Tag Archives: US politics

US Election: Hope for a New America

Well, like everyone else, I’m weighing in on the recent US election of the president elect and hopeful, Barack Obama. There is more than one factor that makes him the new hope. He will be the first black president with a very non-American sounding name. He is relatively young, the same age as Clinton when he took office. Only Roosevelt and Kennedy were younger. He inherits one of the worst messes in recent history from the worst president. Really, anyone who did half a job better than Bush would probably shine. You could almost say he’s the messiah to Bush’s anti-christ but let’s not bring religion into it. There’s been enough already.

But it’s a tough job ahead. The US economy, and world economy is a mess, Bush has brought the world too close to World War III, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are causing divisive views and is as tumultuous as the Vietnam war. The Vietnam war lasted through several presidencies. Interestingly enough it was escalated by Democrats Kennedy and Johnson and Republican Richard Nixon was not only the one to remove troops in Vietnam but brought about some thawing of the Cold War.

This time it’s reversed and Republican Bush brought troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. Will Obama remove them? Although Iraq was the misguided invasion of a deluded president, Afghanistan is a different story. Albeit Bush invaded for his “war against terror” and “axis of evil” blatherings, the fact that Afghanistan was under a fundamentalist, totalitarian regime that subjugated its citizens, especially women, could not be denied. The world needed to help. And yes, the World Trade Center was decimated by a terrorist attack…by Saudi Arabians, the country studiously ignored because they can be a bigger bully than the US.

But back to presidents and chaos. There have been charismatic leaders in the past. John F. Kennedy was one. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister from 1968-79 and 1980-84. He was immensely popular, young and avant garde, coining the term “fuddle duddle,” which was a euphemism for what he was presumed to have actually said. And although Martin Luther King never ran for president, at a time when blacks were still considered second class citizens, he too galvanized a nation. Had he lived longer, he might have run as president but like Kennedy he was assassinated.

What these four men (Kennedy, King, Trudeau, Obama) have in common is youth. This is not the youth of age though they were all in their 30’s or 40’s when coming to prominence, but a youthful demeanor and way of thinking. Trudeau and Kennedy made mistakes but after they were leaders their legacies lived on. Trudeau’s influence colored politics for many years after he retired.

The other common thread is that these men were all great orators. Obama speaks well, bringing passion and belief to his words. The background speechwriters should be given accolades for the skills they put into such famous speeches. Obama also has something that was lacking in the McCain/Palin campaign: integrity. When others stooped to trying to mar his name, he did not fall to the same low standards. When it was discovered that Palin had a pregnant, teenage daughter, Obama replied, “I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off limits.” When was the last time we saw any politician stop slinging dirt at the others? That alone would have gained my vote, had he run here.

Obama has a heavy burden on his shoulders. If he cannot affect the change that is so desperately needed and clean up some of Bush’s mess, then people will leave him. But if anyone can, he is the man to do it. Of mixed heritage, he represents the world of today. He’s intelligent in a way Bush is too dull to even dream of and he will hopefully keep a level head.

Charisma goes a long way and people will forgive a lot of sins because of it. Being young enough to remember there are young people bridges the generation gap and it showed in the number of younger people who voted for Obama. Being intelligent can make a difference but it is wisdom and the use of knowledge that can bring the greatest, beneficial change.

We’ll have to see if Barack Obama can bring change. All we have to do is keep him alive long enough. Here’s hoping he relies on more than the fallible CIA to keep him safe. (Speaking of which, at the college where I work in Canada, the IT guy checked an IP address that was trying to break through Finance’s firewall. It was the CIA. The next day that same IP address showed as unregistered.)

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Politics: Freedom to Choose

Originally this was published in the online magazine called Fearsmag.com. The magazine didn’t last long due to the withdrawal of funds by the benefactor during the dot.com crunch. I was an editorial writer and took a look at different fears to write about each month. This was the December column for 2000 but it’s appropriate now.

Christmas or politics? Christmas? Politics? Agh, the indecision nearly froze my fingers on the keyboards, sort of like choosing which candidate to vote for. Well, I decided that Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/your favorite winter festivity happens once a year but this unique political picture forming in Canada and the US happens but once.

            I’m not going to go into great detail on the buffoonery, the conniving, the shiftiness, the lying or even the successes of the candidates. I’m going to dig around in that really nasty cesspit of the fears we have about our politics.

