Archive for November, 2008

Several bloggers find way to subvert Tory party’s website and use it to organize against the Tories

paulitics-coalition-parties-logoIf this doesn’t go down as one of the great victories in Canadian blogging and web 2.0 history, then I don’t know what will.

Yesterday Erin Sikora, the savvy blogger who runs the site “Dipper Chick” wrote a post detailing how progressives can easily use one of the most powerful tools on the Tory party’s official website (Conservative.ca) to organize against the Tories.  Since her incendiary and brilliant initial post, several other bloggers have followed suit and many have in turn written their own blog posts to this effect.

In English, Marie Ève of the blog “Dawg’s Blogwrote a piece inspired by Dipper Chick’s aforementioned post.  (My apologies to Marie Ève.  I had originally attributed her work to Dr. Dawg and she kindly pointed out my error).

Et en français, le blogueur Michel Monette de le blogue “Blogueurcitoyenà aussi écrit un article.

Now, the only question for me is…. What should I write using the Tory website’s tool????

Coalition likely wouldn’t bring in Proportional Representation

paulitics-coalition-parties-logoWith news that the proposed coalition may be going forward despite rumors that Harper may prorogue Parliament, bloggers of all political stripes (but especially NDP bloggers) have begun excitedly talking about one thing: the possibility that the coalition will bring in proportional representation (source, source, source, source).

The only problem is that these bloggers have clearly not done their research if they believe that any coalition including the Liberal Party and supported by the Bloc Québécois would do more than give perfunctory lip service to the idea of proportional representation.

bc-stvThe struggle for proportional representation and all other manners of electoral reform is both honourable and something which should continue.  Indeed, those who are long-time readers of Paulitics know that this blog has long supported proportional representation (especially Single Transferable Vote proportional representation) [1][2].  However, if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we have to realize that all evidence suggests that any opposition coalition would be almost as opposed to Proportional Representation as the current government.

Back in March, 2006, Jerome Black and Bruce Hicks of the French-language publication Le Devoir reviewed a survey of all Parliamentarians conducted by the Public Policy Research Institute.  The original publication, entitled Strengthening Canadian Democracy: The Views of Parliamentary Candidates more or less conclusively demonstrates that expecting the coalition to put forward proportional representation legislation would be foolish.

Black and Hicks write:

« Dans le cadre d’une étude qui vient d’être publiée par l’Institut de recherche en politiques publiques (IRPP), intitulée Strengthening Canadian Democracy : The Views of Parliamentary Candidates, nous avons examiné les positions des candidats du Bloc et de ceux des quatre partis ayant présenté des candidats dans toutes les circonscriptions aux élections fédérales de 2004 (le Parti conservateur, le Parti libéral, le NPD et le Parti vert). Nous avons comparé les points de vue des candidats du Bloc avec ceux des candidats des autres partis et avec ceux des Canadiens. »

« Alors qu’on aurait pu s’attendre à ce que les positions du Bloc s’opposent à celles des grands partis, notre étude montre plutôt que le Bloc a tendance à avoir, sur la question de la réforme démocratique, un point de vue semblable à celui des libéraux et des conservateurs. [emphasis added] »

[...]

« Au cours de notre enquête, 80 % des candidats du Bloc ont affirmé que ce système est acceptable. En cela, ils se situent entre les libéraux et les conservateurs, qui soutiennent ce système respectivement à 85 % et à 71 %. [emphasis added] »

« Ces chiffres démontrent également la divergence entre le Bloc et le NPD (social-démocrate) et le Parti vert (écologiste). Ces derniers s’opposent au système électoral actuel dans une proportion de 94 % et de 97 %. Ces deux tiers partis appuient aussi fortement (à 69 % et à 84 %) l’introduction d’une forme de représentation proportionnelle dans notre système électoral, ce à quoi s’opposent 76 % des candidats du Bloc. »

party-support-for-pr

For the Anglophones who don’t read French, the first emphasized quotation reads roughly:

“Our study shows that, on the question of democratic reform, the Bloc’s point of view resembles very closely that of the Liberals and the Conservatives.”

The second emphasized quotation reads roughly:

“80% of Bloc candidates affirmed that the current system is acceptable.  Here, they are situated roughly in between the Liberals and Conservatives who support the current system at rates of 85% and 71% respectively.”

The last emphasized quotation reads roughly:

“These numbers also demonstrate the divergence in opinion between the Bloc, the NDP and the Green Party.  The latter two oppose the current electoral system at rates of 94% and 97% respectively.”

