IT BEGINS: JOHN KERRY

Greetings,

Last night John Kerry formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination last night. He gave the speech of his life, in which he described why he would stand up for America and fight if he had to, but the country would no longer start wars in the Age of Terror, instead placing more focus on defending the homeland and consolidating forces around the globe in order to build better international agreements and alliances.

Kerry also did a great deal of referring to his army days in Vietnam and how the veterans of that conflict have a unique perspective on the war in Iraq – it’s a conflict that has been mismanaged from the get-go. Kerry inspires an incredible amount of personal loyalty from his Vietnam colleagues and many other retired veterans; his speech last night – he wasn’t dour or reserved as critics claim, for he was energetic, passionate and even combative – underlined exactly what his priorities for the U.S. will be if he wins the Presidency.

ANN COULTER AND JOHN EDWARDS

Greetings,

Quick update: my first column for CBC’s Viewpoint section is up and running. This will be a regular deal now, so check often!

Now, onto my regular blog…

I am not an unkind man. I believe it is paramount in a democracy that freedom of speech be maintained for everyone, regardless of how crazy or outlandish some people’s views can be. I also don’t believe in personal attacks in the media, because any time you fire off an insult at a fellow reporter or someone you’re writing about, you’re helping to create a culture that says it’s okay to be unprofessional to each other. After all, if the media is behaving in an irresponsible way, isn’t that the bellweather for how we treat each other in business, politics, et al?

This being said, I, along with many, many others, have a bone to pick with Ann Coulter. Coulter is a right-wing journalist (some would say extreme right) based out of the U.S., and she’s gotten herself into a whole lot of hot water.

Here’s the skinny on Coulter. A former columnist for the National Review Online, she’s written numerous books slamming “liberals” in the U.S. and is considered the guest pundit du jour for Fox News. She’s as conservative as they come – unabashedly pro-war, socially conservative, and vicious towards anything and anyone politically to the left of the Republican Party. According to Salon, she went on record saying that “my only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building” – a comment she said after 9-11. But that’s not even the most shocking comment she’s ever made – the National Review, a veritable clearing house of conservative views in the U.S., terminated their working relationship with Coulter after she published an article days after 9-11 that, according to Salon, suggested the U.S. “invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

And that’s just the beginning.

Last year, she wrote a book called Treason, in which she actually celebrated infamous U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy as a hero of democracy (and an attractive man?) for outing various celebrities who were alleged to be members of the Communist Party (almost all of whom were not Communists and had their acting careers ruined because of the House of Un-American Activities so-called “Black List”). Most conservatives and libertarians don’t support this position for obvious reasons, but Coulter, well, she does.

Politically, few Canadians can relate to her views. But she’s now caught in a quagmire that threatens to undermine her credibility in U.S. conservative circles.

Coulter was pegged to report on the Democratic National Convention for USA Today (in all fairness, Michael Moore, some of whom have called the left-wing version of Coulter, is covering the Republican National Convention next month in New York City for USA Today). Yet Coulter’s first column was an angry, cruel, ad hominum attack on everything and everyone at the DNC; USA Today claimed the column was dropped because of “basic weaknesses in clarity and readability that we found unacceptable.”

Well, maybe. But Salon’s web site today outlines some of what Coulter was planning to publish. And it’s unsettling to say the least (her unpublished column is on her web site, if you care to read it).

It’s bad enough what Coulter writes about Democrat women (as opposed to her self-described “pretty-girl allies” in the Republican Party), personally mocking Dennis Kucinich and her very un-journalistic tendencies not to have things like “facts” in her pieces. She’s completely unapologetic, almost basking in the attention that her inflammatory, angry columns seem to generate.

