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The World According to Trump

Looking to a Grim Future


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The 2016 United States presidential election is different from any previous presidential political race. Few of the elements that make this election unique are, in and of themselves, completely new to US politics; taken together, though, they add up to an unprecedented political campaign.

            There have been candidates before Donald Trump who ran on an “America First” platform; indeed, the America First Committee formed in 1940 was a powerful pressure america firstgroup whose avowed purpose was to keep the US out of World War 2. Naturally, the group attracted Nazi supporters, including Hitler admirer Charles Lindbergh; The Trump campaign’s use of the slogan is a dogwhistle call to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other race baiting groups. But Trump’s overt racism and in-your-face hatred of minorities was also foreshadowed by George Wallace’s segregationist presidential bid.

            The vitriolic hate speech that forms the backbone of Trump’s rallies is different only in degree from some earlier campaigns. That Trump regularly and unabashedly calls his opponents criminals, bigots, and traitors, that Trump leads his acolytes in chants of “lock her up!”, that Trump routinely encourages violence against peaceful protesters, are all behaviours that are simply quantum leaps more extreme than previous campaign outrages.

            Even Trump’s success in creating a political atmosphere in which his policies are utterly incomprehensible, his statements contradict themselves daily, and in which he is free to lie, to mislead, and to make and double down on outrageous and entirely false and easily disproven accusations, is merely taking old unethical political tactics to their extreme. Candidates have accused one another of a variety of unsavoury actions in previous campaigns, but it took the Trump candidacy before we would see the Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-ISISRepublican nominee stating flatly that the incumbent president and the current Democratic nominee and former secretary of state were literally co-founders of ISIS. Not in any metaphorical or figurative sense or anything, Trump assured us; but literally and factually, actual founders of the radical Islamic terrorist organisation.

            Donald Trump with his “political outsider” pretense is degrading not only the way politics is done in the US, but he is debasing the entire social atmosphere of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world. In the year that Trump has dominated the media with his ludicrous campaign, the culture of the United States has been demonstrably coarsened and human decency, trump-effecttolerance, courtesy, and critical thinking have receded to the point that they are all treated as the laughable conceits of the cowardly and the pretentious. The emergence of ignorance, hatred, and violent confrontation as virtues can be credited to the account of Donald Trump.

            On this Labour Day, as I am busy gathering my seven-year-old boy’s back-to-school stuff in preparation for Grade Two tomorrow, I am naturally inclined to look toward the future that he is going to face both this year, and over the course of his life. With two more months to go until we can be certain that the Donald Trump infection has been finally eradicated, that future is somewhat uncertain. But I know one thing for sure; the world in which JJ will grow to adulthood is darker, uglier, and more dangerous than it was, even eighteen months ago.

            When I was his age, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylanover the perceived chaos in the world as a result of the baby boom bubble coming into its own. Youth culture was emerging and the previous generation was afraid, was offended, but mostly was bewildered. The zeitgeist was indeed chaotic in the early Sixties. My generation was stretching its wings and flexing its muscles; we knew we wanted change although we weren’t sure what we wanted to change into. But whatever ideas we had about what the world ought to look like, we took it for granted that with cooperation, with dedication, and byhippy3 bringing our energy and commitment to bear, we could make it happen. We had great dreams and endless supplies of hope.

            Before that energy dissipated and our generation scattered and then succumbed to the “me” generation that followed, we managed to accomplish things that today would be considered hopeless tasks. By applying our will and energy, we managed to get civil rights legislation passed in the US, legal segregation was ended, Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, a Catholic president was elected, the Peace Corps was founded, we put humans on the moon, feminism became second nature to most people, environmental issues were raised and became part of the world’s discussion, we managed to turn the world against the Vietnam conflict and forced a president to pull American troops out, and far from least, we held a president’s feet to the fire and forced his resignation for having done politics in the traditional, unaccountable way.


Time it was

And what a time it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Simon and Garfunkel

simon and garfunkel

            But I look around now and I see what my son is going to face and I worry for his future. My son is a remarkable person. Although he can be exhausting because of his ADHD, I’m convinced that I learn as much from him as he does from me. He’s wicked smart; in some things, like places he’s been and people he’s met, his memory is eidetic; he has an autism-related difficulty with language acquisition, preferring to use words in a way that make sense to him, rather than employ the socially agreed-upon syntax. But mostly I am struck daily by his very un-autistic sense of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. He is always the first one to run and hug another child who is sad or afraid. He cries when he hears something sad, he is more likely to give his lunch or his toys to someone who needs or wants them, than to monopolise or hoard them as most kids his age do. But he is of a visible minority, being brown skinned; he has speech issues; he is hypersensitive both physically and emotionally; he is very vulnerable.

            He will almost certainly be the target of bullying as he grows up and goes to school. The world that he is now inhabiting is far more likely to treat him cruelly or harshly than it was when I was young, and he is far less equipped than I was to cope with those sharp corners and elbows. The world that Donald Trump exemplifies and encourages, is full of intolerance and hatred. It is a world where walking all overBleakFutureAhead_B our weaker fellow humans is encouraged and admired, where kindness and decency are disdained as weakness or cowardice. It is a world without genuine confidence in the future, or any real hope for improvement as the result of our actions. Idealism, that sense of right and wrong and the value of working to make the world better, simply isn’t a big part of the world at the moment. And it makes me want to weep for him. Since I became a father late in life – I’m sixty and he’s seven – I am increasingly aware that I won’t be around to cushion the slings and arrows of everyday fortune when he is an adult.

            Largely for that reason, I have chosen to spend his critical early elementary school years in a small village in rural Vancouver Island, where we know all our neighbours, where there is a community of artists, hippies, free thinkers, and back to the land people, as well as environmentalists, vegans, and traditional farmers. A place where we often keep our doors unlocked, where neighbours take care of one another and their children feel free to knock on one’s door if frightened, or tired or lost.

            But eventually, when he is better able to accept that not everyone in this world is prepared for a _donald-trump-insanelittle boy who will spontaneously hug a stranger in a queue at the general store because he likes her voice, he will have to take his place in the hate-filled, and intolerant world that we are creating by accepting Donald Trump and his ilk. By letting his viciousness, his narcissism, his pathological inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and his bigotry to slide without instant, unanimous and vocal condemnation, we are normalising it and allowing it to become part of the new world order.

            Where we stand right now, should Trump manage to get himself elected, the world will be a nightmarish dystopia, and one for which it is impossible to prepare because of Trump’s instability and refusal to prepare in any way for the position he wants. But even if, as seems likely, he is trounced and sent packing, his legacy will live on. The world is a palpably worse place for his having occupied so much of our attention. And before the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, the world that my son should be looking forward to being a part of is going to be unpleasant, inhospitable, and a bleak, cold place. For that I can never forgive Donald Trump and his supporters.


Licence to Hate

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Political Correctness


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The first time I heard the phrase “political correctness” was some time back in the 70s, and it was used by my then agent to criticise a publisher’s rejection letter. She had submitted a manuscript of a mystery/thriller I had written, in which one of my more unsavoury characters, a debt collection agency owner, was named Lenny Stein. She faxed me a copy (faxes were new and high tech back then) of the rejection letter, as it was actually a personal note and not a form letter. The publisher, rejection-letter-socialin his rejection of one of the few substantial pieces of fiction I have ever written, was positive, if not actually effusive about my novel. He recommended a number of changes if I were to submit it elsewhere and explained frankly why he was turning it down and not asking me to resubmit it to him. He was offended, he explained, by my rampant antisemitism. That Lenny Stein was clearly intended to be an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector, was pure bigotry and intolerable to him.

