Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading all the books that have been selected as finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (not including my own), and writing up my reactions — mainly to promote conversation. Today we have Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

Readers of this blog may know that I’ve been having an entirely one-sided argument with Naomi Klein for over 10 years now (since the publication of the book that I co-wrote with Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell, which despite having only 5 pages or so criticizing Klein, was widely seen as a “response” to No Logo). It is certainly the case that I have spent years of my life trying to get the left in Canada to stop writing books like the ones that Klein writes. As a result, the success of This Changes Everything represents, in a very real sense, the failure of one of my more important life projects.… Continue reading

John Ralston Saul: The Comeback

Over the next few weeks I’m reading all the books that have been selected as finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (not including my own), and writing up my reactions — mainly to promote conversation. Today we have John Ralston Saul’s The Comeback: How Aboriginals are Reclaiming Power and Influence.

I must admit that I have always struggled with John Ralston Saul’s books. I own several. My biggest problem is that I never know what the hell he’s talking about. It could be him, or it could be me, but something tells me it’s him. I’m constantly getting pulled up short. He’ll be writing along, and he’ll say something like “you know how whenever you do blah-blah, someone will come up to you and say blah-blah,” and I’ll be like, “um, er, no actually, that never happens to me.” It’s always like that.

Reading Saul reminds me of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a transporter malfunction leaves Geordi and Ensign Ro “out of phase” with everyone else on the ship.… Continue reading

Graham Steele: What I Learned About Politics

Since Canadian political writing is a cause near and dear to my own heart – and since I think that, in general, we do not produce or consume enough of it – I’m writing up a set of short reviews of the books that have been selected as finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing. (Which I gather is a big deal in Ottawa, but no one else in Canada seems to pay much attention to – which is, incidentally, also the problem with Canadian political writing as a whole.) Maybe “review” is not the right word, but perhaps “reaction pieces”…

So first up is Graham Steele, he of the prosaic title: What I Learned about Politics.

I hope I’m not tipping my hand too much in saying that this book was my favourite, and certainly one that I’ll be recommending to my students, particularly grad students working on democratic theory.… Continue reading

Best political writing of 2014

My book Enlightenment 2.0 was recently short-listed for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (here), so I’ll be dusting off my tux and heading to Ottawa for the “Politics and the Pen” gala next month. And since I have some time to kill between now and then, I thought I would read the other finalists. They are the following:

 

Graham Steele, What I Learned about Politics: Inside the Rise–and Collapse–of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government

Chantal Hébert with Jean Lapierre, The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was

John Ralston Saul, The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power and Influence

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

 

Two of them I already owned but had not read past the first chapter of, two of them I actually had not heard of. All are very different in substance and style. So thought I would try to put together some quick reviews as well, in the next few weeks — have to be quick though, so as to avoid being accused to being a sore loser!… Continue reading

John Baird, master of wedge politics

After 20 years in politics, John Baird is retiring. This leaves quite a hole in the Conservative Party, since Baird was by far the most effective practitioner at the federal level of a special brand of political strategy known as “wedge politics.”

What’s that you say? Baird a master of wedge politics? He didn’t seem to be all that divisive a figure… Not like Harper. In what way was he a master of wedge politics?

The problem is that most people don’t really understand how “wedge politics” works. Or more specifically, they don’t grasp the fact that it is a two-pronged strategy. The first prong, in which you find “hot button” issues that sharply distinguish your party from all of the other contenders, is the more well-known face of wedge politics. But that’s only part of the game. There is a second prong, which is arguable the more important one. And it was as a practitioner of this second prong that Baird truly shone.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

Cynicism or stupidity? the eternal question

The other day, speaking in Davos, finance minister Joe Oliver expressed his commitment to maintaining a balanced budget in Canada. He described it in the usual terms, as an “ethical issue” having to do with intergenerational fairness. “We think it’s wrong to burden our children, our grandchildren with expenditures that we’re incurring today…”

Now as most educated people know, this is an economic fallacy. It’s not as though we’re eating in a restaurant en famille, then when the meal is done the parents skip out and leave the children to pay the bill. When the government borrows money, it creates both an asset and a liability, both of which get handed on to future generations, making it a wash as far as “our children and grandchildren” are concerned (e.g. some inherit the Canada Savings Bonds, and the revenue stream that goes with them, others inherit the tax liability associated with paying out that revenue).… Continue reading

Thinking about Secession in Catalonia

I’m in Barcelona for a couple of weeks, teaching an accelerated seminar in the European MA program at Pompeu Fabra University. Yeah, I know, tough life.

Shortly before my arrival, requests for interviews with major Spanish newspapers started filling my inbox. Well, “filling” may be a bit too strong a word. I actually received three such requests, but they were from major outlets such as El Pais, a major national paper, and Aran, a newish paper started by Catalan separatists. They all wanted me to comment on recent events in Catalonia. (A referendum of sorts was held here on November 9th. The Spanish constitutional court deemed it illegal, and so it ended up being a bit of a non-event, with slightly under 40% of eligible voters turning up to vote in what had been downgraded to a “participatory consultation”. The “yes” option received a resounding majority of votes from those who showed up.… Continue reading

Stephen Harper, warmonger

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a warmonger. Yes, you read that right. You haven’t accidentally wandered over to rabble.ca. I’m not trying to score cheap points either. I’m just observing a fact. Stephen Harper is pro-war. He thinks that war is something worth doing. He thinks that war has numerous redeeming qualities.

Various commentators have pointed this out. After all, how many political leaders go out of their way to celebrate the beginning of the First World War? Or who thinks that the War of 1812 is more worthy of commemoration than the adoption of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms? The Harper Government is constantly sending out weird press releases, celebrating the anniversary of some battle or skirmish that no one has ever heard of. (The various quixotic initiatives undertaken by the government on this front have been documented in some detail by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift in their book, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.Continue reading

Are these really the Border Services we want?

It’s curious that complaints about the egregious behaviour of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) get so little traction. I wish there were a sophisticated, multi-faceted, complex explanation for this, but having watched the press on this for almost a decade, I think the explanation is pathetically straightforward: the CBSA deals mostly with foreigners. Sure, the Agency does a few bad things, a few human rights abuses and arbitrary exercises of power, but the broadly defined ‘we’ group is essentially willing to ignore this – or at least put up with this – in exchange for the sense of security that an armed border guard gives us.

Today, in my regular pursuit of near futile causes, I’d like to highlight just two things, to serve as a reminder that CBSA practices are quite far from the norm of what ‘we’ typically will tolerate from armed state officials and jailers in Canada.… Continue reading