Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heirs to the Original Tea Party - Unfitting and Unfit

Back when Bill Clinton booted George Bush sr., out of the White House, the Republicans and their neo-Con henchman launched a concerted effort from day one of the new presidency to do everything possible to get rid of him. Bill helped matters along some years later with the Lewinsky nuttiness, but there had been no doubt from the start that a coup d'etat was being carefully orchestrated. For it is bad enough to have a Democrat in power but absolutely devastating for the American right for the guy to be a better speaker and populist than any of their own good old cracker boys.

Flash forward past the Clinton presidency and the eight year moronic rule of George jr. and history repeats itself with another high camera appeal Democrat at 1600 Pennsylvania. To make matters worse for the bigots, the guy is - omigod - Black. And so the wheels of the great right wing machines once again are grinding and spinning, searching for any way possible to make sure that Obama's tenure is short and unsweet. Although 16 months into this well-planned hysteria, Obama's stimulus package and health care initiatives are cited as the reason why a "new revolution" is needed, in fact the right-wing machinery started up its hate campaign even before the man was taking his presidential vows. On January 19th, the day before the inauguration, a conservative chat-group's moderator posted a call for a "commemorative tea party" as her way of saluting the incipient Obama years. Don't let the guy even warm his new Oval Office chair before trying to stir up evocative imagery of insurrection.

And so it has continued from the earliest stages of Obama inheriting Bush's mess. Well aware that the new Administration might be in a weak and stupefied state on realizing the horrendous financial bequest of the predecessor, the Republicans and their fundamentalist allies struck fast.

By February 10, less than a month into Obama's term, the rallies had started and in March, CBS News would rhetorically headline, "A Growing "Tea Party" Movement?"
Syndicated Fox commentator, Dave Ramsey raved on about the need for a new Tea Party on February 11, 2009. Feeding off the fear and loathing that stemmed from nationwide foreclosures and ban failures, a battery of nasty media-savvy proselytizers strove to create - with at least partial success - the appearance of spontaneous popular uprising. Soon there would even be martyrs to the cause such as lifelong anti-tax nutbar Joe Stack who killed and injured others on his suicide airplane run into the office building housing the Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas. Incredibly an elected US congressman from Iowa would then opine empathy for Stack's attack, stating, "if the U.S. had abolished the I.R.S back when I first advocated it, he (Stack) wouldn’t have a target for his airplane.” This while a family was still grieving the death of a father and grandfather whose crime was just having worked for the IRS.

Aside from the gargantuan unpleasantness of these people and their ideas what is most offensive to me as a guy who once lived for several years in Boston and enjoyed boning up on its impressive history, is the utter opposite-ness of what the original Tea party and its participants were all about versus these inarticulate little fascists who have pirated the name for their scurrilous mission. The Boston Tea Party in December 1773 was precipitated by legislation imposing stiff new taxes on tea. The leaders of this insurrection were not, however, principally griping about costs added to their favourite beverage. They were upset at having to continually live with decisions imposed by legislators over whom they had no control. Their key slogan was "no taxation without representation." Boycotts were organized and when ships carrying the now politically-unpalatable tea refused to head back to England, protesters dressed as Mohawks, boarded the vessels and dumped the goods into the harbour. This in turn set off a vigourous intercontinental debate, with leaders in the Thirteen Colonies largely siding with the "party" while outrage and a call for strict and military measures stormed in Britain. The American Revolution followed less than 3 years thereafter.

Now keep it firmly in your mind: the original Tea Party was about asserting the rights of Americans to elect those representatives for making critical public decisions. Flash forward to the demagogues and their redneck followers who are today's "tea parties," and you can see what a travesty and insult taking that name is. This mainly lily-white network of cloned mobs, at its roots, hates the guy and the congressional majority party that fellow Americans democratically elected. In particular, they loath the young president who received 53% of the popular vote in 2008 and perhaps even more so, Nancy Pelosi, who hails from that foreign city on the US west coast polluted with gays, abortionists and that sort. Pelosi it may be necessary to recall was elected repeatedly to the House of Representatives in legitimate congressional elections by legitimate electors. In 2006, she was unanimously endorsed as the House leader by the party which had captured the majority of seats in - I shall be repetitive - a legitimate election open to a free electorate.

