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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Conversation With Irving Kristol on Welfare and Wages

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

The late Irving Kristol (d. 2009) was a self-proclaimed Straussian and by his own labelling, the "Godfather of Neoconversation". He wrote a series of essays and books that became the basis for the movement.

In one he discusses "welfare" or "relief" and why he finds the concept absurd. I would like to challenge Mr. Kristol, because I find his arguments absurd.

Leo Strauss often had "conversations" with Plato, or at least at times his challenges and insights read like conversations, so I would like to converse with and challenge Irving Kristol.

I realize that he was an intellectual and certainly out of my league, but I'm going to invoke Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition. "What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing."

There is too much compliance to what we are told is good for us, and not enough thinking. Because when you break it down, it's pretty simple.

We are continually transferring huge amounts of money to a government who is supposed to be using that money for the betterment of all citizens, and instead are using the money for the betterment of a chosen few.

And that is something, I "think" about often.

Essay on Pauperism
"In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance. " - Stephen Harper (1)
Irving Kristol begins his musings on welfare by invoking Alexis de Tocqueville's, 1835 Essay on Pauperism. Tocqueville asks why, in the most "opulent" nation in the world [England], was there such an extraordinary problem of "pauperism".

Concluding that too much public assistance can create idleness, he and Kristol also see a problem with the definition of poverty or pauperism. To the peasant, the ultimate goal was to have enough to eat. There was no desire to accumulate wealth. The only concern was survival.

However, in a modern city, the standards were different.

... in an "opulent" society, the idea of poverty itself undergoes a continual redefinition. The poor experience not only the need for a guaranteed minimum; they also suffer from what a modern sociologist would call "relative deprivation." Tocqueville puts the matter this way: "Among civilized peoples, the lack of a multitude of things causes poverty... In a country where the majority is ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed, who thinks of giving clean clothes, healthy food, comfortable quarters to the poor? The majority of the English, having all these things, regard their absence as a frightful misfortune; society believes itself bound to come to the aid of those who lack them.... In England, the average standard of living a man can hope for in the course of his life is higher than in any other country of the world. This greatly facilitates the extension of pauperism in that kingdom." (2)

So the definition of poverty in the city, is different than that in the country.

The reasons for that, at least when this was written almost two centuries ago, was first off that those living in poverty in the city, had no land to work for food. But also their impoverishment was visible to those who took so much for granted.

How can you live conscience free, in a society with so much disparity?

The Welfare Explosion

The next body of work that Kristol critiqued was Regulating the Poor: The Function of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. He calls their book "simpleminded", and "so crude in a quasi-Marxist way, that one is embarrassed to summarize it."

He scoffs at the notion from Piven and Cloward, that "Relief arrangements [under capitalism] are not shaped by the impulse to charity ... [they are] created and sustained to help deal with the malfunctions inherent in market economies."

Poverty in a modern society is often created by unemployment, and unemployment is often created when the "market economy" is in turmoil. The first to be cut by the corporate sector, during hard times, is the labour force, which creates a downward spiral.

The misguided notion that by giving more money to the corporate sector, jobs will be saved or created, has been proven over and over to be a myth. When companies were bailed out at the beginning of the latest "downturn", much of the money was used to give bonuses to executives and to buy up other companies that had gone bust.

Unemployment is still high, yet headlines in financial sections of newspapers, repeatedly include the words "record profits".

Piven and Cloward also wrote:
Relief arrangements are usually initiated or expanded in response to the political disorders that sometimes follow from the sharp economic downturns or dislocations that periodically beset market systems. The purpose of relief-giving at such times is not to ease hunger and want but to deal with civil disorder among the unemployed. (2)
Revolutions are often ignited by the lack of bread, real and metaphorical. And since Canada's crime rate is now at the lowest in our history, could this be why Stephen Harper is so intent on building more prisons?
"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" - Ebenezer Scrooge
So My Dear Mr. Kristol. This is What I "Think"
“These proposals included cries for billions of new money for social assistance in the name of “child poverty” and for more business subsidies in the name of “cultural identity”. In both cases I was sought out as a rare public figure to oppose such projects.” - Stephen Harper, (The Bulldog, National Citizens Coalition, February 1997)
Tocqueville also wrote that "There are two incentives to work: the need to live and the desire to improve the conditions of life." The basis of Neoconservatism or Libertarianism, is that everyone should look after themselves. But how can you find work when you have no clothing to wear, no food to eat, or no roof over your head?

Maybe if we take care of the first incentive, the second one will have a better chance of prevailing. We can always find money to give to Big Business or war, so there is no excuse not to channel a bit to our nation's disadvantaged, who might actually want to get out of the cycle of poverty.

Apparently the NDP and Conservatives are negotiating terms for the acceptance of the January budget. NDP finance critic, Thomas Mulcair, wants "future corporate cuts to be more targeted to ensure companies are investing in jobs and productivity."

"Future corporate tax cuts"? What happened to the NDP? Those terms should have been compulsory 50 billion dollars ago. From the day that Stephen Harper invited his corporate backers to slurp from the public trough. That is our money and we don't want "corporate tax cuts" that promise so much and give so little.

That money could have gone, and should be going, to actual job creation. If the NDP buy into this, they are going to lose most of their base.

Maybe they need to read Linda McQuaig's column: The growth of extreme inequality in Canada
The massive upward flow of income has largely been invisible to the public, even though it may well amount to the most significant change in Canadian society in decades. The impact on Canada's social fabric is huge and likely to grow. Recent research -- particularly the work of British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett -- shows that less equal societies almost always have more violence, more disease, more mental health problems, higher infant mortality rates, reduced life expectancies, as well as less social cohesion. The effects are most pronounced at the bottom, but are evident throughout the society.
Or John Grace's review of the new book, Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, that he wrote for the UK Guardian.
They say, it's not just the deprived underclass that loses out in an unequal society: everyone does, even the better off. Because it's not absolute levels of poverty that create the social problems, but the differentials in income between rich and poor.
That is the only issue that the NDP should be raising. Not what to do with "future corporate tax cuts".

Irving Kristol speaks of the fact that welfare payments were based on the poverty level, which means that they are at the same as the lowest wage earner's income. But the problem is not the amount of "relief" but the fact that wages are so low. There's no reason for it.

And if he felt that this meant that people wouldn't work, as a result, he might want to think about a national childcare plan, because often those on assistance are single parents, who can't work for poverty level wages, and pay someone else to look after their children while they work.

He also felt that welfare took away a man's masculinity: "... welfare robs the head of the household of his economic function, and tends to make of him a "superfluous man." And he suggests that if single mothers are paid to raise their children, they will stay single or get rid of their male partner.

Notwithstanding the inequality of that notion, the problem again relates not only to unemployment, but the ability of people to work. Food, clothing, shelter and childcare. Those needs must first be met.

And jobs paying higher than the poverty level, provide revenue from income tax, that can go to helping others to abandon their pauperism.

Yes, there will always be cheats, just as there will always be Big Business demanding more and more of our tax dollars, in some perverse sense of entitlement.

So my dear Mr. Kristol. Neoconservatism is failing society, but thanks for playing. And to my dear Mr. Mulcair. Give your head a shake.
"Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world." - Tommy Douglas

1. Full text of Stephen Harper's 1997 speech, Canadian Press, December 14, 2005

2. Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, By Irving Kristol, The Free Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-02-874021-1, Pg. 43-49

Friday, December 17, 2010

One-Eyed Shieks and Holy Wars. How we Got it so Wrong

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

U.S. President Obama has come out this week suggesting that gains are being made in Afghanistan, though the progress is fragile.

