Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Let’s dream a bigger dream, Yes People

I like the Yes People. Who wouldn’t? They’ve got a fantastically daring vision, and they’re unafraid to upset the status quo in favour of creating a society that’s more just. They seem like builders. With all their zeal to engage the world as a blank slate rather than an inherited order, I think I’d like most Yes People quite a lot.

It’s just too bad the size of their dream is so small.

Building a new, independent state is no small feat, but it is a small, unradical and unprogressive dream. The Westphalian nation-state – really? An old-fogey fetish that fortifies and glorifies an ancient concept of ethnicity, defining itself against others, dividing itself from common cause across many nations? Why are Yes People, from Scotland to Quebec to Catalonia, so obsessed with gifting the world another thing as horrible as this?

It seems funny. Yes People express a fantastic, radical positivity about what politics ought to be, but the anachronistic solution of nationalism is just so poor. Recognising that the old order is corrupt and elitist and impossibly out of touch is one thing – the prospect of carving out a unique island of self-reliant justice, though, smells like something else.

Nationalism, but the good kind

The coincidence of nationalism and social democratic optimism has always seemed uncomfortable to me. Because to choose the former as a means of achieving the latter does suggest something contradictory, and a bit awful – that one people are actually inherently more just than another. That the borders once drawn up by monarchs, generals and ancient elites continue to be valid boundaries for whole ways of thinking and looking at the world. While Yes People are relentlessly progressive in some senses, they’re also basing the separatist project on the implicit assumption that those across the border aren’t capable partners in making a fairer world. We, the exclusive we, are fairer by design.

If that itself sounds unfair, I’d welcome the counterargument. To me, the big positive dream has to be bigger than drawing new lines between ourselves in the naive hope that our most familiar neighbours are fairer than the rest – the big positive dream is to say that borders themselves represent the worst of the old world, and that something more interdependent, and more social, and more purely civic can be built on top of the kingdoms of centuries gone by. Let’s get a dream going that we can all rally round, regardless of race, language or geography.

Dreaming bigger dreams

What are some examples? The big one that Yes People recognise is that Westminster itself is deeply, deeply flawed. I mean deeply. It’s upper house is a gaggle of unelected partisan hacks and millionaire donors. It seems to govern for the whole country on odd days and for London and the South East on even days. And, when political crises hit (like, the very Scottish referendum itself), it suddenly lurches planlessly into ad hoc distributions of powers, spraying them against the squeaky wheel in a mad, oily, last-minute panic. Let’s be honest – the Mother of All Parliaments is a letch and a dunce and it needs a good kick up the backside.

So a fairer, federal, devolved, de-Westminsterised country is in order. Let’s do it! We can federalise the country into English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with regional authorities commanding meaty constitutional powers. We can decimate the Lords (not literally – we’re not monsters, after all) by cutting the upper house to a tenth of its size and ensuring all future members are elected by region – mixed-member constituencies, shall we? We can cut the Commons by half, too, since half their work will be run by the regions, and we could field out half the civil service to the regions as well. Bring authority as close to people as you can, draw it up in a written constitution, and proceed as a country that works as a proper, future-orientated democratic concert of powers – not as a chew-toy for the Bullingdon Club.

That kind of reform sounds like a big, mad,impossible dream. But a dream, I think, that’s suitably big for the energies of the Yes People.

Some think that the UK is just an irredeemable thing, and that carving ourselves into ethno-bits is the best approach for everyone. George Monbiot, in classic contrarian form, is one English advocate of Yes, though he too is dreaming the smaller dream. In wondering how a modern, independent Scotland might vote in a hypothetical referendum to join the UK, he says that no nation in any healthy condition would ever volunteer to cede power to a larger polity. I’m a social democratic pro-European, so I obviously think he’s missed a pretty big point. Just as I want the UK to stay together, I do want the UK to then also plunge more deeply into the European system – not because we’re a desperate country, and not because I like the EPP politics of Barroso and Juncker, but because Europe needs more social democrats. We’re obliged not to simply fold our arms, slink off and leave Brussels to it – and so I’d say the same to the Yes People. Get in. Muck about. Change things for the better, not the smaller.

If only CEOs were on the ballot…

My biggest fear about the big dreams of the Yes People is that the thrill of nationhood is the real driver, and that disenchantment with how the UK functions is just the cloth within which to couch a more basic, brute form of face-painted nationalism. Admittedly, there’s something a bit underwhelming about committing to long-haul constitutional reform of the UK, and indeed the whole of Europe, as compared with the sheer excitement of celebrating an Independence Day for its own sake.