Ironically, the character was actually deliberately based on an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector with a similar name. The character and his real life counterpart were similar, even in their physical descriptions, right down tpreppy waspo the perpetual dusting of dandruff on the shoulders of their cheap suits. (I wanted him to recognise himself despite the disclaimer). Nevertheless, the publisher was right; the character was clichéd and worked much better when I changed him to a very WASPish Upper Canada College preppy type, slumming in the debt recovery business. But it was my agent who was furious. She said in a very sarcastic tone that the submission had only been rejected as it was insufficiently “politically correct”.

The expression, “political correctness”, as a neologism of the latter half of the 20th Century became part of our everyday lexicon as a reaction to an historical period in which civil rights and racial, ethnic, and gender equality were finally becoming a reality against strong social pushback. By the late 60’s some of the most offensive epithets, slurs which had been commonly deployed in casual middle class discourse, had been suppressed and were recognised as trace hatehe hurtful expressions they always were. But ordinary people no longer felt free to use words like nigger, kike, spic, or broad any more. Civilised and courteous people eschewed language that was likely to offend; the now sidelined derogatory labels were only employed by die-hard bigots, and were used specifically because of their verboten nature when offense was the aim.

But like many other benign and even beneficial notions, the societal pressure to avoid giving offense became an exercise in playing gotcha! People began militantly dissecting the language of others in an attempt to find an expression, word, or phrase that carried the possibility of offending someone or some group. People without the tiniest bigoted bone in their bodies found themselves accused of being insensitive or even of willfully offending when they used a word they had no idea could be interpreted as racist. Someone who had routinely used the word “gypsy” metaphorically, or even simply to describe the people known for their caravans,colourful head scarfs, and fortune tellers, would find himself accused of unforgiveable racism. “Gypsy” was no longer politically correct; the proper descriptive term was now “Romany” people. My suspicion is that not a single Romany person had ever objected to being called a gypsy. As I recall, being a young boy in France in the late 50’s and early 60’s who loved to play with the children of the Romany people when they camped in the fields behind our house, they called themselves “gypsies” or its equivalent in the various languages they spoke.

There is no question that the PC impulse got out of hand, with people demanding the right to go politically correct fightingthrough life in a racially and culturally diverse society without ever being offended. At the height of the PC zeitgeist, I wrote emphatically against the restrictive nature of society’s impulse to stifle others’ freedom of expression. I remember moderating a discussion in which John Cleese (at the time still best known as a Python) very firmly held that he had the right to offend; that offending people was his job and was the job of all social critics and relevant comedians and always had been. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with him. Political correctness, toward the end of the last century, found itself being disparaged and mocked.

People, while still trying to express themselves in ways that didn’t cause needless pain to others, began to refuse to tie themselves into knots simply to be politically correct. Referring to short people as being altitudinally challenged became the kind of joke critics of PC were making. The pendulum had swung far enough that simply referring to someone as being politically correct was the equivalent of saying they were unimaginative and feckless; that they were prissy prudes; simply put, they had a stick up their ass. clint_eastwood__by_cameron1395-d5spzncIn the current US election cycle, no less an icon than Clint Eastwood called those who reject Donald Trump’s in-your-face race baiting, “pussies” and urged us to “get over it”.

Arch liberal Bill Maher, called his ground-breaking political commentary/comedy show “Politically Incorrect” in an effort to re-humanise the parameters of permissible discussion. (As an aside, he was handed his walking papers for being, wait for it….politically incorrect when he said on his show that, to be realistic, one couldn’t honestly describe the suicide terrorists of 9/11 as being “cowards”. He was right, of course, but the PC police wanted his ass, and they got it.) So now it was the conservatives who were demanding political correctness while the progressives and liberals were rejecting it as stultifying and unreasonably restrictive.

The phrase was never employed in an approving manner; it has always carried some connotation of reflecting a sheep-like mindset, a knee-jerk deference to popular social trendiness. Until fairly recently it had seemed as though political correctness had completed its life cycle and was soon to be consigned to the dust bin of anachronistic language. In the last few years, however, the phrase has come roaring back into the vocabulary. The radicalised right wing has suddenly discovered that no one has had much respect for political correctness for years; that to describe someone as being politically correct is to suggest that their freedom of expression has been stolen from them, and that to abjure political correctness is to demonstrate courage and independence of thought.

Trump and PC           With Donald Trump leading the charge, the right, particularly the alt right, has embraced the disdain for PC and employs its rejection as protective colouration for the most appallingly vile public discourse the United States, and the world, has seen since the pre-civil rights era. They have discovered that all they have to do is preface a statement with the assertion that they refuse to be politically correct, and then they have somehow given themselves permission to speak hatred, racism, sexism, or any sort of disgusting bigotry. Where, not very long ago, even the worst example of a redneck racist hillbilly would have thought twice before using the word “nigger” in public, today, people are openly using it as a taunt and a verbal assault.

By implicitly claiming that the only reason people don’t use that and similar repugnant epithets is that they are slaves to PC; they seek to perpetuate the fiction that everyone has their kind of crude bigotry and intolerance bubbling just below the surface. They want everyone to think that only people of courage and honesty, that is people like them, have the integrity to reject political correctness and state the obvious.

So repulsive and so offensive is the licence they give themselves to speak hatred, that sometime soon, we will start to see a reaction to their hatred of and their disdain for political correctness. I believegood-manners- that PC will be reborn. It will have a different name, or no name at all, but the use of society’s surfeit of PC as an excuse to engage in hate speech and vicious, open bigotry will not continue to be acceptable in normal society. The idea of moderating one’s language in an effort to avoid unnecessary hurt will make a comeback as a reaction against the debasement of public discourse that is a direct result of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political landscape.

I just watched a video some Hillary Clinton hater posted on Facebook. Within the first 30 seconds of the ham-fisted clip, the narrator casually refers to Mrs. Clinton as, “that cunt.” By and large, in the comments, even those who don’t support her or her politics reacted negatively to that kind of offensive speech disguised as merely being politically incorrect. The coarsening of the public forums and the negative reaction to it from more enlightened souls is not a matter of political correctness or its rejection. That kind of political attack is simply too vulgar, to gratuitously hurtful, and too personally insulting to be taken seriously or accepted as anything more than ignorant speech

Assuming, as we must, that Trump will be soundly defeated and Hillary Clinton will be the next US president, it seems likely that society will generally begin to reject the Trump style of rhetoric. There will be a period during which there will be incessant Trump style attacks on the president, but Trump himself will eventually get bored and leave, and his minions will disperse without him as a rallying point. In time it will once again become unacceptable to use racial or ethnic or sexual epithets; their casual employment in conversation will not much longer be seen as honest and brave. People who read, people who are able to think critically, people who have educated themselves will see through the smokescreen; decency, courtesy, and respect in all our dealings will once again be seen as virtues. All we have to do is send Trump and his knuckle dragging, mouth breathing band of bigots back down to the minors.