Thus, I would advise pro-Proportional Representation bloggers to continue the honourable struggle for a representative electoral system.  But I would also advise them to shed any illusions that we are likely on the eve of seeing any of these reforms enacted.

The coalition must go forth even though Harper has retreated

paulitics-coalition-parties-logoWith the Tories having now fully reversed themselves on their attempt to scrap the public financing of political parties, progressives are faced with the question:  “What are we to do now?”

Many true progressives like myself — socialists, left liberals, Marxists, anarchists, left libertarians et cetera — are critical of the NDP’s rightward shift even at the best of times let alone in a coalition situation with the neo-liberal party of Stéphane Dion.  Thus true progressives might be tempted to rescind any support for the idea of a coalition now that Harper is no longer promising to emaciate and eviscerate the opposition parties like a would-be third world dictator.

Frankly, from a purely subjective standpoint, there is good reason for true progressives to remain deeply ambivalent about a proposed coalition; to neither oppose it per se nor support it per se.

But on the other hand progressives need to realize that from a purely objective and academic standpoint, the coalition attempt must go forth despite the fact that the immediate threat of one-party rule seems to have subsided (for the time being) and despite the fact that progressives may remain ambivalent about such a project.

The reason for this is not because of the overriding need for an economic stimulus package — although the country does badly need an economic stimulus package.  In all likelihood, Harper will roll out a small élite-friendly economic stimulus package sometime this week in a last ditch attempt to hold on to power and further dissuade the creation of a coalition.  However, the project of creating a coalition must go forward for the simple objective fact that, were the opposition parties to back down now, any future threats and bargaining attempts would loose the bulk of their credibility.  Such a scenario would result in virtually the same kind of de facto Conservative one-party rule that Harper was originally threatening to impose just 36 hours ago.

Thus, while true progressives may rightly be concerned about the consequences of a quasi-labour New Democratic Party joining forces with a right-wing neo-liberal Liberal Party, I for one will understand if this project needs to go forth without my comrades’ or my full throated support.

Sometimes it is necessary to follow through on certain threats, unpleasant though it may be, in order to make future ones hold more weight.

See also:

Harper slams Liberal/NDP “backroom deal”, forgets he came to power through “backroom deal” himself

It may be necessary, but remember that NDP/Liberal coalitions are like abusive marriages

Tory strategy in framing the public financing debate is intellectually dishonest at best

Harper slams Liberal/NDP “backroom deal”, forgets he came to power through “backroom deal” himself

ndp-liberal-coalitionThe hypocrisy is palpable.

From the National Post:

“OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper, faced with threats from the opposition parties to defeat his government on Monday, says the Liberals are trying to achieve power through a “backroom deal” and the House of Commons will have the opportunity to vote on the confidence motion on Dec. 8.”

Is the Canadian public and media’s memory span so short that we forget the very fact that Harper created and then came to lead the newly-created Conservative Party of Canada through a “backroom deal” with MacKay?  Actually it’s worse than that because Harper made himself what he is today through making “backroom deals” with Peter MacKay who had himself made “backroom deals” with David Orchard to get himself into power.  Actually, it’s worse than even that:  MacKay and Harper were making “backroom deals” (the PC/Alliance talks) on top of “backroom deals” (the MacKay/Orchard Pact), the latter of which actually forbade the very existence of negotiations or — you guessed it — “backroom deals” between the former PCs and Canadian Alliance.

I don’t seem to remember Harper thinking “backroom deals” were so bad when he was the chief beneficiary of them.

~

See also:

It may be necessary, but remember that NDP/Liberal coalitions are like abusive marriages

Tory strategy in framing the public financing debate is intellectually dishonest at best

The coalition must go forth even though Harper has retreated

It may be necessary, but remember that NDP/Liberal coalitions are like abusive marriages

ndp-liberal-coalitionNDP/Liberal co-operation tends to be like an abusive marriage and the NDP is almost always on the receiving end.  Every time any party gets into bed with the Liberals, they end up dirty, used and are quickly discarded by the Canadian public.

•In 1925, the Liberals of Mackenzie King held on to power by relying on the Progressive Party‘s support.  The public rewarded the Progressives for this by decimating them in the 1926 election (a blow from which that party would never recover).