But in a world where Toyota has more economic clout than the Czech Republic, Independence Days are increasingly expensive vanities. However unaccountable Westminster looks from here, transnational corporations are most certainly worse. Better off for people to pool our powers within a big, muscular, interdependent, multinational democracy than to cut ourselves into little bits – or it won’t just be the annoyances of a too-distant capital that will nudge at our local sensibilities, but the companies without capitals, able to bully and coerce the small states at will. United, as they say, we stand.

Going Real Proper-like Big

So, Yes People, let’s go bigger than Scotland. Let’s work to change the UK and the whole of the EU, as an active, confident member of each. Driving reform, forcing fairness, equality and investment in people, and pushing for a system that people are actually happy to vote for. Anyone who thinks it can’t be done, I hate to say, isn’t really a proper Yes Person at all.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , ,

Of babies and bathwater: how Harper might be undermining the monarchy

The Constitution? Unborn Queens? Fascinating stuff (do not insert a “said no one, ever” after that please). 

The scene unfolds thusly: Parliament recently approved a gender equity bill as regards which unelected English aristocrat may reign over us (such progressive times in which we live), that met little controversy or opposition – or even much reflection on what an independent country is doing suckling from the symbolic teat of a defunct empire.

The problem, according to a case presented out of Quebec by lawyer André Binette, is that passing a law abolishing primogeniture adds up to a Constitutional amendment, that requires provincial consents – and these processes were not followed.

The interesting point here to me (more than provincial relationships with the Crown, though that is of course a critical part of all this) is that the government’s argument seems to be that there are no changes to the nature of the “office of the Crown” proposed in this legislation – and Binette’s argument is that the person IS the office. You cannot change the process for nominating the person without proposing a change to the office.

I ain’t no constitutional lawyer (newsflash), but I think this makes things very interesting, and very problematic, for monarchists. If government gets its way, would it not set a precedent that, so long as the Office of the Crown retains its constitutional function, personnel changes within that office can be agreed within Parliament and without the provinces and without opening the Constitution? Could we not then decide in the HoC to effectively elect or appoint Canadian office holders to the position without a Constitutional amendment? Making our GGs our kings or queens, in one fell swoop?

If the answer to that is yes, then for once in my little old life, I’d like to see the government get its way on this.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , ,

“I didn’t know!” – the death throes of a desperate squirmer

The Conservatives are losing their favourite, time-tested tactic to reset public opinion: just say the word “sponsorship.”

For seven long years, anytime they could be criticised for ethical lapses, for cronyism and corruption, for pork and for secrecy (in a word, umm, always), they could simply refer back to “sponsorship” and be assured that the public would growl at horrific memories of Liberal sleaze, and we’d remind ourselves how grateful we should be that things are, at the very least, not that bad.

Except that they are. And you know that they are when a Prime Minister not only refutes something, not only ignores something, but says he “didn’t know about it.”

Paul Martin “didn’t know” about sponsorship. Jean Chrétien “didn’t know” either. The entire scandal was supposed to come down to the over-zealous shenanigans of backroom functionaries, whose fealty to their Party blinded them to fair play – and, in their fealty, they also knew better than to even tell their Party leaders anything about it. To protect them.

People see this as squirmery. For a leader to say he “didn’t know” about something, anything, absolutely reeks of it. Any politician volunteering that he is both ignorant and a poor manager will damage him, but he does it to protect him from the greater damage that the truth would inflict. And that missing truth is all that people see. 

No one believed that Chrétien “didn’t know,” or that Martin “didn’t know” about the actions of their own office. The Reformer/Conservatives didn’t believe it! For them, though, it’s now become nigh on impossible to trade on their old 2004 outrage, having themselves now sunk to having today’s Prime Minister, in all his micromanaging obsession, through his hawk-eyed economist’s lens, have to come out and say that he just “didn’t know.”

Outrage for sponsorship is no longer a tradeable commodity, desperate though Harper is to revert to familiar tactics. His TV address was effectively the very same speech he liked to give when he was Leader of the Opposition, eight, nine, even ten years ago: he’d like the Senate to be reformed, and believes Ottawa needs to be more transparent. 

