Friday, February 27, 2009
While parts of Barnes' analysis are rather harsh (it's always easy to lay the boots to the dead), he clearly demonstrates Orwell's flaws as a writer and a person. We are left with a portrait of a flawed yet humanized Orwell who, warts and all, is as relevant today as he was two generations ago. Barnes' article serves as a reminder of the need to avoid hero-worship. As Sheldon Kopp wisely noted, we should be wary of both victims and heroes:
Which brings me back to DW. His serial thuggery, vulgarity, and pettiness constitute a type of banal evil, but what is truly disturbing is the way in which large parts of the NL polity have willingly embraced his populist authoritarianism. The truly disturbing fact is not that he labels his critics traitors but rather that so many people actively or passively support such bullying. Whether on the web or the call-in shows, these hero-worshippers offer a frightening display of how people will willingly, freely, almost gleefully reject critical thinking and embrace political absolutism.
Unlike Big Brother, DW doesn't need a vast network of spies and police (though it's clear that he has a large and highly-active propaganda unit), but he has managed to intimidate his critics and to spread a virus of tribal rage and nationalist fantasy. This virus feeds off long-standing aspects of the NL polity but, under Dangovt, it has mutated into a new form of collective psychosis not unlike the type described by Adorno a half century ago. What's so striking about this social madness is not that DW claims a monopoly over the truth but that so many people passionately want to believe him. This collective psychosis remains in its manic phase but, at some point before Dangovt finally expires, it will turn depressive, nihilistic, and (if one takes many nationalist bloggers seriously) violent.
And that, in the end, is why we must write.
Interestingly, this afternoon Burkie announced that the officially-sanctioned theme for Think Week will be WHO IS YOUR HERO (and I'm not making this up):
Judging from the Ministerial Proclamation, it looks like a trip to Room 101 may be in store for the unfortunate soul who either refuses to participate or names a Mainlander as their hero.
Suggested Reading Update:
Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Orwell overstates his argument in a number of places, it's still an important and enlightening (and short) essay:
It should be read alongside Strunk and White, still the best single book on how to write:
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
And Labradore picked up on some curious semantics:
So let's parse DW's Europrattle:
Executive Council February 20, 2009
NL Expressed Concern with Canada – EU Trade Negotiation Process
While Newfoundland and Labrador fully supports improved trade with the European Union, any actions taken [by whom?] in that regard must address priority areas of concern for the province said the Honourable Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
[It appears that Harpoid has now descended into a Dan-te-style ring of hell where he is now he who shall not be named.]
In particular, the province is extremely hesitant to allow the Federal Government to head these negotiations, given past actions that question their commitment to issues of importance to the province.
[Dangovt has, evidently, usurped the right of the federal government to enter international negotiations.]
"At this point, we are not willing to sign on to support the negotiation of a new and comprehensive economic agreement with the European Union," said Premier Williams. "This decision should not be confused with a lack of support for an improved trade relationship between Canada and Europe. Indeed, Newfoundland and Labrador values and respects its trade relations with Europe which have existed with the province for over 5 centuries and does not wish to jeopardize those relations. From traditional relationships within the fishing industry to our newer partnerships with EU companies in the oil and gas industry and beyond, we appreciate the value of developing mutually beneficial policies with the EU."
[I guess DW's legal dictionary has no entry for non sequitur. Between the first and second sentences, and again between the second and third, DW falls off the logic wagon.
In the first instance, saying that he opposes negotiations for new economic agreements does, in fact, indicate that DW does not support improved trade between Canada and Europe. Since any improved trade between Canada and Europe will, by logical necessity, entail negotiation between the federal government and the governments of Europe, DW's stated opposition to such negotiations is, ipso facto, opposition to improved trade. In the second instance, DW conflates, as he is wont to do, Canada and NL. NL's economy comprises about 2% of Canada's GDP; DW says that he supports Canada-EU trade; ergo, he supports the 98% of the Canadian economy outside NL that sustains that trade.]
The province has centuries-old trading relationships with the EU and is positioned geographically as a natural trading partner to the EU. However, other concerns [other than what?] prevent the province from giving unqualified support [what about qualified support?] for the Canadian Government’s process [nonsensical: policies and processes are not the same thing] as it moves forward on the basis of a joint Canada-EU scoping document [presumably involving a shaft] which describes the opportunities for enhanced trade and investment between the European Union and Canada [another apparent conflation of NL and Canada] and identifies numerous potential areas of discussions for a possible deepened economic agreement.
