Friday, October 10, 2014

Canadian Centralization and American dysfunction

So there are significant differences between Canada and the United States today. Our cultures are certainly similar. We like the same movies, most of the same music. There truly are few things that separate us from one another.

But politics and policy certainly are.

Canada has socialized medicine, a single-payer system to use the American parlance. America has Obamacare, a gigantic extension of the private insurance system.

Canada loves hockey. America loves football.

In Canada, social issues are trumped by economic arguments. In America, economic arguments are flat out obscured by social ones.

American spent over a trillion dollars bailing out its banks. Canada, zero dollars. Canadian banks were not big buyers of the dangerous derivatives American banks were so endangered by.

Congress hasn't passed a bill of real import since 2009. Meanwhile, Canada's parliament has worked well. From the perspective of completing work, there can be no question that much has gotten done. With a majority government, Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has accomplished many of their goals. They've altered justice, immigration and environmental policies. (Whether you think they're laudable goals, or even sensible ones for that matter, is questionable, but we won't get into that here...)

Of course, with a majority government, Canada basically has an elected dictatorship until the next election. As long as the Prime Minister is able to secure his party's votes, he is practically guaranteed legislative success. This is a far cry from America's checks-and-balances obsessed notion that every bill should pass both houses and be agreed to by the President. How often does one party control all three? A majority government certainly seems more effective, despite being somewhat less democratic.

One interesting event occurred last month that underscores the differences between Canadian politics and American politics perhaps more simply than others.

The New Democratic Party, Canada's "socialist" political organization, announced that it now supports free trade with South Korea. The NDP, traditionally the voice of the left and specifically, labour (with an emphatic "u") is now going against its union base and supporting free trade in this case. In 1984 there was just one party, the Conservatives, that supported free trade. Now all three major parties in Canada support it. Now it's easy to say that this is just another example of the world -- and Canada specifically -- moving further right. And there is something to that. More conservative policies are accepted as dogma in many places now than in recent memory.

Yet, this is also representative of something else. In no other time have Canada's three major political parties agreed on so much. Free trade, a single-payer medical system, humanitarian aid to Africa. Even gay marriage is no longer an issue here. Of course there is discord about Canadian jets assisting American ones in attacking ISIS in Iraq, but these arguments are more echoes of Canada's rich peacekeeping past than fervent policy disagreements.

How stark is the Canadian contrast to the United States? Well, in the U.S., the two major parties and their supporters can't even agree on evolution or climate change as concepts. There isn't far to go from there.

Now much of this apparent agreement between Canada's parties and the efficiency of its politics has more to do with its political system than its political opinions. This is probably true.

But nonetheless, Canada should stand as an example to our American friends. A low, and apparently soon-to-be-extinguished budget deficit, agreement on most basic issues (environmental policy a clear exception among a few others), low unemployment and high labour participation, much lower per-person healthcare costs and a longer life expectancy are just a few things Canada has over the U.S. And anyone who says that our more effective political system has nothing to do with is just nuts.

The polarization of American politics is a disease. It is one that Canada has largely avoided these last twenty years.

Maybe it's time to stop demonizing the centralized, majority-driven political system of Canada and embrace some of its edicts. American politics is so broken after all -- why not give it a try?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sure Congress Sucks. But where's the guts?

Barack Obama has reason to feel exhausted. Upon his election, he was immediately met with a Republican opposition bent on doing all it could to deprive America's great 2008 hope of any political action for his policy goals. The belief that he could bring the parties together and single-handedly get America back to some imaginary promised land was quickly dashed.

After using just about all his enormous political capital in 2009 to pass a healthcare reform law, he has done practically nothing since. Congress has a great deal of responsibility here of course. Without question, they are the ones who should be pushing the President to act by approaching the other side of the aisle with real, practical policy plans. They should negotiate. They should horse trade. And then they should send the President a bill to sign, however imperfect.

But here is where Mr. Obama became his own worst enemy. After the divisive battles of 2009-10 over healthcare and government bail outs, he ensconced himself in a very thick veil of indecisiveness.

He has since refused to take the lead on any other policy pushes. Sure, he made speeches from the Rose Garden. He met with the crazy Republicans after they'd already decided that they don't like him and that the concepts of debt, default, and currency strength are too complex to factor into their thinking on government finance. He speaks boldly in States of the Union speeches.

But, in reality, he simply doesn't take definitive stances. He says that action is required, but not specifically what. He says that the result should be "a stronger middle class" or "a better America", but he doesn't say what that would really look like. On foreign policy, his overly-intellectualized meandering from prescription to prescription without specifics or announcing any definitive strategic principles makes the opposition's job easy.