After seven years in power, the Senate is worse, and transparency is markedly, shamefully poorer. And so, Stephen Harper’s ethical conundrum: the more he repeats his old adage about” demanding better,” the more Canadians actually will.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

New projects, new horizons

Hello, all you phenomenal followers of Polygonic, who’ve put up with both my obtuse rants and my long, long silences with absolute aplomb. Your stamina and support bends my actual mind.Image

I wanted to just update you on new projects (and, as the title suggests, new horizons as well… well, they were, at least last year…!)

Rather than blogging about politics lately, which seem to deteriorate into farce with or without me, I’ve been turning my attentions to writing about something I’m feeling more inspired by – travel.

Late last year, I undertook a long overland rail trip (and bus trip… and Lada trip…) from Hong Kong to London, passing through the Chinese provinces of Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang, before heading out to Kyrgyzstan, over to Uzbekistan, on through Kazakhstan and into southern Russia, before zipping back through Europe and beautiful (to me) Brixton, South London.

And I’m writing all about it! 

Which leaves me with two updates for you…. one is that Polygonic remains my politics blog for when the mood (typically one of exasperation and fury) strikes, but my blog specifically for the travelogue is A Eurasian Diary. It’s also on WordPress, and will feature the occasional pretty photo from the trip, videos, and excerpts from the book so far. And, on extraordinarily special occasions, poems about football.

The other update is that I’ve also got a pretty comprehensive photo album for the trip up on Flickr. Photos are organised by region, and are all annotated for your viewing pleasure…. Come and enjoy your face off.

With the book, I’m at roughly the halfway point, and I’ll eventually e-publish the completed version around August this year (all things going to plan!). But if you’d like to keep track of all that malarkey, read excerpts, or otherwise just witness my descent into rambling, head-up-arse, self-publishing pseudo-maniac, please do keep a note of the other blog, come say hi, and even sign up. Would be great to keep y’all on board.

Thanks folks :-) 

http://twitter.com/liamtyping

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Old Entish Soldier

Old Entish Soldier

Along the base of Emeishan in Sichuan Province, a network of forest trails connect temples, pavilions, and spots of tranquil contemplation (despite the heaving crowds!). This solitary figure continues to stand tall – though the tree has died, it’s a home to lots of other new life.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Alert: Rex Murphy disgruntled!

It’s been a while, folks! But on the eve of the NDP’s big conference, I had to just make a somewhat-related comment on Rex Murphy’s latest pontification on Tom Mulcair’s popularity conundrum. Which isn’t as much of a conundrum, or a crisis, as people will make out in the midst of the LPC race.

Rex’s musings on what Mulcair should and shouldn’t be doing can be found here:

http://www.cbc.ca/thenational/indepthanalysis/rexmurphy/story/2013/04/11/thenational-rexmurphy-081113.html

It seems to me he’d advise the Opposition Leader to try and have it both ways: come on out with bigger, bolder, more distinctive ideas – but at the same time don’t have ideas that are too big, or bold, or even distinctive.

On how to work a referendum, Murphy says that he “doesn’t get” 50%+1 as a democratic concept (it’s clearer to me than the idea of the Liberals’ “clear majority,” and much, much clearer a mandate than the plurality our government governs with). He doesn’t like Dutch Disease, for the same reason most neurotic patriots don’t like it – it smacks too much of a problem, and Canada doesn’t have problems! He thinks going after Harper is tired – what do you suggest? Don’t go after Harper, and thus actually become the “hermit” that you’re already seeing?

Anyone who thinks that Tom Mulcair is suffering because he has charisma issues has to remind themselves who got 39% in the last election. Mulcair knows that – and, for better or for worse, he emulates aspects of it. Just like Harper, he punches clearly on a discrete set of themes, and then goes tactically under the radar when it suits him.

You don’t have to love it, of course, but no one can say that isn’t a recipe for success in Canadian politics.

Filed under: Politics, , , , ,

The saddest days of Peter Van Loan

As a skateboard trick, it’s pretty rudimentary. As a perspective on democracy, though, Peter Van Loan’s 180 is downright sad.

It was seven years ago that the Liberals shut down debate on a budget bill and adjourned for the summer, forcing a forlorn Van Loan to his keyboard where he wrote a piece for his local Innisfil Enterprise entitled “My Saddest Day in the House of Commons So Far.”