In other words, they have no idea what they're doing.

U.S. intelligence supports my assessment.

The Americans drew the Soviet Union into invading the country in 1979, giving them their Vietnam, and are now caught in an unwinnable war that has gone on longer than the Soviet occupation, and threatens to continue for several more years.

15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed against about 1,000,000 Afghans, between 1979 and 1988.

And when you look at the rate of casualties in the American led invasion of Afghanistan, as represented by the chart below, we sure aren't fairing much better. And these are just the coalition forces. Thousand more civilians have fallen.

If the Americans wanted to give the Soviets their Vietnam, to weaken their military build up, they are getting it back. And while Stephen Harper has Canada trapped in the Afghan underworld, his answer is that he will now be directing the war himself, from the safety of his office. Rick Hillier calls it "crap!" I agree.

So How Did we Get it so Wrong?

The end of the Second World War brought on the Cold War, and the world's super powers spent enormous amounts of money building up an arsenal of advanced weaponry, in what Hannah Arendt described as an "apocalyptic chess game".
The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. (1)
It was a spy war as they all kept a close watch on each other, no one really wanting to use their weapons in what would have been a "universal suicide".

But this created another problem, because as the super powers became both omnipotent and impotent, smaller nations were left virtually unrestricted in the game of one-upmanship.
... in conventional warfare the poor countries are much less vulnerable than the great powers precisely because they are "underdeveloped," and because technical superiority can "be much more of a liability than an asset" in guerrilla wars. What all these uncomfortable novelties add up to is a complete reversal in the relationship between power and violence, foreshadowing another reversal in the future relationship between small and great powers. (1)
So the threats did not necessarily come from countries with nuclear capabilities, but from small groups "able to upset the strategic balance", by launching attacks that cost them very little.
And this bears an ominous similarity to one of political science's oldest insights, namely that power cannot be measured in terms of wealth, that an abundance of wealth may erode power, that riches are particularly dangerous to the power and well-being of republics. (1)
And since many of these new "armies" were stateless, who could the super powers wage war against? The CIA kept track of known terrorist cells, and did their best to keep them contained, but it was still presenting a huge problem for the military-industrial complex.

They had enormous weaponry but few targets, that allowed their use on any large scale.

Enter the Neoconservatives and Their "War on Terror"

In his 'Battlefields of the 1980s', General Andre Beaufre points out, that only "in those parts of the world not covered by nuclear deterrence" is war still possible, so the challenge for the Neoconservatives was to wage war in areas unrestrained by "nuclear deterrence".

But how to get Americans on board. They had already interfered in the affairs of the oil rich Middle East, but needed something bigger.

An enemy. A face. And fear.

Then 9/11 provided the perfect trifecta, though it was only the catalyst. The planning for this had been taking place for several years beforehand, when Bernard Lewis adapted Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, into a blueprint for war.

And through clever messaging, the American Neocons were able to sell the notion of an enormous Jihad. One launched by "savages" who had to be destroyed or their entire country would be demolished.

They "didn't start it", but they were sure going to finish it. Eyes lit up, keyboards clicked away and the landscape was awash in yellow ribbons. Meanwhile, the Bush administration used homey rhetoric to reach the masses, knowing that few intellects would find their theory of a massive Jihad against America logical.

Not that terrorism isn't real, but there are other ways of keeping it contained, without the senseless slaughter of so many.

The Blind Leading the Blind

Though Osama Bin Ladin went to his grave in 2001, denying any involvement in 9/11, he became the face of the war. Every now and then an actor would come out and make another tape, to keep fear at just the right level. It didn't make Bin Laden any less dead, but who was going to question?

However, even before Bin Laden became a household name, the Jihad against America had a leader. Omar Abdel Rahman, also called the "One-Eyed Sheik". He was apparently behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre, which at the time, was not considered the work of a mastermind.

However, it did prove to be an embarrassment for the CIA and others, especially when the person who allegedly planted the bomb, returned to the rental agency requesting a refund because the van he rented blew up. (2) I know there's a lot more to that story, but suffice it to say they were not that organized.

But that didn't stop the Bush Administration from linking this incident to their notion of a massive Jihad.

In neoconservative Andrew C. McCarthy's book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, we see just how they created a powerful enemy from several smaller "underdeveloped" ones, by using myths and creative language. And yes I do on occasion read books by neocons. It's the only way I can get inside Stephen Harper's head. (have you seen the movie Jacob's Ladder? It kinda' looks like that in there. I scream a lot)

He starts out complaining that the government's main focus after the 1993 incident, was handling the fall out. Aghast, he questions why, after "the most brazen attack against the American homeland since Pearl Harbour had taken place". (3) Really? Since Pearl Harbour?

He then fancifies Rahman, who was indeed a horrible man, and currently in prison with no chance of ever being released. But to equate him those who planned the attack on Pearl Harbour, is a bit of a stretch.

But then McCarthy reminds his readers of the seriousness of the situation. Intelligence and containment wasn't enough. This was "war".
In terms of actual national commitment, such wars translate into a somewhat higher priority than the dogged pursuit of tax cheats and corporate fraudsters. To be sure, jihad differs from Wars on Drugs, Poverty, Disease. Incivility, Intolerance, Greenhouse Gases, or whatever the next Flavor of the Month may be. Jihad, after all, actually does involve warfare: real bombs, real victims, and real death. But the distinction is lost when the side that declares only rhetorical war is exclusively on the receiving end of the blows ... (3)
America was the "victim". They had been taking all the blows, and never fought back. So forget all the other nonsense. Pardon the corporate fraudsters (as George Bush did). Forget about poverty, disease and Global Warming (as George Bush did). Heck you could even forget being civil to each other.

Every waking moment and every red cent had to be put into fighting this Jihad. (as George Bush did)

And where did it get them? Iraq is in a mess and Afghanistan has been taken over by the criminal element. They are still chasing ghosts, while all but ignoring domestic problems, that are spiralling out of control.

And to top it off, the Jihadists are more powerful than ever, because the invasion has only increased the recruitment.

Again, Neoconservatism is the god that failed and we need to rethink this war.


1. On Violence, by Hannah Arendt, Harvest Books, 1970, ISBN: 978-0-15-669500-8, Pg. 3

2. He wanted his money back: Insistence on a Refund for a Van Led to the Arrest of Blast Suspect, by Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, March 5, 1993.

3. Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Encounter Books, 2008, ISBN: 13-978-1-59403-213-4, Pg. 5

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hannah Arendt and the Canadian Conservative Movement

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

My favourite political philosopher is Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), who wrote extensively on the nature of power, politics, authority, and totalitarianism. Unlike Leo Strauss, who invokes the ancients and uses "hidden dialogue", intended to speak primarily to the intellectual elite; Arendt writes in a clearer language.

And no matter how many times I read an essay or passage that she has written, I continue to have light bulb moments.

In one chapter of The Origins of Totalitarianism (my copy, 1968), she discusses Ideology as the basis of a political movement. That is a word heard often when describing Stephen Harper and indeed the neoconservative movement as a whole, and I was able to draw many parallels between her book and our current government.

We could argue that we are not really living in a true totalitarian state, but we are moving toward a form of totalitarianism, in it's broadest definition. I'll call it "Totalitarianism Lite".
Wherever it rose to power, it developed entirely new political institutions and destroyed all social, legal and political traditions of the country. No matter what the specifically national tradition or the particular spiritual source of its ideology, totalitarian government always transformed classes into masses, supplanted the party system ... started to operate according to a system of values so radically different from all others, that none of our traditional legal, moral, or common sense utilitarian categories could any longer help us to come to terms with, or judge, or predict their course of action. (p. 158)
Arendt says that this is not the same as a one-party dictatorship, but is rather a mass movement. Harper MP Rob Anders refers to their brand of politics as "movement conservatism", which has taken over the Tory Party in Canada and the Republican Party in the United States.

