the opposite.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Hatrock's Cave - "Solberg on Prorogue and the Senate"

Stageleft - "A Waste of Parliamentary Time and Taxpayer Money"

Harper Bizarro - "Caution: Tories Appearing to Work"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Handling Dissent: Epic Fail

Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament mob dissenters

If one were to follow any number of the arguments against Stephen Harper's proroguement of Parliament, they all add up to a critique of Harper's inability to handle opposition.

So it's on that particular note that it's amusing to see how well the vaunted Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament handles opposition within its own group.

For one thing, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament requires anyone to join the group before they're allowed to post comments on the wall, or to participate in their forum.

In other words, the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has been tailor-made in order to avoid having to tolerate any opposition within its own ranks.

A good case in point is that of Timothy Sorsdah, who recently posted a link to Terry Glavin's National Post Full Comment blogpost about the Liberal Party's complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees. As The Torch so recently reminded Canadians, the Liberal government of Paul Martin had received numerous warnings about the prevalence of torture in Afghan prisons while they were negotiating the prison transfer agreement they instructed General Rick Hillier to sign on Canada's behalf.

Keeping in mind that one of the opposition talking points has been that Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in order to avoid questioning over this matter, one can't help but be amused as some of the response Sorsdah's reminder gets:

Peter Exel is clearly what most Canadians should recognize as a common partisan lunatic: forever looking for some way to deflect any uncomfortable revelation about his favoured political party.

Matt Boudreau's response is a little more amusing; not only was the Liberal Party in no position to shut down Parliament or the detainee abuse committee when this matter surfaced, but they've been pretending -- from the opposition benches -- that they aren't responsible for the entire mess in the first place.

Another equally-clueless individual is Peggy McLaughlan:

If McLaughlan doesn't understand what the La Presse revelations have to do with the proroguement of Parliament, she simply hasn't been paying attention to her own group's talking points.

Without the torture issue, CAPP don't have their "cover-up" issue, and would have to admit that the proroguement of Parliament is for entirely legitimate purposes: re-organizing the Senate, preparing stage two of the economic program (something that as dedicated a panic-merchant as Murray Dobbin has actually acknowledged), and taking advantage of the diplomatic opportunties posed by the Olympics.

This would defeat the entire purpose of the group. So one fully expects they'll never do that.

It's on that note that the extent to which some of them simply do not get it is utterly astounding. Consider the example of Shane Ambridge:

Ambridge seems to think he can simpy declare the Liberal complicity in torture "off topic", and end it at that.

But in order for this to work, the topic would have to actually be off topic. When one considers the extent to which the torture issue is central to the Proroguement issue, it doesn't take a political scientist to recognize the relevance of these revelations to the entire issue.

Once again, either CAPP has a legitimate cover-up issue, or they don't. And seeing as how it's the Liberal Party who are trying to cover up their complicity in torture by pinning it on the governing party, it's extremely evident that CAPP simply don't have the issue.

That they would be so resentful of Timothy Sorsdah for pointing this out to them simpy reveals the most active members of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament for what they truly are: not democratic activists, but a core of partisan hacks and ideologues who have helped deceive thousands of other Canadians into holding a view of the current proroguement of Parliament that simply does not hold water.

It's remarkable that a group that has accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of shutting down Parliament to avoid the Opposition has been so utterly hostile to any opposition within their own group.

Remarkable, but not terribly surprising.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Avatar's Riddle of Religion

As it pertains to Avatar, the newest science fiction masterpiece from James Cameron, there are largely two ongoing themes of discussion.

One is the magnificence of Cameron's technical achievement. He blends new technology with conventional 3D film making and traditional film making in a not-quite-seamless fashion that has transcended anything the medium of film has offered to date.

The other topic of discussion surrounding Avatar -- which is still selling out theatres more than a month after its release -- is that of the religious overtunes of the film.

In the film, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic marine whose twin brother, a scientist, has been shot during a random mugging. The company for which he works needs Jake to take his brother's place on Pandora, an alien world where they are mining unobtanium, an extravantly expensive electronic superconductor.

Through the help of high technology, Sully will inhabit his brother's Avatar -- a ten-foot body cloned through the combination of alien and human DNA. This will enable him to interact with the natives.

His most direct purpose is to help Dr Grace Augustine (Signourney Weaver) conduct her combination of scientific research and missionary work on Pandora. However, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has another idea in mind. He wants to use Sully's experience as a reconaissance expert to gather intelligence on the Na'Vi Home Tree.