“A major reason I became politically active was because many in my family (I’m Estonian) lost their lives, or freedom at the hands of the Soviets or Nazis. I believe our democracy is fragile, and something we must cherish and defend. Thursday, June 23, 2005 was a sad day for democracy in Canada.”

It almost makes you like the guy, until you realise he has mutated into a rancid farce of his former self, toking on the opiates of power too long, and now clouded from within by a shame he can only pray no one else notices.

We notice, Mr. Van Loan. Those saddest days just keep on coming.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Omnishambles: the Brits dump the F35s

It’s contagious

The Brits have made just as big a dog’s dinner out of the F35 file as the Harperites have.

Whereas Canadians are fond of the word “boondoggle” to describe the government’s hopeless mismanagement of money and priority, the term in the UK right now is “omnishambles.” Both are beautiful in their own special way. 

Boondoggles and omnishambles aside, the biggest difference in approaches to this file, unsurprisingly, is that Westminster have now admitted that the programme is simply not viable, and they’re now pulling a difficult u-turn. Ottawa, in contrast, hedges and hides and lies and pretends all is well, when it is blindingly obvious they have already gone much too far down this broken road.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18008171

How long will it be till the F35 programme itself is wound down? And will Peter MacKay still be posing in the cockpit when they fill it with mothballs?

Omnidoggles.

 

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

The case for an NPD-Q

A year, now, since Québec first crested the Big Orange Wave, and still, the NDP continue to thrive. It prompts a brand-new big idea: isn’t it time to build a provincial New Democratic Party in Québec?

Will six be enough for the thirsty masses?

There used to be one, though we’re forgiven to have forgotten. The federal party prompted a divorce from its wayward disciple (and forced a name change) years ago, as the provincial NDP-Q narrative became too nationalistic, its friends too unsavoury, and its aims too divergent from the English Canadian federal party.

Those conditions have changed. The NDP is no longer an English Canadian federal party. It’s a binational, bilingual, federal social democratic party that proves it can appeal directly to, and draw strength from, Quebecers. It’s the kind of party that many of us want the country to effectively be. And so?

And so, it’s a fool’s errand, some will say. Once you fracture the federalist vote between the provincial Liberals and a would-be high-profile NDP-Q, you give the Parti Québécois all the room in the world to dominate provincial politics for a generation and more. You virtually guarantee another referendum, and that’s just irresponsible.

Maybe. But I think that oversimplifies the complexities of Québec’s electoral landscape, and denies trends we’ve seen emerge in the sovereigntist camp itself, which is evolving towards several discrete left-right identities, manifest in distinct and new partisan agents. Can federalists be so bold?

Politics in three dimensions

Québec fascinates through its multidimensionality. You aren’t trapped within one of those false left-wing/right-wing 2D dichotomies, you’re also forced to consider your sovereigntist/federalist position. And your place in one spectrum need not have any bearing on your place in the other, creating all kinds of exotic creatures. Federalist socialists and separatist neoliberals might seem rare specimens, but they aren’t – they just don’t have their own parties.

This is changing, at least on the sovereigntists’ side. There are evolutions in how they self-identify. Québec federalists continue to organise as federalists, while the sovereigntists are beginning to organise as leftists, or rightists, or safe centrists. There’s no longer a sovereigntist coalition – hence, we witness the CAQ over there on your right, the PQ holding the fort left of centre, and QS on the chaise longue with the Karl Marx teddy bear.

Just a theory, but this partisan diversity may have emerged precisely because the Parti Quebecois stopped prioritising its sovereigntist identity, and started prioritising its identity as a broadly left/centre-left party. Something that could strip social democratic federalist votes away from the PLQ. It works – that happens. But the strategy will have angered Péquistes who wanted sovereignty front and centre – and it’s driven them to forge new parties, which can then only be organised and differentiated along distinctive left/right lines.

That Québec federalists continue to huddle together in uncomfortable left/right coalition might strike us as savvy and electorally advantageous. But it doesn’t appear to be working at the mo. The apparent fracturing of the sovereigntist vote isn’t hurting the PQ’s position – indeed, they are in safe majority territory. What can smart federalists do?

Play the Péquistes at their own game, and recognise that you can fight for soft nationalists and soft federalists at once. That’s what the Orange Wave was.