"The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is unable to support this at this [what, exactly?] time on the basis of very [DW's favourite vapid modifier] genuine concerns that our province’s issues [which ones?] may not be safeguarded or dealt with in an appropriate way by the Federal Government," added Premier Williams. "In particular, long standing issues such as custodial management of our [whose?] fishery, a proposed ban on seal products into the EU and prohibitive tariffs on seafood products entering the EU represent significant issues of concern that have been left unaddressed by the Federal Government for far too long. Newfoundland and Labrador has not received any assurances that a [as yet non-existent] Canada-EU agreement would include protection for measures such as the Atlantic Accords and Fish Inspection Act. Additionally, a track record of a lack of substantive and inclusive consultation on federal-provincial issues gives Newfoundland and Labrador great cause for concern, particularly in light of the far reaching implications of a possible Canada-EU trade agreement."
Premier Williams said he will continue to monitor the progress of this process [by boycotting the process?] and government officials will continue to provide full representation on issues of importance to his province [by boycotting the process].
[Aside from the turgid syntax and lousy grammar, the red sections comprise ignoratio elenchi, aka red herrings, which seem to be the favourite snack on the Eighth Floor. Either that, or DW figures that having so much surplus herring on hand will give him a strong bargaining position with the fish-hungry Europeans.]
For a description of this seafood delicacy, see http://www.fallacyfiles.org/redherrf.htmlFinally, it's fascinating to learn how much Dangovt can accomplish by boycotting things. Perhaps their next step will be to boycott governing altogether.
The Excellent Adventure Continues Update:
Today's (March 7th) Tely has an updated story on DW's foreign policy. It's not available on their web site, but the front-page has the first section:
Prof Puzzled Update:
Guess no one else at MUN would talk.
The same can be said, I think, about the effects of DW's war mentality.
The effects of DW's thuggery -- whether it's his constant invocation of war, hockey fighting, treason, or betrayal -- go much further than simply name-calling.
As Steven Pinker argues in The Stuff of Thought, "There is nothing mere about semantics!" http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/books/stuff/index.html
With DW's latest personal attack (this time it's against a citizen who dared to speak out on the expropriation of AbitibiBowater’s hydro assets), the descent of discourse in NL has taken yet another step.
Nottawa has an excellent post on this topic:
Perhaps Geoff Meeker will revisit this issue, since things have deteriorated significantly since he blogged about it last fall:
To Meeker's credit, he has revisted the issue, and the results are quite illuminating:
Friday, February 13, 2009
A sensible enough editorial, but what on earth possessed them to give legitimacy to Wingnut Nation by saying, "One Internet commentator has already sent a letter to Premier Danny Williams likening the non-recognition of the established boundary as "an overt act of aggression" and even "an act of war." I'm sure said internet commentator is mighty pleased with the free press.
The local media have been slow to wake up to the fact that facts matter less than politics and popular memory when it comes to nationalisms and borders.
The Quebec media certainly aren't letting go of this. In today's le Soleil, Michel Corbeil's column weighs in on the border question and, unlike the Tely, links it to the development of the Lower Churchill:
"Des sources québécoises soutiennent que Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador tente de faire obstacle à La Romaine pour préserver les minces chances de lancer son propre projet, la construction d'installations sur le Bas-Churchill, au Labrador."
There is a wire report from the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador stating that the entire Romaine project lies on Innu territory:
Back to the Future Update:
This Yakabuski article in the Glib certainly shows how little has changed in three years:
"[T]he Hydro Idol finale might not be pretty to watch. Although it will undoubtedly spawn entertaining conspiracy theories on Newfoundland talk shows."
The end might not be here, but the conspiracy theories are already out in full force.
It's a good thing for DW that no one has told Marcus Gee about Freedom From Information or the other aspects of Danland's version of Managed Democracry, which according to an article sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "controls society while providing the appearance of democracy."
"Its main characteristics are as follows:
1. A strong presidency [Premier] and weak institutions [House of Assembly]
2. State control of the media [VODW and its affiliates]
3. Control over elections allows elites to legitimize their decisions [ABC and its affiliates]
4. Visible short-term effectiveness and long-term inefficiency [petro-dollar Danwar]
The result is an “unstable stability” based on the president’s personality. He is actually a hostage of the system. This system is highly dysfunctional, with poor information flows. Everything beneath the president is vertically integrated, but there are no horizontal connections."
I'm not sure about the hostage part, but I leave it to you to draw your own comparisons with the other criteria.
