28 November 2008

Black Friday, No Matter What

Part of what's maddening about our Canadian parliamentary crisis is that in most respects, it's so damn trivial.

Particularly in relation to the actual crises blossoming like dismal, premature poinsettias. And other unpleasant happenings on this late November day.

Everybody hang on, and pray the weather doesn't get worse.


King-Byng v2.0: Black Friday?

In a crisis, you are always in danger of, to use an apt BBC term, "being overtaken by events."

The Conservatives have blinked. Except they haven't. The pundits are furious. The Opposition parties have snapped. Or have regained a sense of purpose. Or something.

Remember that roulette ball? It's up in the air at the moment, and no one knows where it's going to land. My bet is on a number Stephen Harper likes - but hope springs eternal in the human breast.


27 November 2008

More on King-Byng v2.0

Aldous, this is certainly is a cunning move - "crafty" and "diabolical" are synonyms being tossed about by the commentariat - but there's an old adage that might also apply to Stephen Harper: he's so sharp he's liable to cut himself.

I can't think that internal polling is anything but rosy for the Tories, given their incumbency and the weakness of the Liberals. Still, this imbroglio brings to mind a line from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida: Ulysses, after bemoaning the disorder among the Greek champions, declaims that "to end a tale of length / Troy in our weakness stands, not in her strength."

If October's election is rerun with all its variables unchanged, the Conservatives will win a majority. However, a number of things have changed in the last six weeks (really, has it been that long?): the severity of the economic crisis, the government's own stance on deficit spending, the field of Liberal leadership candidates (considerably smaller than it was on October 15th) and most importantly, the sense of anxiety in the Canadian public, and the sense of urgency, if press reports are to be believed, within the opposition parties themselves. The Conservatives may be overconfident: only a third of the country voted for the turkeys the last time around.

Crisis has a funny way of concentrating the mind. If the Liberals immediately replace Dion (Pat Martin's report of Jean Chretien attempting to broker a deal between the leadership candidates is intriguing) and the New Democrats rediscover their progressive cojones, a coalition might have a fighting chance. If Paul Wells is right and the NDP, like the Liberals, are broke, then there might be a lot of motivation for cooperation. If there's an election? Look for a formal coalition betweent the NDP and Liberals, and plenty of rhetoric about national unity in the face of catastrophe. Oh, and an awful lot of kind words for Jean Charest.

Or, Harper could back down. His game plan was supposed to be not just incrementalist, but soporific - he has tried to convince Canadians of his and his party's moderation, despite various nasty smells (Chuck Cadman, Zaccardelli, lazy artists, etc etc) dispelled as much as possible by a compliant media. But this maneuvre stinks so badly that it's hard to ignore. Much rests on each party's assessment of risk versus opportunity in this situation. The key question, of course, is how public opinion is shaped in terms of apportioning blame. I have to say that, based on the last two elections, I'm not optimistic on that score. But on the other hand, a roulette wheel on a cruise ship in these stormy waters isn't always going to land in the black.

Finally, Aldous, I commend you for getting through a post on this subject without swearing. Happy Thanksgiving - let's hope there's no war between India and Pakistan!


King-Byng v2.0 Update

Following Luke's post yesterday, early indications are that the opposition parties will vote the "fiscal update" down, sending Parliament either towards dissolution or towards some sort of governing coalition/liberal minority government (with emphasis on minority).

Press reaction? Perhaps the Globe could be beginning to regret its ridiculous decision to endorse the Tories in October. Even Canwest/National Post is ambivalent; some columnists are taken aback (and here) while another loves it. Andrew Coyne is very happy... no surprise there.

My two cents: I don't have much grasp on the tactics at play here, but for what it's worth here's my take. This is a cunning move for Harper, but one that would come back to haunt him if indeed the opposition parties stiffen up and reject the measure. That leads me to suspect that the Tories have internal polling numbers that show that they are again in a position to win a majority, and some sort of strategy in their back pockets to put the blame for another election squarely on the shoulders of the Liberals. If they didn't think that they would come off well in an election, they would not be making this gamble. As one Post column points out, the Conservatives are only seeing upside right now. But if the motion is defeated and the opposition parties can govern together for a few months or half a year, it could turn out to be a bad mistake.

