Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Common Sense Hangover

The recent Budget tabled by the Ontario Liberal government has caught the politically uninformed off-guard. Throughout the province angry Ontarians are ready to take Mr. Guinty to task for what they see as an egregious breach of trust. One man even went so far as to send a strongly worded email—flagrantly, harassing hate-mail—to Mr. McGuinty, quickly resulting in the man’s arrest. It is doubtless, though, that many Ontarians are restraining their distaste for this budget until the June 28th Federal election. So what is it exactly that has raised the ire of so many Ontarians? Well, for one, Dalton McGuntiy misled the electorate when he said that he wouldn’t raise taxes. Also, the change Ontario voters chose apparently came at too high of a price than they were willing to stomach. But the skeptical onlooker would wryly rejoined, “Why is this news? Weren’t voters paying attention to this before the election?” Likewise, the seasoned cynic would demur, “Come’ on people, pay attention”.

In not necessarily an about face, the Liberals have implemented new health care premiums that will re-infuse $2.2 billion back into Ontario’s beleaguered Health Care System. Somehow Ontarians were under the impression that reinvesting back into our social treasures of Education and Health would be without no personal sacrifice. One must concede, though, that Dalton McGuinty offered a slightly redacted version of his vision of Ontario during the election when he promised not to raise taxes. However, if one were so inclined to read his lips carefully during the election, one would have caught the essential esoteric meaning: personal income taxes won’t be increased, though, user fees, premiums, increases in licensing, ect, will be introduced. This form of indirect taxes isn’t, within the letter of his intent—the literal meaning—an increase in personal income taxes. But within the spirit of his intent, and the commonly construed public understanding of it, an increase in indirect taxes is clearly a breach of trust.

Yet, considering the $5.6 billion deficit McGuntiy inherited from the out-going Harris/Eves government, these measures are vital to the education and health policy the Ontario Liberals hope to implement. The Ontario Liberals came to power because Ontario voters voted against the Harris/Eves Conservative record. For them, the Common Sense Revolution amounted to a self-inflicted wound that put into disrepair Ontario’s Educational, Health, and Public infrastructure. The economic prosperity Ontario underwent during the Common Sense revolution was incompetently squandered by the Tories, and in the end Ontarians were left with a $5.6 billion bill, and a nasty hangover. Though it may pain them, Ontarians must come to the sobering realization that social programs cost money, and if you’re not willing to gin up then don’t complain about health care and education when the Tories cut social spending to fund your tax cuts; because when they inevitably do, you should start looking for alternative(viz. private) forms of education and health services, to augment what will most certainly become Ontario’s weak public health and education services.

A May 22 article in The Globe and Mail by Murray Campbell speaks to these concerns. Referring to Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, the article reads:

He acknowledged that the Liberals' fiscal promises were a "small but important part" of their election campaign, but argued that the party was elected primarily because it promised to re-invest in government programs that had been cut back during eight years of Progressive Conservative rule.

Further underscoring the necessity of the measures taken, Sorbara concludes:

"The strongest mandate coming out of the campaign was for improvements in public services," he said. He noted that a Conservative campaign that argued for lower taxes and continued spending restraint had been "soundly rejected" by voters

Despite the noble intentions of the Ontario Liberal government, this budget will have an adverse political effect on the electoral fortunes of the Federal Liberals come election time. Already reeling from the sponsorship scandal, compounded by waning brand credibility, this budget may inflict an irrevocable body blow to the ailing Federal Liberals. As Ontarians dizzily awake to today's political realities, and the Common Sense Hangover sets in, poor, reactionary political choices will be made, and for this the Federal Liberals will suffer dearly. But, then again, that’s nothing new.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Apathy, Shmapathy

With the writ dropped, Canadians are gearing up for a June 28th election date, with all the verve of a retarded lounge singer. Special election coverage by the networks is abound, as the politicians position themselves to appeal to the inquisitive electorate—whether they number in the tens of thousands, or simply in the hundreds. Most Canadians have their attention directed to the Stanley Cup, and rightfully so: The Calgary Flames are making their first appearance since 1989. In fact, the Flames are the first Canadian team in the last 10 years to be in the Finals; the last Canadian team was Vancouver in 1994. So for at least the next two weeks, the news, despite being replete with vital political information, will largely be ignored—that is of course until the Flames win the Cup.