And he now has the Obama card to play. While DW is left to claim that Obama is taking inspiration from Dangovt, Ig can tell people that the Prez is reading his books. He is, though I hate to quote from the NP, "this year’s model":
The special effects have successfully obscured rather inconvenient truths, especially Ig's former life as a liberal hawk and supporter of the Iraq debacle. I once thought that this alone would be sufficient to sink his electoral chances in an electorate decidedly opposed to the war; but Ig's special effects are working their magic even in Quebec.
With his tendencies toward liberal authoritarianism tucked firmly in the back of the political closet, Ig has been attracting attention from the NY Times and is, despite his creepy looks, getting compared to Trudeau. Thus what was seen as old in 2006 is now seen as new in 2009. I guess Ig just had to ferment a bit longer:
The lessons for DW? Ditch the haircut and the Tony Soprano suits, start having your foes over to fancy dinners, and get someone to ghost-write some books that you can peddle to Obama. Nothing to it. In three years, you, too, could go from federal has-been to Ottawa's flavour of the year.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
However, the Glib's follow-up story today ends with this assertion, which surely is worthy of local scrutiny: "But if Newfoundland can stall the Romaine project, maybe, just maybe, Mr. Williams' lower Churchill dream stands a fighting chance. A slim one, but one more than none."
The lack of commentary in the local media, including the bloggosphere, is curious. Either Seguin and Yakabuski both got the story wrong and sensationalized a rather quiet issue, or there is something here that will have political traction, sooner or later. If it's the former rather than the latter, one would expect that such misleading reporting would attract analysis.
Meanwhile, it's certainly not escaping attention in Quebec:
If it's such a dead issue, then why did Seguin get to lead the story with "Power play pits Quebec against Newfoundland?" Jason Churchill, who has done research on Churchill Falls (I guess surnames do influence what we do), wrote to correct "misinformation" but called the piece "otherwise excellent":
The non-story story may not have got the people to the barricades, but it got the wingnuts to their laptops. And I still believe that the road to Newfoundland nationalism will continue to run through Labrador.
While the media continues to focus, almost to the point of obsession, on the departure of Campbell, it doesn't seem to realize that Dangovt couldn't care less about the MUN file and, supported by its own Danpolling, knows that Prezgate is not as serious a threat as the St. John's media would like it to be.
In the meantime, it looks like the non-story story of Romaine will get passed over. This may turn out to be the boundary battle that never happened, but I bet you a caesar salad that we haven't heard the last of the border question.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The local media have been slow to pick up the story. I suspect that Bond Papers and especially Labradore will weigh in soon with the facts. But for Dangovt -- which, in a strange inversion of Clausewitz, sees politics as war by other means -- the facts won't matter as much as the politics.
So let's consider the politics. According to the Glib:
1) "Simply by participating in the joint Quebec-Ottawa environmental assessment panel, the federal government appears to have given tacit approval to Quebec's claim."
2) ..."a constitutional battle may be in the making if Ottawa doesn't act soon to support Newfoundland and Labrador's claim to the land."
3) "A spokesperson for Mr. Williams said yesterday the Premier refuses to say whether he will act to stop Premier Jean Charest from proceeding with the Romaine River hydroelectric project."
Though the first two assertions have to be substantiated, we can take the third as a fact, at least for now. While DW has been on a national media binge, he is refusing to say anything publicly. It's not like Dangovt to keep its powder dry, but DW may have little choice in the short-term.
Let's look at Dangovt's political options:
1) Appeal directly to Harpoid
2) Use cabinet representation [Mackay] within Tory caucus
3) Use MP's to lobby Feds
4) Appeal to Charest
5) Appeal to Ig
6) Wild card
The first three are so dead on arrival that the bodies are blue.
The fourth is at least possibe, but it's hard to see how it would work, since there is little incentive for Charest to negotiate at this stage. DW's letter to the NP implicitly called Charest a coward for failing to join DW's anti-Harpoid campaign. Hard to see what Charest, who has to cover his own nationalist flank, would gain for risking a Duffy-style rendezvous.
The fifth is also possible, but I doubt whether Ig would waste political capital on something that's a vote-loser in Quebec. And as the lastest Danfit illustrated, DW has Ig's Liberal MP's on the speed-dial.
This leaves only the Wild Cards, which could run from some sort of legal challenge to a mass mobilization of Wingnut Nation. The upside of rallying the wingnuts is that it would provide a useful distraction from Dangovts failings, from Prezgate to Harpoid's cash grab, and it would provide yet another rallying cry for the upcoming April Fools Party.