A New Democrat Backdraft

A provincial NDP could go to the student protests and say “We’re with you. You don’t have to go to Québec Solidaire to voice dissent against neoliberal policy, you can do it with us.” It could go to the provincial Liberals and say “most of you are more progressive than you let on. Come on, all you Mulcairs, come on in.” It could pull soft federalist social democrats back from the PQ as well as pulling support from the Liberals – something QS and CAQ aren’t in reach of doing. Besides, the very novelty of a provincial NDP could win it quick and early rewards from a public that’s in a very up-for-anything, disestablishment-minded mood. The trick, from there, is to hold such rewards – but the federal NDP are doing it pretty impressively.

Coalitions such as the Parti liberal du Québec are sustainable only insofar as there is a coherent opposite threat – look at the B.C. Liberals! That motley crew of Socreds, Tories and federal Liberals sought nothing more complex out of life than to suppress the B.C. NDP. But that coalition looks set to dissolve into incoherence, merely because an upstart actual Conservative party has entered the provincial scene.

A Whole New Mosaic

B.C.’s Liberals are a mosaic made with cheap glue, and if social democrats in Québec are bold enough, they’ll find that Charest’s Liberals are in a similar condition. His internal coalition could be just as easily usurped by a challenger that is able to establish a different kind of coalition – one that’s more coherent, and involves Québec’s mass of federalist/soft nationalist social democrat orphans in a meaningful way.

An NDP-Q would be risky, would ruffle feathers, and would rumble the status quo. Sounds like a goer.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The emperor’s new clothes: North Korea keeps on marching

Sometimes, you just want to give them a hug.

Pyongyang put on this earnest show of transparency around its rocket launch, inviting foreign journalists into the heart of their futuristic Space Control Centres (SCCs).

Witness the marvels of our microcomputers and our, umm, extraordinarily large antennae!

It was one part quaint, one part chilling. The display was clearly designed to flummox Western voices that North Korea has something to hide, and, if lucky, to also alert the world as to the advanced state of North Korean spacefaring, and the military implications of that.

The problem with Pyongyang’s approach is that what they put on display was utter rubbish.

Watch this BBC video – seriously.

At 0:48, foreign journalists are shown the satellite itself – a locally-designed and constructed device to be launched as a spaceborne weather station. Look at it. Look at it. I am not exactly an engineer, but can we all agree that this is a 100W guitar amp with a tin can screwed to the top? Is one of those foil baubles meant to be a camera? Or some means of adjusting its trajectory? Somehow?

It really does appear to be something a precocious seven-year old might duct tape together in his dad’s workshop, and take to Show and Tell as his real, genu-wine, state-of-the-art weather satellite. So absorbed in his own delusions of imagined grandeur, he could not detect any of the snickers coming from around the class.

At 1:02, we are introduced to North Korea’s apparent Space Control Centre. You’d be forgiven for believing it instead to be the set from a community theatre’s stage production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cue big projection screen showing the rocket, awaiting its command! Cue about twelve scientist-folk looking studiously at Google Earth on their enormous computers!

I’m being ultra-glib. But they’ve earned glibness, haven’t they, and moreover, perhaps they will appreciate a candid critique of their offering? Room for improvement and all that?

The assumption among the North Korean hosts must have been that the visiting journalists (and the Western audiences they feed) are actually somehow quite comparable to their equivalents in North Korea itself – woefully undereducated and easily gobsmacked by technology that looks suspiciously like Robotix.

Perhaps their version of MI7 have gotten lazy, with the success of their internally-directed propaganda depending principally on the religiosity of its people, and not the sophistication of their messages. Perhaps it’s a fortunate irony that North Korea’s propagandists are themselves the product of the same propagandist educational system as the people they now propagandise – a feedback loop of loopiness that renders their narrative almost incomprehensible to foreign ears.

All of this serves to reinforce the Wizard of Oz aspect to Pyongyang’s military prowess. The bluster almost certainly magnifies actual capacity several-fold, and someone atop the KPA will have to know that the failures yesterday have exposed their bravado as somewhat unwarranted.

Unfortunately, they’ll seek to correct that – this embarrassment may shock North Korea into reasserting itself with a more tangible display of power. Whatever the delusion in Pyongyang that it can convince the world that it’s a military space-power, the real power they can wield is closer to Earth – firefights along the disputed maritime boundary would rattle markets, shake China’s image in Washington as a robust regional power, and create conditions for big powers to come back for more talks on more aid.

The emperor may have no clothes, but I suspect he knows it and does not mind it. Because there’s no telling what an angry, naked emperor might do next.

Filed under: International, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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