On his first mission out, Sully is separated from his party and encounters Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a Na'Vi hunter who is eventually convinced through the act of "very pure spirits" to take Sully with her to Home Tree, where she is ordered to instruct him in the ways of the Na'Vi.

In time, Sully comes to cherish the ways of the Na'Vi, becomes one of them, and helps turn back the human assault on their way of life.

Writing in various fora, Jonah Goldberg has noted how closely Cameron's fictional creation resembles the findings of Nicholas Wade:
"Nicholas Wade's new book, The Faith Instinct, lucidly compiles the scientific evidence supporting something philosophers have known for ages: Humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent. That transcendence can be divine or simply Kantian, a notion of something unknowable from mere experience. Either way, in the words of philosopher Will Herberg, 'Man is homo religiosus, by 'nature' religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living.'

Wade argues that the Darwinian evolution of man depended not only on individual natural selection but also on the natural selection of groups. And groups that subscribe to a religious worldview are more apt to survive -- and hence pass on their genes. Religious rules impose moral norms that facilitate collective survival in the name of a 'cause larger than yourself,' to use a modern locution. It's no wonder that everything from altruism to martyrdom is inextricably bound up in virtually every religion.
However, as Goldberg notes, this sense of altruism can be exploited for some rather sinister purposes:
"The faith instinct may be baked into our genes, but it is also profoundly malleable. Robespierre, the French revolutionary who wanted to replace Christianity with a new 'age of reason,' emphatically sought to exploit what he called the 'religious instinct which imprints upon our souls the idea of a sanction given to moral precepts by a power that is higher than man.'"
Although the rationalized exploitation of these themes aren't restricted to those with malevolent intentions:
"Many environmentalists are quite open about their desire to turn their cause into a religious imperative akin to the plight of the Na'Vi, hence Al Gore's uncontroversial insistence that global warming is a 'spiritual challenge to all of humanity.' The symbolism and rhetoric behind much of Barack Obama's campaign was overtly religious at times, as when he proclaimed that 'we are the ones we've been waiting for' -- a line that could have come straight out of the mouths of Cameron's Na'Vi."
"What I find fascinating, and infuriating, is how the culture war debate is routinely described by antagonists on both sides as a conflict between the religious and the un-religious," Goldberg concludes. "The faith instinct manifests itself across the ideological spectrum, even if it masquerades as something else."

Some should consider it amazing that Huffington Post contributor Jason Linkins could be critical of Goldberg while simultaneously missing the point.

"I have not seen this movie but based upon what I've heard about it, what Goldberg calls the 'unapologetic' religious content of Avatar is 'unapologetic' for precisely one reason -- it needs to be plainly stated in order to serve as a plot contrivance," Linkins wrote. "And what seems to be going on in Avatar (reminder and caveat: have not seen it!) is that the Na'Vi's high-powered enviro-god religion is there to serve as the force that closes the gap between the primitive alien race and the technologically advanced military might of their invaders. The religion seems to be baked into the movie so that Cameron can tell a good story, and not to indulge in what sci-fi wonk par excellence Ana Marie Cox would call 'frenetic code mangling.'"

But if he had waited until he had seen the movie, Linkins would have understood that the religious overtones of Avatar are more than a mere "plot contrivance". The religious overtones are so powerful because, in the film there is something to it. Not only does the All Mother intervenes directly before the film's end, but the All Mother is the central reson why the Na'Vi are rejecting the colonialist advances of the Earthlings in the first place.

In Pandora they have everything they need, and in the All Mother they have everything they want.

The act that historical individuals like Robespierre accomplished was to deny individuals who could not find what they wanted within the social framework that he favoured -- the French revolutionary order -- the opportunity to seek what they wanted out of life outside of that order (at least not without paying the expense of their lives).

Many would consider the social order envisioned by the most radical environmentalists to also deny people the opportunity to pursue their wants or needs outside of a strict environmentalist order. Although, unlike Robespierre, their intentions are largely benign.

The Na'Vi, for their part, are entirely benevolent. But benevolent intentions can be turned toward malevolent ends, and even faiths as powerful and benign as that of the Na'Vi can be twisted to such purposes.

We don't see this from the Na'Vi in Avatar, nor have humans had the opportunity to observe it in similar spiritual and religious structures in the real world.

But if humans could observe a world like Pandoa over a period of thousands of years, it would be intriguing to see what kind of events may occur. We may even discover that animist societies could be just as imperiled by dangerous social forces as any other.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Creating the Enemy, One Way or Another

In Power of Nightmares, BBC documentary producer offers a revealing look at the politics of fear.