He simply worries too much about his opposition and what they will use to attack him. As a result, he spends more time avoiding doing things than he does doing the things he should.

He should stop thinking about all the people that don't like him and what they might say when they attack him. They're going to do that no matter what he does.

He should announce his principles and specify exactly what he wants. He should meet with Congress about his plans and push to get it done. It should be pragmatic. It should be reasonable.

And for once, maybe it should be aggressive. Since 2009, we haven't seen that.

This Obama is a wimp. On Syria, on ISIS, on Russia and with his own Congress. He only has a little more than two years of governing left. Hopefully he decides not to waste them like he has the last five. Maybe then he could actually achieve some of the things we all hoped he could five years ago.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dark endings. Hannibal and True Detective - Spoilers too.

Unlike many, it took me awhile to catch up on a number of the shows I was watching.

Two of them were HBO's True Detective and NBC's Hannibal.

Maybe it was watching them around the same time -- binge watching over this last weekend, that is -- that makes me feel that there was a real similarity between these shows. Nothing specific of course, but it made me think that maybe there was some kind of increasingly common thread in TV shows. We'll call it (to steal from a friend who said something similar): "shows that you have to shower after watching."

These are some real creepy television programs out there right now and these are two of the best examples.

True Detective's ending with Matthew McConaghey's final, out-of-hospital soliloquy after a knock-down climax of headbutting and gun shots, and the entire series' general weird uncertainness throughout was both unnerving and fascinating.

True Detective was really an example of why this is the golden age of television. This is a show that never would've been made ten years ago. Honestly, when Survivor first debuted and reality TV took over broadcast networks, I thought that that low-production, crap, bullshit TV was going to be the end of television as we knew it. those fears were justified it turned out, just not in the way I thought.

It turns out that good writers just went to cable, where large corporations could afford to invest (for an audience that pays extra usually of course) in big budgets and actual - you know - writers.

The type of risks that this has enabled TV writers to take -- Game of Thrones' violence, Breaking Bad and Dexter's anti-heroes and True Detective's depressing weirdness are all examples of the (so far) culmination of this new reality. Cable TV is just freakin' killer (no pun intended.)

Hannibal isn't a cable show -- but it might as well be. Rooted in the classic Silence of the Lambs story, this prequel is one of my favourites. Smart, witty, gory and disturbing; it strikes a great balance between the old story and its new one. Oh, and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter) is pretty much just pure awesome.

Though the end of the second season was a little disappointing. Of course the inevitable Hannibal versus Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) showdown was great, but the writer's use of the whole Alanna Bloom character just lost all focus this season. And with her being tossed out a window at the end, and the accompanying uncertainty of her return next season, we'll see if they just let it be. 

The Bloom character started off as Will Graham's root in reality in season one. She was the one person that always believed in him and connected with him just as much as he could never connect with anyone else. It was a great dynamic in season one. But that just disappeared between the first finale and season two, with her quickly becoming a secondary -- and frequently annoyingly whiny character. I hope they just leave her for dead in the rain in the front of Hannibal's house. What a waste of a good character though.

Anyways, this is my first attempt at TV show blogging. We'll see if I can get better at it.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

A new start...

Well, after giving up on blogging for quite awhile, I've decided to bring this page back. Its been an interesting couple of years. A new job, much travelling, several different projects and ever present thesis work has made life pretty hectic. But I'm excited to start this again.

But the new blog won't be the same.

I want to try to do something a little different this time.

I am going to expand my opinionated rants from just bitching and prognosticating about American politics to opinionated rants and bitching about television shows, music, and really whatever else I feel like. 

Hopefully I'm not the only one that enjoys it, but if so, oh well.

So if anyone is out there, stay tuned. I will be posting, at minimum, weekly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Back to the GOP's Greatest Hits...

Republicans have tried a variety of issues as wedges against President Obama.

First it was the economy. The argument didn't stick-- it's improving. And Republican policies favour the rich over the struggling.

Next it was healthcare-- that didn't work because the GOP has no reasonable alternative policy to pitch.

Then it was gay rights -- that didn't work because more Americans support marriage equality now than oppose it.

Then it was religion and birth control -- didn't work because American women (and some men) aren't stupid.

Now, they're bringing back one of their "greatest" hits. 

Race. That's right, did you happen to notice that the president is black?

Great... Just. Great.