            On the lighter side, we are lucky; we all have the right to vote and with some degree of democracy, with all its requisite odors and flavors per country. That’s good. I’ve had nightmares about a future where we were all enslaved, fighting for our rights and freedom from aliens or dictators and bigots. Freedom fighting has been a popular theme ever since our ancestors climbed out of the trees and pretended they were civilized. Freedom is the integral right of the individual, though ask a handful of people on the street and what freedom actually means will be quite different from one to the other. UPN’s new show Freedom is just about that; the US president is shot and the good guys fight the military regime that’s restored order to a rioting USA.

            Now I’m Canadian but close enough to the border that half my friends are from the USA. I’ve heard enough about the politics to get an idea of what people think, at least the West Coast. Freedom in the US election meant choosing between two leaders with as much personality and flavor as cold spaghetti without the sauce. Clinton, even if he was careless enough to let his private predilections fall under the White House spotlight, has lots of personality. Many people told me they were afraid of the old world, right wing, knee jerk politics that Bush represented. Some even said old Bush senior had at least been a statesman but Jr. hasn’t lived up to that image. He represents to many a redneck, narrow-minded conservatism.

            Well if you don’t want Bush you have well, er, um Gore, (Gore actually became stronger and better known after the election.) not exactly someone of scintillating mien. Many people liked what Nadar stood for but were afraid that if they cast their votes for his determination to launder the old political baggage that they would be tossing their vote away and letting Bush in. There you see the freedom to choose but fearing to choose what your heart says is right.

            And what bigger fear could we have than that our democracy is but a sham, that computers are being fixed with ballot tallies, that authorities are delaying folks long enough that the polls close, that ballots are confusing, that information is leaked to media sources before it should. It would make a great conspiracy movie or perhaps, it’s the truth.

            Now let’s look at the other half of the coin. (I know little of Mexican politics but have heard that el presidente Fox is somewhat right of center.) Here in Canada our election just happened. The ruling party, the Liberals spent eight years in office and curbed the National debt, but at the expense of human welfare and lives. There have been issues like the APEC rally and the loss of freedom of speech and civil liberties. The Bloc Quebecois only cares for one province and not at all for the rest of Canada, yet because of population alone always stands a chance of being the government. I fear that if the Bloc won, Canada would be a country no more.

            Then there’s the Conservative party, which used to be strong and either the governing party or the official opposition. After Brian Mulroney’s heavy-handed bludgeoning of the country the Conservatives dive-bombed all but out of sight. Like the proverbial phoenix, they’ve been trying to resurrect themselves from the scathing ashes that many remember and which gave us the hated GST (goods & services tax or better known as the gouge and screw tax). However, this phoenix is still small with but a few feathers and not a contender.

            The NDP (New Democratic Party) could stand a chance if they had a stronger leader and weren’t willing to completely blow the national budget with wholesale spending. Then there’s the Reform party, renamed the Canadian Alliance party. (The Reform nee Alliance party congealed back into the Conservative party, like  a phoenix, but containing more right-wing thinkers.)  They booted their founding leader Preston Manning out just a few months ago and put in the younger stronger Stockwell Day. Day and his party have stuck their feet in their mouths in the past, stating they’re not so far right wing that if they were a bird it would never get off the ground. (Day would have been a scary combination with Bush.) They’re not racist, yet one member once said it was all right to have colored people work in your store—just have them go to the back if it offended anyone. They won’t use a religious-political agenda but they’re all for “family values” which means no gay rights, no women’s rights. I’m sure they believe a woman’s rightful place is in the home. They want tougher criminal laws. Granted our justice system is flawed, but should we really take a DNA sample from everyone charged with a crime, whether found guilty or not?

            Many parties, yet the mindset on both sides of the border has been who to vote for, no one’s particularly good, and some are downright scary. Here’s my nightmare—that Bush should get in and that Stockwell Day should win here. Two extreme right wing leaders, two powerful and large countries, most of North America, a lot of guns, and a lot of “free” people. If you ever read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (or saw the movie) it’s a fear I find still too close to my future.

            Well, Canada went to the polls and, like the US, feared the worst and cast their votes. The US has Bush (still being determined) and we voted in the lesser of the two evils and have the Liberals yet again. At least it’s not my worst nightmare.