In the series, Curtis treats fear as a substitute for political ideology. During the course of the films, he posits that several of the threats used to provoke this environment of fear were largely constructed by politicians in search of a new pathway to power.

Curtis' thesis, however -- that there is no organized terrorist threat in the world today -- has a ludicrous conspiracy theory-esque quality to it. It seems especially so in the wake of the the events of Christmas Day, an attack that could have been successful if not for the vigilance of the passengers onboard the plane.

However, the recognition of this threat doesn't come without risks of its own. A sick passenger was detained less than a day after the initial plot was foiled.

At the same time, a portion of Curtis' thesis provokes an interesting thought: that the additional notoriety Al Qaida enjoyed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has helped it greatly expand its area of influence, helping them capture the loyalty of individuals who otherwise would have remained entirely marginalized.

So even if the world knows full well that Curtis' argument is not true -- that the existence of globalized Islamic terrorism existed well in advance of 9/11 -- to opine that it may not have grown as strong as it has since if not for the attention paid to 9/11 and, later, 7/7, is not at all an unreasonable proposition.

Then again, one may wonder precisely what Adam Curtis may imagine the alternative would have been. To ignore the threat posed by terrorism -- domestic or global -- is unthinkable, for reasons that are self-evident.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Afghan Detainee Torture: The Orphan Timeline

Writing in a blog post at, Aaron Wherry does his bit to respond to the recent revelation that, while negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement with the government of Afghanistan, the Liberal Party knew about the torture that was prevalent in Afghan prisons.

Wherry seems to think that he has the answer to what seems to him to be a horrible dilemma: simply ignore the revelation at hand, and shift attention back to 2007.

After an ever-so-brief mention of the La Presse revelation, Wherry directs his attention to an April 25, 2007 Globe and Mail article in which it was stated that the government had received warnings about "extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial" of Afghan prisoners.

In skating over the La Presse story, Wherry demonstrates precisely where he thinks the readers' attention should be: after 2006, so long as they only pay attention to developments before April 28, 2007.

Under the stewardship of reporters like Wherry, the pre-2006 portion of the torture chronicles becomes an orphan timeline: disowned by those who are presenting this issue in the public eye. Along with that portion of the timeline, the truth is orphaned as well.

This helps Liberal MPs like John McCallum ignore their party's uncomfortable responsibility for torture and pretend that the Conservative Party didn't approach the issue properly: by investigating and fixing the problem.

But McCallum isn't the only Liberal MP enjoying this orphaning of the truth.

Speaking in a column written for Vancouver's Georgia Straight, Liberal MP Dr Hedy Fry -- who has a history of lying in the House of Commons -- has the temerity to invoke the memory of George W Bush to try to score some cheap points.

"What is it that George Bush used to say?" she asked. "'You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.' It seems to me that Stephen Harper is taking that advice. Or at least one has to wonder."

It seems that this is exactly the the strategy being used by Fry -- whose previous highlight was raising comical allegations of a Conservative Party/HBC conspiracy -- and Wherry. In Dr Fry's case, the hypocrisy of it remains as astounding as it was in McCallum's -- she served in the government that is directly responsible for the torture as Secretary of State for Women and Multiculturalism.

Wherry, Fry and McCallum seem to think they're working it to perfection.

But when truly pressed on the Liberal Party's direct complicity in the torture of detainees handed over by Canadian soldiers, they seem to recognize the key defect in their strategy -- that it will stop working when Canadians realize that the scandal is their fault in the first place.

And while Aaron Wherry, Hedy Fry and John McCallum seem to think they can distract Canadians from that fact by severing the entire pre-2006 period from the torture timeline, they'll find out in time that they can't.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Putting a Whole New Face on the Proroguement

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proroguement of Parliament has been nothing if not controversial.

In the most recent poll, the Conservatives are now tied with the Liberal Party at 30% support.

But this proroguement suddenly has a whole new face. Canadians will get the opportunity to judge it very soon.

The timing of Harper's recent proroguement of Parliament certainly cast the matter in a poor light. For one thing, it gave Canada's opposition parties the opportunity to claim that the Conservatives are simply trying to flee tough questions about the torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

Tom Flanagan believed it. John McCallum even went so far as to accuse the government of being guilty of war crimes.

But the revelation -- actually merely a reminder -- that the Liberal Party knew full well about the potential for torture in Afghan prisons while Canadian Forces were operating in Afghanistan, including during the negotiation of the infamous Prisoner Transfer Agreement in 2005 should change matters.

This doesn't excuse the Conservative Party's poor handling of the matter. But it should remind Canadians of an important fact about this proroguement:

If the proroguement of Parliament really was merely an effort to escape questioning over Afghan detainees, it's now evidently justified.

