Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Explaining my Politics

I had a conversation today with someone and they asked me why I was a Liberal.

My response is I am not a Liberal but I am a liberal.  More specifically, I am a pragmatist. Most of life is about solving problems and when it comes to solving problems you are better served to identify the problem and find a solution that fits it instead of attempting to fit the problem to a preconceived solution.

This is true of governments.  Their job is to come up with solutions to problems that will serve the greatest good.  How they actually do this does not matter.  So, for example, if a issue needs a more conservative approach to be resolved then that should be the approach they take.  The same is true if a problem would be best resolved by an approach that would be considered liberal or socialist.  

Looking at the political landscape in Canada today the only party that comes close to matching that requirement, federally, are the Liberals.  The same holds true for Ontario.  

The most likely alternative to the Liberals, in Canada and in Ontario, do not meet my requirements. They are much too dogmatic.  That is, they care more about adhering to their narrow ideology than solving real world problems that would serve the greatest good. 

I am of course referring to the Conservative Parties of Canada and Ontario.  They are a great representation of the decent into dogmatism that has become a feature of modern conservatism in the English speaking world.  In fact, I would go so far as to state that I believe the conservative movement, in its current form, is as great a threat to our freedom, lives and livelihood as Communism was during the Cold War.  Indeed, conservatism would be the greater threat as it has much more credibility than Communism ever did.

Some would consider that statement inflammatory but you just need to look at the problem solving approaches of the old Soviet Union and modern conservatism to see the parallels.

During Cold War the Soviet Union had a very difficult time producing enough food to feed its entire population.  For decades it had to buy surplus grain from Canada and the West despite the fact the area of land it had to produce grain and other foodstuffs almost equaled that of the Western world combined.  Really, looking at the amount of farmland they had the Soviet Union should have been able to feed itself and have a great deal left over to sell to the rest of the world.

So why could the Soviet Union not feed itself?  Simple, agricultural decisions that would usually be taken at the individual farm level were taken by a bureaucrat at a central location. Farmers in the Soviet Union were not allowed to think for themselves and to take decisions that were in the best interest of their farms.  They had to implement the decisions, about their individual farms, that were taken somewhere else, often in a place very far away from their farms.

The ideology of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the primacy of central control of all aspects of the economy.  Factories and farms had to be centrally controlled from the centre because that is what Lenin and Trotsky said way back in 1917 and to stray from that ideal, even a little bit, was considered to be heresy.  So, the Soviet Union stuck to Communist dogma for decades and had to buy grain and other foodstuffs from the West, almost every year, in order to stave off famine.  It should be noted that the lack of ability to feed itself took up alot of the time of the Soviet leadership but they could never come up with a solution that would work and adhere to Communist dogma at the same time.  When they had to choose between the two options they chose to stick to dogma everytime, until Mr. Gobachev came along.

The irony is if they would have relaxed that control just a small amount they would have probably solved the problem.  The agriculture industry in the West is not a true free market by any sense of the word.  That sector is the most controlled and subsidized economic sector in the West.  However, individual farmers are allowed to make decisions regarding their own farms and that is the crucial difference.

So how does this relate to modern conservatism?  The parallels are evident.  The Harper government pursued a "tough on crime" agenda throughout its time despite the fact that there was increasing evidence to indicate that crime, violent crime in particular, was falling long before they came to power.

Mike Harris decided to deregulate the electricity industry in Ontario because modern conservatives firmly believe that any form of regulation is bad.  Every industry expert that did not work for the industry or the Harris government stated that deregulation would lead to higher prices but the Harris government believed otherwise and went ahead with it. It should be no surprise that high electricity prices are now a big issue in Ontario. 

I would also point out the deregulation of the Hog industry in Ontario which lead directly to the death of several people in Walkerton, Ontario.

Climate change is real and humans are contributing to it.  The evidence is clear.  Yet conservatives either deny that fact outright or they play down its potential impacts.  There might come a time when global warming and its resultant impacts on our climate will become an existential threat to the human species yet conservatives refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem.

To place more importance on ideological purity than on evidence and fact will inevitably lead to disaster.  You can only ignore a problem or attempt to apply the wrong solution to it for so long before it becomes unmanageable.  When we do it as individuals it can lead to great personal hardship.  When governments do it they can do unspeakable harm to the people they represent and the society that they are morally and legally bound to protect.

Modern Conservative governments attempt to fit problems to reconceived solutions  They place ideological purity over finding the most effective solution. Liberal governments are generally more pragmatic.  They will usually weigh the evidence and facts before taking a decision on how to solve a problem.  That is why I am a liberal.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Omar Khadr

With the news that the Omar Khadr legal settlement has been enforced the Conservatives and their supporters have worked themselves into quite a lather. 

Naturally, they are blaming Prime Minister Trudeau for this but they seem to forget that the framework for this settlement was hammered out and agreed upon by government lawyers and Mr. Khadr's attorneys in the last year of the Harper government.  If Mr. Harper would have won the last election it would have been his government that would have had to implement the agreed upon settlement.  I am certain that the Conservatives not mentioning this fact is just an oversight and that they are not trying to spin this situation in the worst possible way in order to attempt to take political advantage.  