            Whatever we voted many of us our still stuck with the fear, the gnawing small fear that, like an insidious worm, eats away at us from the inside. Our biggest fear is that our government isn’t working, that our politicians are lying to us. Do our voices and our votes even make a difference or are they just a drop in a vast ocean of indifference? We fear we have no choice in what we see. There is no good alternative and if it’s actually presented, we fear to choose it because not enough others will and we’ll then end up with a worse evil.

            We are afraid of the darkness of our democracy, the loss for everyone to choose his or her own path, to move about freely, to say what we think. But what if it doesn’t matter? What if the handful of the powerful and those who control the country’s wealth let everyone think their vote counts for change or upholding values when in fact it’s all hollow? What if those powers that be, “they” just do what they want–what they have always done because they “know” the masses don’t know enough about governing a country or the political process itself? Therefore, they will guide us and our country and our policies whether we like it or not. What if freedom of speech means only speaking in a place at a time when they want you to but not if it causes too much thought, too much questioning?

            Remember Desert Storm? I was in New York around the time the troops were coming back. A ticker tape parade and all the fixings for heroes. But there were those who disagreed on the military policies. Bus shelters with pro posters had graffiti scrawled in indelible ink on the glass. They were scrubbed and cleaned, or replaced before the troops arrived. In New York? A park in the lower east side, near where I was staying had police tape and sawhorses up so that people couldn’t gather and speak out against the military’s activity. (Shades of Beijing.) Gatherings had been planned but the police banned them. That was freedom of speech.

            True freedom means never bowing down, never giving in to the dark, the evil, the bigoted and the judgmental. Yes, one must work within a society but freedom means being heard and continuing to be heard, to shout, to scream and to keep screaming until other voices join in and those voices are heard. Becoming complacent about the freedom to choose is when it can be taken from you.

 

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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Canadian and US Politics

Well, it looks like both countries will be moving towards an election because Stephen Harper is going against his own wish of a set date for elections (as the US does) to avoid having his government raked over the coals in the next session.

People are talking about the excitement of US politicians as opposed to the same humdrum rhetoric of the Canadians. Actually, they’re most talking about the fresh new aspect of Obama than the same ole political claptrap of men in suits. Let’s face it, in most cases, it doesn’t matter if you vote Conservative or Liberal, because they’re really all going to do the same thing. That’s how Canadians see our politics and the last election had something like a 64% turnout.

Part of the difference is that we have leaders for our political parties throughout the four years from one election to the next. So we know that Stephane Dion would be the next prime minister if the Liberals win and that Stephen Harper will be if the Conservatives win and that Jack Layton will be if the NDP win. We get tired of hearing about them. There’s no mystery, (the two big parties even have a guy with the same name though one is anglo and one franco) no big rev up to who will win the race as the Republicans and Democrats do it. (It’s also a lot less expensive in the campaigning aspects).

If we look at John McCain, he’s a lot more of the same old boring with a full military background, though he’s considered a bit of a maverick. You don’t see military in politics as often in Canada. He pulled a surprise move with choosing a running mate who is a fairly inexperienced, new senator. And she’s a woman. When you look at it, he almost had to do this when the Democrats were going to make history either way, with either a woman or a African-American. McCain needs to make his campaign look fresh too and make history and the only way to do it is to have a female running mate.

Of course Canada had its first woman Prime Minister back in 1993 with Kim Campbell, who really was set up as the fall guy (or woman) for Brain Mulroney’s destruction. Mulroney, was in his own way, unknown to the Canadian public when he ran for office. He has that gift that Obama has; he’s a good orator, but then he’s a lawyer and they’re often practiced at acting. And Mulroney can definitely act. He did it recently when he was being investigated in the Carl Hans Schreiber affair. I didn’t believe a word of the theatrics though.

Obama is a great orator and Hillary Clinton is pretty damn good. Now Hillary is a lawyer too and in Canada, all the prime ministers since Lester B. Pearson (1963-68) have been lawyers except for Stephen Harper. (People always make jokes about trusting lawyers and yet we vote them in as our leaders.) He has degrees in economics, whereas Jack Layton, Stephane Dion and Barack Obama have degrees in political science. Could that be a sign of the new future; people who have actually studied how politics works?

