Polygonic

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

Caplan’s “Reagan at 100”

When I saw the headline “A tribute to Ronald Reagan at 100” juxtaposed with the byline “Gerald Caplan,” I knew we’d have one interesting article.

Bravo to offer some rare resistance to the whitewashed Reagan narrative that seems to have emerged since his death. It might comfort a lot of Americans (and Canadians, and all sorts of people) to reflect on the Cold War 1980s with a load of V-signs and hurrahs. “We won, the Soviets lost, how simple, how wonderful.” It’s a very different way for our southern neighbours to conceive of how wars work, given the neverending chaos and stateless complexities of the long wars they’re mired in today.

But that ’80s nostalgia has unhelpfully ironed over the fact that Reagan’s America was among the worst incarnations of America we ever knew.

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Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

What can you protect for two billion bucks?

$2 billion. It’s a familiar figure to anyone who was aware, and critical, of the G8/G20 summit security costs in Toronto.

Now, an equivalent mound of moola is considered more than adequate, and indeed excessive, regarding the entire security bill for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Russian authorities haven’t revealed how much they are spending on Olympic security: the figure is a state secret.

Some reports in the Russia media have suggested the total cost will be around $2bn, although Vice Premier Dmitry Kozak says that figure is inflated.

So, the Russians consider $2 billion “inflated” when talking about securing, for two full weeks, the world’s largest multisport cavalcade, right on the Abkhazian border, in the heart of the restive Caucasus. Whilst, last year, Ottawa considered $2 billion a reasonable cost for a three-day summit on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Which is worse: that Canada is more afraid of its university students than Russia is of its Chechen suicide bombers? Or that Team Harper considers itself a sober steward of our precious tax dollars? I’m awash in a swirling double-helix of nausea.

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

Bev Oda movies

Notting Hill? The Green Hornot? Good Not, and Good luck?

Just a few of the improved movie titles floating about the Twittosphere right now – because ministers have the right to do these kinds of things, you know.

Has anyone else not got better ideas? It is Friday, after all.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

A royal visit

Cue the ticker-tape! Crank up the misplaced national vanity machine! Canada’s future Head of State (from circa 2040 or so? Is it morbid to take bets?) is coming to survey his most expansive royal hunting ground. One hopes one approves of what one sees.

And what will the Royal Couple see? It’s a fascinating itinerary.

Alberta: Doubtless there will be some Columbia Ice Fields trekking, some Lake Louise paddling, and potentially some calf-wrestling at the Stampede. What’s less certain is whether His Royal Harperness will recommend to His Royal Highness a jaunt to Fort McMurray to see one of our government’s most ethical investments.

Northwest Territories: Thank god it won’t be Nunavut, with all its unculled seals flipping about. What will they do there? Ride ATVs, crying out “We make the rules!” perhaps? Visit a diamond mine? Which would be kind of underwhelming after a lifetime of looking at Queen Elizabeth’s hat.

No, I know what it is. Some cultures hold that the Northern Lights help you conceive lucky babies. Wink, wink.

Quebec: They couldn’t not, really. Perhaps Will’s toothy grin and Kate’s now-ish fashion sense will instill new enthusiasm for British imperialism along the Saguenay. Or perhaps they’ll play it safe and spend the whole time in Lennoxville.

Prince Edward Island: God knows. They’re going to Atlantic Canada, and their only stop is PEI. Charlottetown, to see where it all began? Will there be some Anne and Gilbert-style picnics in the meadow? Or just a tailgate party at the Duffys’?

Ottawa: You have to, don’t you?

I’m sure that, as a proud, exuberant, mostly-sovereign nation, we will fill their hearts with splendour, and that they will return the favour. There’s a slim but not-impossible chance that Will will want to make a strong impression on us – rock the boat a little. Perhaps by declaring himself permanently unavailable for the title of King of Canada in the future, sermonising that “you lot ought to get your own Head of State already.” Tough love and everything.

Sadly, the odds of that seem to be about the same as their being greeted at the airport in June by one Prime Minister Ignatieff.

Sigh. Long live what we’ve got.

Filed under: Canada, UK, Uncategorized, , , , ,

Common sense news-flash: Non-voters’ non-votes won’t be counted

The surreal mind-game seems to have wound down. And with that, a woot woot. Imagine this. The democratic chamber has overruled the undemocratic chamber (green with envy, Canada?)

MPs reject 40% threshold plan for the AV referendum

MPs have overturned a proposal to make a referendum on the Westminster voting system non-binding unless 40% of the electorate take part in the poll.

Peers backed the measure earlier this month but the Commons rejected the proposal by a majority of 70.

Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper said there was a “compelling” case for voters to make the final decision.