I also can't let this go without venting about how utterly wretched this plan is. $30-million to provide well over the majority of the major parties' revenues? That's peanuts, and even if the Tories were being sincere about this simple fiscal prudence, their obsession with balanced budgets at a time of deepening recession is highly troubling.

We get party politics on the cheap in Canada. Tying party finances at least partially to their electoral success ensures that funding is related at least loosely to what counts for merit in representative democratic politics: popularity. A party's funding, and therefore its electoral fortunes, should not depend solely on its fundraising capability, since this depends on a whole lot of factors completely unrelated to ideas, policies, or governing competence.


Lots of nails, heads, and accurate strikes thereon...

...I am unable to more articulately express my admiration for Mr. Rodriguez's gentle and astute explanations for religious antipathy and fear towards gay marriage in America.

Some choice bits:

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

...But the real challenge to the family right now is male irresponsibility and misbehavior toward women. If the Hispanic Catholic and evangelical churches really wanted to protect the family, they should address the issue of wife beating in Hispanic families and the misbehaviors of the father against the mother. But no, they go after gay marriage. It doesn't take any brilliance to notice that this is hypocrisy of such magnitude that you blame the gay couple living next door for the fact that you've just beaten your wife.


Payback's a Bitch

I wonder if Jean Chretien ever imagined this would happen?

Prediction: if this oh-so-tactically brilliant ball of s**t passes the House, someone, in one of the four opposition parties, is going to bring up uniting the left. I hope the country's non-Conservatives take it seriously.

Because if this maneuvre is a taste of what's to come thanks to a recession and a Conservative government, there's not going to be much of Canada left to govern by the time someone in the Liberal party - or heaven forbid, the NDP - manages to get a clue.

The Liberals are finding out that payback's a bitch. I sure hope Stephen Harper's next in line.


25 November 2008

Trend of the Week? Year? Decade?

...is the angst-ridden Democrat.

Hanging chads? War on Terror? Working-class whites? No, no, no. All irrelevant fads of the antediluvian past. Now he/she is petrified that the Democrats from the last Democratic administration aren't Democratic enough for this one.

Memo: up until around mid-January of this year, the Clinton years were hazily recalled by Democrats, some Republicans, and the national press corps, as a golden age of unlimited domestic prosperity, unencumbered foreign hubris, and news cycles praiseworthily dominated by sex, not death.

One of the effects of the twenty-four news cycle is that some people forget about cycles that take longer than twenty-four hours to run. I blame this, like I blame Guantanamo, on 24.

Or maybe, just maybe, the media is just making this issue up?


Validation, Kind Of

Nate Silver appears to agree with me. Hurray.


23 November 2008

A Brave New Post-Ironic World? Not a Chance... I Hope

A couple days ago ("Irony is Dead. Again. Yeah Right.") the Times raises the terrifying possibility that a post-Obama-as-President-elect world will also be a post-ironic world. Current evidence for this prediction includes the apparent inability of anybody to effectively make fun of the President-elect - which isn't really a question of irony, but, anyhow... - which, for what it's worth, seems on the mark. Has anybody seen The Daily Show recently? Tough crowd there. Quoth the puff-piece:

Roger Rosenblatt, the former Time columnist who wrote that Sept. 11 might at least “spell the end of the age of irony,” said that while irony had its place and time, this was not it.

“Irony,” Mr. Rosenblatt said, “is a diminishing act — the incongruity between what’s expected and what occurs makes us smile at the distance. But there are some events that occur, like 9/11, and perhaps Obama, though I didn’t think of him in this context, that are so big that they almost imply an obligation not to diminish it by clever comparisons.”
America just elected a President with the expectations that he will bring sweeping, fundamental change in Washington politics, a re-invigorated foreign policy that will raise the U.S. to new heights of exceptionalism (the good kind?), and an improved standard of living for "the middle class" after decades of decay - among other things. This in the midst of an economic crisis that threatens the economic and social foundations of advanced-industrial-liberal-democracy. Mr. Rosenblatt: there is going to be some incongruity.

