Month: May 2011

Canadian Politics: Mind the Middle

The decimation of the federal Liberals provides new hope for Canadian moderates

By: James Di Fiore

Canada is becoming a very strange place. Historically, our political landscape was shaped by the apathetic, sprinkled with some conservatives, liberals and socialists. Policies were drafted and negotiated based on the reality that ideologues did not yield power in this nation. Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien – all of the most significant leaders this country has seen over the past 40 years have governed from the center, their base providing a lift and moderates providing their political survival. The apathetic played their role too – they stayed out of it. Canada had a brilliant international reputation as being fiscally prudent peacekeepers who brokered free trade agreements, hosted Olympic Games, milked internet bandwidth for all it was worth and extremely potent marijuana. It is cynical, but today we have a growing portion of our electorate who know how to say words like ‘socialist’ or ‘fascist’ but clearly have trouble defining either term. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is running rampant in the great white north.

How did we get here? When did we go from affable to laughable, and who is to blame for our new trot towards the mindless recitation of talking points from talking heads? The Reform Party may have been the first domino – a stringent, ideological crew from western Canada made from a mix of Libertarian and Evangelical roots. They successfully dismantled the federal Progressive Conservatives, turning a reasonable right-leaning party into an ideological posse ripe with partisan beliefs and an unwavering philosophy. Former prime minister Joe Clark, once seen by his political rivals as a conservative stalwart, seemed not only tame but reasonable by his former opponents on the Hill. Alberta, disgruntled by Trudeau’s energy policies which cemented an air of resentment within the province, yearned for a voice better suited to the narrative being recited for decades. That narrative was stark, a sort of provincialism reminiscent of Quebec separatists only without tales of an unfair confederacy nestled inside the rhetoric. Of course, Albertan conservatives would disagree, claiming decades of injustice had passionate reactions among regular folks, but in Canada this was brand new: a dismantling of a Canadian political institution and the beginning of the new conservative indoctrination project.

The new Canadian conservative movement has been fueled by two incontrovertible facts. The first is an easy pick: Liberal Party incompetence. While Liberals tend to blame member infighting for their woes, the Chretien vs Paul Martin beef is propped up by residue from the sponsorship scandal and most recently exacerbated by two leadership conferences that produced two lackluster leaders. Meanwhile, the NDP has collected the scraps from the Liberal table and now sits at the head, creating a polarized Canada and the perfect storm for the Conservative Party.

But the most troubling recruiting tool currently being sharpened by the conservative right is the encouragement of demonizing political rivals by right wing strategists, pundits and politicians. Regular right-leaning Canadians are answering the call with American-inspired attacks on all who lean left. Evidence of this deliberate tactic is everywhere. The caricature is hockey grump Don Cherry who mused at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s inauguration about ‘left wing pinkos’ and ‘bike riding communists’. Message boards and comment sections on newspaper sites contain a treasure trove of vitriolic statements and ideological rants that not just disagree with non-conservative views but vilify and marginalize those who think differently.

Hardcore leftists are equally repugnant in their brief and rather unlettered manifestos, often describing Stephen Harper as a fascist while creating conspiracy theories about his ties to corporations and the state of Israel. Talk of Canada’s national identity being reshaped by fundamental Christians is complimented by maniacal claims of hidden political agendas and treasonous takeovers by oil companies.

And the Liberals, a party who had tried to brand itself as Canada’s only band of moderates, suddenly find themselves pushed aside. They deserve their political demotion, but the need for political moderation has never been more dire. Canadians are being driven towards polarization through the politics of fear, a dangerous yet potent ingredient in mobilizing party support in any country. But this task of extracting reason from panic is an uphill battle for the Liberals who have spent the bulk of the last 7 years focusing on their rivals rather than their constituents. Pundits who muse about a possible merger between the Liberals and NDP are dreaming out loud. Jack Layton is finally reaching his potential and would never relinquish his new found role as leader of the opposition. Nor should he. Nor could he. Ideologically, the NDP and Liberals are worlds apart, mostly because the Liberals do not have a well defined ideology.

Perhaps the old adage of finding opportunity nestled inside crisis is too idealistic for Canadian moderates, but the prospect of throwing in the towel would spell disaster for the nation. The Liberals are a blank slate – bruised, beaten and bloodied – but they have wiggle room. Without any real influence over their conservative and socialist counterparts they have no choice but to redirect their gaze towards the very people who voted them out, while simultaneously engaging the only constituency who continue to be unrepresented – the youth. Incorrigible as they seem, not since the 60s have we seen a climate where young people are finding their voice. Their sloth-like pace is a frustrating testament to the outdated method of engagement undertaken by politicians stuck in an ancient ritual of long expired recruitment methods. It may be a colossal challenge, but without young people there can be no base, and without that youthful base there can be no party.

It has been the better part of a decade since Liberals engaged honestly with Canadians, and the better part of two decades since they last showed an alliance with them. Canada is not the United States…yet. But the symptoms of drifting towards a two party system are ripe, and without the emergence of a new centrist manifesto we could be in for a dark age in federal politics.

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Osama Bin Laden is Dead – No Questions Please

Why Osama’s Death Gives New Life to Skeptics


By: James Di Fiore

It was supposed to be a touchstone moment for America – the successful assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Indeed, when the news struck there was jubilation. Crowds swarmed the streets in America shouting chants of ‘USA! USA!’ and celebrated til the morning hours. President Obama – deemed soft on foreign policy by his critics, managed to out-hawk the neo-conservatives who up until that moment had a monopoly on national security. And then it all changed.

Or had it?

The successful killing of Bin Laden was immediately followed by the news that his body was laid to rest at sea. DNA samples allegedly taken from the body proved to be a match, according to military officials, leaving no room for doubt that the word’s most wanted terrorist was dead. Unfortunately for President Obama, many citizens still frustrated from 8 years of the Bush administration are skeptical of government statements claiming successes in foreign policy. People are demanding more than just grandiose statements from their leaders. They want tangible evidence to support government claims. The remarkable facet of this story appears to be the extreme lack of evidence to support the claim that Osama Bin Laden was killed during a Navy Seals operation in Pakistan. Even more interesting is the blanket approach by the government and the media to allow this claim to go unquestioned. Any skepticism has been met with immediate dismissal and labels of conspiracy theorists; tin foil hat wearing crazies who believe in UFOs, that 9/11 was an inside job and that the moon landing was a hoax.

But isn’t skepticism a healthy bi-product of democracy? Shouldn’t the killing of the world’s most wanted man require indisputable evidence vetted by non-American military and intelligence officers? The initial reason given by the Obama administration for the burial at sea was that it was in-line with Muslim custom that required a proper burial within 24 hours, but a proper Muslim burial also requires the corpse to be pointed towards Mecca, buried in the earth…not water. Additionally, the idea that America would toss Osama’s corpse overboard so hastily just to appease the Muslim faith seems rather extraordinary. And to get the burial custom wrong appears incompetent in that haste.

So, and rightfully so, people began to ask questions. Almost preemptively, the administration, members of the House Intelligence Committee and the media began to systematically label people with questions as conspiracy theorists; the go-to title for those who have questions about government statements. In the past, the definition of a ‘theorist’ of any kind required an actual theory to be hypothesized. But in today’s political climate one only needs to ask questions to earn that label.

“Why did you bury Osama at sea?”

“You must be a conspiracy theorist.”

“But I did not theorize an alternative, I just asked a question.”

“You are a conspiracy theorist.”

And so on.

This sets a dangerous precedent in American politics. When George W. Bush was president there were many Americans who believed he either had prior knowledge or was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks. The people who had these ideas could rightfully be called conspiracy theorists. But there were also those individuals, particularly within the 9/11 families, who asked the 9/11 Commission tough questions about the attacks. Those individuals were for the most part considered to be patriotic Americans who simply wanted answers. But in today’s bizarre political and cultural climate, asking the American government for tangible evidence of Osama’s demise is being met with veracious finger pointing by politicians, pundits and even journalists. Paradoxically, staunch conservatives find themselves supporting unsubstantiated claims from a man who many see as a Kenyan born, secret Muslim who is covertly dragging America towards socialism. Perhaps many right wing politicians would rather not focus on a foreign policy victory by Obama, or perhaps 3 years of real conspiracy theories from their base has exhausted their credibility to the extent that legitimate questions must now go unanswered.

Here are legitimate questions about the killing of Osama Bin Laden:

Why didn’t officials allow diplomats from other countries terrorized by Al Qaeda independently identify his body? Surely America is not the only nation with vested interests in Bin Laden’s death.

Since it was not a proper Muslim burial, what was the real reason for the alleged burial at sea?

If the public can view graphic photos of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons, why not Osama?

Who was the soldier who killed Osama Bin Laden?

And finally, if asking questions about extraordinary government claims is akin to being a conspiracy theorist, have we entered a new chapter that renders the press impotent? And worse, have the people been marginalized to spectators during the world’s most cataclysmic events? If so, who are the government watch dogs the next time an extraordinary claim is made, and when will we be notified directly that our questions are no longer needed to form an intelligent opinion?

Believe whatever you want about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But remember – there are tales in details. And please, try not to ask too many questions.


VIDEO OF CANADIAN VOTING AS DARTH VADER

 

Actual video footage of a man casting a ballot with a Darth Vader mask on. This is done in protest over the government’s decision to allow people to cast a ballot with their faces covered.

Why I am Hiding My Face When I Vote in Today’s Election

This is not a statement against Muslims – it is in support of legitimate voting in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

I am not a Muslim woman. I am not a conservative plant. I am not making a mockery of our electoral laws. I am trying to demonstrate how our system is being circumnavigated by religious accommodations, and I am not alone.

Today I will vote with my face covered. As I am writing this a friend is voting with his face covered as well. Across Canada at random polling stations people will be showing up in various masks and disguises. I created this mini movement with the support of friends and family.

Let’s hope Parliament will pass legislation that will insure our elections are conducted with a semblance of common sense. People should have to prove who they are when they vote, otherwise the legitimacy of our system is in jeopardy.

Happy voting.


Osama Bin Laden Killing a Perfect Political Storm

***photo may or may not be authentic…the original source is unknown

By: James Di Fiore

When one considers the magnitude of Osama Bin Laden’s demise a great deal of attention will be given to America’s conservative base, a crowd who believes President Obama is weak on foreign policy and even weaker in his stance on terrorism. But this opinion has always been a way to score political points among Americans despite Obama’s drone strikes and special forces inside Pakistan and Yemen. In fact, Obama’s strategy inside Pakistan was ridiculed by his political opponents when he ran for president in 2008. His position – that despite not being at war with Pakistan, he would conduct operations inside the country, essentially thumbing his nose at their sovereignty if it meant killing or capturing major Al Qaeda operatives.

Who will be the first politician to downplay Obama’s role in Bin Laden’s death? Newt Gingrich? Sarah Palin? Dennis Kucinich? Will commentators like Sean Hannity or Chris Matthews throw off their partisan robes and give credit where credit is due, or criticize when warranted? Will conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones create an alternative theory like his assertion that one of the infamous Osama videos was actually a computer generated cartoon?

And the million dollar question – what is the name of the soldier who  killed Bin Laden and when will he be immortalized?

It is too early to answer any of these questions. The picture of Osama’s body hasn’t been released yet, and I can already hear some people argue that he probably died years ago – or that he is still alive, lurking the mountainous region of Pakistan.

And finally, how long before we suffer another terror attack in response to this assassination?