It’s fun reading about someone with the last name “Harper” taking the position that the unelected chamber should bow to the elected. Hee.

The referendum, slated for 5 May, now has a much better prospect of being staged at all, and of being a fair account of the democratic will. The battle for Alternative Vote supporters now is going to be to try to disassociate “Brand Electoral Reform” from the toxic “Brand Nick Clegg,” which will not be easy, nor fun. Many erstwhile supporters of the abolishment of first-past-the-post will now potentially use the referendum as an occasion to simply bludgeon the Lib Dems and rob them of their platform mantlepiece, sadly, which is going deep into cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face territory. Call the Lib Dems what names you will, people – this is your chance to enact one of their platform policies (ones which you voted for last year!), despite Clegg’s apparent Toryboy sycophancy.

That battle will be waged over the next few months. For now, at least, we can be glad that the referendum on the UK’s voting system won’t be subject to quicksand regulations that go beyond those which govern the election of MPs themselves. It’s a goose and ganders situation, which the HoC has cottoned onto. No good setting a precedent whereby turnout thresholds threaten to scupper the voices of active electors.

So, in conclusion – phew. For now.

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

Apparently there were no WMDs in Iraq

The machinery of deceit is built of many cogs, and oops, one’s come loose!

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

The CIA and Bush-Blair-era policymakers assert to this very day that they weren’t lying about Iraq’s WMD potential – they were simply ill-informed. They mistakenly used bad intelligence.

“Bad intelligence.” What is that? Is it intelligence which is misspelt? Is the date missing? Is it villanous intelligence, like what Gargamel had?

No, bad intelligence is a bunch of lies. It was never realistic to say that MI6 and the CIA are incompetent jobsworths who completely confused and misunderstood what they were hearing in Iraq. No, intelligence agencies were told lies by self-interested sources, and these lies resonated politically at the tops of ministries and around cabinet tables. Convenient lies, as opposed, I guess, to inconvenient truths.

As for Janabi’s reflections on the causation between his tall tales about Saddam’s biological weapons cache, and the 100,000 dead in Iraq today, he is a mite impenitent:

“I tell you something when I hear anybody – not just in Iraq but in any war – [is] killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution? Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”

*cough * cough * Egypt! * cough!*

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

Why we back Mubarak

Two reasons: Israel and the UAE.

Harper and Cannon simply can’t fault Binyamin Netanyahu (even that “coalition of losers” that he leads to govern Israel doesn’t perturb our coalition-phobic PM), and when Bibi says he wants a secular strongman in power in Cairo, democracy be damned, well of course we offer no criticism. Our foreign policy principles in overdrive.

There are no surprises there. But Netanyahu isn’t the only one who wants Mubarak in power: every undemocratic Arab strongman in the neighbourhood will fear that they’re next should Mubarak be the second Arab president in a month to be forced from office through popular revolt.

The bosses in Saudi, in Yemen, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Qatar, will be gasping to see a Western leader come out and say “we prefer stability to democracy. We endorse these big bosses first and foremost, and the people should just be more patient.”

And Harper’s their man. It’s a useful way for the PM to try and wipe away the fallout from our bungling of the UAE file, which became a contagion of anti-Canadian sentiment in the corridors of Middle East power. Canada had all the ingredients to fail in our UN Security Council bid already in place, but offending every Middle Eastern power broker through the UAE spat nailed our coffin shut. Perhaps, it must be thought in Ottawa, backing Mubarak against the Egyptian popular will can help to lead some of those strongmen back into our warm embrace.

A shame it does nothing to bolster our credentials as “tireless advocates of democracy” or somesuch.

UPDATE: And, now Mubarak’s resigned! So it’s Harper on the wrong side of history in a big, big way. Invade Iraq, Support Mubarak…. someone’s skipped all his classes on Middle East power politics. He was the only Western leader to actively shrug and dismiss the scale, and even the legitimacy, of the Egyptian protests, hoping that regional strongmen would thank him for it. But it’s The People 1 – Strongmen 0. Nice work, Egyptian peeps. 🙂

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

With friends like these

When you end up applauded by the likes of Marine Le Pen (as well as the National Post!), perhaps you should take stock of where you stand on the old fascistometer.

When David Cameron said he wanted to see the end of “state multiculturalism” the media firestorm it provoked in the UK soon blew itself out – but it is a different story in other parts of the world.

The latest figure to wade into the row is Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France’s far right Front National, who has congratulated Mr Cameron for what she claimed was his endorsement of her party’s position.

She told the Financial Times: “It is exactly the type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years.”

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , ,

Ottawa: the healthy scratch

So Québec, along with Ville du Québec, are able to go ahead with a new Colisée on their own after all. Whether Gary Bettman cares or not is a whole other matter!

Who’s offside in this whole mini-drama? Who scores the biggest? Has Harper incurred a 2-minute minor for delay of game? Will Duceppe get his own 2-minute minor for (attempted) too many men on the ice? Are there any other bad hockey-politics metaphors we can use?

On balance, it’s probably a minor loss for the Tories – they’ll win some relief in the West, where Ottawa faced “Québec-pandering” allegations should they have ponied up muiltimillions for a new arena (one with only the most speculative of potential uses) in La Belle Province. But, in a way, so what? Harper can (and does) pretty much anything he wants, and it doesn’t send Western Conservatives running to other parties with new affections.

But of course, it may hurt the CPC around Québec City, where they’ve only been holding onto seats by their toe-picks, and the BQ will salivate at the prospect of retrieving those seats now.

This doesn’t make it a clear win for the Bloc more broadly, though. Duceppe’s front-and-centre rationale for his party is to leverage more fiscal goodness out of Ottawa, or else “referendum-times-are-here-again.” There are vulnerabilities to such a platform. On the arena front, he’s failed in this game, and has consequently laid bare the fact that two levels of government (municipal and provincial) were, all along, enough to finance the proposed arena. Putting Ottawa on the hotseat for this was just guffery and bluffery. Will souvereigntistes lose face?

It was always ironic that the Bloc could, in the very same breath, profess both the viability of Québec’s national independence, while also insisting that Ottawa’s help was absolutely indispensable in building so much as an ice rink. Now, Duceppe might be better able to quell that irony and spin this as: “You see? Who needs Ottawa? Not us!”

So, it appears the CPC and the Bloc both wobble and gain in minor amounts here. It might all have been quite different if the Liberals had been bolder and clearer earlier. Imagine if the Liberals had made a clear case from the start, saying “it would be fiscal madness for the government to start building NHL rinks, especially for cities with no prospect of getting NHL teams.” Today, they’d be in the position of saying “They’re building it on their own, that’s great, good luck to them. It’s all working out the way we would have hoped, and we didn’t spend six-months dithering over mixed messages like the Harperites did.”

Oh well. Perhaps there is still room for Ignatieff to use this whole story in an accusatory narrative whereby the government is suffering from policy drift, suffering from acute shruggery, and not knowing what it’s going to do next, or how. Harper as Darryl Sutter, if you like? (is that unsportsmanlike?)

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

Democratic experts in the house!

The House of Lords, that is.

I know, technically it’s an unelected chamber of dough-bellied pseudo-noblemen, prominent party donors, erstwhile celebrities, landowners, retired CEOs, corrupt media barons, and other millionaire chieftains of ill-gotten gains.

I know, yes, it resembles the Canadian Senate, if only the Canadian Senate were swollen four times the size and was packed with hereditary peers as well as legions of power-addled cronies of the political elite. And wearing wigs.

But, they know what democracy is all about. They’ve just defeated the government in the arena of electoral reform, pushing through a new requirement on May’s referendum on the Alternative Vote. Now, any potential “yes” vote will only be binding if 40% of the public take part.

Where did 40% come from? 40 might be a meaningful number in the Bible, but there’s nothing especially elegant or natural about how it relates to elections.

No, what we have here is an arbitrary obstacle thrust up to further discourage the prospect of real democratic reform, proposed in a somewhat cowardly fashion by Lord Rooker, who styles himself as an “Independent Labour” peer. So, this new spanner in the works of democratic reform isn’t officially coming from Labour’s high command – it’s just an independent! A free-spiriting Lord!

Perhaps it’s too much to wish Labour were genuinely enthusiastic and progressive on electoral reform, but at the very least, I wish they could be honest about where they stand, instead of smuggling their secret dedication to first-past-the-post into the debate via a nominally independent, unelected, silly-wigged Lord.

Turnout thresholds may appear to legitimise referendum results, but the appearance is false. Demanding a turnout threshold essentially means counting fictional votes non-cast by the non-voting. Anyone who doesn’t vote in May’s referendum is assumed to be a silent defender of the status quo, and are counted as such. Sure, it’s entirely likely many non-voters are content with the status quo. But, unless they’ve gone to the ballot box to explicitly say so, a democratic system shouldn’t move to assume what they think. As I’ve said before, non-votes are not votes. Nothings are not somethings.

If we had the same 40% turnout threshold on general elections, it would be quite a sight should an election fail to bring 40% of us to the ballot box – not an unlikely occurrence at some point in our lifetimes. Would it mean the election results would be annulled, and we would keep the previous government in place for a further five years? Or, how about 10?

In fact – what’s wrong with forty?

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

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