Nonetheless, don’t be surprised by all the insipid political forums that “want” to increase youth political awareness and engagement. As far as I’m concerned, youth political engagement is a risible oxymoron. The plaintive moans of youth activists who complain that politicians ignore their demands have become a tired refrain. Calls for political reform, both electoral and institutional, have fallen on deaf ears. The argument goes: the youth don’t vote because they have no vested interest to vote. This should come as no shock to both the politically literate and the politically illiterate: the youth have no vested interest insofar as they have no political and generational capital to effect political change. Admittedly, they should be concerned as regards educational policy, especially those in any form of post-secondary institution. Though, It would be nonsensical to have youth effect change to educational policy simply because we need more youthful political engagement.

We have experts for a reason; experts have experience for a reason. Just as anyone would prefer an informed opinion when assessing a situation, one should also seek an informed vote when engaging the political process.

Youth participation in the electoral process is punctuated by the amount of comfort, knowledge, and experience they bring to the table. I would much rather that someone, of any age group, decide not to vote because of lack of comfort, lack of knowledge, and lack of experience, than someone quixotically voting uniformed, just because they can.

Thus far, the term youth has been used ambiguously, to refer to youth in general; though the term must be explained more specifically to what I contend it to mean in a demographic sense. From heretofore, youth will refer to those under the age of 26, who may still be in some form of post-secondary education or already in the work field—though a difference of degree may separate those youth who work and those who are still in school. My basic point is that those youth with no vested interest in tax policy and regional issues are less likely to be affected and appealed to by politician, more specifically politicians in their constituency. The point couldn’t be put any simpler: You vote for the Member of Parliament in your riding, not the leader of the political party you want to win. Likewise, with the high mobility of youth in post-secondary education—who appear to be the group more likely to be politically apathetic—no grounding, regional experience will engage them. Not working in the area, but for months, and having little to no property commitments will generally dictate the level of engagement one has with their surroundings. This, undoubtedly, translates to one’s political engagement in the region.

Historical perspective also illustrates this point clearer. The introduction of universal male suffrage, during the tail-end of the 19th century, had much to do with the electoral inequality of having only propertied elites dictate legislation to all. Many felt that because of taxation, which fell on each male, they needed to be politically represented: No Taxation without representation.

The political term “voter apathy” wasn’t yet in parlance because people demanded franchise, and willingly participated in the process.

Greater measures to expand suffrage to women and blacks inaugurated a rights revolution that saw the disbanding of old institutions of discrimination. The universal voting age was also lowered to 18 from 21 in the 1970’s. Though foolish, one legislator in California, just this year, has proposed a bill that would lower the voting age to 14, effectively giving 14 year olds half votes.

Today, the ethos of political engagement has not changed, considerably—though voter turn out in the western industrial countries has declined precipitously since the 1980’s. Many believe this has more to do with economic stability of liberal democracies, than a general erosion of the political process—though the point can be made, and it has been, forcefully, by some, that corporate, political party financing has changed the dynamic. The corporate infiltration into the political process is a point not to be lightly disregarded, and more needs to be said of that influence.

But my essential misgiving is with the argument that the youth aren’t politically engaged because of a failure of the system. Once youth exceed the age of 26, develop roots to a region, and begin paying substantially into the tax system, then a natural and vital engagement with the political variables that affect their lifestyles will manifest. This is not to say that all over the age of 26 are more politically engaged than those under 26; however, a greater proportion of those over 26 have a greater reason to be politically engaged, than those under 26. No representation without taxation or, from a modern perspective, no reason to care about representation because I don’t necessarily pay a lot of taxation.

Youth today aren’t as politically engaged as some would desire, yet this seems to be more a symptom of their experiential situation than necessarily a fatal flaw of the political system.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Extreme Think-Over

With shows like Extreme Makeover, The Swan, and I Want A Celebrity Face permeating mainstream popular culture, and shamefully gracing the hapless networks, the issue of surgical enhancement has taken center stage in our relentless quest for self-perfection. Some Botox here, a chin tuck there, plus facial reconstructive surgery here, a new wardrobe, and I'm ready to begin my new life—this isn’t even taking into account the necessary cognitive therapy to assume my new persona.

Even meek, moralistic Canadians are rushing to their plastic surgeons in record numbers. In 2003, the number of Canadians going in for a surgical enhancement procedure increased by 30% from the pervious year.