I ardently hope that an Obama presidency does not mean that humor, presidential satire, and healthy critical self-distancing(which all appear to be what the Times means by "irony" these days) become the preserve of the right. If it does, November 4 was a tremendous victory for them.


22 November 2008

The Dangerous Discourse of the Middle

In the NY Times, a gloss on recent commentary from various corners on Obama's apparent "tilt to the center":

President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

And so, we are supposed to understand, the first to be disappointed by the Obama administration will be the hardcore liberals who see themselves as his first, true, most ardent supporters, while those most relieved by his actions will be from the solid, stable, middle of American politics. Right?

Not so fast. That would be conflating what he does (or rather, what we expect him to do) with how he does it (how we expect him to do it). "Pragmatists" versus "ideologues" is a false, or at least not necessarily true, opposition. There's (to me) a more encouraging interpretation, which is to say that the apparently conventional (besides Hillary, who I think will anyhow end up being seen as a conventional, obvious choice once the buzz dies down), steady picks for administration posts are being made in order to facilitate the smooth implementation of a fairly leftist agenda. If for no other reason than that "radical" (for America) social-democratic solutions are what the world needs at this time. In other words, let's try not to confuse ends and means, and reserve judgment on how Obama's actual policies will "tilt" until we see some of them in practice... that would be the pragmatic response, wouldn't it?


15 November 2008

Money and the ethnic vote?

Oh, the problems of living with pluralism.


09 November 2008

This just in: Thomas Friedman is still an idiot

Why do I get the feeling I'm repeating myself?


07 November 2008

It was only a matter of time...

Before Italian PM Berlusconi said something undiplomatic about President-elect Obama:

(From the BBC). ''Obama is young, handsome and also tanned, so he has all the qualities to agree with you,'' he told the Russian leader, speaking in Italian through a translator.

The Italian news agency Ansa said Mr Berlusconi later defended the remark, calling it "a great compliment".

Responding to a reporter's suggestion that the remark might be misunderstood, he accused his opponents of not having a sense of humour.

''God save us from imbeciles,'' he added.


06 November 2008

Appalachia: No You Can't

The results from Knott County, Kentucky in presidential elections since 1960:

John F. Kennedy (D) 73.7%
Richard Nixon (R) 26.3%

Lyndon Johnson (D) 90.6%
Barry Goldwater (R) 9.2%

Hubert Humphrey (D) 68.5%
Richard Nixon (R) 22.6%
George Wallace (I) 8.8%

George McGovern (D) 64.7%
Richard Nixon (R) 34.5%

Jimmy Carter (D) 82.4%
Gerald Ford (R) 16.6%

Jimmy Carter (D) 76.5%
Ronald Reagan (R) 22.7%

Walter Mondale (D) 71.8%
Ronald Reagan (R) 27.7%

Michael Dukakis (D) 74.9%
George H.W. Bush (R) 24.4%

Bill Clinton (D) 75.1%
George H.W. Bush (R) 17.0%
Ross Perot (I) 7.6%

Bill Clinton (D) 73.3%
Bob Dole (R) 18.2%
Ross Perot (I) 7.8%

Al Gore (D) 67.3%
George W. Bush (R) 31.4%
Ralph Nader (I) 0.7%

John Kerry (D) 63.4%
George W. Bush (R) 35.8%

John McCain (R) 52.6%
Barack Obama (D) 45.0%


05 November 2008

John King, may the Force be with you

And Anderson Cooper is hotter than Mark Hamill ever was!


04 November 2008

My Guess

This is not at all original, but for whatever it's worth:


Sartorial Backsliding

Apparently, the Republican Party has already made good on its promise to donate her wardrobe to charity: