Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Larry Zolf: Why do they hate America?

The CBC's Larry Zolf gets called a lefty journalist, but out here in the blogosphere he's been disowned left, right, and centre. It's a good thing, too, because in his latest editorial (hat-tip to pogge), he hardly seems aligned with, well, anybody sensible:

Canadian hatred for George W. Bush and his war on terrorism is massive. Bush-hatred is definitely anti-American. Anti-Americanism has always been tied up with the Canadian identity. Anti-Americanism is dangerous and reeks of racism. Harper has been right in fighting it.
Apparently, if you hate the policies of George W. Bush, you hate America. Just where have we heard that before? From right-wing Americans, that's where. Zolf has previously been dubbed Canada's answer to Noam Chomsky, but with this most recent line of reasoning, he's sounding a lot more like Canada's answer to Dick Cheney or Ari Fleischer.

Now, I'll be the first to say that I have often found Canadian anti-Americanism rather annoying. What makes it annoying, however, is when it's knee-jerk, incorrect, and based in hearsay rather than in actual knowledge of the U.S. The assumption that U.S. English spellings of 'night' and 'through' are 'nite' and thru', and because of this, U.S. English is inferior to Canadian English--that's annoying. The ubiquitous comparison of the American "melting pot" with the Canadian "cultural mosaic" without any discussion of the criticism of the former that's gone on in the U.S.--that's even more annoying. The assumption that Canadians must all pay less for post-secondary education than Americans simply because we're Canadians and we're always better than those damn Yanks at that sort of thing--that's not just annoying, that's destructive.

But hating George Bush's policies? That's neither annoying nor anti-American; it's common sense. Not to mention the fact that these days, the vast majority of Americans are even in agreement with those "America-bashing" Canucks on that particular point.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I choose to call Lyle Oberg a blithering idiot

Alberta Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton has sponsored a private members' bill that would--among other things--allow marriage commissioners to opt out of performing same-sex marriages for religious reasons. The bill is up for third reading today. Lyle Oberg, one of the other leadership candidates, supports the bill. Why? Because "no one should have the ability to make anyone do anything against their will."

No one should have the ability to make anyone do anything against their will.

He must have misspoken, you're probably thinking. Oberg doesn't really believe that literally--that would be ridiculous. But no, he actually rephrased the sentiment and repeated it a second time: "Nobody should be able to litigate against people who choose not to do something."

Okay, well, then I think I'll just choose not to put my kid in school this fall. When tax time rolls around this April, I think I'll choose not to file, and when my next Alberta health premium comes due, I'll choose not to pay the bill. Oh, and I think I'll drive down to Brooks and break into Lyle Oberg's house. When he tells me to leave or else he'll call the police, I'll just tell him that I find it quite comfortable there and choose not to listen to him.

(You know, it's not even these people's policies that get me so much as their pure, unadulterated stupidity. Why, why are they like this? The federal Tories manage to be right-wing without being stupid, so why are there seemingly no Alberta Tories with brains in their heads? It just baffles me.)

The article goes on to talk about how the bill isn't expected to pass because there's not expected to be "enough time" to debate it. Hmm, interesting that if they know there won't be enough time, that they wouldn't find some way to allow enough time. Might there be something being cooked up that they're not giving us the details about? Hmm, there might.

And I just might have pictures to share later on today. *grin*

Update: The pseudofilibuster, in which the Alberta NDP and the Alberta Liberals jointly organized to make sure procedural matters took long enough that the bill couldn't pass, was a success. The best part was the way in which they officially introduced all the members of the public in the gallery (we had to register ahead of time, and provide brief biographies to be read aloud). There were so many people there that the introductions alone took over an hour! It's sad that the Tories outnumber even a combined Opposition to such an extent that tricks like these are necessary, but it was still an incredibly creative use of parliamentary procedure to achieve political goals, and I was quite impressed. And I'm most impressed of all by the fact that the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta NDP were willing to put aside partisan differences and join forces for long enough to do the right thing.

I wasn't allowed to take the camera into the chamber, but the best pictures I could get of the enormous lineups to get in are over here. Too fun.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Yankee Klein

Every American I know who's read my 2004 post about Alberta's premier Ralph Klein has had one singular reaction: "Wow, he sounds like George W. Bush!" I cringe every time, but there's some truth to it; he's got the same sort of mixture of right-wing ideology, populism, and a mouth that overflows with quotable stupidity (his latest being that former U.S. presidential candidate Al Gore is "about as far left as it gets." this coming from a politician who has sat in the Legislative Assembly with Brian Mason for years, now. the stupid, it burns).

In any case, it sounds like Klein, who is preparing for the next leg of his career since his unceremonious ouster from the leadership, has been welcomed with open arms at a well-known U.S. think tank, where he will undoubtedly have plenty of opportunity to run into his ideological and intellectual equivalent. What I want to know, though, is this: is there any chance of them keeping him?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

CBC headlines: an endless source of amusement

Today, the same CBC headline writers who brought us the delightfully ambiguous "Marrying gays optional for commissioners," the tongue-twisting brilliance of "Klein's clean coal claims questioned," and the barely-parseable "Visa delays plague games for gays" are making sure those darned homeless don't end up with any advantages:

Advocates worry about bias towards homeless

Damn straight! Equal rights for wealthy suburbanites!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Meeting up in Quebec City?

Two weeks from tomorrow, I will be winging my way to Montreal, and then joining up with NDPers from across Canada to take the free NDP Express Train from there to Quebec City for Convention 2006. Will any other NDP bloggers/blog readers be attending? The schedule looks pretty jam-packed, but it would be a shame if we were all there and didn't manage to meet up even once.

Anybody else going? Anybody else up for a bloggers' meetup?

Update: I've gotten two inquiries in email so far, so...if you don't want to put your name out there for the world to read, you can reach me in email at idealisticpragmatist at gmail dot com.

Upperdate: Okay, I've now got several inquiries, but I'm trying to see if I can spread the word a little further. I've sent out email on this to all the Blogging Dippers whose email addresses I could find, to ask if they're going to be at convention and might be interested in a bloggers' lunch or something similar. If you wanted to help perpetuate this beyond my blog's readership, it'd be great if you could link to this post in your own blog. Thanks!

6 September update: The bloggers' meetup is scheduled for Saturday lunchtime, at an inexpensive restaurant not far from the convention hotel. Reservations have been made for the group that's already told me they could make it, but all it takes to get you added is a quick note to me (idealisticpragmatist at gmail dot com) saying that you'd like to come as well! The more the merrier--I just need to let the restaurant know how many we are. To be absolutely certain you reach me, you should email me tonight by 10PM mountain time (midnight eastern time), as I'm hopping a very early flight tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wente Watch

A blog that's long overdue: Wente Watch. Dedicated in its entirety to debunking the mad ravings of one Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail columnist and embarrassment to American immigrants across Canada.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What a Liberal should sound like

According to the dictionary, my blog's name is an oxymoron, since 'idealist' and 'pragmatist' are supposed to be antonyms. To me, though, it's more than just a cute piece of wordplay; it's actually my personal philosophy of politics. My strongly-held beliefs about the ways we should help the less fortunate in our society are what propel what I try to do in the political arena. What this means is that I think Canada hasn't done nearly enough to adequately fund public health care, social housing, or education, nor has it done enough to protect the environment and encourage more sustainable practices--whether under Conservative or Liberal governments. And yet at the same time, I think it's equally important to propose creative solutions to those problems that end up actually being practical and implementable. Ideology underlies my politics, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of it.

I've thought for a long time that a healthy Liberal party would also tend to consist of idealistic pragmatists. The ideals underlying the practical solutions they propose would be rather different from my own, given that they tend to value social justice and economic prosperity equally, while I tend to favour the former--but the logic of their decision-making should tend to resemble mine. As such, I don't expect to agree with Liberals much of the time, but I do expect to respect the reasoning behind where they're coming from. What I'm seeing in most Liberal rhetoric these days, though, is the "pragmatist" without the "idealistic." They want to take back power not because they're brimming with new solutions that they're just dying to implement, but because they want someone other than Stephen Harper to be in charge. This is what I meant when I encouraged the Liberals back here to tell us what they stand for, because at this point, we honestly don't know. Given my own ideals, I don't expect their vision to be something I agree with, but it should still be something which, as an idealistic pragmatist, I can respect. And that will require them to stand for something bigger than ensuring that Harper gets the boot.