There is no reason in the world why the Harper government should willingly surrender itself to the tender mercies of a duplicitous official opposition that seems intent on holding it to account for a scandal that is actually of their making.

Certainly, one expects these revelations to hold little sway for individuals like Frances Russel, who wishes to compare Harper's proroguement to the 1873 proroguement sought by then-Prime Minister sir John A MacDonald.

The problem for Russel is that, in 1873, MacDonald's government very much had accepted bribes. The scandal was legitimate, and was of their own making.

137 years later, it turns out that there is indeed a scandal, but it's actually of the official opposition's making.

Russel's analysis will not find favourable treatment on the ash heap of history.

Likewise, Antonia Zerbisias will have to defend some of her recent analysis.

Zerbisias writes that the Facebook group protesting the proroguement of Parliament demonstrates that the spirit of populism is very much alive in Canadians. But what Zerbisias will now have to face up to is the reality that the traditional argument against populism -- that the average citizen often doesn't have the knowledge to make proper decisions or judgements -- now very much applies to the anti-proroguement movement and their Facebook group.

As it turns out, a great many of the Canadians who have opposed the proroguement -- perhaps even many of those who have been indifferent to it -- have been denied the information necessary to properly judge this proroguement. They've been misled by a Liberal Party that has chosen to lie by omission, and a media that -- until now -- has declined to report these facts.

In other words, these revelations have put a whole new face on what seemed to many Canadians -- including this not-so-humble scribe -- to be a largely routine proroguement, planned well in advance to give Harper the opportunity to prepare stage two of his party's economic program, reorganize the Senate, and take advantage of the diplomatic opportunity presented by the upcoming Olympic games.

The new face of this proroguement is that of an act of justified self-defense; a government defending itself against opposition parties that are bound and determined to disrupt the government during a key transition period in Canada's economic action plan by unjustly tarring the government with a scandal of the official opposition's making.

How well Canadians respond to the new face of this proroguement has yet to be seen.

It's So Hard to Get Answers From Them

Readers of the Nexus may recall a recent visit we received from liberal supporter, the chronic minor annoyance who is a core member of the Clowncar Brigade.

In response to a recent post noting that Canadians simply haven't believed Prime Minister Stephen Harper in regards to the proroguement of Parliament, liberal supporter insisted that there could be no other reasons for the proroguement but a coverup regarding the torture allegations.

As it turns out, liberal supporter's favourite political party has some covering up of its own to do.

It would be nice to get some answers out of him, but he just hasn't obliged to date.

Those who pay little attention to liberal supporter may not know this, but he actually operates a blogspot blog wherein he collects messages from people who (for reasons as much a mystery to him as to anyone else) may want to contact him.

So it seemed like a good place to ask him directly what he thought of his party's direct complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees:

Yet liberal supporter doesn't seem to be too eager to answer these questions.

One wonders why...

Oh, OK. So that's why.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Making a Better Canada: A Brief Conservative Manifesto

Today, thousands of Edmontonians -- Canadians one and all -- greeted the Olympic Flame on its way to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic games. Canadians of all ages, races and creeds came together to celebrate the Olympic spirit which permeates Canada so deeply.

Amidst all the messaging custom-made to use the occasions to sell things -- notably, banking services and Coca-Cola -- was one penetrating message: making a better Canada.

And while making Canada a better place for all its citizens is something all Canadians hold in common, the scenes that have unfolded should remind Canadians of an important fact about making this solemn wish a reality: that Canadians will have to do it together.

It's true that several levels of government -- federal, provincial, and municipal -- had a direct hand in planning the events celebrating Canada's Olympic Torch Relay.

But the greeting Canadians have given the Olympic torch everywhere it has visited should remind us of the role government should play in creating a better Canada: the role of government is to give people the opportunity to come together so they can do it themselves.

It wasn't government that brought out thousands of Edmontonians -- and millions of Canadians across the country -- to herald the return of the Olympic games to Canada. It was the community spirit shared by Canadians. It was the knowledge that we, as Canadians, will together decide the future of our country, and that we as Canadians, will build it.

Certainly, there are some Canadians -- the varied forces of statism -- who will disagree with such sentiments. Their impulse is to embed the state, embed their own ideology, and expand the role of the government in Canadian society.

They do not understand -- or are not willing to admit -- that such actions disempowers Canadians, and prevents them from harnessing the energy and spirit with which they greeted the Olympic Torch to make their communities, and their country, a better place to live.