It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Post-democratic Society


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the concept and practice of democracy in America is becoming more noticeable in this, the summer of Trump. In the most bizarre presidential election campaign in living memory, the fundamental assumption of US politics and civil society – that the nation is essentially a democratic one – is up for discussion. We see one group of US citizens espousing the view that the United States is the most democratic and free nation that has ever existed, and that this aspect of American exceptionalism needs to be defended from interlopers. But average votercuriously, that same group also seems to hold that the country is riddled with corruption, that its political leaders are bought and paid for, and that what’s needed is a shakeup that would involve drastically curtailing the very freedoms that they insist make America exceptional. If asserting both positions simultaneously isn’t schizophrenic, at the very least it involves tolerating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

However, the conflicting perspectives held by any rational citizen of a western industrialised country tend to gloss over even deeper problems with some fundamental assumptions. In play today is the assertion that (taking the United States as the most graphic example) we are now living in a post-democratic historical period. And if one were to look at it realistically rather than emotionally, democracy, as an ideal form of government, in which the people are sovereign and in which the elected legislators represent the desires, interests, and viewpoints of the citizenry, simply does not exist now, if it ever did.

winston-churchill-democrasy            The United States cannot truly be described any more as having a democratic system of government. The people of the country are accustomed to and have come to accept the reality that their congressmen and senators are far more responsive to those who finance their political careers than they are to their constituents. There is scarcely any outrage or public outcry when Congress grants billions of dollars in government subsidies to the big oil companies who have financed their campaigns; the fact that those companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of mankind and don’t need any social assistance to thrive makes absolutely no difference to anyone. And the very same lawmakers can sanctimoniously point to having voted to cut funding for the most desperate and vulnerable of their constituents, and pat themselves on the back for their exercise of “fiscal responsibility”.chuck heston NRA

When you have party leadership that vets every initiative by checking with their lobbyists before bringing them to the floor for discussion; where the National Rifle Association has de facto veto power over any gun-related proposed legislation, democracy is not at work. When special interest groups with enough financial support can create “think tanks” to draft legislation that favours themselves, and then see their tame representatives and senators table those proposed laws without changing a comma, we are not dealing with a democratic process. When a blind eye is turned to gerrymandering, to deliberately created electoral inequalities, to state level disregard for federal laws, we are not looking at democracy.

We have to accept thCongressional BJat, in the United States, congress and the courts are not genuinely accessible or answerable to the average citizen. Laws are made by corporate interests. Well heeled anti-democratic special interests like the extreme religious right can determine a politician’s career path.  Legislators spend at least 50% of their time in office raising money from wealthy private donors and corporate interests to whom they owe their allegiance and who can threaten to withdraw support if they’re not satisfied with their purchase. The last tenuous shreds of democracy have been lost when one considers that the two big parties’ nominees for the presidency are among the most despised people in the country.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can find millions of supporters when his campaign, on the one hand, can be based on the notion that the country has gone to hell, and that it is a laughing stock in the community of nations; while on the other hand he is selling the snake oil that the country is so wonderful that the drawbridge needs to be raised and all hands prepared to repel boarders. He can repeat, day after day, that the country has become a third world cesspool and still garner applause when he condemns an athlete for failing to show proper respect for the national anthem. Trump claims that he is defending freedom by demanding that the athlete in question be punished for exercising that very freedom.

In a world where people are encouraged to come to important decisions viscerally, where they are bought and paid for congresstaught that reason, logic, and knowledge are east coast liberal conceits, and that their own ignorance supported by intense feelings is superior to another’s facts and researched information, the mechanisms of representative democracy cannot work. The failure of democracy and the decline of expertise, education, and factual knowledge are inextricably entwined; each contributes to the other and results in an inevitable vicious cycle. The rise of demagoguery, as well as the belief in magical thinking and the increase in divisiveness are the other side of the same coin. The increase in ignorance is reflected in the decreasing respect for rational and prayer-350empirical thinking; and ignorance is always accompanied by its dark companions: fear and hatred. But democracy, particularly representative democracy, requires leadership that embraces reason and arms itself with knowledge and compassion. As things stand at the moment, reason is eschewed for gut instinct, knowledge is rejected in favour of opinion, and compassion is dismissed as weakness and seen as being taken advantage of. Democracy cannot and does not work under these conditions.

When some of the greatest intellects of the Enlightenment collaborated and drew up the Constitution of the United States, they did not design a two-party system of government; that was something that emerged spontaneously as the infant democracy found its footings. They didn’t mention parties at all in the document they produced. And when a country is as polarised, when groups are uncompromising and determined not to give an inch, but rather, inclined to harden their positions, a two party system doesn’t work. There is only a binary choice at the polls, and neither option is likely to be fully satisfying to the vast majority of voters. A multiparty system, like in a parliamentary democracy would work better because it would force compromise, it would require coalitions and working with opponents to achieve anything.

But the founding fathers believed that their constitution would be even more democratic, because therush_822 people themselves, more than any party, would be the drivers of the nation’s destiny. Because of the intricate system of checks and balances built into the constitution, they believed that the people would always be sovereign and their will would be expressed through the election of representatives in congress, and in their choice of president, who would express his understanding of their will through his judicial appointments. Nevertheless, in the Federalist Papers, Publius, (the pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) was clear that a rational and thoughtful population was critical to making the system work:

 “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. (Federalist 1)

At this point in US history, and in much of the rest of the developed world, accident and force are making a comeback as the deciding factors in political decision making. Thlincoln on revolutione Federalists were not completely convinced that democracy was a good idea; their concern was that bad, or unfair polices would be enacted by a majority and trample the rights of the minority. The Federalists were deeply concerned that democracy would be little more than mob rule. They accordingly built in those checks and balances. But mostly, their justification for opting for democracy was that they had confidence that the people of America could live up to their ideal of conducting politics with reflection, human decency, and informed thought.

In the era of Trump, that optimism is demonstrably unfounded. Mob rule is taking over and democracy is clearly failing. Can it be rescued and revived? Ask me again on the morning of November 9, 2016.




The choice has never been clearer

The Politics of Demagoguery


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Any discussion of politics during this time of a Donald Trump ascendancy has to touch on the subject of polarisation. It would be virtually impossible not to have become aware of the split in the political thinking of North Americans, with the liberal left on the one hand and the conservative right on the other. Certainly every individual will have considerable nuance attached to the broad left/right distinction but given the two party system of US politics, the dialectical division is the salient distinction nowadays. Nevertheless, virtually everyone identifies with one side or the other, and in the US, most people will define that distinction by whether they are registered as a Democrat or as a Republican.mencken quote

On an individual level, there is a great deal of variation and even disparity among the positions held, the beliefs supported, and convictions adhered to by those who clearly fall on either side of the divide, and these are crucial distinctions even among those who share a place on the left/right chasm. It is the system of US primaries that airs out those differences and helps the parties’ candidates fine tune their platforms to the desires and inclinations of their voters. But during the Bush the Younger and Obama presidencies that left/right split evolved from a political philosophy shortcut that could from time to time be jumped over into an unbridgeable, yawning chasm. There was no more “crossing the floor” as those of us in parliamentary systems would say. And for that reason, the internecine bloodletting that is characteristic of a primary battle has become ruthless and vicious. In the days when an individual felt that it was okay to vote Democratic in one election cycle and Republican in another, the primary fights were never as venomous as they are now that the voters feel that they must vote for the party’s nominee.

However, the Trump phenomenon has thrown a joker into the pack. Looking at the Republican free-for-all that has resulted in the most despised man in America almost certainly becoming the GOP candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, one can see that a lot of the old rules can be thrown out. Amid all sorts of discussions regarding what to do about this upstart, there has been much ink pilled over whether Trump represents “authentic conservative values”, and whether a third party candidate might be introduced to return to those values.