The trouble is not only that the wingnut option might not work; it could also spin out of DW's control. For two generations, the road to Newfoundland nationalism has run through Labrador's hydroelectric resources, and stirring up the boundary dispute would stoke populist sentiments that could spin out of control. It's one thing to pit the province against the feds, something all premiers do from time to time (though it's usually more extreme in NL than the rest of English Canada); it's quite another thing to pit Newfoundland nationalists against Quebec nationalists.
But if past patterns are any indication, DW will pick the wild card and squeeze it for all its worth. The amount of national media coverage DW has attacted over the past month has been remarkable (including a NP editorial yesterday), but it's not sustainable, especially given an economy in free-fall. And whipping Wingnut Nation into another frenzy will backfire if DW cannot deliver. If he mounts another Danwar on this front and it doesn't work, the end-game won't be pretty for anyone. It's no accident, I suspect, that DW has started musing so publicly about separatism.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The CBC came the closest to getting the story straight:
Observation 1: Campbell seems to like his revenge hot rather than cold. He could have given a "no comment," but he spoke to both CBC and VOCM about the controversy. Given the facts that he has still not signed a contract at UNB and has not, evidently, tendered his resignation (the CBC reports that he'll stay on until August), this is not a straightforward exit. While a wave of regret and recrimination hits the airwaves and web sites, Campbell gave this parting shot to Burkie: "The truth is I have no idea what the problem was, none," he said.
Observation 2: Burkie may have been kicked around by the media but she (A) hasn't learned a damn thing, (B) couldn't care less, and (C) is giving grade-A Danprattle. Asked about the crisis, she channeled her esteemed colleague in Health:
Education Minister Joan Burke denied Tuesday that there was any crisis. "I certainly think that we have a very well established university, and we certainly have some very high-calibre people over there," she said. "And you know, it's certainly a lot of people employed there at the university, and the leadership, I think, certainly see us through." That's gotta be in the running for the Danblurp of the month.
Per usual, VODW is misleading: Campbell hasn't accepted UNB's offer. In fact, he is careful to say, as the Tely reports, that he needs to have another meeting with UNB.
The quote is interesting for what it doesn't say:
"While my belief in the strength and potential of Memorial University and our students, staff and faculty remains as strong as ever, I am excited by this new opportunity and eager to explore it further. I will keep you informed as matters progress.”
The documents on the MUN site offer little insight, other than the facts that he was already interviewed and has been selected, but has not, evidently, actually accepted:
It seems incredibly unlikely, after everything that has happened over the past couple of years, that Campbell is deliberately keeping the door open to staying at MUN. But everything about Prezgate has been unlikely, right up to Burkie's fetish for firing Regents via cell phone as they're driving on the trans-Canada to a Board meeting. And, equally important, Campbell has mounted an unsually agressive (and effective) media campaign ever since he was named acting president.
If nothing else, it will be entertaining to watch this one unfold. The flame-outs have already started on the Tely's web site.
VODW also managed some unintentional humour:
"Chair of Memorial University's Board of Regents, Bob Simmonds says the resignation gives greater urgency to their efforts to secure a new President."
Nice to know that Simmonds is on the job.
No doubt the situation is so urgent that Burkie will have to sack a few more regents. Better get that cell phone charged up.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Door Number 1:
"Let’s not forget that this all began because Stephen Harper made a promise to this province in 2006 in order to get elected: that he would remove non-renewable resource revenues from equalization calculations. He broke that promise. We fought him, and after that fight, we began what we hoped was a new era of relations for the benefit of all. But apparently those who claim Mr. Harper has a long memory and vindictive nature are correct."
Door Number 2:
"If I have a single disappointment from this recent punitive action, it is not with Stephen Harper, because this is the sort of behaviour I expect from him. It is with those fellow provinces that failed to acknowledge the gross injustice that has been done — not just to Newfoundland and Labrador, but to the very fabric of this federation and the fundamental tenets of federal-provincial co-operation. If the Prime Minister can do this to us, he will do it to you. But rest assured, you will have our support when he does so."
So which is it?
Either (1), DW actually believed that a new era of relations was about to begin after the federal election, but then his hopes were tragically dashed; Or (2), DW expected this all along.
It's difficult, even for someone with DW's superhero abilities, to be surprised by something one expects.