Two things here. One, I don’t believe Coulter is as personally far-right as she seems (it’s almost impossible to believe that someone would, in 2004, suggest going on a religious crusade that would fit better in the 12th century). She’s playing a role here – the angry, young conservative who deliberately writes extreme pieces to make “softer” Republican views of the George W. Bush variety more palatable to the average voter. It’s an old trick; you have certain members of a political party create dialogue on ever more extreme topics in order for more “watered down” points of view emerge into public debate. This means views that were once considered “extreme” now become “moderate” when they’re introduced as public policy by governments, because no mainstream party would espouse a view to convert Muslims to Christianity. Not even Republicans, because the vast majority of Republicans aren’t that extreme.

Second, Coulter has every right to say what she says. But that doesn’t mean she can continue to publish her columns with impunity – if she can dish it out, she can take it back at the same time. You have to expect people to criticize her positions, mostly because, well, they’re scary. That’s me as a person speaking, not as a journalist, because I don’t politically identify with her.

So don’t say Coulter has no right to publish her views in her columns, because the 1st Amendment gives her the right to do so. But that being said, read her columns and Moore’s columns next month – they might give you an idea as to how rough U.S. politics has become.

JOHN EDWARDS: Some say the Vice-President’s Office is pretty pointless. Yet last night, Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards gave an incredible speech that fired up everyone at the DNC. He’s the perfect compliment to Presidential nominee John Kerry (who speaks tonight at 10 p.m.), for Edwards’ relentless optimism and message of “Hope Is On The Way” seems to be resonating with delegates in a big way.

Kerry and Edwards are a terrific combination, that’s for sure. But tonight, Kerry must give the speech of his life. It will be broadcast throughout the world and will help to determine the fate of the Democrats this year. Stay tuned.

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION AND THE WAR OVER VALUES

Greetings,

Today marks Day 3 of Democratic National Convention in Boston and it has been one hell of a meeting so far. Electrifying speeches from the Democrats “A-List” team including former President Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice-President and 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore, failed Presidential nominee Howard Dean, Air America radio host Al Franken, filmmaker Michael Moore (aside: his latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, just went past the $100 million grossing mark, which makes it the highest grossing documentary film ever) and many others have made this Democratic convention one of the most intense and important political meetings in recent memory.

Today, Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards will be taking the stage for a prime time speech on the future of America and how he and Presidential nominee John Kerry (who takes the stage tomorrow, I believe) are the best choice for America at this moment.

America is so deeply divided these days that both Edwards and Kerry need to hit home runs in their speeches over the next two days to convince those on the fence or so-called “soft” Republicans that they are a better choice than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Right now, the Democrats have control over a slate of so-called “blue” states that vote almost exclusively Democrat: think California, New York and other more liberal, bi-costal regions like the Pacific or New England, along with some Southern states like North Carolina (Edward’s home state). The Republicans have dug in their heels and control vast portions of the Mid-West, the South and bits and pieces of the Northwest.

So here’s why it is vital Edwards and Kerry do well in their speeches: there are only really about 10 states in the Union that are too close to call at the moment between the Democrats and Republicans. These states include West Virginia, possibly Florida (although I’m of the view this will be a Republican state come November, although this time with a wider margin of victory), Kansas and other swing states. In other words, these states will be the centres of campaigning over the next three months. Once Kerry and Edwards formally accept their party’s nomination in the next few days, the gloves come off and the nastiness begins. And you can take that promise to the bank.

After thinking about it last night, I came to one of those conclusions that only years of political studies’ training will accomplish: America is a democratic country, no doubt, but once every few generations or so the country seems to sink into a deep, value-driven polarization. During the War of Independence, American rebels were hardly a unified lot: the United Empire Loyalists were a strong opposition movement against the rebels and were eventually pushed out of the country (or simply left) to join a region still loyal to Britain – Canada, of course. Later, as the nation reached its salad days of adolescence in the middle of the 19th century, it was once again divided into “two nations in one state” with the free states at war with the slave states during the American Civil War. Fast forward again to the early part of the 20th century, in which America was once again divided over whether to participate in two major global conflicts. Under Woodrow Wilson, America did join the allied forces in 1917 (incidently, Canada was in both conflicts from start to finish) but only due to internal and external pressures. But the real fissure in the Union over America’s role in international conflicts was the Monroe Doctrine, which became a bone of contention over “values” and if America’s role was to police the world.