I mention all this as background to saying that for the first time in a long, long time, I listened to a Liberal speak and thought: you know, this is what a Liberal should sound like. That Liberal was Martha Hall Findlay, and the context was an interview with Conservative blogger Greg Staples. I didn't agree with what she said about the Third Way, health care, or post-secondary education--but then again, I didn't expect to. What I did think while listening to that interview, though, was that she was definitely a politician I could respect. She not only has integrity in spades, but she was able to make very clear that her pragmatic ideas are grounded in a serious commitment to strong underlying principles, and that there are limitations to how far she'd be willing to compromise on those. She actually answered yes/no questions with a "yes" or a "no" rather than trying to weasel out of taking a strong stance. She took Greg to task on the points where they disagreed without resorting to personal attacks. And finally, she's willing to do more than just spout campaign talking points, even if that means disagreeing with her party's sacred cows or criticizing the road they've been on recently.

Here are just a few quotes from the interview that illustrate what I'm trying to say:

On Pierre Elliott Trudeau: "Oh! Economically, yeah, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination!"

On health care reform: "We have to have an honest discussion, without getting caught up in terminology and rhetoric. A perfect example is the word 'private.' The status quo's not going to work--it isn't working. And in a time of aging demographics and more expensive technologies, we simply can't carry on by writing bigger cheques. And I want to make sure we can get away from the word 'private' as this bugaboo that prevents us from having an honest discussion. So stressing that I support a single-tier system in this country, publicly funded, we need to let the private sector participate in the delivery."

On the environment: "I was very upset during the last campaign. We signed Kyoto, and that was absolutely the right thing to do--global warming is something we have to address. But after signing Kyoto, we wrapped ourselves in the flag and then didn't actually do much."

On the last Liberal campaign: "I've got to tell you, being Liberal means a lot more to me than just not being Conservative. A whole lot more. And it was really frustraing in the last election. When was the last time Toyota put up pictures of Hondas and said 'please don't buy these cars?' Choose the lesser of two evils? This is so not enough for me. If we're going to go and ask the Canadian public for their support, we have to show why we have policies for Canada's future, why we're best positioned to implement those policies for Canada's future, and not just why somebody else isn't."
She's not going to win this race--she has neither the political experience nor the throngs of support that would be necessary. But despite the fact that I don't agree with much of where she's coming from, in a Liberal leadership race where we've mostly been seeing a whole lot of spin without much substance, she's still a breath of fresh air. And if the next Liberal leader doesn't give her a top-notch critic portfolio or cabinet position, he's missing a huge bet.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Choosing a Liberal candidate: an outsider's view

While I was busy with more mundane things, Liberal bloggers were all a-twitter over Maurizio Bevilacqua's decision to drop out of their leadership race and support Bob Rae. Jason Cherniak was "shocked," Calgary Grit called it "a big coup for Rae," and Any Idiot Can Have a Blog snarked: "kudos to Maurizio in retaining his strong right wing values, where money talks and personal values walk."

Miles Lunn went so far as to speculate that "Rae promised him something in return if he is elected," and while he may well be right in this particular case, there are other explanations as well. There is, after all, a longstanding tradition in the Liberal party of supporting a particular candidate for reasons other than ideological ones. A Touch Left of Centre characterizes himself as "a centre-left Liberal and a strong supporter of Michael Ignatieff," who's anything but centre-left. Jason Cherniak, on the other hand, refers to himself as a "blue Liberal," but he's supporting centre-left candidate Stéphane Dion. Pragmatism ("can this candidate beat Harper?") and personal factors ("does this individual have the charisma necessary to gain a following beyond True Grits?") seem to weigh more heavily than ideology into many Liberals' decisions. So maybe Bevilacqua was promised something, but maybe he just thinks Rae's going to win and wants to jump on his bandwagon while there's still a seat available.

Over at the Tory blog Political Staples, there's been much sneering over this sort of pragmatic decision-making. "Policy and platform always takes second place to power with these guys," says one commenter, and another says that this is an indication that Bevilacqua "believes in nothing in particular, but merely adopts policy positions and backs candidates purely out of political expediency." There's another way of looking at this, though, and it's at least somewhat less cynical: many Liberals seem to go into a decision-making process like this with the assumption that because Liberals are all centrists, they're already ideologically close enough to any of the candidates for their own comfort. And once you've taken that on as an underlying assumption, it's much easier to support a particular candidate because of other factors such as personal charisma and ability to win elections. To those of us on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, this can look unprincipled, but maybe it's just a different ordering of the same priorities all of us have.