These pathetic self-appointed heirs to that noble first Tea Party, vigourously wish to undermine the democracy which those Bostonians demanded 236 years ago. The government and system that arose from 18th century courage is precisely what they want to pull down and replace with the worst of the losing leaders, the ones the majority of Americans so wisely rejected in 2008. This time around unlike in 2000, the republican candidate did not have the Florida ballot boxes overseen by his brother or a Supreme court packed with his dad's and Reagan's cronies to seize power from the Democrat who won. So the "Tea Party-ers" figure they can accomplish a similar illegitimate wresting of power from the electors by proudly and loudly making braying asses of themselves at every opportunity.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

So Screw the Memory of Stan

Every year Canadians get themselves all worked up about what we call the Junos. It's a nice closed little honouring of Canadian musicians. Mind you, our artists are eligible for the biggy of all music awards south of the border, the Grammys. But here they get to play all by themselves in the awards sandbox without fear of sand kicked in the face by innumerable talented Yanks.

Harmless enough, I guess, but much less so is the continuing stubborn failure of the parent body which runs the Junos, CARAS, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to do the right ting when it comes to the long late Stan Rogers. Stan, in case you are very young or very isolated was a literally giant folk singer who grew up in Ontario but with the soul of emigre Maritimer. He loomed irreplaceably into Canadian lives and then legend in the mid 1970s with the stunning array of ballads he mainly composed but which sounded more like genuine songs from Nova Scotia's past then many of the real things. From the boisterous if ultimately tragic acapella shanty "Barrett's Privateers" to the oft-covered love song, "Forty-Five Years", to the celebration of outport life in the title track and the several laments for what Atlantic Canada was losing even before the cod collapse (which one of the songs, "Make and Break Harbour" anticipates), the album alone would have qualified Stan for honours far higher than any posthumous parochial Juno.

And Stan was far from done having limned the shades and contours of his ancestors' lost Nova Scotia home. Later, he would add more of his own sea classics like the Mary Ellen Carter, plus insights into the hard life of the rural Canada whether that be of a farmer struggling against unpredictable prairie weather (Field Behind the Plow), a rancher wife musing on growing old ("Lies"), or a ex-rodeo rider turned cattleman driven to violence by poachers ("Night Guard"). Perhaps most famously, he took the measure of the entire country driving across Canada with the historically resonant, "Northwest Passage" which the online Canadian Encyclopedia notes as often being hailed as Canada's unofficial national anthem - certainly it's a lot more melodic and makes a great deal more sense than shallowly repeating that we stand on guard when actually we don't. In 2005 in CBC's Jian Ghomeshi's widely publicized compilation of Canadians'picks for country's all-time top fifty songs, Northwest Passage ran a close fourth, miles - excuse me, kilometres - ahead of many pieces by individual and group musicians now nicely ensconced in CARAS's dubious hall of fame.

Stan, again as most of you will know, perished in 1983 at the age of 34 in a plane fire coming back from a gig in Texas. American folkie John Gorka penned "That's How Legends are Made" in tribute:

There was a man
Who came from north of here
He could raise his voice
And he could raise a beer
And when he left
The music stayed
And that's how legends are made.

Alas, all this legendary and nationally-beloved creativity has never been enough the collective unintelligence of CARAS. One can excuse a bit of oversight initially, of course, but there has been no shortage, indeed a deluge of outraged calls from all quarters to do the right thing and belatedly install Stan in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. It should have happened no later than the year after his death. But now, it seems, CARAS has if anything got obstinate. These petty little faceless pipsqueaks who can hide behind some opaque decision-making process, refuse year after year, ignoring a groundswell of advocacy from the arts community as well as everyday people who, unlike CARAS can see the obvious.

You can still find an online petition long mounted by the excellent literary magazine, Geist, and it's worth a go to add your voice. But I'd also suggest that we need a boycott - I think it's too late this year - and perhaps some closer scrutiny of whether there is taxpayer money behind the Hall of Fame, CARAS and the Junos. It's way past time that we should be tolerating the foolish and it seems willful disregard for an icon who was in every way so much bigger than CARAS and its little gonad-less zombie trophies.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Hillary, Meet the Canadian Chicken Littles


I have been waiting patiently all week for the local journal of record, the Prince George Citizen to carry my spirited rebuttal to an editorial in which they roundly castigated Hillary Clinton for having dared to answer honestly a question posed by CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos. Alas, the good editors have not seen fit to share with other readers the fruits of my insights on the matter. Thus must I resort, as is my wont, to grousing.