The one characteristic of all of these “value” conflicts is that they happened during moments in history where America had no common purpose, no unified sense of what its citizens wanted in their country. Did the War of Independence happen because of British tyranny, or because the colonials had been given too much independence by Britain after more than a century of protection under the mercantilist system of economics? Was World War I and II really about fighting for democracy, or was it about making the dangerous, risky choice standing up to potential enemies that were more than half a world away? In any case, when America has no unified sense of purpose, no sense of what the country stands for, the nation is a deeply divided place. Yet time and again, America has made the right choices from a long-term point of view. The American Revolution, eventually, did more to help U.S.-U.K. relations than it hurt. The Civil War brought on the abolition of slavery. America’s participation in the two World Wars did help turn the tides in the Allied Forces’ favour.

9-11 was one of those unifying moments in American history, we all know that. So where did it all go wrong? Because when you’re facing an enemy like terror, finding certainty in values is a very tricky task. The American people are scared. It’s understandable when you’re facing the prospect of terrorist attacks on a massive scale. The Republicans have done a good job at using this fear to political advantage. In a country so patriotic, so deeply committed to the values of liberty and freedom that are assumed to be uniquely “American” by many Americans, it’s easy to understand why Republicans use the “America First” slogan as a verb instead of a noun.

The challenge for the Democrats come November is simple: reconciling the reality that America is under threat and America needs to be protected, but realizing a vision that unifies America under a common purpose of global participation and making the world safer for everyone. The Republicans made the serious tactical error of withdrawing from virtually every international treaty on weapons, environmental protection and others. The war in Iraq only put the exclaimation point on a Republican-value system that appeals to the worst characteristics of a global power: hubris.

Democrats have to convince voters in swing states that the old ways (American unilateralism) simply doesn’t work anymore in a globalized world. America must face its future of global responsibility, not because it chooses to, but because it has to. Like the now-immortal line from Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

How true.

NEW LOOK

Greetings,

Well I got bored with the old layout of the blog and decided to give it a new look. Hope it’s a refreshing change. Will make further changes soon.

Incidently, I all strongly suggest you check out my pal Mike McNair’s blog – it’s smart, extremely pro-liberal (hence, why I’m promoting it) and got some pretty classy font. Mike’s at the London School of Economics for the moment, as he is about to graduate with a Master’s degree and become a filthy rich investment banker in one of the world’s best cities. Not too shabby, no?

THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS CRISIS

Greetings,

Today the Chinese government took a major step towards recognizing that the country is on a potential collision course with AIDS; an internet survey is being deployed for homosexuals in the province of Heilongjiang to determine which amongst them is HIV positive and if the infection rates are proportional to the rest of the population.

China is the latest country to be dealing with the thorny problem of a pandemic of HIV-AIDS in the next decade or so. The U.N. predicts that many developing world countries, in particular China and India, will be reaching epidemic status with HIV-AIDS infection rates come 2010. It’s easy to see why: Africa, the most HIV-AIDS affected region in the world, is only now starting to get a handle on the pandemic after years of politicians and scientists (and multi-national drug companies) dragging their feet on AIDS. Only now are generic anti-retrovirals being considered in the quantity and affordability that Africa requires to treat AIDS patients; China and India, while not as affected as Africa in terms of HIV penetration, is on a relatively similar path as Africa was 10 years ago in terms of the growing crisis.

A lot of the reasons why China is a particular concern is the culture of secrecy and shame that plagues much of Chinese society when it comes to disease. The subtext to the country’s issues with AIDS is a lack of knowledge about the disease among common people, particularly when it comes to preventative measures such as condoms (notwithstanding the fact condoms are expensive in the rural countryside of China, where poverty is rampant).