The trouble is that Trump very much represents the core values of the old Republican guard; so krause quotemuch so that an unshakable base of his support would, just as Trump pointed out, not change their views if Trump were to shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. But Trump’s deeply troubling and overt racism, xenophobia, misogyny, authoritarianism, and bigotry combined with his willful ignorance of the constitution, US history, foreign and domestic policy, geopolitics, or anything else that a POTUS might find necessary, have made the remaining thoughtful Republican politicians wonder just what to do.

The last eight years have caused Republican office-holders to abandon any pretense of putting the country ahead of their careers or their political dogma. They have pledged to undermine Obama at every opportunity regardless of any negative consequences; they have even tried to shut down the government in their efforts to show that government itself doesn’t work. Although they have failed in that endeavour, there are actually some Republicans who have a vestigial shred of self -respect and sufficient integrity to question whether they should support their party’s nominee or do the right thing. Their problem is that they see Trump as an outlier and as not being a “true Republican”. In Canada, we’d call that an argument over whether someone is sufficiently pur laine.

What even the best of the Republicans are missing is that Donald Trump is not an outlier or a sam stein quotemaverick at all; he is the logical outgrowth of everything that party has come to represent. Every hateful and horrifying aspect of Donald Trump is perfectly in tune with the written and unwritten policy of the GOP in the years since the Tea Party movement came to Washington.

The right has become the Party of Trump because, given the direction the Republicans were heading made it inevitable. With Trump it is fair to say that the US right has embraced the beginnings of fascism. And that is exactly where the party was heading.

A simple way to test this thesis is to look at exactly what Trump has promised, what Trump’s followers cite as the reasons for their support, and how that differs from or resembles fascism. When you do that, the interesting thing is that you find that virtually everything that the current right supports is, by any reasonable measure, a bad thing; everything they rail against is a good thing. So let’s see, does Trump qualify as a fascist? Or is my calling him that nothing more than typical liberal hyperbole and hysteria?

Authoritarian rule? Check. Remember Trump telling his adulating audience not to worry, that if he ordered his military leaders to commit war crimes, they would fall into place?

Intolerance? Big check. A big beautiful wall? Ban anyone of a particular faith from entry to the country? The necessity of further research to determine if the KKK is racist?

Demagogue? Check and recheck. Have you listened to him?

And what about his promises?

Well, he has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border. His followers love this, of course, but it is a bad idea, obviously. Mexican migration is a net exodus at the moment, so the wall would be counterproductive as well as just being offensive, and, well, silly.

He’ll slap a 25% (or sometimes 40%) tariff on Chinese imports. His breathtaking ignorance of macro-economics and international trade law comes to the fore here. He seems not to be aware of the impossibility of that action within the law or of the fact that, if done, it would implode the US economy as well as starting a catastrophic trade war. Another bad.

He’ll negotiate to lower the US debt. Very very bad. The only negotiating tool he would have is a threat to default. That would cripple the US credit rating and cause an international monetary and financial crisis.

He’ll eliminate the gun free zones in schools and churches and other places of gathering. Bad? It doesn’t get much worse outside of Trump’s world.

The effect of Trumpism on our understanding of 21st Century North American politics is that it is easy to see who is on the left (if you’re an American, that’s Democrat) and who’s on the right (that would be Republican). Just judge a statement or promise heard from a candidate or supporter and determine whether it is morally and ethically right or wrong. If it’s neutral, it could come from either.

If the statement or promise is what basic morality suggests is a good thing – providing aid to our handicapped neighbours, providing medical care for everyone, ensuring that minorities have a fair chance at employment and housing etc., ensuring that working people have a fair wage, extending civil rights to all (including the LGBT community), writing legislation that protects our environment, ensuring that the mega-wealthy contribute appropriately to the country that allowed them to accumulate their vast wealth – you can be sure it’s coming from the Democratic side of the aisle.

But if it is clearly immoral – cutting benefits to the poor and hungry, re-introducing torture, dictating behaviour for religious reasons, discriminating against minorities, aiding the wealthiest while forcing the poorest to support them, damaging to the environment, promoting a particular religion, stacked against minorities – you know it’s coming from stamp cartoon

At this point in the political sphere, one votes not based on simple disagreement as to how to achieve mutually agreed upon aims as Americans once did. Now the methods take second place; the aims themselves are different. There was at one time a shared vision of America; a country of moral leadership, of compassion, of firm democratic principles. Now, the extreme right – the only right that’s still in play – has a whole new vision and new aims as evolved naturally since they were first introduced by the Tea Party faction. And as we look at the Republican Party’s nominee, we can consider those aims and be afraid. Trump’s rhetoric and proposed methods are clearly fascist; but his vision of America as a compliant nation following his lead in bigotry, intolerance, nationalism, and authoritarian rule is also pure fascism.







Incarceration Nation

I Fought the Law and the Law Won.


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) For some obscure reason, the tropical paradise of the independent Republic of the Seychelles, a nation and archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean to the east of Kenya and north of Madagascar, has the highest rate of incarceration per capita in the world. Of course everyone knows that the United States of America holds the silver medal, incarcerating more than 700 people per chaingang100,000. An exact figure is hard to come by because of the disorganisation and enormity of the prison-industrial complex. There are many levels of government and private lock-ups in the system, with little or no coordination among them, and each having its own reporting system. But suffice it to say that, if you are American, you are likely to know someone who has a family member who is a long or short-term guest of the city, county, state, or federal government, or a private contractor.

Although various hypotheses have been offered for this quirk of American society, nothing persuasive has emerged, beyond the obvious fact that a failed “war on drugs” is a contributing factor.  Theorists have asked what the Seychelles and the USA have in common that could explain their anomalous numbers, but the differences between the tiny island nation and the enormous and powerful US are so vast that there is no basis for comparison. Other attempts have been made to explain the anomaly by looking at Canada, usually a fruitful exercise as the countries are culturally and geographically so similar. No luck there, however. The US has some 10 times the rate of incarceration of that of its northern neighbour.

This clearly out of control inclination to lock people up at such a frantic pace brings up some very fundamental questions regarding crime and punishment. Without getting too Dostoyevsky on ourselves, it is worth asking some meta questions. Let’s go beyond whether incarceration is a suitable punishment for non-violent offenders. Let’s go beyond whether longer sentences are more just. Let’s even go beyond whether incarceration is the best form of response to the conviction of a criminal. Let’s get right down to the very bottom and ask: Why do we punish people at all?

The usual answer to the question of why we punish is that punishment is a deterrent to crime. Knowing that one runs the risk of punishment, one is less likely to commit a crime, goes the theory; increase the penalty and you increase the deterrent effect. That straightforward calculation is usually sufficient to satisfy most of us. So whenever we see an increase in crime or a sudden wave of particular penitentiarytypes of criminal activity, the cry goes forth: Increase the sentences! Too bad it simply doesn’t work in real life the way it does on paper. A simple indication that the reasoning may be flawed is that the US imposes far greater punishments (in terms of length of incarceration) for similar crimes than does Canada and yet their crime rate is also much higher. It appears as though there is some deterrence attached to incarceration, but the direct relationship of deterrence to crime is not linear and it reaches a point of diminishing returns.

At this point it is usual to bring out the anecdotes concerning the British predilection for hanging even petty criminals in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, where pickpockets worked the crowds at the hanging of pickpockets. Needless to say, The United Kingdom and every other western developed Nation has long since abolished capital punishment while we wait for the United States of America to join the lethalinjectioncommunity of developed countries. The main practical reason for the abolition is the obvious fact that even the most severe penalty of all has failed to deter even minor crimes. That the abolition of the death penalty was also sought in most jurisdictions on moral and ethical grounds would probably not have much effect on the current US Congress.