Tonight on the FOX show "Hannity" -- yeah, the one hosted by Sean Hannity, the guy on FOX who makes Sarah Palin look like a constitutional scholar -- they're releasing the full tape of then student-advocate Obama apparently defending a radical African American academic tied to the now infamous Reverend Wright (remember him?). 

So now, I guess, the uber-conservatives in America are back to calling Obama an anti-white radical fascist-socialist-communist. How did that work out in '08 again?

Originally, I found their desperation in the face of a fractured primary system and messy convention somewhat pitiful. Now it's just getting sad. 
 

I'm sure at some point in their analysis of the speech, Hannity and his friends will point out that Obama used secret radical-fascist-socialist-racist-communist code words like "equality", "freedom", "progress", "diversity" and "reason" that are designed to signal the global Chinese, North Korean, Iranian, South American, and general dark-skinned people's revolution against Christ, America and apple pies.

Be afraid, America, be very afraid. Obama's not like most Americans... He's black/dangerous don't you know?


This election was supposed to be about how Republicans were going to "take back" America. And, early on, they seemed to have a great chance at it. 

Now, it seems, it's just turning into "a list of reasons not to vote for the GOP." Bring on the greatest hits. Bring on four more years. This will back-fire. Quick.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mitt, Newt, and the Elephant in the Room

Something strange is going on.

No, I don't mean Newt Gingrich's collapse. That was inevitable. You can't campaign on vitriol and poisonous anger for longer than a couple of weeks. People just get tired of it. And no, despite what may happen in this primary process, Newt will never be the nominee. If you doubt that, you need to call someone to drive you home from work. Clearly, you're either drunk or stoned.

But something else is strange. Something about Mitt Romney.

What benefited Newt Gingrich most up until now is Mitt Romney. Sure, conservatives aren't really sure he's one of them and they rebelled -- well sorta. He isn't a real Tea Partier either. They rebelled, at least until Florida. Romney's problem is more fundamental than any of these institutional issues though.

That's the strange thing that Republicans are starting to realize.

Mitt Romney is proving to be a bad candidate. Whether it's the oft-misquoted line "I like to fire people" or his recent "I am not overly concerned about the very poor", this is a man who is proving to be, to put it kindly, out of touch. He seems like a man incapable of doing what effective politicians can do: speak to ordinary Americans and connect to them on their level.

I understand why Mitt Romney doesn't really care about the very poor, I mean the guy made $20m last year. But isn't the issue whether he ever should of even thought about saying so?
Romney's problem, it seems, is the impromptu conversation. When he's forced to improvise, he gets himself into trouble. And that, for a Republican field inching closer and closer to convention is a problem that is only going to get worse as focus is more and more concentrated on the front-runner.

This fact is becoming clearer by the day. Just look at yesterday's National Review piece by Mark Steyn.

So, what is the solution for the Republican Party?

Let me list three possibilities in order of probability.

First, the GOP faithful could fall in line. This is by far the most probable outcome. The party could, after Super Tuesday unite (relatively speaking) behind Mitt Romney and his anti-whoever-is-in-his-way SuperPAC ads and quietly encourage the candidate and his staff to pick up their game as he cruises toward a one-on-one against the disciplined and capable campaign of Barack Obama.

But this is a probability not without pitfalls. First, there is the issue of party cohesiveness. With all of these doubts surfacing (often given a face by Newt Gingrich -- and, sooner rather than later, likely Rick Santorum), Republicans have to be wondering whether it's worth turning out to really back this guy or not. 

Second, there is the problem of Gingrich. Without question there will, after any kind of "falling in line", remain a segment of the party, however large, supporting either Gingrich, Paul or Santorum. How can they be integrated into the party's organizing machine when all of these doubts about Romney's effectiveness remain. It's hard to believe that the party wouldn't suffer a Goldwater-style meltdown at the polls if some kind of real of grudgingly enthusiastic organizational harmony between these current adversaries isn't achieved. But as long as Romney looks weak, that's unlikely to occur.

And this eventuality wouldn't force Romney to improve his campaign messaging before facing the President. A loss would almost certainly be the result.

Next on the list of possibilities is that Romney will up his game and answer these questions in the next couple of months. He could hone his ad-lib skills, learn  to commiserate and to communicate more effectively with the American people and unite most of the party apparatus behind him.

Is this likely though?
Romney has been campaigning for the better part of six years now. He has done countless interviews, town halls, debates, and appearances. If he hasn't been able to fix these issues by now, will he ever? 

Certainly, this is the optimal outcome if you're looking to beat President Obama.

Finally, there's the crazy idea. It's highly unlikely, but it must be mentioned.

