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Monthly Archives: January 2009

I’m preparing a lengthy piece on the budget. In the meantime, consider this piece from The Guardian which argues that President Barack Obama is not a progressive or liberal, but simply a conservative who looks liberal after former President GW Bush.

George Bush was not a conservative, but rather a curious hybrid of reactionary and progressive. He was a reactionary by temperament and conviction whose methods were borrowed from the most radical progressives. He besmirched the conservatism that he had forsaken and led it from the corridors of power into the political wilderness.Because progressive commentators depict Bush as an arch-conservative instead of the curious amalgam of reactionary and radical revolutionary that he actually was, they remain blind to Obama’s conservatism.

[…]

The Obama presidency is not a revolution, but instead a restoration. The “values upon which our success depends”, Obama reassures America, “these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout history”. He asks for a “return to these truths”. Nothing new is needed, neither fresh ideas about the human condition’s betterment nor utopias; merely a return to and vindication of the past.

The return to core tried-and-true values as the only reliable basis for political action, the consignment of ideology – whether concerning the virtues of unregulated markets or government’s scope – to irrelevance in developing policy, the celebration of responsibilities and duties instead of rights, and commitment to America’s unchallenged global leadership. It is hard to imagine an inaugural address more steeped in the classical conservative tradition than the one delivered by Obama last week…

How can you argue with that?

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And in completely unrelated news, I came across this very good little video that demonstrates how important the Arctic is becoming to us so-called ‘southerners.’ I sometimes wonder why I’m bothering with the Arctic, but when I see this, I remember why.

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It’s deja vu all over again (I kid, kid. The proper phrase is ‘deja vu.’ Period)!

Like every other political commentator in the country, today certainly felt like last fall when we heard the Conservatives’ last throne speech. And this one was just like it.

But first, I’ve got to ask. Who the hell is ‘Divine Providence?’ I ask because the last line of the Speech from the Throne goes like this:

Honourable Members of the Senate, Members of the House of Commons: As you unite in common effort and in common cause, may Divine Providence be your guide and inspiration.

If the Conservatives are asking that God suddenly send lightning bolts to light the light bulbs on top of its MPs’ heads, well, it’s a little late for that. And besides, God tells us to take responsibility for our actions and ask forgiveness, to learn from our mistakes. Harper has not done that (see December interview with Harper where he says proroguement was the fault of a ‘conspiracy’ against his government).

A few points other points about the Throne Speech:

  • Let me add my agreement to the point Adam Radwanski makes here. The rhetoric of the Harper government is just a tad overdone.

Here’s the fifth paragraph of the Throne Speech:

Your predecessors, too, were summoned to this chamber at times of great crisis: as Canada struggled to claim her independence, in the shadow of war, during the depth of the Great Depression and at moments when great policy division tugged the very bonds of this union.

Cue the patriotism and Obama-like messaging. This financial crisis, while bad and devastating to our economy cannot be compared to World Wars I and II, constitutional crises and the 1995 Quebec Referendum. End of story.

  • I LOVE all the mentions of “open and non-partisan cooperation,” and “working together.” Sounds like Harper’s response to the LAST Throne Speech, where he said,

All Members of Parliament should resolve to put aside clearly partisan considerations and try, wherever possible, to work co-operatively for the benefit of Canada.

And we all know how that worked out.

  • My FAVOURITE lines of the Throne Speech were these ones:

Our Government approached the dialogue in a spirit of open and non-partisan cooperation. There is no monopoly on good ideas because we face this crisis together. There can be no pride of authorship—only the satisfaction of identifying solutions that will work for all Canadians.

But then the Throne Speech goes on to mention the things ‘Our Government’ has done, let’s see, 1, 2, 3…16 times. ‘Monopoly,’ indeed.

But, whatever. We all know the ‘real game’ begins tomorrow.

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What about all of those ‘unprecedented’ budget leaks? Normally the printing of the budget is under strict surveillance, and apparently it is this time as well – not that they really need to do it.