All I can say is that like most Canadians, I’m sick and tired of the double speak, the hollow promises and lies. No wonder no one wants to vote. They think it won’t make any difference. A fresh new look would be good. Voting for the Liberals or the Conservatives is pretty much six of one, half a dozen of the other. But if Obama or Clinton were running here, I’d certainly be voting for either of them.

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Omar Khadr, Politics and Guantanamo

From CBC’s website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/khadr/omar-khadr.html

On March 31, 2008, Senator Romeo Dallaire added his name to the growing list of people calling for the Canadian Government to do more to get Omar Khadrout of Guantanamo Bay and back into Canada. Khadr has been held without trial at the U.S. military prison there for five and a half years. He’s being tried for the murder of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, and questioned repeatedly about his own and his family’s links to al Qaeda.

There has been much ado about Omar Khadr, the child soldier caught during one of the Afghanistan raids by US forces. He’s the only Canadian still held at Guantanamo Bay and is finally, supposedly coming to trial. But there are complications. Part is that he was a brainwashed teenager who believed in fundamental Islam. The Canadian government hasn’t wanted to dirty its hands and his family here has come across as unsympathetic in their support Al Qaeda beliefs.

However, there are some fundamental aspects to war and Guantanamo Bay that I’m finding hard to fathom. Guantanamo, holding pen for people on the wrong side of George Bush’s crusade. I’m betting that 90% or more of them have brown skin. I’m betting a fair number are Muslims. Today CBC was talking about the unwanted in Guantanamo Bay. Nine hundred people have been processed through there in seven years. And most of those people were innocent, probably living quietly now and too afraid or ashamed to mention what happened, that the US made a mistake, a huge mistake There are another five hundred still there and most of them will never be charged. What to do with them.

Well, the US is trying to send them off to other countries or their home countries, to settle back in. But the US will not send people to a country that has other human rights issues. Does anyone else see the irony in this?Hello? What was being held for seven years without representation or a trial? Putting the people on Guantanamo Bay instead of US soil doesn’t excuse US policy and the military for infringement of rights. We could call this one of the biggest follies in recent history. George Bush’s little rug under which to sweep the dirty politics.

Now, of those people who don’t want to go back to their home countries (because they’d be tortured) or the US won’t send them, well they’re stuck waiting for some other country to help the US clean up its mess. The US, for some odd reason, doesn’t want to actually repatriate any of these people in the US. Come on, CIA, you can watch those potential bad guys right on your own doorstep.

Okay, so Guantanamo is made up of a mixture of several groups. Some are people picked up as suspected terrorists. You can bet that anyone they thought for sure was active was already shipped to a country with “soft” human rights when it comes to prisoners, and that those people were already tortured for information.  Just look at Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who after being sent to Syria by US officials for torture, was found to be innocent. Even after that, the US refuses to give him an apology. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/

We know there are many other innocents, people in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin, who ended up in Guantanamo. There are also those who have fought against the US in Afghanistan or Iraq. Hmm, let’s see, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to say that there wasn’t huge subjugation and injustices perpetrated against those citizens but I always thought that soldiers (whether paid or volunteer) were taken as prisoners of war. Those taken, say, in WWII, who were Nazis, were usually released back at the end of the war. Those who had committed unspeakable humans rights violations were tried for those crimes that contravened the Geneva Convention.

So, what about those people in Guantanamo? Are some awaiting an end of an endless war? Are some awaiting trial? It’s a pretty grey no-man’s land there. But let’s look at Omar Khadr again. He was a soldier recruited/influenced/brainwashed at a young age to fight. He was in a firefight when he was taken. Soldiers against soldiers in Afghanistan. But he’s being tried as an adult (they had to wait several years for that) for terrorism? For war crimes? There have been many child soldiers from Somalia. I have a friend in Massachussetts who helped raise four who were teenagers when they were freed and re-socialized. Those men all went on to university. What does Omar Khadr get?

What’s the difference? Religion. If we take the religious fear/bigotry/misunderstanding out of the picture we still have a teenage boy who was caught up in a war, fighting in battle. It’s pretty difficult to remove it completely, obviously but when someone is treated differently than other child soldiers and other soldiers because of fear and hatred, well it really puts into question the human rights abuses of the US. I wonder if George Bush will be tried for war crimes when all is said and done? Probably not. There is a bigger fear than religious bigotry and that is of the US setting an embargo against your country or riding slipshod over the Geneva Convention to suit its ends. Which country was it that used a nuclear device?

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