Yet that’s just one example. Here in the West, a culture of prevention is slowly morphing into a culture of complacency when it comes to HIV-AIDS. HIV infection rates are slowly increasing again in North America after years of decline, mostly fueled by the idea that AIDS is a treatable disease now (this is only partially true; sure, the drugs out there to treat AIDS are superior and more effective in slowing down the disease’s growth, but it isn’t a cure and the disease will still kill you eventually).

The United Nations estimates that HIV-AIDS penetration on a global scale will reach a stunning 40 million people infected by 2010, and that 2003 was the worst year yet for the disease with a scary 5 million new reported HIV-AIDS patients last year.

It’s hard to say where this is all going, but AIDS is not just a global health concern – it is a political one, too. AIDS undermines families, leaving young children with no parents after their deaths from AIDS. This leads to economic and political instability throughout the world, given that groups of angry, orphaned young people are breeding grounds for terrorism and other unfriendly elements of society. It’s a human right to have decent health care, shelter and food; wouldn’t it make more sense in the long-term for the West to do more to help Africa and other AIDS-plagued regions to get rid of debt and provide real assistance to their economies?

With all due respect, President George W. Bush did pledge last year to provide much more funding to African countries such as Botswana (the most infested HIV-AIDS country in the world; a shocking 40 per cent of the adult population has some form of HIV-AIDS) and South Africa. This was a good move on part of Bush, for it will help in the short-term. Our own Stephen Lewis – a man of such passion and conviction that he will inspire you to do great things if you ever meet him – has been instrumental in lobbying the U.N. to do more to combat AIDS in the developing world.

Yet one thing is clear: we’re still years, if not decades, away from a real cure for HIV-AIDS, and the disease is still spreading. The West needs to do more to help those suffering with this deadly, awful virus.

MARTIN’S NEW CABINET

Greetings,

 

Yesterday marked the
introduction of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s new cabinet – the first minority government cabinet in more than 20 years. It’s a nice blend of the old and the new, seasoned political veterans and star candidate rookies.

 

Here’s my general opinions on the cabinet:

 

On the plus side, most of the senior ministers who survived last month’s election (sorry David Pratt, Stan Keyes and Bob Speller) are back in cabinet, namely Ralph Goodale as Minister of Finance and Anne McLellan as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Moving Bill Graham from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Defence is questionable on the surface, given the level of knowledge and skill Graham has in international law and diplomacy, but who better to handle the tricky task of reforming the armed forces in a way that reflects the current global security milieu? Goodale’s known to be a fiscal conservative but in this Parliament he may have to make some compromises on various policy planks – think the national day care program, the Kyoto Accord – in order to maintain government fiscal responsibility (and not let the government fall).

 

Also on the plus side is the introduction of two highly skilled, recently elected for the first time MP’s: Ujjal Dosanjh, former NDP premier of B.C. and now a Liberal MP, is Minister of Health, and hockey legend Ken Dryden (aside: if you haven’t read Dryden’s book The Game, go get it tonight – it’s quite simply one of the best sports books ever)

is Minister of Social Development. Pierre Pettigrew is Minister of Foreign Affairs now, which is a good move. I had the chance to chat with Mr. Pettigrew about five years ago at a conference and he struck me as very passionate about the virtues of government. Besides, how many other politicians do you know wrote a book while in office?

 

Scott Brison, former Conservative turned Liberal, is Minister of Public Works, which will be an especially important (and delicate) portfolio in the coming months. Brison is a good guy, hard-working and really knowledgable about public policy issues, so this seems like a good fit. Liza Frulla, originally pegged to be Minister of Canadian Heritage when Paul Martin took over last year, got her chosen ministry yesterday. Other than that, the old guard managed to keep some ministries – John McCallum is Minister of National Revenue, Judy Sgro keeps her Citizenship and Immigration Ministry, Tony Ianno gets rewarded for a bitter and brutal battle with NDP candidate Olivia Chow with the amorphous ministry for Families and Caregivers. Irwin Cotler got the Ministry of Justice porfolio back, which is good news, and Joe Volpe keeps the Ministry of Human Resources and Skills Development portfolio. Andy Scott, who was sent to the backbenches several years ago by Chretien after a very public humiliation, is now back in cabinet seemingly for good as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

But the best news has to be Don Valley West MP John Godfrey – a truly brilliant man with a remarkable grasp of the cities portfolio – being given the job of Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities). This elevates the cities’ agenda to the cabinet level, which means the Martin government will be making cities a priority. Great news and you couldn’t ask for a more qualified MP to handle the job.