The spurious logic for Case 1 is based on the bizarre belief that someone you waged open war against would magically alter his behaviour after your campaign to prevent his reelection failed. Once Harpoid survived the goose egg that was thrown at him, what, exactly, was going to entice or force Harpoid to kiss and make up?
1) It's not if but "when" the next casus belli will be rolled out for the media.
2) It's endless war of "us" against "them." Since DW has publicly invoked the term "race" to describe Newfoundlanders, this distinction can be taken as culturally and politically absolute.
3) Them are the "feds," not the Harperites, and it matters not a whit who is in power in Ottawa.
4) The war will be fought with a taxpayer-funded "war chest" siphoned from the public treasury to wage battles against the federal state.
1) What public revenue source do these funds come from?
2) Who oversees the funds and where do they appear in the public audit?
3) What does DW mean by "war"? If he is not, in this instance, insinuating actual violence (as Duffgate reveals, violent threats are publicly acceptable but sexual innuendo is verboten), what is the end-game? What will, in fact, end this war -- separation or some lesser constitutional variant? If the goal involves a referendum of some sort, will Dangovt respect the Clarity Act?
4) If public funds are going to be used for pay for this war, what are they going to be spent on, aside from the Man in the Blue Line Cab? Given the carpet bombing campaign on the television networks, with folk-nationalist ads appearing around-the-clock on everything from TSN to the Weather Network, what's the war chest actually for? For a Nixonian dirty-tricks unit to works its way down the Enemies List? Does this unit use the same coloured folders as the secret media surveillance files?
See Labradore for more commentary and links video:
And the NYRB has a brilliant piece that explains everything from ASCP to CDO's:
Inexplicably, DW makes no appearance, despite his influence on Obama.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The latest Dancrisis has a "Waiting for Fidel" feel, and, if anyone cared to look, it exposes the underlying impotence of DW. The haircut was a clue, but the pieces didn't fall into place until this morning.
DW loves hockey-speak, so let's look at the score-card: Harpo 1, since he gets his budget and stays in power; Ig 1, since he gets to avoid an election and remains Oppo Dude; DW 0, since he remains, as he so eloquently put it, shafted by a sledgehammer. Final score 2-0.
But that's in real-time. In Dan-time, DW's the winner: DW 2, since he got heaps of attention from the national media, especially the Glib, on top of the usual local fawning; NL MPs 0, since they had to take a double-shaft; Forward and anyone else looking for anything 0, since Dangovt can use the shaft to justify whatever they want; nationalist wingnuts 1, since they now have a new bone to chew, but this goal goes to DW. Final score 3-0.
Like Joey, DW didn't get to see Fidel, but he got to spend a lot of time strutting his stuff, showing who's the cock of the walk, yakking on about whatever came floated into his noggin'. Like Joey in 1974, DW makes little logical headway when he yaks away, but his endless stream of prattle and jock-talk gives the illusion that something real is being accomplished.
Money was never the real principle. Danlogic was, and always will be, personal vanity, media attention, and petty bullying -- which DW got in spades this past week. I'm sure the 8th Floor Psy-Ops crew got to order extra pizza last night. So the solution to our problems is to put DW on a plane to Havana with one of the Stirlings. It's the only way to get us back to 2009.
But if NL is part of Canada and DW is a proud Canadian, DW seems to be saying that he whacked himself over the head.
If it's not going to be a legitimate celebration of coming out of the have-not closet, DW seems to be saying that it's going to be an illegitimate celebration of coming out of the separatist closet.
In just a couple of days of media-scumming and interview-giving (amazing media availability for such a busy hero), DW has managed the following serial conflations:
1) DW with NL
2) NL with Atlantic Canada
3) DW's interests with those of everyone else in the country
4) ABC games with election of minority federal government
5) Harpoid with the Feds
6) The Feds with Canada
7) Canada with Have/Have Not status
8) Have status with anniversary of Confederation
9) Patriotism with separatism
10) Hockey with politics
11) Politics with war
12) War with governing
13) Governing with ruling.
So let's enter Danworld, for just a minute. Let's assume that he's right: his glorious ABC campaign, which he has referred to publicly as a "war," did indeed result in Harpoid being denied a majority. A big if.If, keep with me here, if this were indeed true, then how could he be so easily ambushed by Harpoid? Surely the smartest leader and best elbow-giver would know (as He himself admitted) that he would be getting an elbow back in retaliation. Surely the Man in the Blue Line cab would have spread around enough war-chest money to build an effective intelligence network. Surely Dangovt would have had it all figured out in the master Danplan.