That severe penalties are not statistically deterrents to crime has been demonstrated time and again has not led to any serious overhaul of the US criminal justice system. America is fond of the death penalty, even though it doesn’t do what supposedly justifies its existence. Longer and longer sentences under increasingly brutal conditions clearly hasn’t done the job either; the incarceration rate keeps increasing. The cynical (and probably accurate) observation here would be that the private prison lobby is working the halls of government and the golf courses of Virginia assiduously to keep the conviction and sentencing rates high and those efforts keep a large number of US citizens behind bars.

So is the prison industry entirely to blame for the lopsided numbers of citizens in stir? Well probably not, although they can certainly take some of the credit. The rest of the answer though, lies elsewhere.

Among the other answers to the question of why we punish at all is the original justification for incarceration in North America. And that is that the punishment is supposed to teach criminals the error of their ways and turn them into law-abiding productive citizens. The government/private enterprise that locks people up is called the department of corrections. The notion here is that, like spanking a jailcellchild, the state will correct misbehaviour. The places in which prisoners are locked up for increasingly lengthy terms are called penitentiaries. These places were ostensibly designed with intention of creating an atmosphere in which a criminal could reflect upon his sins and become penitent. After a suitable stretch with little to do but contemplate his sins and, presumably, pray for forgiveness, the prisoner may be declared rehabilitated and prepared to re-enter society, a chastened and reformed citizen.

The truth however is quite different. If we were to look honestly at any argument for longer sentences for crimes, we would be hard pressed to find a senator or congressman framing the argument as a need for additional time to reflect and repent. Whenever we see a rise in crime and the knee-jerk response of demands that more people be locked up and for longer periods of time, how often does the notion of reflection, or of penitence, or even rehabilitation come up?

No, the truth is that we punish people because we want to hurt people out of vengeance for what they have done to us as a society and specifically to any victims of their crimes. This is known as retributive justice and it is the easiest to understand and describe but it is by far the hardest to justify. Simply put we see retribution as a way of balancing the scales; we don’t want someone harming us without seeing them harmed in some way in return. That has been a fundamental aspect of codified justice systems since the first comprehensive, written code, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, was enacted in Mesopotamia in about 1754 BCE.

Famous for its “eye for an eye” legislation, what people often don’t understand is that Hammurabi wasn’t demanding severe punishment for a transgression; on the contrary, he was demanding that his people, when seeking retributive justice, take no more vengeance than he prescribed. Since that Babylonian code made no distinction in terms of punishment between an eye having been lost through the negligence or accident of another on the one hand and the loss of an eye as the result of a deliberate act on the other, it is clear that deterrence wasn’t the justification for the penalty. Hammurabi included the retributive aspects of his code for the specific reason of restricting the level of retribution his subjects were allowed to take; he knew that, left to their own devices, people are inclined to hit back much harder than they were hit in the first place.

And this, we can see, is the reason behind the anomalously vast prison population in the United States. Exodus 21:24 and Mathew 5:38 both reference the “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” notions of retribution. And in Mathew, the quote is mentioned specifically so that it can be rejected and replaced with “turn the other cheek”. Nevertheless, the United States, being a crypto-theocracy that more and Gandhi quotemore overtly carries out policy according to an evangelical Christian interpretation of cherry picked portions of the bible, embraces that sense of retribution in its culture. But increasingly, they interpret the “eye for an eye” injunction as meaning “no less than an eye for an eye” despite the historical fact that even 4,000 years ago, justice demanded no more than an eye for an eye.

A radical overhaul of the criminal justice system of the US is long overdue. The rationale for incarceration, the balance between the severity of a crime and the length of the sentence, and the justification for meting out harsh penalties for victimless and non-violent crimes all need to be thoroughly examined. But truth be told, the climate of hostility, hatred, and violence in the United States at the moment is hardly conducive to such an endeavour.




Not All Ideas are Created Equal

There are none so blind


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A question that outspoken atheists are often asked is why MYOBwe are so concerned with religious matters: if we don’t believe in god, all well and good, but why engage in constant criticism of the belief systems of others? And frankly, that’s a reasonable question. I can’t, of course, speak for every vocal non-believer, but I would have to say that a large part of the answer is that it offends me to have absurdity thrust upon me and to be treated as though I am an aberration if I fail to join in lockstep with those who make ludicrous claims. Moreover, to have those nonsensical propositions treated as though they are the norm and self-evident statements of fact is particularly galling to anyone with the slightest experience in critical thinking. But when laws are being written that seek to enforce magical thinking on the people as a whole, that’s when all good men have to come to the aid of the party and voice their objections.

As we watch the United States try to pretend that what is masquerading as the run-up to a general election, some of us will occasionally take our eyes off the centre ring for a moment to take in a sideshow. The sideshow that is drawing a lot of attention in this election cycle is the religious right and its decision to choose this moment in history to push the legislative envelope on the state level and to enact a series of draconian and ridiculous discriminatory laws that are justified by their proponents’ Christian belief system.

Some Christians are upset because groups like the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) are religious penisconstantly filing lawsuits in US courts over things like civic monuments depicting the biblical 10 Commandments or teachers leading prayers in public schools. How can any of those things harm us? What possible objection could reasonable people have? And why are we Christians being persecuted? The simple answers are these: 1) By tacitly suggesting that a list of rules of behaviour written by and for some nomadic, late stone age, Middle Eastern goat herders is relevant to our lives today & 2) Those rules are not acknowledged as valid by a significant portion of the population and many reject them outright as just, well, stupid & 3) Oh, please!

christians & lions

There actually was persecution at one time.

But it’s that last one that seems to have become part of the coordinated effort to reverse centuries of progress in the sciences and to undo the separation of church and state that was so central to the intent of the founding fathers of the United States. For everyone out there who had missed it, according to televangelists and some state governors, we are in a period of time where the persecution of Christians has returned with a malevolence not seen since the time of Nero and this time it’s taking place in the USA. And just look at the form that persecution takes!

According to some of the persecuted, not being allowed to require non-Christians to repeat Christian prayers publicly is discriminatory against Christians and therefore amounts to persecution. Persecution of poor, beleaguered Christians also includes their not being permitted to discriminate against groups of their choosing (they seem to like to choose members of the LGBT community but also choose atheists and agnostics and other groups as welLGBT persecutionl), since they have fervent religious beliefs that requires them to discriminate. That too, is apparently persecution.

These ludicrous claims actually manage to gain some traction, particularly in the southern states, perhaps because those legislatures can pull out and dust off a few of their old Jim Crow laws and rewrite them, substituting the word “gay” wherever it used to say ‘Negro”. However they come up with these genuinely discriminatory anti-discrimination bills, their philosophical justifications virtually always come down to some cherry-picked biblical injunction. |Oh, they’ll argue that these laws are urgently needed to protect children from perverts or some such nonsense, but when it’s pointed out that theirs is a solution without a problem, and when pressed even a little bit for some honest explanation, they’ll come back with a biblical quote.