 

Now, on the questionable side…

Tony Valeri is now House Leader, which is an odd choice given that a) Valeri doesn’t speak French, and in this Parliament, he’s going to have to cut some deals with the Bloc Quebecois, and b) Valeri’s reputation needs some repairing after the nastiness of the last six months. He would, on paper, fit the Ministry of Industry job better (which, incidently, went to B.C. MP David Emerson, a political newbie and one of five B.C. MPs given cabinet jobs) and not House Leader, especially since Valeri’s problems have been in dealing with the rank-and-file members, riding associations and former Chretien loyalist Sheila Copps. In other words, his track record with the “people” side of politics needs some improvements. That being said, Valeri’s known as a skilled backroom negotiator, so this could work out well. Also, it is very questionable to give Jean Lapierre the job of Ministry of Transport. Lapierre made some serious errors in judgment during the election, so I would consider this posting to be a probationary one.

 

Almost as interesting as those who were named to cabinet is whom didn’t make the cut. David Anderson was booted out of the Environment Ministry to make way for ex-Chretien loyalist Stéphane Dion, and Denis Coderre, another former Chretien supporter, was sent to the backbenches. Coderre’s departure from cabinet has more to do with his close link to the sponsorship scandal than anything else, so don’t expect this demotion to be a permanent one.

 

All in all, this is a very good cabinet. It’s not perfect – some choices don’t make sense on paper – and it’s already received ample amounts of criticism from both the Conservatives and NDP for not reflecting their particular ideological slant (are you listening, Tony Valeri?). Yet in a Parliament that will require a lot of co-operation and tricky negotiation, this is the best cabinet Paul Martin could come up with.

 

GLOBAL WARMING AND SIR TIM BERNERS-LEE

Greetings,

 

This has been a weird summer weatherwise, no? So far, it’s hardly been hot at all here in Toronto (that’s not a bad thing, in my mind, I really dislike hot weather) and has actually felt more like spring.

 

Some have called this the inevitable offshoot of global warming, and that we’re headed down a path of environmental calamities if this trend continues. Here in Canada, it’s hard to argue that we’re getting more and more crazy weather over the past few years – the Ice Storm of 1998, flooding in Manitoba and Quebec, major forest fires in B.C. and Alberta, and, of course, last week’s insanity in Peterborough.

 

Premier Dalton McGuinty promised disaster relief aid for Peterborough and Témiscaming yesterday. This is good, given that both communities are dealing with some truly horrific flooding.

 

SIR TIM BERNERS-LEE: The “father of the web” has been knighted by the Queen. Berners-Lee is, quite simply, one of the most important scientific minds of the last 50 years, considering that he created the programming language and network structure that allowed the WWW format to emerge on a global scale. That was back in 1991. Today, Berners-Lee – one of the most modest and charitable minds in science – is working on making the web more “intelligent” by introducing a semantic web that will enable better search results and more accurate information.

 

You really have to like Berners-Lee as both a visionary scientist and as a human being; he refused to make the WWW format a private venture, which is the main reason why the Internet has become as popular as it is today. He’s universally respected by the tech community (all us Linux fans, programming geeks and web site designers who would have no jobs without Berners-Lee) and by social activists who saw his “public” designation of the WWW as a way to promote real political change (whether that has happened or not remains to be seen; the web has become a lot of things to a lot of people) in a unselfish way.

 

Congratulations to Mr. Berners-Lee for a well-deserved knighthood.