The only excuse DW has for being out-maneouvered is that Harpoid is not playing by the (DW-designed) rules because Harpoid delivered a sledgehammer rather than an elbow. So a mid-range fiscal hit of, say, $500 million would have been within the boundaries of the hockey-game world that DW operates. If we're going to take Dantalk seriously, then, in Danworld, Canada boils down to a game of fiscal hockey: DW gets to use every weapon imaginable, from hauling down the country's flag to calling successive PM's every name in the dictionary, including coward and liar, in order to elbow his way to the best deal. That's the way His game is played, as he's said publicly many, many times.
Fiscal "status" is, in this worldview, the sum total of Canada. That's it. Get sledgehammered fiscally (lose the political game, in other words) and it's all over, baby. Somehow, though, I suspect DW won't have the guts to haul down the Canadian flag this time, while Newfoundlanders are serving and dying under that flag in Afghanistan. Better this time to cook up an April Fools bonfire. Better this time to ramp up the Canadian patriotism as a pretext for whipping up the wingnuts.
And He'll need every last one of those wingnuts because, despite their predominance on the web and VOCM, they are, at best, a tenth of the provincial electorate. As Dangovt knows very well, if given the chance to vote in a referendum, the vast majority of people in NL would vote to remain in Canada.
1. Absolutely every other premier is a coward. He alone (with sidekick Ghiz) has the guts and the virtue to challenge Harpoid.
2. Because of the premiers' cowardly inability to act like Him, the country is fracturing.
3. To save the country, He mounted the noble ABC campaign.
4. ABC was a significant factor in denying Harpoid his majority. This was, in Danspeak, an "elbow."
5. Because of His bravery in confronting Harpoid, He alone was singled out for punishment.
6. Punishment came in the form of changes to the Atlantic Accord that deliberately singled out Him. This was, in Danspeak, a "sledgehammer."
7. Up until this dastardly deed, Everything was going perfectly in Danland. "We've done all the right things fiscally," He says, "and then in one fell swoop 'bang' we're pretty well back where we started."
8. Thus Harpoid alone is responsible for preventing NL from entering the promised land.
9. Thus Harpoid alone is responsible for "kindling" separatism in NL.
10. Because DW doesn't want to separate, he must talk about it, publicly, repeatedly, ominously. He alone among the party leaders (even the Bloc is usually careful to use the term sovereignty) muses openly about separatism. "But that's not where I'm coming from. Separation is not something that is on my agenda under any circumstances."
11. The next elbow in the crusade against Harpoid will be a protest to mark the upcoming 60th anniversary of Confederation. Dangovt will announce changes to the officially-sanction celebrations.
12. The rationale for such a move: "Here we are coming up to that anniversary," Williams says, "and here's what Ottawa has done to us. We have to really, really be careful with that. I don't want that to become a focal point for separation, because that's not what it was intended to be."
13. Therefore, because He does not want this anniversary to turn into a nationalist protest, he is announcing publicly, in Canada`s national newspaper, that it could become a focal point for separation.
Thus the Wingnuts have their marching orders. The countdown is on to April Fools. If separatist wingnuts spoil the celebration, it will not be His fault. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real question here is whether the erasure of the distinction between career public servants and political staffers is part of a specific, deliberate plan of Dangovt or a simply a byproduct of its authoritarianism. It occurred to me over the holidays that Dangovt relies on three principal tools, which may help to provide an answer:
1) Branding, of the province and then specific agengies, which works to erase the past. This serves as a constant reminder that 2003 is Year One. Branding reaches from the very name of the province and its associated icon to popular speech patterns, e.g., ubiquitous tics such as "go forward" and "nothing could be further from the truth."
2) Creating and sustaining the personality cult, which entails both enhancing the leader and eliminating all rivals. This cult features endless repetition of the mantras of success and newness, and it relies on the icon of the Lone Hero, whose paternalistic responsibilities justify systemic bullying and vindictiveness. Thus the people are endlessly reminded that the leader is, as a wealthy businessman and lawyer, richer and smarter than anyone else. This is, of course, part of the branding process, but its scope and reach is such that it needs to be understood as a discete phenomenon.
3) Focusing obsessively on negotiating The Deal, which entails the quest for the Holy Grail of the Lower Churchill. This process feeds back to branding (e.g., Nalcor), as well as the personality cult, since everyone is told that it is his singular skills as a negotiator on which Dangovt depends. In Dangovt, governing isn't about governing, it's about deal-making.