And while the best opportunity for the success of such a movement is the 'failure of the traditional political forces—liberal or conservative, national or socialist, republican or monarchist, authoritarian or democratic' (p. 158), these failures can also be contrived.

In post-war Germany, the time was right for Nazism, because of the failure of the Weimar Republic to create order after the devastation of the Great War. Unemployment and underemployment was high and crime was escalating. But in Canada and the U.S., when neoconservatism first entered the political arena, there was no real crisis, so one had to be created. In it's early stages it was the threat of communism. Then it became "Deficits", "Taxes" and "Government" that had to be annihilated.

And they have spent several years building an infrastructure of think tanks and foundations, while taking over the bulk of the media, especially in Canada, to sell their message.

Arendt refers to ideologies as "isms", and following are a few points made in the book, and their modern manifestations.

Not before Hitler and Stalin were the great political potentialities of the ideologies discovered ... Ideologies are known for their scientific character: they combine the scientific approach with results of philosophical relevance and pretend to be scientific philosophy. (p. 166)
It is now accepted by most, that neoconservatism is in part, an anti-intellectual movement. Things like "facts" only get in the way of the "idea". Their ruling elite has defined the premise that they will spoon feed to the masses, so "University types" are vilified and shunned.

In order to impose an ideology, transforming an idea into a premise, you must allow no contradictions or interruptions. It is a "coercion of logic" that will assume that the "idea" is "sufficient to explain everything".


Anytime I discuss politics, whether in a group or with a friend, one of the common complaints I hear is that people are so self involved now, making mass movements difficult. Gone is the sense of community.

This is not an accident.

Though not really libertarianism, neoconservatism promotes the libertarian notion of the freedom of the individual. Everyone must take care of themselves. If the government engages in group policies, it creates collectivism which leads to socialism/communism

Individualism creates '...a situation in which I cannot act, because there is nobody who will act with me.' (P. 172)


Though "terrorism" has come to define a radical Islamic movement, the definition of terrorism is simply:

- the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
- the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
- terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

In totalitarian movements, terrorism is used to keep people in line. It can be state sanctioned witch hunts, brutality and mass arrests, or something as simple as the fear of losing your job or career.

In Canada it has been called the "politics of fear".
Dictatorial terror [is] distinguished from totalitarian terror insofar as it threatens only authentic opponents, but not harmless citizens. (p.20)

Another important element to the success of totalitarianism/neoconservatism is a sense of isolation. Canada is gradually becoming isolated from the rest of the world. This became evident when we lost our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Stephen Harper's neocon Reformers, always detested the United Nations, feeling that they had become too intrusive. So while he postured over the the loss of the seat, it was actually a blessing.
Isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar its power always comes from men acting together, [it] presses masses of isolated men together and supports them in a world which has become a wilderness for them. (P. 172)
Under George Bush the American people became extremely isolated, in a "you're with us or against us" climate. They soon learned that most of the world was against them, but 9/11 gave the neocons the necessary "crisis" that allowed the majority of Americans to be OK with this, at least for a while.

And it allowed them to accept unheard of measures to suspend civil liberties, creating a "fertile ground" for totalitarian measures.
It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences.
And that loneliness was filled with unbridled patriotism and an unnatural sense of superiority.
Totalitarian government does not just curtail liberties or abolish essential freedoms; nor does it, at least to our limited knowledge, succeed in eradicating the love for freedom from the hearts of man. (P. 164)
Though personal freedoms were all but abolished after 9/11, many Americans believed that it was actually their enemies: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists, who were trying to destroy their freedoms.

And this mindset created what columnist Dan Gardner recently called a bigger threat to liberty than terrorism.
On Sept. 12, 2001, George W. Bush said something he had avoided saying the day before. “The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror,” he told reporters. “They were acts of war.” The decision to frame the response to 9/11 as a “war” was a fateful one.

Before that moment, Western democracies would never have sent their soldiers to fight endless battles in distant and obscure deserts. Imprisonment without charge or trial would never have been advocated by leading politicians. Torture would never have been supported by much of the population. And calls for the assassination of a man who leaked documents would never have been heard from leading journalists.
This beating of the war drum became the means of isolating the American people, not only from the rest of the world, but from the truth.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist. (P. 172)
Arendt reminds us that the threat of totalitarianism as a movement, did not end with the deaths of Hitler or Stalin. It's potential is too phenomenal to ignore.

That's why it's important to recognize that this is not a traditional political party, but is a radical movement, that stands to drastically alter the traditional legal and moral foundation of our just society.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We Need a Lot More Attlee and a Little Less Churchill

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

At the end of World War II, Britain should have been riding high. They had defeated the Axis, led to victory by Winston Churchill.

And yet when an election was held in 1945, they did not choose Churchill to continue to lead the way. Instead a social worker named Clement Attlee was elected prime minister.

The people had grown weary of war and tired of bluster. They were looking for compassion and a return to some form of normalcy.

My mom was a nurse in England during the Blitz and I asked her once how she felt when the war was over. She described a brief feeling of elation, not because they had won, but just that they could finally put it all behind them.

She had seen so much and that she rarely talked about.

Attlee offered something different.
Britain was no longer to be led by this extraordinary figure [Churchill], once called "the greatest adventurer of modern political history" descendant of the duke of Marlborough, cavalry officer and Boer War hero, swashbuckler and master prose stylist, liberal reformer-turned-defender of Empire. Instead, he was replaced by Clement Attlee, moved by the poverty and despair ... and inspired by what he called "Christian ethics". (1)
Yes, believe it or not there was a day when "Christian ethics" and "Christian values" meant caring about poverty and despair. Now the only Christians we hear from, as represented by the Religious Right, are those motivated by greed and hatred, while judging the rest of us who don't think as they do.

Like Tommy Douglas, Attlee was a socialist. Not animated like Douglas, but quiet and reserved. And he was just what Britain needed at the time, creating an intellectual movement that focused on ideas.
[and] established free medical care under a newly constituted National Health Service, created new systems of pensions, promoted better education and housing, and sought to deliver on the explicit commitment to "full employment." (1)
In the 1930s unemployment was at 12%. By the late 1940s it had been reduced to 1.3%.

And while the state of Britain's finances, due to the enormous cost of the war, prevented him from doing everything he would have liked, he accomplished something miraculous. He put people first, and in 2004, was voted the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century, in a poll of 139 professors.

He had presided over the start of the Welfare State, that focused on the well being of the nation's citizens.

We need a return to that kind of thinking.

Our occupation of Afghanistan has now outlasted that of the Soviet Union. Canadians are weary of war and tired of bluster.

In the U.S., Obama supporters are angry over his extending the ridiculous Bush Tax Cuts. They should be. Not that he really had a choice. Today's conventional thinking is so twisted, that somehow giving the rich more money is supposed to make sense.

I mean they've done so much for us, haven't they? Led us into a recession and while crying "Free Markets", came running to us with their hands out when things went bust.

And like idiots we gave them more money.

One of the accomplishments of Attlee that I found inspiring was the replacing of the gold standard, with a "full employment standard."
The economy was to be judged not by how many troy ounces there were to the British pound but by the number of jobs it could deliver to a population willing to work. (1)
Imagine that.


1. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, Touchstone, 2002, ISBN: 0-684-82975-4

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Common Sense and Hookers. How Mike Harris Stole my Vote

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

I came across something the other day, that I hadn't realized I had kept. (I really having to start throwing stuff away)

It was a videotape with a white cardboard cover, and the dire warning to 'View Before June 8' [1995]; the [former Ontario premier] Mike Harris's campaign video when he was flogging his so-called Common Sense Revolution.

So I popped it in the VCR last night, in an attempt to understand what drove me to vote for this party through their local candidate Bill Vancoughnet. And I realized that it was as much about the language used to sell it, as the product.

The art of ambiguity helped to mask their true intent.

Mind you at the time, few Canadians understood the concept of neoconservatism, so we trusted the basic good of the Canadian identity, not realizing that much of this campaign was imported from the United States.

The two key elements that were hammered out by Vancoughnet and Harris on the tape, were taxes and the reduction of government waste. They promised four billion dollars in "tax rebates", a much better choice of words than "tax reduction", since they imply a cheque in the mail.

They also promised to "eliminate the barriers to job creation" - the removal of environmental restrictions.

"Cut the size of government by involving the private sector" - costly and service reducing privatization

"Arms length involvement by eliminating red tape" - the removal of health and safety concerns.

Welfare Reform

In 1975, Andrew Armitage wrote one of the first comprehensive books on Canada's social welfare system, and he stated that the way that Canadians view welfare or social assistance, is not with an eye to eliminating it, only to making it fairer.

He said that it had to be about not simply a transfer of funds, but an "exchange". That is why we liked Harris's notion of Workfare. The able bodied expected to pull their weight.

But the way this was presented to Ontarians was fundamentally flawed, and yet Harris was able to sell it not only to the working class, but to those receiving assistance.

He sold it to the first group as getting "those lazy bums off the couch", and to the latter, as finding them jobs. But what we got instead was one of the most vile attacks on struggling citizens in modern history.

They cut the welfare rolls in half and drastically reduced benefits. The McGuinty government has attempted to raise the rates since then, but they are still far below pre-1995 levels. Thousands of people were thrown into the streets as a result, many freezing to death in their cars or in allies. The use of food banks rose and for many it was a return to depression era conditions.

And the promised jobs never materialized. Those on assistance were told they had to work, but also had to find their own employment in an already overstretched job market.

But a handful of people got filthy rich. A neoconservative success story.

Transfers and Exchange

The Harrisites were able to find willing accomplices to their inhumane policies because of stories. We all knew some.

Like the cab drivers who told of welfare recipients using their taxi chits to have them deliver cigarettes. Or the single moms with eight kids receiving thousands of dollars a month. Or welfare cheques going for booze or drugs.

The stories were true but not as common as we were led to believe.

I recently spoke with a woman who has worked in the system for three decades. She remembers the Harris era well and said that she can't remember a day during that time, when she didn't feel sad. Many of her clients were axed and she worried about what became of them, fearing the worst.

And as to the lazy "welfare bums", she told me that most of her clients wanted to work and hated having to accept what they thought of as "charity".

But we allowed a few "cheats" to define the entire system, and few raised a hand to stop "Chainsaw Mike" (those who did felt that wrath of the "Riot Police", a common view in Harrisland).

So maybe it's time to tap into the notion of "transfer and exchange". What are we getting from our government in exchange for the enormous amounts of our money we entrust them with?

In Ontario back in the day, we entrusted John Baird with millions to fix the welfare problem. In exchange we got a boondoggle computer system that never worked, and a contract with Anderson Consulting of Enron fame, who charged us 4 to 1, what the job would have cost using a civil servant.

In exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects, transferred to the Harris government, we got signs, glossy pamphlets and self-promotion advertising. In other words, taxpayers funded his re-election campaign.

And yet we transferred the same hundreds of millions of dollars to the Harper government, for the same signs, pamphlets and self-promotion advertising.

We have also transferred billions to the war in Afghanistan and have no idea what we got in exchange. Or maybe we do. A request for more billions.

Ontarians were lured into complicity, because the Harris government focused on the cheats. Yet any system involving money is always open to exploitation.

And that also includes John Baird billing us $61,000 for his vacation to Bali (since he did nothing to address climate change), or Tony Clement $11,000 to deliver a cheque that he could have mailed. Or Christian Paradis presenting a claim of $5,000 for an $800 coat.

Cheats are cheats.

We will now be transferring more funds for an extension of stimulus money, and what will we get in exchange? Nobody knows because nobody asks. Tom Walkom believes it is to help pay for Stephen Harper's election campaign, and has nothing to do with the jobs he's promising.

In fact, job figures are looking better, simply because many out of work Canadians are simply giving up. In exchange for this transfer of funds we should demand that the money go to areas hardest hit by unemployment, but we know it won't. It's going to the 905 in an attempt to buy 10 seats.

In the United States the Republicans have blocked plans to cancel further tax cuts for the richest Americans, while the U.S. unemployment rate remains high and thousands are set to lose their benefits. What will the American people get in exchange for this enormous transfer of funds from the working class to the ultra-rich?

What will Canadians get for the enormous transfer of our tax dollars to the ultra-rich (60 billion in total come January)? An abstract promise of job creation.

But a handful of people will get filthy rich. Another neoconservative success story.


Another man appearing on the tape was Mark Mullins, referred to simply as an economist. He said that he had reviewed the Harris plan and confirmed that it would create 725,000 jobs.

Mullins went on to become an advisor for the Alliance Party and CEO of the Fraser Institute.

Bill Vancoughnet would be forced out of politics for soliciting an undercover cop in Toronto. The charges were dropped on the promise of his attending 'John' school.

Mike Harris's lap dog, Tim Hudak, husband of the infamous Debbie Hutton (Harris's gate keeper), is now heading the PC Party in Ontario, hoping to be our next premier.

Another neoconservative success story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Political Theology, Neoconservatism and the Religious Right

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

To achieve a better understanding of how the neoconservative movement has been so successful, you have to go back to the start of it all, to make any sense of it all.

It is such a foreign concept, especially in Canada, that the media and pundits are often scrambling for an angle.

Stephen Harper is authoritative. Stephen Harper is secretive. Stephen Harper is a bully. Stephen Harper is dishonest.

But the essence of Stephen Harper can be summed up in a single word: Neoconservative. That political entity requires all of those things.

And the essence of neoconservatism can be summed up in two words: Political Theology. That was the theory of Carl Schmitt who had an intellectual relationship with Leo Strauss, the man deemed to be the father of the neoconservative movement.

Strauss had written to Schmitt, critiquing his Concept of the Political, and his suggestions were included in future publications of the book.
Just as the Concept of the Political has an exceptional position among the works of Carl Schmitt, so are the "Notes" of Leo Strauss exceptional among the texts about Schmitt ... The Concept of the Political is the only text that Schmitt issued in three different editions.' It is the only text in which the changes are not limited to polishing style, introducing minor shifts in emphasis, and making opportunistic corrections, but reveal conceptual interventions and important clarifications of content.' And it is the only text in which, by means of significant deletions, elaborations, and reformulations, Schmitt reacts to a critique.

Only in the case of the Concept of the Political does Schmitt engage in a dialogue, both open and hidden, with an interpreter, a dialogue that follows the path of a careful revision of Schmitt's own text. The partner in the dialogue is the author of the "Notes," Leo Strauss. He is the only one among Schmitt's critics whose interpretation Schmitt would include, decades later, in a publication under Schmitt's name,' and Strauss is the only one Schmitt would publicly call an "important philosopher."' (1)
This is quite compelling seeing as how Carl Schmitt was a Nazi and Leo Strauss a Jew. In fact Schmitt was responsible for removing Jewish content from university holdings, and yet he included "Jewish content" in the revisions to his book. He remarked to a friend after reading Strauss's notes: "He saw through me and X-rayed me as nobody else can."