And while this is going on some truly bizarre efforts are being made to persuade the persuadable that profoundly stupid notions need to be promulgated. Enter Ken Ham. Ham is young earth creationist and biblical literalist. While those credentials sound serious, the content of his claims is anything but. He preaches that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that it was created in 6 twenty-four hour days; he tells us that every word of the bible, New Testament and Old, is literally, factually true. To that end he built and operates “The Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky and founded “Answers in Genesis”, a Christian ministry that denies evolution and claims that all the science we need is contained right there in the first book of the Old Testament. Set to open on July 7 of this year is his latest exhibition at he museum: a life size replica of Noah’s Ark. Apparently it will be able to contain representative breeding pairs of every one of the 7 million plus species alive today as well as all the identified prehistoric species including dinosaurs – which Ham claims once co-existed with man on planet Earth just a few thousand years ago.Fred & Bill debate

That the foregoing is simply harmless eccentricity on the part of a man and a few isolated nutjobs is what we ought to expect; unfortunately, it is far, far more than that. You see, the museum itself is largely government subsidised and the construction of the 14-million-dollar Ark was completed with state and federal grants as “educational” endeavours. And to add insult to injury, Ham and his AiG are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices. Applicants to work in the museum or its associated parking lot and gift shops must sign a form asserting that they believe in the young earth proposition and that they renounce any belief in evolution; atheists or anyone other than Ham’s brand of Christian need not apply.

What seems not to occur to those members of the cult of Christianity is that atheism, not evangelical or any kind of Christianity, is the default position. The evidence for that is simple; Christians require bible studies, Sunday school, worship services, and Ken Ham’s teachings to churn out cult members, atheists need none of that. Just leave people alone and they won’t become Christian; if they are given any real education at all they’ll become atheists.

So the question of why atheists are so preoccupied with religion is answered by the observation that religion seems to be preoccupied with replacing science with fantasy, empiricism with doctrine, observation with “revelation”. We don’t want our legislatures relying on their individual members’ “faiths” to make laws for all of us. We don’t want our children taught in schools that the outrageous and the ignorant are true and science is all wrong; hell, we don’t even want them to be taught that fairy tales and science are alternatives to be chosen between as equally likely to be true.

Make it so

Are atheists obsessed with religion? Perhaps. Obsessed to precisely the same degree that theists are obsessed with imposing their ridiculous and untestable assertions on those who don’t follow their brand of devotion.


Get Thee Behind Me!

Speak of the Devil


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Liberals have for a long time intuited that the more intelligent among us tend toward liberal politics and the less cerebrally endowed are more inclined toward conservative views; recent studies, of course, have borne that intuition out. Nevertheless, the US Republicans have tried valiantly but failed spectacularly to reinvent themselves in such a way as to reshape their reputation as the “party of stupid”. If there was ever any doubt as to the sheer stupidity and ignorance of the Republican base, the ascendancy and triumph of Donald J Trump within their ranks has once and for all removed it chest-hair-usacompletely. The most cursory glance at a group of Trump supporters causes anyone with an IQ of room temperature or better a shudder of revulsion laced with a smattering of pity for the waste of DNA that is evidenced when those cretins gather. As far as I can tell, a Trump rally is indistinguishable from a village idiots’ convention.

But in a democracy, even cretins are entitled to their views, morons can vote, and idiots are entitled to representation. But what is truly disturbing about the Trump phenomenon isn’t his appeal to ignorance and sheer stupidity, but that his appeal is refined and honed with the very specific intention of appealing to the worst in human nature. In contrast, for example, is Bernie Sanders, whose doggedly stubborn candidacy is aimed directly at the very best in us.

Traditionally, contenders for the big job have appealed to the best in the people; candidates like FDR and JFK and even Jimmy Carter have appealed to the generosity of spirit shared by the people. There was always an assumption, shared by Democrat and ReTrump starter kitpublican, that inclusion, decency, and kindness were intrinsic qualities of Americans. Even Bush the Elder spoke of a “kinder and gentler” America. FDR pulled the country together and overcame a previous incarnation of “America First” isolationism, in order to mobilise against true evil. JFK founded the Peace Corps and was working with all his considerable intellect and charisma to find a way out of the quagmire that Vietnam was becoming; only his assassination allowed Johnston to escalate the conflict. Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David accords. These accomplishments and so many more all fall on the “good” side of the ledger. These were commanders in chief who knew that there was a wellspring of decent humanity in their electorate; they appealed to it in their campaigns and post-electoral speeches, and they nurtured it, and put it to work for the greater good not just of the US, but for the entire world.

And then there’s Trump. He appeals to greed, he appeals to hatred, racism, bigotry, divisiveness, brutality, violence, and ignorance. He loves the notion of torture; he’s very much in favour of killing innocent family members of suspected terrorists; he despises immigrants and people of colour. He is the antithesis FDRof what America’s great statesmen were. Jefferson was one of the most erudite and cerebral men of his time. Trump couldn’t find Syria on a map, doesn’t have a clue what the Marshal Plan was, and believes that he has “the best words…lots of them”. Lincoln gave us the Emancipation Proclamation; Trump wants to deport 11,000,000 Hispanics and wants to ban Muslims from entering the country. Barack Obama turned the economy around and protected the average American from the worst economic crisis since the great depression; Trump is okay with threatening to renege on the national debt. Donald Trump is not just stupid and breathtakingly ignorant; he is venal…he is, in short, a bad man.

Donald Trump is firmly against the positions held by his opponents on the Democratic side. What should we call someone who rejects: fair voting laws; reducing the levels of poverty and disease; seeking fuller employment and living wages; shrinking the gulf between the wealthy and the destitute; raising educational standards; making tertiary education available to all, not just the wealthy? Since all those initiatives are, to any rational person, good Jeffersonthings, that would make someone who rejects them and wants to crush them, well,…evil.

Whether or not one is comfortable with the notion of evil, it is fair to use the word in its sense of meaning the opposite of good. So that makes Donald Trump evil; everything his supporters would have learned in any moral philosophy class or ethics course (had they ever been to school) would militate against supporting his brand of evil. Nevertheless, they swoon or shriek their delight in orgiastic frenzy when they hear him waxing nostalgic about the good old days when they could have crippled a protester with impunity.

And that is the most disturbing aspect of Trump’s absurd candidacy; he has tapped into a rich vein of hatred, a vein that hadn’t been tapped in a general election since the days of avowed racist, George Wallace. And, in truth, Trump is worse than Wallace; Trump is a far more comprehensive monster than Wallace, whose main hobby horse was the perpetuation of segregation. Trump hits the racist notes without breaking a sweat, but he goes on to mock the handicapped, insult women, Mexicans, Muslims, and anyone from elsewhere; he incites violence, and praises brutality and promises lots of it…his list of evil is endless. So far, the hatred which he vows to JFK bipartisaninstitutionalise is only words; but I, for one, am willing to take him at his word: if he were to be elected he would at least try to accomplish the vicious acts he has promised.

jimmy_carter_quote_2       It is clear to anyone with a functioning brain that Trump is a nightmare; he is a disaster striving to enter the White House. It has been said by others, including, perceptively enough, Johnny Depp, that if Trump becomes president, he will be the last president of the US. It is true that a Trump presidency would be a disaster on that scale. So far Trump’s idiotic candidacy has destroyed the GOP; there is no reason to think that the party will survive in any coherent shape after this election cycle. Put him in the White House and that evil that he incarnates will pull down the country and with it much of the world. It is not unduly histrionic to say that this is a straightforward question of whether or not the American voters will support evil. The whole world is bewildered and not a little frightened by what’s happening to the only superpower; will the “party of stupid” actually persuade the people to follow them into evil and chaos?trumpkill

We shall see.


Why the US Needs This Gong Show

A Two Party System


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The problem with a two party system is that there are only two parties.