These three processes produce a political culture marked by three principal features:
1) A constant sense of anticipation whereby we all wait for the Big One, the mother of all deals, which will take us to the promised land. (Notice, for instance, how little Dangovt even refers to diversification or the fishery, let alone do anything substantive in these areas). This anticipatory political culture skews public discourse away from quotidian issues, such as providing public services, and towards an obsession with the VOCM Event of the Day.
2) An insidious Manichaean world view (apologies to the actual Manichaeans) that sees everything in black/white and divides the world absolutely into friends/enemies. For the tricky question of "which is which" and "who is who," the subjects of Dangovt rely solely on Dangovt, which declares the new enemies of the people, and issues proclamations via VOCM rather than in the Legislature. This relies on a spurious logic (a world where actual ideology counts for nothing) that creates an ABC culture (which, conveniently enough, fosters a feedback loop to the branding and cult processes). By defining who/what is good/bad, Dangovt sets the political agenda and the terms of its media coverage. The results could be seen in CBC's coverage of the last election, which never failed to mention ABC, even when it was irrelevant to the riding in question.
3) A constant state of warfare. For Dangovt, it's not enough to create an anticipatory political culture that keeps the great unwashed at the edge of their Churchill Falls seats. It's not even enough to insist that the public and the media follow Dangovt down the rabbit hole of ABC logic. Because the need for total obedience is so powerful and the fear of dissent so pervasive, Dangovt needs new enemies: it needs not only constant enemies (both without and within), but new enemies, in order to feed the insatiable desire for gratification and domination. The constant state of warfare (whether it's against Harper, Manning, or Forward) creates a climate of fear that keeps the Doozers in line; however, it seems to be more of an end in itself rather than a means to an actual end. The very identity of Dangovt seems to be defined by bullying and conflict, which, as with everything else, feeds back to the branding process. I leave it to the professionals to determine whether this is a product of a personality disorder, but it is clearly a democracy disorder.
Wangersky's assumption about the causal link between personal gain and corruption is not his only faulty premise. He seems to assume that DW is endowed with special, super abilities -- hence the vapid Hockey Phenom metaphor -- ergo, DW should have been able to use those amazing abilities to break with the errors of his inferior, corruption-loving predecessors. Just because DW was a wealthy lawyer/businessman does not mean that he was on the verge of being a successful premier in 2003.
It's like assuming that a wealthy plumber would be a great psychiatrist. Governing in a democracy is, in important respects, radically different from ruling a law office. And those differences may very well lie at the heart of the "disappointment" that seems to perplex Wangersky.
It's a sign of how far down the rabbit hole we've gone that poor old Lord Acton has been turned on his head. In this dystopian world, the maxim seems to be that power corrupts but absolute power does not.
And, for the record, none of DW's less-wealthy, more poll-challenged predecessors got rich from corruption during their premiership. Moores and Tobin may be the exceptions, but their wealth came from contacts after they left office.
Why a disappointment? The answer:"Unlike so many former politicians in this province, he has nothing to gain or fear from his party. He is the main driving force of their popularity - leaving aside the lame presence of an opposition clearly unequipped for power - and the Tories could no more oust Williams than they could single-handedly bring back the cod fishery.He's wildly fiscally independent, and will never need a sinecure to keep the financial wolf from the door.In other words, he will never need to call on favours, so he should be able to break the chain of governments filling seats with friends, family and acquaintances."
What is Wangersky arguing here, if not that the fact that DW's wealth is a principal reason why he is a veritable hockey phenom who had an amazing opportunity because he was wealthier than previous premiers? Yes, Wangersky then goes on to explain his "disappointment," but I reject the premise on which he bases this disappointment. Most former premiers rode a wave of popularity into office and had little to fear from their caucus or the electorate, at least in their first term.
Wangersky's thesis is that DW is special and somehow less inherently prone to corruption than his pedecessors because he's rich, popular, and has a weak cabinet. You can believe this if you want to, but I think it's based on faulty reasoning. The fact that DW has "nothing to gain or fear from his party" does not, in itself, mean that he is less prone to be corrupt. One could argue that the lack of an opposing power base in the PC Party actually mitigates the checks against corruption.