I don’t really care that the Conservatives leaked the budget. If I were Harper, I’d have leaked the $34 billion this year/$30 billion next year figure over the weekend, too. It’s just smart political strategy.

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I was watching Newsworld this afternoon (surprise, surprise) when a couple of pundits began to talk about what the Liberal reponse might be. While I’m 95% sure they’ll pass the budget, there is one thing the pundits brought up that I hadn’t considered.

There’s no way in hell Harper is going to unveil what he would consider to be an almost ‘communist’ budget (can’t you see him at his desk, mumbling to himself about it?) without sticking something in it to make the newly-minted Leader of the Opposition have to backtrack. And that something is going to be tax cuts.

That’s why we haven’t heard about the tax cuts that are more certainly going to be a part of the budget. Permanent tax cuts. Harper is still playing political games when Canadians are losing their jobs. Nicely done, Steve.

Why is this a big deal? Because Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has stated, unequivocally, that tax cuts are not an option.

I’m betting that Harper is still mighty pissed about having to go to the Governor General and beg for his political life. He’s going to try and make Ignatieff look like a fool and force him into going against his word.

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The best thing that could happen this week would be for the NDP and the Bloc to vote, along with the Liberals, to approve the budget. Harper is expecting the NDP and the Bloc to vote against it, which he would then use against them in future election ads (you know he’d want to). I can see the leader’s debate now, “But Jack, your government voted AGAINST tax cuts for Canadians!”

The NDP and the Bloc have to be very careful. Voting against a budget that purports to benefit all Canadians could be a form of political suicide.

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We’ve heard the phrase “I don’t trust the this government” over and over the past number of weeks. And we’re going to hear it under the next election.

Today a poll was released which shows that 44% of Canadians “put faith in Harper Tories to manage [the] economy.”

Really? After all of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stuff of the last Parliament? I guess it’s true. For a lot of Canadians right now, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

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On a positive note: it would seem that there’s trouble in them Conservative backbenches.

Seems some Harper-ites a more than a little perturbed because of their dear leader’s actions as of late.

Tom Flanagan, Steve’s former BFF spoke to the Toronto Star and offered some insight into our PM.

Tom Flanagan, a former Harper campaign organizer and strategist, said Harper has transformed from a conservative ideologue to a political survivor, but remains a victim of his own dark side. “Both sides are real … but what you see more and more is the political Harper,” said Flanagan, author of the acclaimed Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power.

Flanagan said the “Machiavellian” side is far more troubling than his political transformation, given that it almost cost him his government. “He lost the initiative by provoking the other parties into this potential coalition against him … and now he finds himself having to put together a budget which is really a coalition budget … the government’s hand is fairly weak right now.”

I say Harper gets one more election. If he can’t deliver a majority, he’s finished.

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I could not end this without mentioning the insane and about-to-be-impeached Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. Today he began a massive media blitz to try and win the sympathy of Americans outside of his home state.

Here he is comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Absolute insanity.

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This is the type of post that I usually start but never finish. When it comes to economics, I am a neophyte. Later this semester I have to give a presentation on some aspect of international political economy, and already I am dreading it.

If you are a follower of all things both Canadian and political, you will know that on Tuesday afternoon, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will don a new pair of shoes (as is parliamentary tradition) and present the government’s budget for the 2009-2010 economic year. This is the earliest that a federal budget has ever been presented, which is supposed to make us believe that the Conservatives are taking the global recession seriously.

Really? Well let’s look at what our fearless leader, PM Stephen Harper, has had to say about economy since September (thanks to this article from The Canadian Press which rounds up all of Harper’s notable quotes from 2008):

Recession I, Sept. 15: “My own belief is if we were going to have some kind of crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now.”

Recession I, Sept. 16: “The Canadian economy’s fundamentals are solid.”

Recession II, Sept. 25: “The only way there is going to be a recession is if they’re (the Liberals) elected and that’s why they’re not going to be elected.”