•In 1963 and 1965, the NDP propped up the Liberal minority governments of Lester Bowles Pearson and forced the Liberals (originally against their will) to introduce universal health care and the Canadian Pension Plan.  The Canadian public rewards the Liberals with a majority government in 1968, giving them all the credit for the policies the Liberals didn’t want to enact in the first place and rewards the NDP with… nothing.

•In 1972, after supporting the Liberal minority government of Trudeau, the NDP is rewarded by the Canadian electorate in the 1974 election through the joy of witnessing their number of seats slashed in half.

This is not to say that the NDP shouldn’t enter into a temporary coalition with the Liberals.  On the contrary, a temporary, emergency coalition seems to be the best course of action given the Tories’ plans for one-party rule.  I say this despite the fact that I am regularly critical of the NDP for their propensity to betray workers and the socialist principles of Tommy Douglas every time they get into power provincially just as I am known for criticizing the Liberals for betraying… well… just about everybody.

The threat of one-party Tory rule is simply too great to be ignored.  Thus, my advice to New Democrat comrades:

If you want to survive through the next election, tread carefully and don’t make this coalition last too long.

Despite the strong misgivings about the NDP’s rightward shift over the past 40 years, it would be a tragedy to the progressive movement if we were to loose the NDP’s albeit tacit and weak-willed voice in Parliament.

See also:

Tory strategy in framing the public financing debate is intellectually dishonest at best

Harper slams Liberal/NDP “backroom deal”, forgets he came to power through “backroom deal” himself

The coalition must go forth even though Harper has retreated

Tory strategy in framing the public financing debate is intellectually dishonest at best

ndp-liberal-coalitionAlmost more troubling to me than Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper’s plans to scrap public financing of political parties, is the realization that the Prime Minister’s sycophants over at the Blogging Tories are parroting a particular line of rhetoric that any intellectually honest person would realize doesn’t even make sense.

The issue, for those of you who haven’t heard, is that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wishes to scrap the public financing that the political parties winning more than 2% of the vote receive. The rationale he’s given for this is as a way of cutting federal spending and avoiding a deficit. But, since the Conservatives only rely on such funding for roughly 37% of this type of funding as a source of revenue compared to roughly 57% for the NDP and upwards of two-thirds for the Liberals, Bloc and Greens, this proposal would have the effect of hammering the opposition parties and emaciating the opposition much as Jim Flaherty had promised to do to anyone who stood in his way.

Let’s cut through the (insert expletive here):

Let’s ignore the fact even the National Post and the Globe & Mail have called out Harper’s moves as “Machiavellian” and wrong.

Let’s ignore the fact that it would emaciate the opposition, creating an effective one-party state

I’d ask Conservatives to have some intellectual honesty for a moment. Maybe they believe on ideological grounds that the federal government should not be funding political parties despite the fact that virtually every industrialized democracy has some form of funding mechanisms. That’s fine. If Conservatives honestly believe in cutting this funding on its merits, then I could at least respect that and, what is more, we could engage in a debate about that on its merits. But just read through the comments on TheStar.com (a favourite spot for Blogging Tory trolls) and you’ll see that the Tories’ sycophants are busy cloaking this debate in the rhetoric of saving money when the total cost of the financing program is less than $30 million dollars compared to a federal budget of roughly $250 billion.

In other words, this program is less than 0.01% of federal expenditures according to the government’s own sources.

If you’re interested in seeing that graphically, allow me to put that into perspective. No matter how large I made this pie chart below, I could not make the sliver representing the public financing costs show as more than one pixel across.

public-financing-of-political-parties-graph

Put another way, the distance from my outstretched fingertip to outstretched fingertip is the same as my height (roughly 5’10”). If I were to chop off 0.01% of my body – the same percentage as the public funding costs the government — that would be the equivalent of cutting only 1/142nd of an inch. That’s less than the width that would be removed by filing my nail once with an emery board. In fact, it’s less than one half of the thickness of one sheet of standard 8 ½ x 11 printer paper, given my height.

So please, Conservatives, if you want to cut the public funding of political parties, stop insulting everyone’s intelligence by telling us that you just want to save the federal budget from deficit. It’d be preferable if you just went out there and said that you are extreme right-wing fanatics who would be perfectly contented living in a one party state in order to satisfy your various ideological fetishes.

Really, admitting your problem is the first step to recovery.