Could the Republicans pick someone else entirely? 

Think about it. Assume for a moment that, as Mark Steyn put it yesterday, Romney remains at best "a benevolent patrician" in the minds of Republican  voters. Assume that he continues to suffer from occasional Joe Biden-like "foot-in-mouth disease." His negative numbers amongst election-deciding independents grows still greater (they've already gone up 13 points in the last two months) and questions about his candidacy grow louder still.

This could result in a resolution-less primary process. With proportional representation, Romney could be denied the 50% needed in many states to really pull-away in delegate count. It's possible. Say Gingrich stays at 20-25%, Paul remains at his seemingly ever present 12-15% and Santorum sticks around with another 15% of his own. Romney likely won't earn the delegates needed to win the nomination until June at that rate -- if at all. After all, in Florida 38% of Republicans said they'd like somebody else.

It's at this possibility that I'll dive off the cliff with a huge "what-if". 

What if, by June or July, these doubts are louder and still no one has the command of enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot? Do GOP power brokers seek to forestall a Goldwaterian-style collapse and nominate someone who can unite the divided GOP and credibly claim that he (or she) has superior messaging skills to Romney while still bringing teapartiers and "true" conservatives together?

No. Sarah Palin, I'm not talking about you. Don't even try it.

But could Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, or maybe even the currently embattled Haley Barbour do it? If, by this point, Romney is weak enough (and he'd have to be for this to even be a possibility), why not?

I know it's crazy. But if you're a Republican that really really wants to beat Obama -- and that's perhaps the one thing that they all clearly want -- is it really that far-fetched?

That's the elephant in the room. Inevitable loss. If Romney can't convince the majority of his party that he's put these gaffes behind him and can truly relate "true" conservative principles to Americans in an effective way and beat President Obama, he may have to watch his back.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Tim Thomas Showing Why The Tea Party Sucks

As I've indicated a few times in the past, I am Canadian. 

And it isn't often I have the chance to write something about the two things I love the most (well, in addition to beer and igloos of course): Hockey and Politics.
Today, Tim Thomas, the incredibly talented and hard-working goaltender of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins refused to attend the traditional ceremony celebrating their 2011 win at the White House.

Now Thomas has yet to announce his reason, so maybe I'm off, but based on the fact that he apparently once listed Glenn Beck on his profile of "people with whom he'd most like to have lunch ", we can assume it's a little political. 

I'm gonna assume that Thomas is taking a cue from Mr. Beck and the Tea Partiers.

Of course, Mr. Thomas, as an American citizen (glad he's not one of ours by the way!), is free to do this. Period. The First Amendment protects his right to express himself -- or not. That's definite.

But having the right to do something doesn't mean it's necessarily good, does it?

Tim Thomas is a kick-ass goalie. He should stick to that.
That's why the Tea Party is so hard to like, isn't it?

They say that it is not they, but President Obama, that is subverting the Constitution. Guys like Glenn Beck say that they are the "real" Americans, protecting its traditional ideas from an Obama-led liberal onslaught.

Yet Beck and the Tea Partiers (and Mr. Thomas) forget something important when they undertake protest in their particular ways. The American Constitution is based on a basic idea: that tyranny can be prevented by conducting cogent discussion and debate over issues, that powers are checked and balanced and  that democratic elections decide who's in power.

But then the Tea Partiers - the purported defenders of the Constitution go out and call President Obama names and say he wasn't born in America and... refuse to respect the office of the Presidency enough to go for an official visit. Not exactly cogent debate, not exactly what the Founders envisioned I think.

This is why their support is plumetting. Deep down, most Americans find it distasteful. And increasingly disingenuous.

The Tea Party, with actions like those of Tim Thomas -- I hate to say it, cause he's a kick-ass goalie -- just make it harder for reasonable people to like them.

You can see that they're angry, you can see that they care about their country. You can even (Mr. Beck aside for a moment) understand some of their arguments. But, it's the way that they do things. The way that they "protest" that reminds us all of the worst potentialities ever-present in politics. It reminds us of an angry (maybe slightly racist) mob.

The Constitution gives you the right to disagree. It doesn't give you the right to act like a bratty douchebag (not to mention, distract your whole team for at least 48 hours.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tea Has Gone Cold.

There have been many watershed moments in the history of American political movements. In 1932, Americans decided en-masse that they wanted nothing more to do with hands-off economic policies. In 1952, a more radical group of Republicans, after failing to nominate Robert Taft, became inflamed against their own party establishment and began to seek change. In 1994, Americans embraced conservative Republicans and gave them the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades. In 2010, resistance to President Obama's leadership crystallized in the Tea Party movement. But, along with these important moments come the other kind. The type that end a movement. 