DW is no more of a "phenom" than Peckford or Tobin were in their prime. Wangersky qualifies his argument by saying that DW has been merely "something of a disappointment," so perhaps he's holding out hope that the true "hockey phenom" will somehow show his inner virtue after all. Where is the evidence that DW has somehow tried "to clean up the system," beyond blasting away at the Liberals when he was in opposition?And, as for the conclusion to the column, in case you also misread this part, too:"Premier Williams is powerful enough not to have to worry about that - powerful enough to say that the system ends here.Instead, the chain of patronage stuffing goes on - and if anything, it's gotten worse.It's an opportunity lost."
Interesting use of the passive voice, as if corruption is something that just happens and that not stopping it is a lost opportunity. If DW is so uniquely powerful, wouldn't it be more logical to conclude that he is either actively or passively engaged in patronage, especially since he's now into his second term? Why is it that absolute power, in this instance, is supposed to act as a check against corruption? Is this another instance of NL's exceptionalism?
By arguing that DW's wealth makes him immune from corruption, Wangersky shows an almost comic lack of analytical insight or knowledge of how political power actually operates. Whether DW is personally wealthy does not, for a second, mean that he is less liable to engage in corruption than a premier with a smaller bank account. Numerous academic studies, which can be read in popular books by Malcolm Gladwell and others, shows precisely the opposite: when given the opportunity, wealthy people will steal and cheat just as much (and, in some studies, even more) than poorer people. The reasons are unclear -- some scholars specular that it's part of a mentality of entitlement (and there is no lack of stories from corporate America to illustrate this) -- but the underlying cause is beside the point.
The point is that Wangersky, et al., need to rid themselves of the false notion that DW is somehow special because he is rich, that he is somehow less inclined to be corrupt because he doesn't need the money. One could, in fact, argue directly the oppposite: DW's wealth and sense of privilege make him less sensitive to democratic niceties, such as freedom of information legislation or a functioning legislative assembly. And, finally, someone tell Wagernsky that corruption in politics is as much about enriching your friends as about getting rich yourself. Wealth is, in the end, all about status, and there is no better way to enhance your status than taking care of your buddies.
It's all about His feelings, the fact that He missed His hockey game, the fact that now He is forced to do battle again with the great satan. What we're left with is the sort of ad hominem human interest piece that would do Entertainment Tonight proud. While everyone seems to be bemoaning the decline of newspapers, which are supposedly the bastion of hard investigative journalism, the real analysis is left to the non-polemical blogosphere. As for the bully politics of shifting blame, He may have overplayed his hand this time. It's hard to imagine Iggy voting against Harpo on the budget, so there won't be any more ABC election games for a while. In the meantime, at some point, surely, the melodromatic ranting, macho photo-ops, vapid sports metaphors, and indulgent collective psychosis will no longer be sufficient to cover up the fiscal ponzi scheme.
The principle here is, of course, authoritarianism, and Dangovt is adhering to a classic three-part formula:
1) Maintain a constant state of tension, marked, in a type of collective bipolar disorder, by alternating cyclces of anticipation of reaching the promised land and fear of falling off an economic cliff. The province may be on the brink of getting rich or getting shafted; however, it must always be in a state of crisis. This crisis feeds the egos of Dangovt, contributes to the manic sense of busyness (read importance) that its leaders display, and justifies everything from vulgarity to the flip-flopping over equalization.
2) In addition to endless proclamations concerning the latest Danvent, Dangovt either deliberately creates disinformation or capitalizes on existing sources of confusion, e.g., the equalization cant, to obfuscate not only its policies but also the actual state of the province's finances. In other words, it doesn't really matter whether the confusion related to equalization is accidental, incidental, or deliberate; what matters, for Dangovt, is that it's a useful tool for pursuring its goals. People are easier to manipulate when they are kept in a state of fear and tension; they're even easier to manipulate when they're confused and uninformed. Combine together enough tension and misinformation, and pretty soon crazy seems normal, up is down, black is white. Pretty soon, it's perfectly acceptable to pursue the very policies one once condemned, to claim ownership over the deals one once abjured, to have a haircut that went out of style in 1977.
3) But to be a real despot, this mixture of fear and confusion will only get you so far. To ignite the mixture you need fuel. To get a really good grip over a people, you need evil-doers, fresh batches of witches, both foreign and domestic, who can be burned at the stake of public opinion. As Ibsen demonstrated more than a century ago, witch-hunts are not incompatible with democracy. In the end, Dangovt needs, desperately needs, Harper (who seems more than happy to oblige).
The result of this amalgam of endless fear, confusion, and conflict is a type of democratic authoritarianism that, if left unchecked, is little different from the bannana republics that littered the twentieth century.
"You can never take principle too far," indeed.