(Getting kicked out of government is the second step)

See also:

It may be necessary, but remember that NDP/Liberal coalitions are like abusive marriages

Harper slams Liberal/NDP “backroom deal”, forgets he came to power through “backroom deal” himself

The coalition must go forth even though Harper has retreated

~

Update: After I wrote this piece, the Conservatives reluctantly agreed to table the one-party state bill as a separate confidence motion rather than attach it to the ways and means money bill which is due for a vote on Monday.  The fact that the Conservatives still plan on proceding with this bill suggests to me that the issue of party financing and the risk of a one-party state remain the central propelling matters irrespective of whether they are included in the bill due for a vote on Monday or not.

Arthur Miller on the folly of taking literature as ‘just a story’

In 1966, The Paris Review Interviewed my favourite 20th Century Playwright Arthur Miller.

Arthur Miller had the following to say about the myth of apolitical literature and the foolishness of the modern attempts to gloss over the literary subject as divorced from the polis or his/her political existence.

Q:  Yet so much of the theater these last few years has had nothing to do with public life.

Miller:  “Yes, it’s got so we’ve lost the technique of grappling with the world that Homer had, that Aeschylus had, that Euripides had.  And Shakespeare.  How amazing it is that people who adore the Greek drama fail to see that these great works are works of a man confronting his society, the illusions of the society, the faiths of the society.  They’re social documents, not little piddling private conversations.  We just got educated into thinking this is all ‘a story,’ a myth for its own sake.”
-The Paris Review, pg. 25

To borrow the magnificent words of Neo-Gramscian writer Robert Cox, it is necessarily “always for someone and for some purpose’.

To me, Miller’s struggle against apolitical literature dovetails almost perfectly with what I wrote the other week in the context of apolitical non-news stories in the post entitled “How ‘non-news’ news stories reinforce the status quo”.

A friendly note to America from a Canadian: Quit saying you’re the “envy of the world”!

untitled2Dear America,

You are bombarded every day with your media telling you that you are “the envy on the world”.

I’ve travelled to almost every Canadian province and spent considerable time in four of them.  I hate to burst your bubble but, contrary to your belief that you are “the envy of the world”, no Canadian that I’ve ever met — even in the most conservative parts of Alberta — has ever struck up a conversation with me saying:  “You know who I’m really envious of?  The USA.”  In no conversation I’ve ever had, even in conversations about America, has any Canadian, European, Aussie, Kiwi, Mexican or Asian that I’ve ever met said to me “Jeez, it really sucks that we’re not Americans.  I’m so jealous of them.”

I sometimes wonder if it’s just that you don’t realize how ridiculous this claim is.  The rest of the world can’t help but notice that no two people can even agree on why America is the envy of the world but that there is a compulsion to recite the refrain every day nevertheless.

The Jacksonville Progress publication yesterday seemed to suggest that America is the envy of the world because of its “people and for the God-given principles of freedom”.  (Apparently God only gave freedom to America, therefore the rest of the world is envious).

In a state of the union address, your outgoing President claimed instead that it was America’s economy that was the envy of the world.  (Apparently China’s nearly double or triple the US’s GDP growth rate isn’t as economically impressive or envious).

While, on a more ridiculous mindset, this news site seems to suggest that America’s peaceful exchange of power is what makes it the “envy of the world”.  (Apparently no other country has yet mastered that whole ‘democracy’ thing the Greeks were talking about 2000 years ago).

So you don’t even know why the world is supposed to be envious, but you just know that they are.  Am I the only one who sees how insane that is?

So please, America, take this in the nicest way possible, but if you ever plan on not being seen as a nation of fools (which you are not) and if you ever intend on repairing your image after 8 years of Bush, you absolutely have to stop saying that you are the envy of the world.

Signed,

A Canadian

How ‘non-news’ news stories reinforce the status quo

untitledIn a classic episode of the popular television sitcom The Simpsons, the notoriously crooked and amoral attorney Lionel Hutz famously advised the Simpson family that facts were of secondary importance to their case since, according to him, there is a big difference between ‘the truth’ (said with a frown in a somber, serious voice) and “The Truth” (said in in a charismatic, happy way with a smile).

If it was not abundantly clear before, it is certainly the case that now more than ever before, we need to draw a distinction between ‘the news’ (said with a frown in a somber, serious voice) and “The News” (said in in a charismatic, happy way with a smile).