That moment came today for the Tea Party. After a week-long battle with Democrats, the President, and fellow Republicans on the two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday; Speaker John Boehner and his caucus caved. 


After supposedly agreeing to the two-month extension last Saturday, Speaker Boehner reversed course Sunday, citing "economic uncertainty" as his reason for scuttling the last-minute deal. It was too short-term, he said. In fact, he retracted his endorsement of the plan for one simple reason: his caucus, particularly the 60-plus Tea Party-backed freshmen in his party, were against it.


Now, first I'd like to say that this isn't Boehner's fault. He's doing his best in an impossible situation. He faces an insurgent group of house members -- likely led by "but-I-wanna-be-Speaker" Eric Cantor, that just don't care about political or economic reality. They live in a black-and-white world where ideology is king. And that's the issue. That's why they're finished.


Politics in a democracy is about pragmatism. It's about ugly compromises and occasionally subverting your own ideological impulses for the good of the majority of the people that you represent. No law is perfect (especially lately) and no law pleases everyone. But Tea Partiers don't see that. All they believe in is a perverse ideology, based not on any true American idea (though they talk enough about "the founders"), but on an absolutist laissez faire model of government that has never, could never, and will never work in America or anywhere else. And anything that challenges that view of the world -- even if it will improve things for the vast majority of people -- for them, is bad. Period. 


For tea partiers, it's clear cut. All taxes are bad. All spending is bad. And all government is bad. There. Done.  


Except, it seems, if a tax cut disproportionately helps ordinary Americans. Because that's the crux of their ideology. They think that it's the rich that should benefit from their smaller government and that that's how economies are built. But that isn't true. And Americans know it.


And that's why this marks the beginning of the end of the Tea Party. Their numbers have already been declining in national polls and have been for quite some time, but this is the point of no return because now there can be no doubt: even when confronted by a situation where just about everyone agreed, they wouldn't compromise their ideological rigidity. Political movements don't recover from that.


Americans have realized that this group of freshmen House members is simply out of their depth. Their ideologically infused intransigence blinds them to reality. Even when it's obvious to just about everyone else.


Americans have just realized that the Tea Party isn't about them. It probably never was. It's about a rigid ideology.


The tea has gone cold. America is ready to throw it out. Good riddance. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gingrichian Logic

So on Sunday, Newt Gingrich was on Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer defending his newest talking point, brought to light in Thursday's debate in Sioux City, that judicial decisions should be directly reviewable by Congress. Essentially, Gingrich argued that the Congress should be able to ignore judicial decisions and subpoena justices, by force if necessary, and drag them before it to "explain themselves" when the two are in disagreement.

Now put aside for a moment the sheer lunacy and danger of his argument. Obviously, this would mean an even more politicized judiciary, a more distracted congress and, oh yeah, it goes against the Constitution's description of co-equal branches and the separation of powers. Not to mention the fact that this would mean witch hunts each and every time the House changed hands in elections.

Think, for a moment, about the logic Gingrich is employing. In a rare moment of succinct debating, Gingrich said Thursday night that "the people's representatives" should essentially be more important than some "unelected judge". Okay. So there it is: the will of the people's elected representatives should trump that of America's evil robed appointees.

So what about the numerous court challenges to the Affordable Care Act that Republicans are so high on? Doesn't that mean that Newt must be against them? After all, Congress passed "Obamacare" fair and square. Since Congress represents the people, by Gingrich's own logic, shouldn't they and only they be the ones to repeal it? Even if the majority of Americans are against it, shouldn't Congress do the fixing? Shouldn't Gingrich come out against these challenges if he is truly so determined that the people's elected representatives be above all others?

The answer he would give is, of course, no. Because the truth is that Gingrich is just another hypocrite whose ideas -- once again as we have become accustomed with Newt, when taken to their logical conclusion, MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong and he will in fact support the dropping of these appeals by the states that have made them. 

I hope that someone will ask him these questions. His answers would just further the realization already gradually being reached by Republicans everywhere. This guy is not an intellectual. His ideas are not new and exciting. They are just more of the pompous hypocritical windbaggery with which Newt is already so synonymous. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens



One of the great intellects and one of the bravest wits of his generation has passed away. A brilliant writer, a great thinker, and a man unafraid to say what he believed no matter what others thought or said about him.


http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/christopher-hitchens