Deficit I, Oct. 6: “There’s nothing on the horizon – notwithstanding the storm clouds, and they are significant – (that) indicates to me that we should immediately go into deficit.”

Market meltdown, Oct. 7: “I think there are probably some great buying opportunities emerging in the stock market as a consequence of all this panic.”

Deficit II, Oct. 11: “This is a ridiculous hypothetical scenario. What it really comes down to is you’re asking me to say what would Canada do if our economy went to hell in a handbasket. This government is running the economy so it can’t go to hell in a handbasket.”

Deficit III, Nov. 22: “These are, of course, the classic circumstances under which budgetary deficits are essential.”

Recession III, Nov. 29: “The financial crisis has become an economic crisis, and the world is entering an economic period unlike – and potentially as dangerous as – anything we have faced since 1929.”

Recession IV, Dec. 15: “The truth is, I’ve never seen such uncertainty in terms of looking forward to the future …. I’m very worried about the Canadian economy.”

But the CP forgot this little gem from Harper’s October 14th op-ed in the Toronto Star:

“We’ll never go back into deficit.”

To me, this quote, coupled with the farce that was the economic statement, sum up all of Harper’s economic messaging. It says that, despite being an economist (he has a BA and MA in economics), Harper really had/has no idea what to do with the ailing Canadian economy. For quite awhile there was talk of an eventual market meltdown, that the market had ballooned beyond anything imaginable and needed to be brought back down to reality. Throughout this growing economic mess he moved from “there’s nothing to worry about,” to “THE SKY IS FALLING!!!!”

It really is a testament to the lack of good Canadian political leadership that Harper has not been politically massacred because of his lack of movement on the economy and his mixed messaging. Remember how foolish John McCain looked when, way back in September, he said, “the fundamentals of our economy are still strong”? Why has Harper not suffered the same fate?

It’s rather obvious that I have no confidence in the Harper government’s ability to manage the economy. Not only do they put political gamesmanship above the needs of Canadians (see November economic statement), but, sorry to repeat myself, but the mixed messaging they’ve employed clearly shows that they didn’t know what to do at first. Why should you and I believe they do now?

One last reason why I don’t trust the Conservatives with my money: they’re not the ‘fiscal conservatives’ that they propose to be. In fact, the Conservatives have the dubious distinction of being the biggest spending government in Canadian history. And for what? I honestly cannot think of more than one new public policy program the Conservatives have implemented. The only program I can think of is the Canada First Defence Program. Well, woo hoo. That’s just great. They haven’t signed any agreements to send more money on health care, post-secondary education, Aboriginal people, or social programs in general. Where the hell has all of that money gone??

And THAT is the real reason why I’m not look forward to Tuesday’s budget. I fear that after the $34 billion is funnelled out, there will be nothing to show for it.

Michael Ignatieff made a good point the other day. This budget and this economic downturn has given us an opportunity to stimulate our economy (an idea I’m still not all that fond of) to refocus and build for the future. The Harper government spent the first three months of its new mandate pissing around and playing politics; only following its near-death experience did it finally ‘get serious.’ On Tuesday, I think you’re going to see a lot of money for ailing industries (like the auto sector), big tax cuts (bet they wish they hadn’t cut the GST by 2% now), and some, but not nearly enough, to build a greener economy or more low-income housing.

In other words: spending billions for the sake of pretending to ‘do something,’ with the end result being a big deficit and nothing that benefits Canadians.

UPDATE: Apparently the SK Party, too, has decided to flex its ‘fiscal conservative’ muscles. Too bad that it, too, is spending more money than its predecessor – a socialist government. You’ve gotta love hypocrisy.

Okay, I lied. ONE more day, and ONLY one more day about American politics. Here are a bunch of links to some post-inauguration observations. Enjoy.

Helen Thomas, THE White House reporter, states her first impressions of President Obama.

Politico gives seven good reasons why being a little skeptical of Obama’s big plans isn’t such a bad thing.