Indeed, shows like The Swan reflect rather than create or instruct the growing trend toward more surgical enhancement; and, insofar as these shows sensitize and sanitize our previously temperate attitudes toward surgical enhancement, they also cultivate and intensify an atmosphere that regards such activities as socially acceptable and, more importantly, normal.

Therefore, what is interesting is how the public dialogue has pushed the moral concerns closer to the fringes. No longer is it taboo to consider surgical enhancement: a scared cow has been tipped—at least partially. As a matter of personal choice and self-improvement, what essentially is the moral difference between exercise and surgical enhancement? To be fair, the physical differences are scant when taking into account the physiological enchantment of exercise. Thus, surgical enhancement's primary goal, apart from the visible modification, is the notion that visible modification will benefit you physiological, or more specifically: it makes you feel better about your-self. One exercises for the physical and mental benefits; surgical enhancement offers these same ends—though with much less effort.

But the negative opinions still persist. Why is this?

It may simply be that surgical enhancement is a relativity effortless form of self improvement, and that people—viz. rich people—will eventually buy their way to beauty and social prominence (like they haven't already). Soci-economic disparities generally predicate the way in which employment opportunities are distributed. On top of this, it is widely accepted, and shown through numerous studies, that preferential treatment is disproportionately given to good looking people.

Therefore, a strong argument for surgical enhancement can be made on the grounds that but for surgical enhancement the livelihood of a not so good looking person would suffer. If one has the means and the desire, then why not enhance her or his professional and personal livelihood through surgical enhancement?

This, of course, raises ethical implications in our public and social policy mechanisms. Though economic accessibility still remains a barrier to the equality of surgical enhancement opportunities, a comprehensive study of the systemic flaws in contemporary social and political arrangements, which is far beyond the scope of this post, would explore the issue more adequately. Yet, remaining pragmatic on this issue appears to be the only sane position at this point

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Not So Shocked and Appalled

News of Iraqi prisoners being tortured, humiliated, and degraded struck me rather oddly, to say the least. I was truly unable to emote the sort of standard outrage that usually occasions news of this type. To say that my indifference borders on callous would be fair; though, it must be noted, the news wasn’t surprising to me. I tend to generally hold the U.S to a very low standard when it comes to upholding the Geneva Convention (GC)—to be honest I hold every country that has engaged in any type of warfare/military operation within the last 20 years to a lower standard, if for no other reason than they were in warfare. It’s quite easy to follow the dictates of the GC when you’re not engaged in a military operation. It’s even easier when you not providing security and stability for the country you’re not occupying.

Therefore when I heard that six military police (MP’s) humiliated and degraded Iraq prisoners, I thought to myself, “I wonder what’s not being reported?” My lack of moral outrage frightens me sometimes—as it likely should the reader—since such heinous acts should be met with moral opprobrium everywhere.

To be frank, this speaks more to my growing cynicism of political language and rhetoric, than to my growing depravity in general—although I wouldn’t necessarily discount the later.

The “the facts on the ground” are certainly far worse than is reportable or palatable to the general public. One can only imagine—and it shouldn’t be difficult to do so—the types of criminal activities US soldiers engage in with sheer impunity. There is clearly no greater power militarily than the US in the region and, likewise, clearly no other organization able to legally reprimand or sanction the US. But, the US, already struggling to win the “Hearts and Minds” of the Iraqis, has blundered in a huge way. Managing perceptions and expectations of transforming US force into a benevolent fount seemed near impossible; but, now it is a lot closer to being empirically impossible.

Opponents of the Iraqi war are now realizing all their previous predictions and checking off their laundry list of catastrophic outcomes the occupation would produce. It is doubtless the Bush Administration was overly—even criminally— optimistic when it came to making the case for war; and now their eating crow. But to be fair, their detractors shouldn’t feel contented about their pre-war predictions. As far as I see it, these outcomes were a fait accompli.

These are the facts: guerrilla warfare has broken out in the cities and is fomenting the type of alienation necessary to make regular Iraqis question the continued presence of US troops; fundamentalist clerics fearful of losing territorial authority are usurping provisional government authority in the region, desperately holding on to what little power they have left; in the commission of military security, the US has detained prisoners and either humiliated, degraded, or tortured them. These things were all bound to happen, and they have all come to fruition. It wasn’t a matter of if these things could happen, but rather when these things would happen. This is why I wasn’t surprised when I heard of the tortures. I’m saving my moral outrage for something else.