And the notion of Political Theology is probably the best explanation of the resulting movement. It is more than mere ideology. It is a dogma. The infallible belief in what they are doing. They let nothing in, that contradicts their acceptance of corporatism.

In that way it was a natural marriage with the Religious Right. They were betrothed at birth.

Becasue who better to bring in to the fold, than a group already enormously successful at turning myths into truths. That's not an attack on any one's religion, but let's face it. The Religious Right does not represent mainstream beliefs. They have distorted religion for financial gain.

Most evangelicals do not share in the hatred and greed that has come to define them. They have embraced corporatism as the route to salvation, and as a result, are able to bestow greatness on a political leader. Another confliction with true evangelism.

A good example of this is the case of Bob Sirico, once a gay rights activist, and now a Catholic Priest. According to the Heartland Institute:
One often hears priests, preachers, and rabbis endorse an activist government able to solve social, economic, and perhaps even moral problems. Fr. Sirico offers a powerful challenge to this conventional wisdom. Religious principles, he says, require that men and women be free to practice virtue or vice, and freedom in turn requires a limited government and vibrant free-market economy. (2)
Have you ever heard anything so twisted? I attended Catholic school and not once do I remember the nuns catechizing a free-market economy.

So if we accept that neoconservatism is not so much a poltiical philosophy as a political theology, everything else falls into line. We are dealing with a religion that has a fundamental set of beliefs and practices.

Their followers are referred to as Straussians.

But perhaps the biggest victim of neoconservatism, is Leo Strauss himself. He would never have promoted Imperialism and would no doubt have scoffed at the fanaticism now represented in the Republican Party, the Tea Party and the Reform-Alliance (Conservative Party of Canada).

As journalist Michael Lind once wrote in the Washington Weekly: "Whatever one thinks of Strauss as a philosopher, he cannot be blamed for the opportunism of his followers."


1. Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, Translated by J. Harvey Lomax, University of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN: 978-0-226-51888-6, Pg. 6-8

2. "Religion and Freedom", by Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute. January 1, 2007

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Art of Ambiguity and Preston Manning's Bait and Switch

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

Many politically engaged Canadians are now fully aware that the Conservative Party that Stephen Harper currently heads, did not descend from Canada's traditional Tory Party, but from the Reform movement, and even further back than that, Social Credit.

As early as 1967, the Mannings, Ernest and Preston, envisioned a new national party, and they laid out the platform for such a party in a book called Political Realignment.

Ernest Manning had been approached by a group of wealthy businessmen who told him that money would be no object, if he would be open to starting a party representing corporate interests, but he instead suggested that they simply work through the existing Progressive Conservative party, and swing it to the right.

But the PCs at the time wanted nothing to do with them, so they opted instead to wait for the next wave of anger.

It would take almost two decades.

And the anger would come over several moves by the Trudeau government. An attempt to close tax loopholes and make Canada's rich pay their share, the National Energy Program and official bilingualism.

This was sold to Westerners as an attempt to make them support the rest of the country by syphoning off their oil profits, and a pandering to Quebec. They never mentioned the "fair taxes" initiative, or they might not have received the same support.

Not that Western grievances weren't real, but they were definitely inflated and exploited.

The Reform Movement (including the new Republicans and Tea Party) has so many layers, that if you try presenting them to someone, their eyes glaze over. It is so overwhelming. "Neoconservatism", "Leo Strauss", "Religious Right".

But if you take it down to a few important points, it all makes sense, beginning with the fact that it is a movement based solely on lies. And to sell the lies, those on both sides of the border, have succeeded because they have been able to finely hone the art of ambiguity.

Utilizing intellect and emotion, they craft their messages so that they mean different things to different people. The basis of Leo Strauss's thought.

The wonderful Murray Dobbin had already figured this out after attending early Reform assemblies. When Preston Manning or Stephen Harper were speaking, it was clear that their messages were not clear at all.

Dobbin referred to it as "calculated ambiguity".

Manning took all the grievances he could find, put them in a big box and tied them up with a green bow. Then he began making "promises" based on what was in the box. They were empty but they were passionate.

He would end special favours for Quebec, bilingualism, multiculturalism, turban wearing in the RCMP, the Charter of Rights, abortion, gay rights, the gun registry, the "patronage" position of the Governor General. It was a long list.

But he was able to join together all of the right-wing fringe groups, who finally saw hope, no matter how outrageous their demands. It didn't matter. He never intended to meet their demands only dangle them like a carrot to keep them running.
... the fringe parties were a genuine, albeit extreme, reflection of a right-wing resurgence in the West during the early 1980s. To the extent that extremism is succinct and clear, these parties provide a useful analytical prelude to the later emergence of the Reform party. (1)
Manning had them all transfixed. But he had to move slowly.

The biggest issue was Quebec and as such, while the ultimate goal was a national party, he postured, and vowed to stand tough when prime minister. If Quebec didn't like it they could leave.

And while expanding Eastward into Ontario, this still had all the markings of a Western protest party. At least until the hierarchy pulled a fast one.

Though the party remained constitutionally and politically a western party after the 1989 Assembly, the policy book based on that assembly was completely purged of any mention of "the West." Manning's foreword in the 1988 edition talks of the likelihood of a divided Parliament after the next election in which "Western Reformers would be in a powerful position to pursue our agenda." The booklet is peppered with phrases like, "A fair shake for the West," "Reform MPs will look out for Western interests," and numerous derogatory remarks about "Central Canada" and "Central Canadian interests," "Central Canadian terms" as well as "Quebec-centred" biases of Mulroney.

Virtually all of this western, anti-central Canada terminology was purged from the 1989 edition of the booklet. In Manning's two-and-a-half page foreword, entitled "The New Canada," there is not a single reference to the West or westerners. Gone, as well, was the "Declaration of Adoption" in the 1988 book, which recognized "the supremacy of God."

The sanitizing of the policy book was done by the Party Policy Committee (PPC), without any mandate from the assembly. It was a body which would play a major role as Manning guided the party away from its western orientation towards national party readiness. Appointed by the party's Executive Committee, and chaired by Preston Manning, its key members were Stan Waters and Stephen Harper. Harper was the Chief Policy Officer of the Party and the only other person, besides [Deb] Grey and Waters, whom Manning trusted to speak for the party.

With a policy book completely cleansed of any reference to the West and most of its specifically western policies, plus the assembly's authority to take the Reform message to the East, the stage was set for the next phase in Preston Manning's plan to create a new conservative party. (2)

The old bait and switch.

Stephen Harper will still play the Western grievances/Quebec card when necessary, as he did with the "separatist" cries during the 2008 coalition crisis. Or more recently with the Edmonton Expo bid and the Quebec arena.

David Staples in the Edmonton journal, under a photo of Harper in Quebec, discusses Jean Charest's promise of funds for the new NHL arena: Premier Jean Charest announced he was willing to put $175 million from his budget (a.k.a. transfer payments from Alberta) towards a Quebec City arena.

"a.k.a. transfer payments from Alberta"?

In the end, they won't blame Harper, but will instead blame Quebec.

This is why Stephen Harper will not give in to too many demands from his "base", because if he does he loses the passion of discontent, that has gotten him to where he is now. What he instead implies is that he will only grant their wishes, if they can grant him his. A majority.


1. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, Pg. 80

2. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7 4, Pg. 85-86

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Success of Neoconservatism is Based on Emotionally Fuelled Ambiguity

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

There are many arguments about Leo Strauss and his position as the father of Neoconservatism. He has been blamed for everything from the Iraq War to the economic collapse, but how justified is that?

I admit that I've had to rethink some of my earlier assessments, but I've come to the conclusion that many self proclaimed Straussians, inadvertently learned something else from the German Philosopher.

The art of ambiguity. And they have indeed taken it to an art form.

In his review of the book, Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury, Michael Lind writes in the Washington Review:
Straussian thought is hard to wrap your mind around, in part because Strauss and his disciples write in a highly abstract style that keeps trespassers out ... Strauss believed that many if not most philosophers, for fear of persecution, wrote in ways that concealed their views as much as they revealed them. (1)
In 2003, Strauss's daughter Jenny (actually his niece. He adopted her after his sister and her husband were killed in an accident), wrote an Oped piece for the New York Times, hoping to correct many of the misconceptions of her father. She had a little different take on this.

She discussed his love of reading, believing that it was not a passive exercise. Many people read the works of a variety of thinkers and only take from them, what validates their own opinion. And Strauss felt that this was not accidental.
The fact is that Leo Strauss also recognized a multiplicity of readers, but he had enough faith in his authors to assume that they, too, recognized that they would have a diverse readership. Some of their readers, the ancients realized, would want only to find their own views and prejudices confirmed; others might be willing to open themselves to new, perhaps unconventional or unpopular, ideas. I personally think my father's rediscovery of the art of writing for different kinds of readers will be his most lasting legacy. (2)
Maybe not intentionally vague, but ambiguous none the less.

And this is the most important weapon in the neoconconservative 'Reform' arsenal. If they told us what they really wanted to do, hand government over to the corporate world, they'd never stand a chance.

Canada's Reform (?)

Whether you want to call the Canadian 'Reform' a party or a movement is irrelevant. No matter what it is, the fact remains that it was behind the new Conservative Party of Canada. And to understand the secret to their success, you have to go back to a variety of right-wing players, that include media, think-tanks, foundations, federations and coalitions, all providing the infrastructure for the intentional change of our political culture.

How many people do you know who realize that this has been taking place for decades? Who saw it coming? Even Harper's critics believe that he came from nowhere, with an unquenchable thirst for power.

But Harper is just the latest face. He embodies everything that the leader of this movement requires. Malignant narcissism, a lack of empathy and an unflinching belief in the doctrine of corporate rule. And while he keeps everyone in line with an iron fist, he is not without his puppet masters.

David Somerville, the former President of the National Citizens Coalition, a corporate controlled AstroTurf group (Stephen Harper also acted as both the vice president and president of the NCC), told his followers that they must tap into both intellect and emotion (3), to achieve their goals.

They would create the story and use passion to sell it.

This is why it became so necessary to tap into religious fervour, though it is not exclusive. They also use the passion for guns, race and country, among other things.

I think one of the best earliest examples of the success of ambiguity and passion that drives this movement, took place in 1984, and involved the NCC, the pro-life movement, and Bill C-169.

Bill C-169 was designed to block spending in elections unless it was approved and accounted for by the party that stood to gain from the spending. Third party spending.
According to writer Nick Fillmore, until 1984 "the [National Citizens] coalition was very much an unimportant right-wing fringe group, paid little attention by most politicians, the media and even shunned by other right-wing lobby groups. The first breakthrough came in July, 1984, when the NCC successfully used the Alberta Supreme Court to overturn the federal government's bill C-169, a law aimed at preventing third parties from advertising a political position during an election campaign." Judge Donald Medhurst in striking down the law said there had to be proof that such spending undermined democracy before any government could impose limits on the freedom of expression guarantee in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms .... The NCC's court victory opened the door to virtually unlimited corporate spending in the 1988 federal election, arguably the most important election in Canada in decades. Advocates of free trade were able to far outspend opponents. (4)
This corporate funded initiative was a direct attack on our democracy because it gave power to money. But what I found interesting was how the righteous viewed the decision. From a pro-life publication: 'The Interim'.
It is a great pro-life victory that Bill C-169, the amendments to the Canada Elections Act, has been thrown out by the Alberta Supreme Court. On June 26, 1984, Justice Donald Medhurst of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that [out?] the changes made to the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The National Citizens Coalition and its president, Colin Brown of London, Ontario had asked the court to strike down the amendments contained in Bill C-169. The decision means that individuals and groups (including pro-life individuals and groups) will again be free to oppose or promote political candidates during a federal election campaign. (5)
This was obviously sold to the pro-lifers by the NCC, as an assault on their "freedom of expression" and they were no doubt able to solicit a lot of funds based on that passionate plea. Would it have been as successful if they had called it a corporate move to set the government's agenda? Not likely.

The art of ambiguity. People saw what they wanted to see and I doubt that it was not intentional. It would be interesting to hear other groups opinions of Medhurst's decision. What they 'heard' from the NCC's campaign.

Preston Manning and Stephen Harper used that skill when creating the Reform Party.
... policies regarding agriculture, labour, tax reform, foreign policy, social policy, and immigration are so muddied by calculated ambiguity that they leave the Reform Party and its leader enormous flexibility in fashioning actual policy. (6)
And though this was supposed to be a populist, grassroots party, it wasn't long before some of the more aware members began to realize that it was being run by a 'Calgary clique'.
The "clique" which was being criticized in 1990 consisted of Manning and four of his staff members. One of the key members was thirty-two-year-old Stephen Harper, a founding member of the party, its Chief Policy Officer, and the man who became known as Manning's chief political lieutenant. Though only a staff member, he often made speeches and was one of the two people, the other being [Stan] Waters, whom Manning trusted to speak for the party .... The charges of elitism and control of the party by a Manning clique struck a very sour note in an otherwise spectacular rise in party fortunes. (6)
An "elite" group using ambiguity and emotion to tell their story.

Ambiguously, when I say "elite group" I could mean the NCC, the Reform Party or Harper's PMO. All one and the same, I'm afraid.

Can't wait to see how the "story" ends.
"Those who tell the stories rule society." — Plato

1. Leo Strauss and the American Right, By Michael Lind, Washington Monthly, November 1997

2. The Real Leo Strauss, By Jenny Strauss Clay, New York Times, June 07, 2003

3. The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen: Canada and Democracy in the Age of Globalization, By Murray Dobbin, James Lorimer & Company, 2003, ISBN: 1-55028-785-0, Pg. 197

4. Dobbin, 2003, Pg. 202

5. The NCC provides a Canadian pro-life victory, The Interim, August 29, 1984

6. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7 4, Pg. 215

7. Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 122

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lies Become Truths When Enough People Believe Them

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

"Those who tell the stories rule society." — Plato

One of the books I'm currently reading is Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, a collection of reflections on the 2008 coalition attempt and Stephen Harper's reaction to it.

One of the book's contributors, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Toronto, Lorraine E. Weinrib, discusses the lies used to justify the resulting prorogation, and how they became believable, simply because the government refused to address anything that might contradict their version of events.

In this way they were able to persuade the Canadian public of the truth of the lie. In religion mythology becomes fact when enough people believe in it, and the same can be said for history and politics.