The reason for this difference is clear--it's simply less threatening for Liberals than it is for either the NDP or the Tories to choose candidates on a more pragmatic basis. For the NDP, for example, the purely pragmatic decision would always mean always picking the most centrist candidate possible. This would throw off the balance in a party that has members ranging from the far left to the centre left, and would disenfranchise a large portion of the membership. The Liberals, on the other hand, will always be able to lay claim to the middle, so whether they tilt a little to the left, a little to the right, or land dead centre doesn't make nearly as much of a difference to their internal makeup.

I'm an American who always used to choose the furthest-left candidate in any primary election, and so I find this to be a foreign way of thinking. But at the same time, I do see the logic in it. And I also have to wonder whether the parties that are closer to the edges of the spectrum might not benefit from some small element of this logic as well. Choosing between members of your own party should mean balancing ideology, electability, and one's own personal affinity for the candidate. I'm not convinced that the Liberals are on to the right mix of those three factors, but a choice based
solely on ideology doesn't make much sense, either.

More Americans by birth, Canadians by choice

Over here in the political blogosphere, we all have a tendency to have blogrolls that consist exclusively, or almost exclusively, of other political blogs. But political blogs aren't the Alpha and the Omega of the blogging world, and last year, this recognition even led to Robert expanding his Canadian Blog Awards beyond just the political. Recently, I was excited to find that there's a whole subcommunity of bloggers out there who are blogging about their personal journeys as Americans who have decided to emigrate to Canada. Some of them are lefties, some of them are queer, some of them just felt out of place in the U.S., and some are all of the above. And while I've got a rather different sort of blog over here, I still feel an affinity with all of them.

There's Laura from We Move to Canada, a freelance writer who shares a bloggy tagline with me, and who left New York City for Toronto along with her partner Allan last summer. She details her journey not only in her blog, but in a Cafepress book.

There are the two gay men from Florida who write the Moving to Vancouver blog. They already sport a "No Deep Integration with the USA" banner on their blog, despite still being in the process of applying for permanent residency in Canada.

There's Daniel and his husband Alan from Would-Be Canadians, who hope to move from Seattle to Vancouver. Their blog details the anxiety over the limbo that immigrants can feel as they're wondering when and if their applications will be accepted.

There's Juan and Mr Tew of Wondrous Canadian Renewal, a binational (U.S. and an unknown Latin American country) couple who are currently living in Michigan and hoping to move just across the border to Windsor.

There's Tom of Canadian Hope, one half of another binational gay couple living in New Jersey. Due to his mother's recent illness, he's been thinking a lot about what it means to move far away from his close-knit family to an entirely different country. But he seems grounded in his decision to move to Canada when he writes about everything that's going wrong in the U.S. and its politics, and his hopes to find something different in this country.

There are the two women of Two Moms to Canada, a couple from Minnesota who have delved deeply enough into Canadian politics to link to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Council of Canadians, and Rabble. They were recently in Montreal for the national conference connected with the OutGames, and were particularly impressed with Louise Arbour and Irshad Manji.

There's Mason and Nick of Life Without Borders, who after several long years of waiting, have just received their official permission to come to Canada (congratulations, guys!). Their recent posts are eloquent statements of the combination of sadness and happiness, of trepidation and excitement that inevitably surrounds any decision to leave the country where you've spent your whole life.

I've long maintained that becoming an immigrant is about more than just deciding you're unhappy where you are; it's also about choosing a particular other place and doing the work that's necessary to be happier there. It's an act not just of despair and rejection, but also of hope and acceptance. These people embody both sides of that sentiment. Their stories take me back to my own fears and worries about coming here for good, and my own process of figuring out what makes Canada tick and affirming the reasons why I wanted to live here. If you found my recent post about my own immigrant journey interesting, you might want to check some of them out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Crazy as a blogger

Conventional wisdom has it that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bit of a madman. I have to say, though, I'm always skeptical of such pronouncements--after all, you only have to look as far as George Bush to realize that one person's madman is another person's hero. But now something has happened that's got me leaning a bit toward that position myself. No, he's not threatening to blow up the whole Middle East, at least not today. Instead, he's starting a blog.

The man's not just crazy; he's as crazy as we are.

(Hat tip to skdadl at pogge.)