A summary of what Obama accomplished today.

Vanity Fair grades Obama’s first day on the job (and no, I do not normally get my political information/commentary from Vanity Fair. I found this article by way of a link).

Oh no! Obama is turning every day into Casual Day!

The blogosphere is quite excited about the new White House website. And how ’bout that section on women’s rights? Now THAT is change I can believe in.

I want a cool scavenger hunt in the White House that combines history and fun! But I could definitely do without the Jonas Brothers as the final ‘find.’ Ick.

Somebody has already written an oath that Chief Justice John Roberts should take.

The ten Bush executive order that should be overturned ASAP.

Sure Obama is better than Bush. But is ‘better than Bush’ good enough?

Some good news for Obama on the foreign policy front.

The presidential oath is administered again – just in case.

A slideshow of Obama behind-the-scenes on Inauguration Day.

The Bush twins give Sasha and Malia some advice.

A letter from Bush to Obama. Sort of (apparently the actual letter Bush left to Obama was addressed as: ‘To: 44; From: 43).

I am really going to try and make this my last post on ‘American politics’ for awhile. Next week the Conservatives are going to be releasing the most important Canadian budget in over 15 years (the last significant budget being that delivered by Paul Martin following the Liberals’ rise to power in 1993), we’ll see Michael Ignatieff as the Opposition Leader, find out what happened to the ‘coalition,’ (I think it’s deader than dead) and see how Harper reacts to the knew North American political climate created by President Obama’s inauguration. And later this week the Riders will be making a couple of announcements about key free agent signings and coaching changes (May can’t come soon enough!).

But before I turn my attention back to all things Canadian, I wanted to share my thoughts on today’s inauguration.

First, I LOVED First Lady Michelle Obama’s fashion choices. I’m not one to read a whole lot into the significance of what designer was chosen because I think she has a much more important role than that of a fashion icon, but I thought her choices were inspired. Enough said.

Second, following the flubbing of the presidential oath, I silently wondered if Obama was truly sworn in and could actually be president. I thought they might have had to redo the oath, but it turns out that Obama became president at 12 noon EST and would have no matter what.

Third, I thought the ‘Air and Simple Gifts’ selection performed by the amazing and incomparable Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello), along with clarinettist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriello Montero was stunning. I loved the interplay between the violin and cello, and it was wonderful to see the joy on all of the performer’s faces as they performed. Personally, I would have liked the clarient to be a little more prominent throughout the pieces, as I thought the textures of the score covered it too much. But John Williams composed a beautiful and memorable arrangement of the well-known American folk song. Aaron Copland would have been proud, I think.

Fourth, I really liked the poem that Elizabeth Alexander wrote and read. My favourite image was this one: “All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.” But my favourite lines were the last two: “In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.” The poem was simple and straightforward, yet all-encompassing of the American experience.

Fifth, the inaugaral address. It was good, but a little odd. Odd because it rarely mentioned the word ‘change,’ as pointed out by the New York Times (they have a fun little blog devoted to the speech, which features the comments of former presidential speechwriters), and odd because it was not inspired. At first I thought it was rather depressing, but after some reflection, the best words I can think of to describe it are tempered and measured. It talked of the sacrifices Americans are going to have to make to return the country to its former greatness. It talked of the myriad of challenges that Americans face, but that the American spirit will triumph. Ah, the trappings of American exceptionalism, always present even in a time of crisis. In the end, though, it was historic because of what Obama represents, not for what was said. If he’s re-elected in four years’ time, I think we’ll hear a ‘real’ Obama speech.

My first favourite part was the following paragraphs, particularly the bolded parts:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Why these paragraphs? Because they go against everything the Bush administration stood for. And the cameras focused on GW Bush at the same time. Oh, the irony.

My second favourite part:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

The Huffington Post said Obama was admonishing Americans to “grow up.” I couldn’t help but think that same admonition should be given to his Canadian counterparts.