A body politic that has only a choice between two parties is necessarily wildly contorted as a general election looms. Bifurcating something as complex as political and social ideology is an attempt to simplify something of nearly infinite nuance into three or four broad statements. The end result of that process of applying binary thinking is homogeneity on the one hand and chaos and self-destruction on the other. And that’s what we’re seeing as we grab our popcorn and watch in fascinated amusement the political train wreck that passes for a general election in the United States.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that, with a two party or binary system, in a free market capitalist country, polarisation must necessarily take place. Because of the cutthroat competitiveness that capitalism breeds, people of opposing political views face each other down and duke it out until one view is left standing and the other is left bleeding in the arena. gladiatior18fightingThere is no possibility of arriving at a consensus when politics are as polarised as they are in the US at this writing; there will be no dialectical process of thesis meeting antithesis to produce a synthesis. In this kind of politics, synthesis would be seen by all participants as capitulation and selling out. The US congress of the last eight years, the entire stretch of the Obama presidency, has demonstrated that better than any theoretical application of political theory could do.

As we have seen, the degree of polarity that has developed in United States politics has led lawmakers to the point where party loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to their oaths of office or even loyalty to their country. This is an inevitable result of the fiercely fought battles to control the narrative of one party in that two-party system. As a result of having fought so ferociously to stake out positions on the far right, the traditional territory of the Republicans, any backsliding toward the middle was simply not tolerated by the party. And with the right wing views so entrenched in their rhetoric and faceofftheir doctrine, it became it sign of weakness even to grant their president the simple courtesies due to him by virtue of the office he held.

The acknowledged mission of the Republicans came to be to deny the president any victory or accomplishment at all and to achieve this noble aim by simple obstructionism. Most of the time they simply did nothing; the rest of the time, at every opportunity, they threatened or attempted to shut down the government completely. So intent on undermining Obama’s presidency were they, that they were willing to destroy their country’s economy, its sense of self worth, and its standing in the world. Even if people were to die (another inevitability of shutting down air traffic control, police departments, the military, etc.) as a result of their actions, well that would be worth it not to compromise and work with the other party or, god forbid, the president. What they didn’t see, and what is only becoming clear to them now, is that in the process they destroyed their party.

What went wrong for the Republicans was the advent of the Tea Party faction within their caucus. The Tea Partiers, by their sudden election of a cohort of far right freshman congressmen and senators, persuaded the rest of the party that they could appeal to their base and more of the general public by pushing the envelope of their dogma farther and farther to the right. Soon Republican senators and congressmen were falling all over themselves to showcase their bona fides by refusing to consider compromise in their debates over legislation, even going to the extent of signing Grover Norquist’s “never raise taxes” pledge and cutting every social program in sight. These government employees were determined, as Norquist said, to shrink the government down until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub. The pledge itself being a betrayal of their oaths of office, wherein they had pledged that their country was to come first in all considerations, became a symbol of how narrow the Republican entrance gate had become.

The Republican Party had long stood for a few ideals: smaller government (not no government), free enterprise capitalism, states rights. But now, to be a good Republican, you have to deny anthropogenic climate change, oppose civil rights for the LBGT community, demand that planned Parenthood be defunded, support the intrusion of evangelical Christianity into government, profess that life begins at the moment of conception, deny that evolution is a scientific reality, be in favour of voter suppression, despise immigrants, and a whole laundry list of more and more bizarre dogma. The Republicans, in their struggle to elbow their way to the most extreme right of the party hadn’t considered the fact that by its very nature, an extreme position excludes many people. So while the real hard core Republicans gamely continued to participate in the rightward migration, occasionally they’d lose one of their own; one who had just a bit more sense than to follow the herd.

But meanwhile, registered Republicans were questioning whether the party of Lincoln represented their views any more. The Republican tent had been reduced to the point where nobody was left under its shelter except fanatics and political opportunists making a calculated strategic move. While there continues to exist an enormous Republican base, many are questioning whether they can in good conscience continue to go full Republican.

So, in the 2016 Republican primaries, Donald Trump came along and mobilised that contingent of the Republican base that supports all the narrow minded, mean spirited social dogma of the extreme right. He couldn’t care less about policy, foreign or domestic; he’s only interested in appealing to the hard kernel of deeply angry hard core Republicans that want to drive the vicious social agenda of the very worst of what’s left of the Republican party. And despite Ted Cruz and a rather shambolic collection of party stalwarts trying to play spoiler, Trump got them all signed up and swiped the nomination from anyone with the slightest hint of moderation in their views. Having shrunk their tent down to a size where it only covers this group of rabid fanatics, we are poised to see the GOP under Trump get slaughtered at the general and the rest of the party fracture and possibly splinter into third party startups. As long as Trump is the candidate there are millions of Americans who have never voted anything but Republican, but cannot countenance a Trump victory; they will stay home because they would rather sandpaper the insides of their eyelids than vote for Hillary Clinton.

Now, a third party is not at all a bad idea. Even better would be several more parties. If people are feeling as politically alienated as they seem to be, the reason for that alienation is obvious. The two party candidates at 2016’s general election will have the highest disapproval rating of any presidential candidates in history. Trump is hated because he embraces hatred and is gambling that there is enough hatred out there to carry him on a wave of odium and loathing to the White House. Hillary Clinton is disliked by fewer people but with some intensity for a number of reasons from her support of the Wall Street bailouts to the whisper campaign regarding the cellphone non-story. Nevertheless, no voter who agrees with the Democratic stance of providing a social safety net, progressive taxation, organised labour, and broad civil rights could ever vote for Trump, leaving abstention or Hillary as the only options.

A third party and even more than that would help the US avoid the angst of the limited choice they face and quite probably the circus that these primaries have become. If there were more parties, there would be no need for the internecine knife fight that’s destroying the only party on the right; there would be some place for Hillary-hating liberal elites to call home. There is nothing in the US constitution that requires a two party system; the constitution never even mentions parties. Even more importantly, the very structure of the United States government as determined by its constitution presumes that those seeking political office have the country itself as their primary loyalty. The two party system demands that pols adhere to their party above all, there being no alternative other than a complete reversal of all views previously held.

New-Years-EveSo here’s to the fragmentation and ultimate shattering of the GOP; Since a Republican candidate can’t possibly win 2016, with any intelligent foresight some additional parties might be formed out of the scattered pieces of the old party. If that were to come to pass, in the fullness of time we would see congress representing a kaleidoscope of different views and interests, the power of the lobbies would be seriously diminished, compromise would be a daily fact of life and not an act of apostasy to be punished by burning at the stake, voters would be far more engaged, and there would be a sense that finding genuine representation in congress wouldn’t be the far-fetched fantasy of a cockeyed optimist.


A Discussion With Penn Jillette

Why I’m not a Libertarian


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I’m a big fan of Penn and Teller. And I’m a particularly big fan of Penn (the one who talks. A lot) Jillette. He has spoken frequently and written at length about his atheistic worldview and about his version of libertarianism; one I often come near to embracing, but ultimately cannot.


Penn (if I may be bold enough to presume a first handle basis: if you read this, Mr. Jillette, please call me Pagun), is very persuasive and admirable in his explication of his brand of libertarianism. He explains, for example, his adoption of that position by describing how he and his parents once looked at a government subsidised art exhibit and had two distinct reactions to what was on display. Penn liked it very much but his parents saw it as blasphemous; he then realised how unfair it was that his parents had to contribute to the support of something with which they totally disagreed. That is a very reasonable reaction to governmental expenditures with which a taxpayer may disagree; who wouldn’t agree that something is amiss when one has to pay for something that directly contravenes one’s deeply held beliefs?