Taking the politics out of the situation we need to look at why a legal settlement was needed to begin with.  Generally speaking when the defence in a civil legal process decides to settle it usually means that they do not believe that they can win if the case goes to trial.  The settlement is a way to mitigate any damage of a loss by limiting any payout and there is usually a stipulation in any settlement agreement that they are not admitting to any wrong doing.

So why would the Candian government need to agree to a settlement?

Omar Khadr is accused of killing an American soldier when he was 15 years old.  When he was captured the Americans incarcerated him in their prison in Guantanamo Bay.

After many years they finally released him, he returned to Canada and he proceeded to sue the government of Canada.  Did he have a case?

Well, there are several UN resolutions and other international protocols, of which Canada is a signatory, which states that child soldiers generally get involved with wars as a result of brainwashing, drugs given to them by those who would have them fight or straight up coersion.  As a result, these same international agreements indicate that in most cases child soldiers are not to be held responsible for the action they are forced to take.  Instead they are to be rescued from their situation and measures are to be taken to rehabilitate them and reintegrate these children back into the respective societies.  Of course this did not happen.

None of the international agreements on child soldiers are treaties or international laws. They are really just statements of good intent.  So, if Canada did not want to follow them in this case they could have made a good argument as to why.

However, that would leave them with two other options.  Treat the 15 year old Mr. Khadr as a regular soldier or treat him as a terrorist, which means treat him as a criminal.

For both choices Canada would have been compelled to treat Mr. Khadr much differently than he was actually treated.  

If Mr. Khadr was treated as a soldier then, after his capture, he would have had the right of the protection of the Geneva Conventions.  This is a treaty on how countries are to conduct war, including the treatment of prisoners of war and Canada is a signatory to that treaty.  It is stated in the Conventions that the torture of prisoners of war is forbidded.  It is also stated that if a country wishes to hand over a prisoner of war to a third country they must be certain that the third country will follow the Conventions.  At the time of Mr. Khadr's capture there was already some evidence that prisoners being held in Guantanamo were not being treated according to the Conventions.  That should have prevented Canada from handing Mr. Khadr over to the Americans.  It did not and Mr. Khadr was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he was probably tortured.  

If Mr. Khadr would have been treated like a criminal then he should have been repatriated to Canada and forced to face the criminal justice system here, which amongst other things, includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law.

Considering all of that Mr. Khadr's lawyers probably believed that they had a strong case that the Canadian government violated international and domestic laws.  Shamefully, they may be right.

Many argue that Mr. Khadr was a terrorist and terrorists should not enjoy the same rights as the rest of us.  The problem I have with that argument, and that I have always had with that argument, is that if you allow governments to deny basic human and legal rights for some where do you draw the line?  Not everybody has the same definition of terrorist so the line becomes rather fuzzy.  As an illustrative aside I was looking at an American news aggregation site a few days ago and there was story in their that some elements of the Trump Administration would like to define some environmental advocacy groups in the US as terrorist organizations.

In general I find the reaction to terrorism to be an over reaction.  

For over 40 years the West was threatened by the Soviet Union and its vassal states.  They had millions of men under arms, sitting on the border of Western Europe, and they had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at us.  The Soviet Union was a politically powerful state and it and its Communist ideals were an existential threat to our way of life.  What was our reaction?  We strengthed our democracies.  We made our democratic institutions more robust.  Any politician who would have suggested otherwise would have been lynched (politically speaking of course).

Some of the more liberal estimates of the number of terrorists out there is 100,000, if you are only counting the Muslim terrorists.  That is 100,000 out of over a billion.  They have no major government that supports them, they have no heavy weapons and they can barely move from their places of origin.  Crucially, they have absolutely no political power.  Indeed that is why the resort to terrorism to begin with.  They are not an existential threat to our way of life.  They can kill a few of us but they cannot bring down our democratic institutions or our society.

What is our reaction to them?

A large portion of the populations of the western democracy have collectively and figuratively wet their pants and they are demanding actions from their governments to protect them. Governments, which in the history of civilization have never given up an opportunity to grab more power for themselves, have been happy to oblige with increasingly draconian laws which erode our basic and legal rights.  

It is ironic that the Soviet Union could not convince us to give up our rights and freedoms despite 40+ plus years of effort to do so.  However, the actions of a relative handful of religious extremists, in less than half of that time, have some parts of our society demanding that the government take those rights and freedoms away from us because they see terrorists under their pillow.

Fortunately, our democratic institutions are much stronger than that and the Omar Khadr settlement has managed to demonstrate that nicely.

One final note, I read today that the family of the soldier that was said to be killed by Omar Khadr is looking at going after some of the money that he won in his settlement.  That is interesting.  The only way they will be able to do that would be to launch a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. Khadr in a court of law.  It is another irony in all of this that Mr.Khadr might be forced to finally defend himself and his alleged actions in a court of law, not because any government is making it happen, but because the family of his alleged victim might make it happen.  Mr. Khadr might have come full circle.