Six, the best part of the inauguaration was the benediction, and not because it meant the whole thing was over. I missed the Rick Warren bit (thank goodness because the man is one of those contradictory Christians, a thought I’ll need to expand on at some other point in time; to think I started reading ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ at one point), but I heard Rev. Joseph Lowery, and the man stole the show. The last couple of lines summed up what today signified more than anything else:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Amen.

I feel the need to amend my previous post about Barack Obama.

I do understand the hype to a point. It is a great and wonderful day for all of the people of America. They have rid themselves of a man who will probably go down in history as one of the worst American presidents in history, and the worst of the modern era. Furthermore, and more to the point, an African-American will take the oath of office for the first time ever. There is certainly much to be said about this historic moment and what it means for America.

My goal with my last post was not to say that I dislike Barack Obama. I do not. He is a very intelligent man who bears the unrealistic dreams of a nation desperate for any shred of hope it can find. However, I do not think that he was the best man for the job. And while he is being held up as a symbol to the African-American community, and rightfully so, there needs to be more reasoned discussion as to what his election actually means. Let me expand on these points.

First, I have made it no secret that I supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidacy. I am, of course, slightly biased in my analysis because of this, but I think it is still fair to ask whether or not Obama will be an effective president. This critique of Obama comes from a policy standpoint. I did not, and still do not, think that Obama was the right Democratic candidate because he does not have a strong policy-making background at the national level. However, this does not mean that I hope he fails. I do hope he succeeds.

Second, at this point, Obama is more of an image than anything else. He represents the triumph of African-Americans by taking this most revered office, and he should. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to see a person of my skin colour becoming the most powerful person in the world a mere 40 years after the Civil Right movement in the United States. I can only think that it would be moving, heartwarming and inspiring, adjectives that I’m sure pale in comparison to the actual feelings African-Americans have right now. There is no question that Obama’s importance as a racial figure is unparalleled, only rivalling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having said that, Obama’s image goes far beyond being an African-American president. He is looked upon as a physical symbol of change and hope in terms of the way government operates, the global image of America and bipartisanship in the US . This image is what I struggle with.

I really do not think Obama will have the profound effect on political culture that Americans seek. The US is a country still very much divided. Even though John McCain lost the election in an electoral college landslide (365-173), he still took 45.7% of the popular vote, compared to Obama’s 52.9%. Furthermore, some states were decided by less than a couple of thousand votes.

These numbers tell us something that no one talks about. I truly believe that Obama won more because of his ability to mobilize the Democratic vote than because of his message of change.

What does this mean? It means that Americans have to be careful. CNN commentator David Geffen made an important statement this evening, one I wish I would have written down. He basically said that Americans should not go forward constantly congratulating themselves and thinking that Obama’s election solves everything. I agree, and have thought the same thing before and since his election. This speaks to the expectations surrounding Obama. No other president in history has faced as much pressure as Obama has. No one. And Americans are deluding themselves if they think that the only way to go from here is up. They have much work ahead of them. Repairing their international relationships, reviving the country’s economy and mending the blue/red state divide are tasks that are going to take more work than Obama simply swearing the oath at noon tomorrow. Furthermore, Obama’s election represents progress in racial relations in the US, but there is still much to do. And we in Canada would be wise to no longer look down our noses at the US in this respect; when we elect our first Aboriginal prime minister, then we can compare notes.

Finally, I think my problem with the constant attention on the US inauguration is partly because of Canadian apathy toward its own politicians. I wish we would take our enthusiasm for American politics and channel it towards our own. I bet that if you took a poll tomorrow and asked Canadians who was the new president of the US and who is the prime minister of Canada, you would find that more people know who the American president is than know who is their own prime minister. We cannot compare our politics to the US because our systems and our political cultures are so vastly different. But right now, I wish we cared as much about our politics as Americans care about theirs.

So, will Obama have a positive effect on the US? Absolutely – he already has. But will he have the effect Americans desire?

I doubt it. But I hope I’m wrong.

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