Weinrib focuses on John Baird, but includes much of the false information that was never corrected, not the least of which was the fact that this was not a Coup d'Etat as the Conservatives claimed, but a legitimate action in a functioning Parliamentary democracy.
The near collapse of a minority government is not a significant event. The circumstances that surround this near collapse, however, signal that there may be further serious repercussions arising from the events of December 2008 to January 2009 ... these events reflect a pattern of disregard by Harper of a number of deeply embedded constitutional principles and practices. Each individual element poses cause for concern. The accumulation suggests that Harper is capable of precipitating a serious constitutional crisis to avert responsibility for his own mistakes and miscalculations and to stay in power. (1)
And after getting away with this, he has continued to challenge our constitution. Another self-serving prorogation, refusal to hand over documents relating to the torture of Afghan detainees, killing a climate change bill that already had the approval of Parliament and his latest attempt to extend the war in Afghanistan, without debate.

But back to the 2008 contrived "crisis".

When talking to Don Newman, John Baird suggested that the acceptance of the throne speech was proof that his government had the confidence of the House, but as Newman reminds him (video below): "You only have the confidence of the House until you lose the confidence of the House". Baird simply ignores this.

Weinrib wonders how far they were willing to take this. Would they replace the Governor General with one more compliant, if their request was denied? We have since learned from Lawrence Martin's book, Harperland, that they were actually going to go to the Queen if they didn't get their wish.

Ultimately their success was sticking to their lies, and repeating them often enough until they became fact. The fact that they weren't fact, but fiction, was not important.

And one of these was the notion that the coalition was with separatists who would have veto powers. But as Weinrib reminds us:
Harper had engaged in a similar coalition-building plan to oust the Liberal minority government of Paul Martin, a plan that included a signed agreement with the leaders of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. The taint of support from a separatist party didn't seem to bother Harper when that support worked in his favour.
Every time this was brought up, the Conservatives changed the subject. They didn't have to call it a lie, simply because they couldn't. There was irrefutable proof. But by screaming "separatist" loud enough, they were able to keep the "truth" from the conversation.

I remember being particularly upset, when Gilles Duceppe brought in a letter showing that 2004 was not the first time those from the government side of the House had approached him about forming a coalition. In 2000, when Stockwell Day was leader of the Alliance, he presented a letter of intent, should Jean Chretien win with a minority. (he was returned with a majority)

Day not only denied that he had done such a thing, but stated that it was not in his DNA to join forces with separatists. He must have chuckled to himself, given that his father, a contributor to that DNA, belonged to the Western separatist party of Doug Christie, the Western Canada Concept. And in fact the Sr. Day ran as a WCC candidate against Tommy Douglas in 1972 (2).

But little of that came out in the media. Headlines were filled with "coup", "socialists" and "separatists". A few tried to correct the disinformation, but they were mostly ignored.
Harper played on the ignorance of the Canadian public as to the constitutional framework within which our parliamentary system of government operates. Polling at the time confirmed the public's lack of familiarity with the working of a minority government, in particular the governor general's role in the changing of governments. It is a matter of concern that a prime minister would feel comfortable exploiting, indeed encouraging, views that were inconsistent with some of the most basic features of our system of government. (1)
The hyperbole also had an impact on those already on the fringe. I watched a video on YouTube by a citizen who called this an attempt by Marxists to take over Canada. And Dennis Pilon, a political scientist at the University of Victoria, stated that : "the actions of this prime minister are coming dangerously close to inciting mob rule." (3)

There has been much discussion over whether or not Michaëlle Jean did the right thing, or whether the coalition would have provided a stable government. But that is not the issue here.

What is at issue is that our prime minister deliberately perpetrated a fraud to save his job. Repeating Weinrib: "... these events reflect a pattern of disregard by Harper of a number of deeply embedded constitutional principles and practices. Each individual element poses cause for concern. The accumulation suggests that Harper is capable of precipitating a serious constitutional crisis to avert responsibility for his own mistakes and miscalculations and to stay in power." (1)

Allan Gregg in his review of Martin's Harperland, shares this concern.
Even though it has become a cliché to refer to Stephen Harper as a control freak, the power of Martin’s argument hits you like a jackhammer. Those of us who follow these things quite closely remember a number of occasions when the Conservatives have found themselves in hot water because of allegations of abuse of power, but we tend to forget just how frequently this has occurred ... In total, Martin cites some 70-odd cases of these types of abuse and the combined effect is almost dizzying. (4)
It's the accumulation and frequency of the assaults on our democracy that are at issue, along with the ease with which this government can lie to us.
"The elite must, in a word, lie to the masses; the elite must manipulate them—arguably for their own good. The elite employ "noble lies," lies purporting to affirm God, justice, the good. ... These lies are necessary in order to keep the ignorant masses in line." - Leo Strauss

1. Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, Edited by Peter H. Russell and Lorne Sossin, University of Toronto Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4426-1014-9. 2, Pg. 65-68

2. Stockwell Day - Early life and career: Encyclopedia II

3. Losing Confidence: Power, Politics and Crisis in Canadians Democracy, By Elizabeth May, McClelland & Stewart, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-7710-5760-1, Pg. 226

4. Negative Statesmanship: Stephen Harper may end up being known for what he does not do more than for what he does, By Allan Gregg, Literary Review

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Democracy in Crisis: Governing Under a Cloud

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

Susan Delacourt has a column in the Star today: Is Canadian democracy in real danger?

I believe it is.

She discusses the reflections of political scientist David Docherty, who believes that the House of Commons should be the centrepiece of Canada's democracy. But instead it is being abused as a place to take cheap shots without reprisal, while seemingly lacking validity, over issues of importance; like the climate change bill and the decision to throw Canadians into War for three more years, without input or debate.

There is an excellent book: Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, that discusses the importance of Harper's first prorogation, when it became painfully clear that he had no intention of governing based on the will of the people. Parliament was an inconvenience, which of course meant that we were an inconvenience.

There were several constitutional and Parliamentary experts who contributed to the book, including Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Toronto, Lorraine E. Weinrib. She discusses Stephen Harper's "time out" and it's important significance.

This man had lost the confidence of the House, which meant that he could no longer legitimately be our prime minister. And when Governor General Michaëlle Jean allowed him to prorogue Parliament in December of 2008, to avoid the inevitable confirmation of this, there should have at least been some restrictions on his power, seeing as how he was actually on probation.
Some commentators considered the situation so exceptional as to call for conditions restricting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's powers to routine
matters for the duration of the prorogation of Parliament. No conditions were imposed. The prime minister went on to appoint one Supreme Court justice and eighteen senators during the period of prorogation – hardly routine matters – when the question of his support in the House was under a cloud. (1)
So how did he get away with it? It boggles the mind. And yet he did. And since that time he has continued to get away with increasing attacks on the democratic process and the principles of responsible government.
The events that led to the prorogation of Parliament demonstrate the fragility of one of the basic principles of British parliamentary government, the principle of responsible government. This principle stipulates that a particular government continues in office only as long as it enjoys the confidence of the elected members of the House of Commons. For this reason, minority governments are by definition less stable than majority governments. They are particularly unstable when a prime minister's preference is to denigrate the opposition parties and their leaders, rather than to build upon common ground. Delaying a vote of confidence is a serious matter because it creates the possibility of the democratically illegitimate exercise of public power. (1)
He had gotten himself into this mess. It was not a coup, but a reaction to his negative policies, after promising to play nice.
Why did Harper throw down this partisan gauntlet? Presumably, he wanted to take the first opportunity to establish his dominant author­ity over the new minority Parliament. (1)
He was counting on the perceived weakness of Stéphane Dion, and the fact that the Liberals couldn't afford another election.

The media are always singing the praises of the Conservatives because they have more money than anyone else. Why should that matter in a democracy? That's exactly what we want to avoid, is political success dependant on cash. Yes, the Corporate Welfare Bums take care of him very nicely, and he in turn takes care of them. But who is going to take care of us?

Canada is supposed to be a democratic country. But we now have a man in power, who is doing his utmost to change that.
Each individual element poses cause for concern. The accumulation suggests that Harper is capable of precipitating a serious constitutional crisis to avert responsibility for his own mistakes and miscalculations and to stay in power. (1)
I believe that Weinrib is right.

Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, has studied authoritarianism, and the phenomenon of a willing populace. When he wrote his thesis The Authoritarians, George Bush was still in power, and Altemeyer suggests:
There has never been a more obvious, appropriate, and pressing time for this discussion. The threat that authoritarians pose to .. democracy has probably never been clearer. It is just a coincidence, but human affairs have provided the foremost example of how badly right-wing authoritarianism can damage ... George W. Bush has been the most authoritarian president in my lifetime, as well as the worst. And that’s not a coincidence.
Stephen Harper is clearly the most authoritarian prime minister we have ever had, as well as the worst. And that’s not a coincidence either. But why should he be accountable when we don't demand accountability?

Our democracy is being undermined from below, simply because we are allowing tyranny from above.
“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy” - Charles de Montesquieu

1. Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, By Peter H. Russell and Lorne Sossin, University of Toronto Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4426-1014-9. 2, Pg. 63-65

2. The Authoritarians, By Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, 2006

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Patriot Game: The Charter of Rights

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada
"And we have a Supreme Court, like yours, which, since we put a charter of rights in our constitution in 1982, is becoming increasingly arbitrary and
important ... The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things."
Stephen Harper (1)
In April of 2007, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms celebrated it's 25th anniversary. Stephen Harper refused an invitation to be the keynote speaker at an event marking the occasion.
The Harper government is passing on a major Ottawa conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights, with the Prime Minister and three Cabinet ministers turning down invitations to speak. In fact, the milestone anniversary will be a muted affair within the government ranks ... Mr. Jedwab said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Heritage Minister Bev Oda and former justice minister Vic Toews were also invited to address the April 16-17 event, but they declined. (2)
The fact is that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has always been a thorn in the side of the Reform movement. Preston Manning preferred that it would have been more like the American model.

On the Charter of Rights, Manning takes the position that Canada should have, like the U.S., a concept of rights which makes no mention of race, gender, or language. His support for triple-E Senate is modelled after the U.S. Senate and is proposed for Canada in spite of the fact that a similar model "often makes government impossible" in Australia, according to Desmond Morton.

Last, Preston Manning wishes to emulate the U.S. by including a provision for property rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights. This concept is rooted in American individualism and free-enterprise culture. However, it may be less appealing in Canada, which has had a more co-operative and collective approach to life and to government. (3)

Stephen Harper's views were similar to Manning's but based a lot on the book The Patriot Game by Peter Brimelow, who saw both the patriation of the Constitution, and the Charter as not only an attack on Anglo Canadians, but the endowment of too much power on the judiciary.
Certain aspects of public policy were entrenched, however, notably bilingualism, and a "Charter of Rights and Freedoms" was added .. the new constitution clearly does pose a legal threat to much of its nationalist legislation restricting the use of English. More subtly, the constitution represents a break with the British tradition of common law, custom and precedent, and greatly enhances the power of the judicial branch. (4)
What Brimelow opposed the most, and what was reflected in the views of the Reform party members, was that in his mind the English had conquered the French in Canada, so they should accept the Anglo hierarchy. What he failed to understand was that Quebec and French Canadians, were to be equal partners in Confederation as one of our country's founding peoples.

So the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms set out to right a wrong.
The difficulty Francophones faced in the civil service ... the one addressed by the resulting bilingualism policy, was not discrimination against Francophones as such, but the fact that at the higher levels they had to work in English. Francophones who were prepared to speak English could always in effect resign from their race in working hours, unlike the American blacks. (5)
"Resign from their race in working hours"?

And this was the logic that Stephen Harper found so compelling that he went out and bought ten copies of Brimelow's book to give to friends. And when Harper addressed the Reform Party Assembly in Saskatoon in 1991, and stated emphatically that there would be no special privileges for Quebec, his mind was made up.

And we have to remember that his political views are not organic, but set in stone. He only gave Quebec special status, because he said that he needed to "suck up to them."

Another bone of contention for the movement was the entrenching of rights, including those for women, ethnic groups and Aboriginals, but especially for homosexuals.

One of the Reform Party founders, Ted Byfield, stated that the only thing that should be legislated in Canada was morality, but this charter actually, in his view, attacked morality, by protecting "sin". And protecting that sin was the judiciary.

This would start a war. One that is ongoing.

On June 12, 2000, Harper railed against biased judicial activism. "Serious flaws exist in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and there is no meaningful review or accountability mechanisms for Supreme Court justices" (6)

And on September 2, 2009, at a closed-door speech to Conservative supporters in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., he spoke against judicial independence and made it clear that if he ever obtains a majority, he will stack the bench with judges who are not "left-wing ideologues." (6) "I ask you for a moment to imagine how different things would be if the Liberals were still in power. . . . Imagine how many left-wing ideologues they would be putting in the courts. . . ."

Maurice Vellacott had accused Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of calling herself God, and though it was a lie and he made a meager attempt at an apology in the House of Commons, the sentiment remains.

One of the worst attacks however, has been on Louise Arbour (shown above right). Arbour is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She has since July 2009 served as President and CEO of the International Crisis Group.

Someone all Canadians should be proud of. And yet Harper’s ministers refused to recognize her work, while Vic Toews launched a personal attack, as part of his party's policy.
The Conservative grenade hurlers couldn't help themselves. Next up to the plate was Treasury Board Secretary Vic Toews, whose target was Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former Supreme Court justice. Arbour had a far more distinguished reputation than Toews did, but that didn't stop him from labelling her a national "disgrace" when she praised a new Arab human rights charter and chastised both sides in the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Toews hollered "Shame on her!" when the matter was raised in the Commons. (7)
Yes shame on her. How dare she stand up for human rights abuses, earning enough of an international reputation that she would be given such high positions.

We need to start recognizing and supporting our public intellectuals, who have been taking a beating since Stephen Harper came to power. Canadians have always taken pride in the accomplishments of it's citizens and this government would prefer that we forget them, so they can be free to pursue their agenda of Americanization.

U.S. style prisons. U.S style courts. U.S. style justice.

Canadians should be proud of their Charter of Rights and Freedoms and proud of the fact that we have for decades been seen as a Just Society. Harper's law and order agenda is a wrong fit for us. It's not who we are, just who he would like us to be.

One of my favourite quotes about the Reform movement came from the Vancouver Sun, and I share it often:
"Reform is somewhat un-Canadian. It's about tidy numbers, self-righteous sanctimoniousness and western grievances. It cannot talk about the sea or about our reluctant fondness for Quebec, about our sorrow at the way our aboriginal people live, about the geographically diverse, bilingual, multicultural mess of a great country we are." (8)

1. Full text of Stephen Harper's 1997 speech, Canadian Press, December 14, 2005

2. PM passes on marking Charter anniversary; Rejects invitation, By Janice Tibbetts, National Post, April 11, 2007

3. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7 4, Pg. 190

4. The Patriot Game: National Dreams and Political Realities, By Peter Brimelow, Key Porter Books, 1986, ISBN: 1-55013-001-3, Pg. 34

5. Brimelow, 1986, Pg. 191

6. The Hill: Harper challenged as silence of the jurists ends, By: Richard Cleroux, Law Times

7. Harperland:The Politics of Control, By Lawrence Martin, Viking Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-670-06517-2, Pg. 130

8. Vancouver Sun, April 8, 1994