A couple of contextual things minor and not. On the minor side, those of you who are disadvantaged by not waking up to this crisp little paragon of journalistic endeavour, the Citizen, should know that one of the most common applications of the readers' privilege of getting their letter published, is this kind of thing (made-up but close to the usual form and literary merit):

I really want to thank whoever stole the little Black Sambo lawn ornaments from my house on Bumtickle Street. My late mother gave Shirley and me them for our silver wedding anniversary. So I hope you enjoy them whoever you are.

This kind of razory riposte comes forth from the readership almost as frequently as creationist and homophobic screed.

The other more important background in case you missed it - and my American fans who have bigger things to occupy them may well have - is that when Hillary replied ever so tactfully to direct questions about the US disposition to Canada's announced 2011 departure from the Afghan NATO mission, there followed loud caterwauling across this fair Nation's op-ed media. The Winnipeg Free Press dubbed her Hurricane Hillary, noting her bluntness on Afghanistan as well as Canada's duplicitous stance on abortion and occluded approach to international diplomacy regarding the Arctic.

The Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin, apparently never having read the source transcripts on Strombo's question and Hillary's answer, called for Clinton to get a hearing aid; hadn't Canada been clear enough on its impending pull out for some time, he demanded? Of course, Hillary's actual answer showed nothing but crystal clear awareness of the Canadian position and probably more respect than this arbitrarily dated pull-out policy deserved. Perhaps -- a wag might say -- it was Mr. Martin's communicative organs that need upgrading?

Not to be out-shouted by his journalistic betters, the tiny imperfect local Prince George paper lashed out at Mrs. Clinton with such gems of reasoning as this: " hopes Clinton didn't see the death of Cpl. Fitzpatrick, the 141st Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan - and the resurgence of interest in the war it has generated across the country - as a pretext to contradict the Tories." Fitzpatrick was the first Prince George-born Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan and his memorial services the day before the Citizen's editorial naturally riveted local attention. But one has to have some pretty ludicrous visions of grandeur to imagine that as Hillary chose her words in response to Strombo's question, foremost in her mind was the goings on in odoriferous little Prince George, BC, 3000 miles away.

But to repeat, despite my best efforts to set the Citizen straight on this, they seemingly have deep-sixed my anti-flatulent elixir for editorial bloat. Thus here in its bullshit-cutting entirety, the not-to-be-seen letter:

Dear Editor,

Canadians have a very bipolar disposition when it comes to Americans stating their views about us or about matters pertaining to us. We maintain apocryphal notions of how little the USA cares and knows about us but then when a high-ranking official like Hillary Clinton ever so tactfully indicates that our presence as a continuing ally in Afghanistan would be welcome, there pours out the kind of bombast and hyper-defensiveness seen in both the editorial and editorial cartoon in today’s Citizen (Saturday, April 3).

It is hard to grasp how what Mrs. Clinton actually did say could lead to such bloviating. In the wide-ranging interview that has caused such offense CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos naturally got around to Afghanistan and Hillary’s first response only praised Canada as a great ally whose forces “have been superb.” After further kibitzing about Americans and Canadians playing hockey in Kandahar, the interviewer asked straight out, how Hillary felt about Canada’s scheduled pull-out. Given that the American policy which Obama (with Hillary) developed so painstakingly for months is well-known, what else could she say but the extraordinarily temperate statement about Americans regretting the Canadians’ leaving. Her remarks, as Citizen’s editor admits have not worried knowledgeable foreign policy experts a whit.

But still came the howls and teeth-gnashing of Canadian editorialists, displaying the behaviour more of a thin-skinned adolescent who can’t take the mildest criticism than of a supposedly mature neighbour. To go on to imply that Hillary could have even further tempered her remarks in light of Cpl. Fitzpatrick’s death is to push this self-centered hot air to the furthest outpost of overstatement.

Still, I am glad that the Citizen has now raised the connection between that tragic loss and Canada’s position on military withdrawal. For it brings forth the question we should be asking: if Afghanistan was worth dying for in 2010, what will have magically changed that makes such sacrifice utterly unthinkable beyond 2011? I never thought the mission had prospects for success midst the endless turmoil of that sad country, but I fail to see that anything but the calendar will change next year, certainly not whatever underlying rationale took young Fitzpatrick away from here and, then, ended his promising young life. Thank you, Hillary for helping us get real in pondering such literally grave matters.