They don't understand -- or are not willing to admit -- that their assaults on individual autonomy are also assaults on individual freedom. Their assaults on the autonomy to act are also assaults on the freedom to act.

If the predictions of recent benchmark works in conservative thought come to fruition, Canadians will continue to demand the return of this automony, and the return of these freedoms.

When that happens, a better Canada will be closer than we have ever dared imagine.

So, Let's Talk About a "Cover Up"

By their own standard, Liberal Party complicit in war crimes

Recently appearing on CBC news, Liberal Finance Critic John McCallum openly accused the Conservative government of war crimes.

"I think proroguing adds to the total character picture of Mr Harper, and the fact that they may have been committing war crimes, handing over detainees knowing that they were very likely to be tortured, that is a war crime," McCallum insisted. "And the fact that they're covering it up, I think many Canadians do care about those things as well as caring about economic issues."

When asked to clarify who he was accusing of war crimes -- the Conservative government or Canadian soldiers, McCallum answered quite clearly. "It's the government."

But as it turns out, there may be even more to this story than McCallum is telling -- one that undermines his party's clear efforts to mine this issue for partisan gain.

An article appearing in the April 28, 2007 issue of La Presse (which can be translated here), it was noted that the Liberal government of Paul Martin was warned on numerous occasions spanning 2003-05 that torture commonly occurred in Afghan prisons.

Prior to 2005, Canadian forces in Afghanistan transferred their detainees to American forces operating in Afghanistan. In response to the abuses taking place at Guantanamo Bay, however, the Liberal government decided to instead transfer prisoners to Afghan authorities.

Despite these reports, then-Minister of National Defense Bill Graham negotiated a prisoner transfer agreement and instructed General Rick Hillier to sign it on Canada's behalf. This prisoner transfer agreement became a notorious point of contention in Canadian politics, as it didn't allow Canadian soldiers with sufficient levels of oversight for the treatment of any prisoners they transferred.

In other words, it's the prisoner transfer agreement that Paul Martin's Liberal government signed with Afghanistan that was responsible for these abuses in the first place -- an error the Conservative government corrected by negotiating a new prison transfer agreement.

The Liberal Party cannot claim it wasn't warned about this state of affairs in Afghan prisons. They were warned by Canadian diplomats, just as the sitting Conservative government was.

The difference, of course, being that the pre-2006 Liberal government signed a shoddy prisoner transfer agreement that put Canadian soldiers at risk of complicity in war crimes -- as so defined by John McCallum.

At this point, the fairest question may be how, precisely, so many media outlets have overlooked this particular story amidst the partisan rush to brand the sitting government as war criminals, even as the Liberal Party knew full well the hand it had played in this affair.

CUPE And the Truth -- Not a Good Combination

It's been difficult to escape a batch of recent ads released by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

In the ads an interviewer talks to people who are made out to be random passers-by in public places. If not for the atrocious acting on the part of the interviewees, it might even be believable.

The least believable of these ads is one in which a woman sings some undue praise for Canadian health care. This isn't to say that Canada's public health care system isn't due any praise, but rather that the ad in question intentionally skates over some serious deficiencies in Canada's public health care system.

In the ad, the woman recounts a story in which her daughter breaks her ankle while skating at a local ice rink. In her story, the rink staff call 911, promptly receive ambulance service, and her daughter is home in a couple of hours.

In no way is this an accurate portrayal of Canada's public health care system.

Anyone calling 911 for someone with a broken limb -- unless it was a serious compound fracture -- would simply be advised to help the victim to get to a hospital.

911 services wouldn't send an ambulance for such an injury. Even if they did, the individual in question would be considered an extremely low-priority patient. Any patients suffering from life-threatening conditions or injuries would be helped well in advance of this patient, inevitably resulting in a wait of several hours for that ambulance.

Moreover, ambulance services aren't covered by the Canada health act. Some provinces pay for ambulance services in cases where the patient's condition justifies the use of the service -- an ankle break wouldn't qualify.

When the patient finally arrived in the emergency room, she could wait more than seven hours for treatment.

Given the evident differences between the tale recounted in the CUPE ad and a little thing the rest of Canada likes to refer to as "reality", it would seem that some questions for CUPE are in order.

But as it turns out, CUPE doesn't accept any comments that question the messaging of their advertising.

Which is rather unfortunate. CUPE itself tends to obstruct any efforts to cut the costs of middle- and upper- management in Canada's public health care systems. The costs saved, if diverted to front-line service, in the form of additional doctors and nurses, would solve a great many problems.

But CUPE is far too interested in preserving redundant bureaucracy than improving Canadian health care -- or even allowing the truth about this to be told.