Who would disagree? Well, me, for one.

You see, libertarians of every stripe hold the view that we are better off with minimal government intrusion into our lives. And as a corollary to that, we would be better off if we reduced current levels of government participation, and especially oversight in our day-to-day lives. But as positive as this all sounds, I must respectfully disagree with Penn and other libertarians who come at it (as he puts it) through a hippie point of view.

The problem with eliminating government sponsorship of the arts, for example, is that without such sponsorship, the arts would sputter and ultimately fizzle out in the current zeitgeist. Removing government sponsorship and requiring that the arts be entirely self-financed would create a cultural milieu in which the most popular would be all that is available for even the most counterculture and avant-garde art aficionados. Allowing the radical democratisation of the arts would simply eliminate what is now cutting edge and what just might be a breakthrough in the way that Van Gogh’s work was. Much of art, including literature, was wildly unpopular at its time and didn’t sell worth a damn until long after the death of the artist. What would survive, of course, would be, almost by definition, the mediocre.

There would be no highbrow art at all. There would be nothing but the homogenised mainstream literature and if we are to judge by viewership figures, by far the most successful of the visual arts would be pornography. Now pornography is great, but I would love to see the government support arts that aren’t quite so popular and mainstream.

In times past there were patrons of the arts. There were the Medicis and the Borgias and thblack-velvet-painting-of-matador-bull-fighter-at-ki-huic-market-cancun-BF0Y19e Popes and Royal families of Europe, Tsars of Russia, and private wealth holders like the Rothschild family to ensure that their favourite artists were paid a living wage, freeing them up to create works that would only be recognised in the fullness of time. Without the aforementioned patrons, the work of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the rest of the Ninja Turtles would never have seen the light of day. Even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t have created his miraculous body of work without the patronage of his brother and friends; he didn’t sell a single piece in his lifetime. But those days are gone; there are virtually no patrons left.

The only system left to patronise the arts is society’s contribution even to art that individual taxpayers don’t understand, aren’t fond of, or even actively despise. To cut off funding for those arts is condemn a country to artistic mediocrity in the name of some misunderstood notion of democracy.

While I too abhor government overreach, I also take the view that the majority isn’t always right and I subscribe to the views of the United States’ founding fathers in their fear of a “Tyranny of the Majority”. It is, in my view, crucial that there is room for the creation of art that might go against the grain, art whose merit my not be appreciated for another generation or more. I view with horror the possibility of a cultural milieu in which art that is immensely popular is our only option. I hope I’m not alone in wishing not to usher in a world in which pornography, toreadors on black velvet, and giant-eyed waifs clutching kittens are our only options. And if there is no public patronage for the arts, that’s what we’ll get.


Job Actions and a little thinking

Solidarity, cuz the union keeps us strong

VANCOUVER ISLAND BC – Today is supposed to be JJ’s first day of kindergarten.

I have been eagerly anticipating the day after Labour Day for several reasons. JJ has spent the first half of the summer commuting with me to the Cancer Centre in Victoria for my daily radiation treatments, and the second half hanging around the house, spending far too much time playing electronic games and surfing the kids’ areas on the Internet while I recover. Today was supposed to be the day that all comes to an end. New friends, lots of socialised activity, and the beginning of his journey through academia.

It was supposed to be something of a new beginning for me as well. Not having been well enough to work for about a year now, my cancer journey has arrived at a point where we know there is some microscopic malignancy somewhere, but we must wait and watch until it is detectable. I am feeling the return of some minimal quotient of energy, so I was looking forward to sitting down at the keyboard and pounding out a few articles to send to my most reliable editors, to outline a new book, and to have a few hours every day during which I am not immediately responsible for a very curious and active five-year-old.

It was not to be, however; the British Columbia teachers union is on strike and the government has locked them out.cupe

This presents a bit of a challenge to me, both in practical terms (what to do about JJ) and in intellectual terms (I am and always have been a union supporter). The practical aspects are only logistical issues and not very interesting…I can work around them. The intellectual aspects are the ones that have me at the keyboard while JJ is watching SpongeBob Squarepants.

I have always maintained that to be as objective as possible in a contentious issue, it is best if proponents of either side of the dispute have no personal stake in it. Objectivity is best obtained if the commentators ain’t got a dog in the fight. However, in the absence of an arm’s length objectivity, disclosure is the next best way for a commentator to start. In this instance, I have a dog in the fight. So there you have it. In labour disputes, my default position is pro organised labour. And I have a little boy who is sad because he can’t start kindergarten as promised all summer. In this instance however, I am inclined to fault the teachers’ union to some degree.

The management–labour relationship is best seen as a straightforward buyer–seller relationship. Management is buying and labour is selling labour. A strike is nothing more than the seller refusing to sell his commodity, labour, at a price management wants to pay. By withholding labour, the seller causes financial harm to management by ensuring that the product being manufactured by labour and sold for management’s profit is unavailable; labour stops making widgets and management has no widgets to sell. Management suffers a financial loss (as does labour) and he who blinks first loses and a new contract is signed and business resumes as usual.

That nutshell description of the archetypal labour dispute is all well and good and my Marxist economics professor would be proud that I grasped it so clearly. It doesn’t however cover the teacher’s strike now closing schools in British Columbia.

The problem is that management is, in this case, government. And government has no widgets to sell so there is no financial damage being done to management by the teachers withholding their labour. On the contrary, the strike is a bit of a windfall; there will be no disbursements from the education budget until the teachers blink and go back to work. In fact, such a savings is the government experiencing that it is buying support from the public by offering to pay the parents $40.00 per day per child for as long as they are affected by the strike.

This, while welcome to a parent like me, is a blatant ploy to curry favour with the public. The forty dollars will pay for some daycare for the children who have no school to attend, thus easing a bit of the burden for parents who have work to go to. Meanwhile the teachers are doing their level best to recruit parents to join their job action and to write letters to editors and members of the legislature. The tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of the parents is a sure indicator that this job action hasn’t got any body by the balls – except maybe the teachers themselves, since their strike fund won’t last for much longer.

This whole notion of a strike has the idea of job actions skewed. The withholding of labour is supposed to be felt by the people who control the purse strings, not the customers. Particularly if you’re trying to get the customers to support your action.

A far more effective job action on the part of the teachers would have been not to strike in the classic picket line and cardboard sign manner, but rather to approach the situation with a little recognition of the parts the various stakeholders have to play. Perhaps the teachers could have stayed on the job (and payroll) but just give the students free time all day. Send them off to the playground, to the library or gym. They could sit at their desks reading, colouring, drawing, or texting their friends. This would inevitably result in a lockout and the teachers would be the victims and not the aggressors; an ideal spot to be in when binding arbitration is brought in. The parents would be considerably more sympathetic as the kids would still be at school during the work day and the parents would endure considerably less upheaval.

As it stands, the teachers are striking primarily for smaller class sizes and additional help for special needs children. And yet the strike is causing massive inconvenience to their natural allies in the dispute: the parents. Ironically, the real villain in the piece, is the government that denigrates the importance of education and that squanders money on one boondoggle after another. Nevertheless, believing the parents (voters) to be on their side, that government remains tightfisted when it comes to our most important resource – our children – and are winning the hearts and minds of the poor beleaguered parents.
So, teachers, I’m with you. I won’t cross your picket line, and I’ll even stand with a picket out of solidarity. But, hey. You’re smart guys and girls, aren’t you? Try to think job actions through before you walk off next time, will you?