I would like to suggest that ‘the news’ ought to be a normative conception of the newsworthiness of an event (or lack thereof) based upon its objective impact to entire cities, nations and/or the globe.  Conversely, I posit that “The News” ought to be taken as a realist view of the news wherein the newsworthiness of an event (or lack thereof) is based solely on an observation of what is or is not reported in the mainstream press irrespective of normative, logical, moral or ethical considerations.

In other words, under the first conception of ‘the news’, while some events may be personally ‘significant’ (such as the death of a loved one), the newsworthiness of an event would be conditional on sociological or political significance.  Thus, for instance, the death of Jon Bennet Ramsey would not have been news, however charges of Boulder Police incompetence in handling the case or corruption would be considered news.  Conversely, “The News” does not encourage critical thinking about the news or the nature of the stories generated.  The news is the news is the news.  What is newsworthy is simply what makes the news.

While this is hardly a Socratic deduction to make, it is a crucially important one because far too much of the criticism of the mainstream media from both the left wing [1] [2] and the right wing [3] [4] today is based simply on exposing real or apparent lies, distortions and untruths.  This is not to say that exposing lies or distortions in media is not a worthwhile endeavour, but rather that it is limited.  It is limited because it ignores the far more omnipresent fact that a news story may be factual and accurate and correct but that it may nevertheless reinforce the status quo, dominant ideologies and systems of hierarchy and oppression.

An example of a factually correct, accurate and truthful “The News” story which I would like to suggest serves to reinforce the status quo is the story of Brandon Crisp.  Recently a Caucasian Ontario boy named Brandon Crisp was found dead after having run away from his home after his parents forbade him from playing his game console.  Since his body’s discovery, a media sensation has erupted.  The police have conducted autopsy reports and have postulated that he died falling from a tree while the media has spent inordinate resources speculating how long he would have survived after the fall.

A brief search reveals the extend of the media frenzy which has now reached the international press.

brandon-crisp-news

This, of course, is nothing new.  There is, in my opinion, substantial albeit as-of-yet only circumstantial evidence to support the thesis of a “Missing White Girl” phenomenon [5] [6].

With the realist conception of newsworthiness based on “The News“, not only do stories which have no impact on the city, country or globe become news, but since newsworthiness is predicated circularly on what is reported as news, the mere fact of a given “The News” story making news headlines is often itself enough to cause more news headlines in other publications.  Here, the problem arises in that there are only so many column inches available and only so many resources in terms of editorial and reporting staff for any given publication, that in selecting these factually correct non-news stories amidst the torrents of incoming factually correct global events, editors necessarily leave out genuine news stories.

0743284550The death of Brian Crisp, while undeniably a tragedy for his family and friends, does not impact the sociological or political existence of his city, country or the world.  But, in focusing on this one death or on the latest ‘missing white girl’ case or on the latest house fire — since doing so is necessarily done to the exclusion of other events — consumers of mainstream media are left with the false impression that the most pressing problems facing society are particular, parochial and individual rather than systemic, global and societal.  The public is, in short, instilled daily with the right wing neo-conservative thesis postulated by Francis Fukuyama that ‘history has ended’ [7] [8] [9] despite the fact that, strictly speaking, nothing factually incorrect has been reported.

In closing, to illustrate this point, consider for yourself whether people would have the same impression of the greatest problems facing society if any of following stories — all of which it is important to note were omitted by the media in part because of ‘insufficient space’ — were reported in place of the death of Brian Crisp.

18 million die annually due simply to poverty [10] [11] [12].  As a corollary, it could also be noted that the vast majority of these 18 million are non-Caucasians living in Afria despite the fact that Africa is perhaps the richest continent on the planet.  It could also be reported that the poverty of Africans amidst the wealth of Africa is due largely to conscious and deliberate policies instituted by the West during the colonial period and which have been continued into the neo-liberal era.

18-million-dead-due-to-poverty-news

While 18 million people — predominantly Africans — die annually due to poverty, the European Union subsidizes every cow in the EU by $2.50/day which is more money than 75% of all Africans live on [see: Williams, Jessica.  50 Facts that Should Change the World.  Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd., 2004.  p. 46-51].

The largest humanitarian crisis in the world today is not Iraq, nor Afghanistan nor Darfur in the Sudan, but rather Somalia [13].  There are now more refugees and more displaced people in Somalia than in Iraq, yet the West is positively uninterested in fixing the situation.  But, despite this, capitalists and their apologists regularly praise the ‘economic miracle of Somalia’ as a glorious experiment in Anarcho-capitalism [14] [15] [16].


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