Martin: It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the media

Good column, if depressing:

A major change in the communications system, Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan opined long ago, “is bound to cause a great readjustment of all the social patterns, the educational patterns, the sources and conditions of political power, [and] public opinion patterns.”

Given the vast changes that have marked the digital age, McLuhan can hardly be accused of overstatement. The online world is corrosively altering social and political “patterns,” to use the McLuhan term, and destabilizing democracies.

In using internet platforms, fringe groups and hate generators have multiplied exponentially and contributed to an erosion of trust in public institutions. They’ve prompted violent threats against public officials, driven the United States into two warring silos, and cast a pall of negativity over the public square seldom seen.

The contamination of the dialogue is such that even agreement on what constitutes basic truths has come to be tenuous. Talk of a post-truth America is no joke. Canada isn’t there yet, but give the disinformation amplifiers more scope and we soon might be.

Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville, may have had it right back in the 1990s when he famously declared why voters had soured on then-president George H.W. Bush: “It’s the economy, stupid.” But not today. Now it’s the media, stupid. It’s the upheaval in the communications system. A media landscape gone rogue.

Economic woes get regulated. Not so the convulsions in our information ecosphere. We have no idea how to harness the hailstorm. Few efforts are being made. Calls for regulation are greeted by a great hue and cry over potential freedom-of-speech transgressions.

So broadly has media influence and power expanded that a cable network has become the avatar of the Republican Party. Donald Trump has maintained support from the GOP because he has what Richard Nixon didn’t. A kowtowing TV network and a Twitter following, until he was blocked, of 90 million users.

Social media platforms, like an upstart rival sports league, have served to delegitimize, if not disenfranchise, traditional media, magnifying public distrust. There is still a lot of high-quality journalism around, including at this awards-dominating newspaper. But traditional media no longer set the tenor of the national discussion and help shape a national consensus as in times past. Enfeeble a society’s credible news and information anchors, replace them with flotsam and you get, as per the United States, a country increasingly adrift.

The trajectory of media decline is worth recalling. From having just two or three television networks in Canada and the U.S. that aired news only for an hour or so a day, we have expanded to around-the-clock cable networks. News couldn’t fill that much airtime so opinion did – heaps of it. Hours of tirades filled the airwaves from reactionaries like Rush Limbaugh. Then the internet took hold, along with the invasion of unfiltered social media, awash in vitriol.

And so the chaff now overwhelms the wheat.

Mainstream media got in on the act, lowering their standards, contributing to the debasement of the dialogue by running ad hominem insults on comment boards from readers who hide behind pseudonyms. As I’ve noted before, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s fraud speech.

The crisis in our information complex is glaring, but it isn’t being addressed. Mainstream media, while demanding transparency everywhere else, rarely applies this standard to itself. Despite its exponential growth in importance, the media industry gets only a small fraction of the scrutiny that other powerful institutions do.

Big issues go largely unexamined in Canadian media. We rarely take a critical look at the unfettered rise of advocacy journalism, the impact of the disappearance of local newspapers or media ownership monopolies. There are precious few media columnists in this country. There is no overarching media institute to address the problems.

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s big idea is to deprive us of one of our longest-standing national institutions. He would gut the CBC, defund it practically out of existence. At his rallies, he’s cheered on lustily for the promise, an indication of the low regard held by many in the population toward the mainstream media.

Any kind of media-reform drive always runs up against the freedom of speech barrier. The Trudeau government has passed Bill C-10, but it was diluted and will have little regulatory impact. A Commission on Democratic Expression, whose membership included former Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin, has recommended regulatory reforms to curb social media’s impact. But it didn’t receive anywhere near the attention it deserved.

There’s a vacuum. Ways to regulate the destabilizing forces in the new communications paradigm must be found; ways that leave no possibility of control by political partisans. Such ways are possible and, given the ravages of the new media age, imperative.

Source: It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the media

With Stephen Miller pouring poison into Trump’s ear, the uncivil war rages on

Strong but accurate portrayal:

Does the Trump administration’s face of evil have a point?

Stephen Miller, the white supremacist who steers United States President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, and also serves as his xenophobic speechwriter, claims it is hypocritical for Democrats and progressives to decry the President’s planned political rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday as a coronavirus superspreader.

How can they do that, he asks, when they’re the same people who are encouraging and participating in massive protest rallies against racism and police brutality? Thousands of demonstrators milling together on streets, many of them without masks. It’s hypocrisy on stilts, Mr. Miller says.

He cited Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who extended her lockdown order at the same time as she was promoting mass street protests. And how about Florida congresswoman Val Demings, who is on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s shortlist for a running mate? She joined a major protest while blasting the President for his planned rally.

“There is almost assuredly going to be a spike in COVID cases and it will also almost assuredly be put on red-state governors and the President holding rallies,” Mr. Miller wrote in The Spectator this week. “But Democratic activists and politicians themselves created this situation.”

It’s too early to determine whether protests are contributing to a spike in COVID-19 cases. But progressives have to be careful about rhetoric and activities that play into the hands of the 34-year-old Mr. Miller and his Oval Office master. Campaigns to defund police departments, for example, are a godsend to Mr. Trump’s law-and-order campaign, as are protests that descend into violence.

Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday that the news media was “trying to Covid Shame us on our big Rallies.” Unconcerned about a new wave of the coronavirus plague, he will hold these rallies, no matter how dangerous they may be. Re-election, as he sees it, depends on the country getting out of its crouching, virus-defensive posture and back on its economic feet.

Despite U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s assertion that fears of a renewed virus outbreak are overblown, a dozen or so states, including Florida, Texas and Oklahoma – which is a heavily pro-Trump state – are still seeing a surge in cases.

While the anti-racism protests have been outdoors, where the virus is less contagious, the Trump team was planning on holding its rally in a packed indoor arena. But last-minute plans were being made to shift it to an outdoor venue. Mr. Pence said this was to accommodate huge crowds, but there was also pressure to do so for health reasons.

The Tulsa rally will be the President’s first in three months. The city was also the site of a massacre 99 years ago, when a white mob attacked Black residents of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, killing as many as 300 people. The Trump rally was originally planned to be held on Friday, June 19, which is known as Juneteenth, a holiday when many Black Americans celebrate their emancipation from slavery. But owing to the outrage the plan provoked, it was moved back a day.

Even so, the event is likely to heighten racial tensions. It will play to Mr. Trump’s base, as all his other measures do. The police reforms he announced this week were toothless. He has rejected calls to rename military bases honouring Confederate generals.

Mr. Miller has had Mr. Trump’s ear since day one, and is still pouring poison into it. Mr. Miller is a blank-faced, cold and uncompromising bigot. In most everything written about him, the word evil or something synonymous can be found.

He is architect of the ban limiting travel to the U.S. from many Muslim countries, harsh anti-refugee policies and Trump speeches berating immigrants. Last November, leaked e-mails between himself and a former Breitbart editor showed him promoting white nationalist propaganda and materials from white supremacist sites. A group of 27 senators sent a letter to the White House saying Mr. Miller was motivated by white supremacy, not national security, and demanded he be fired.

Firing Mr. Miller is the furthest thing from Mr. Trump’s mind. His campaign priority is hardly to attract Black voters. With the help of Mr. Miller, he has pretty much lost them all.

As many have noted in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Civil War of the 1860s in the United States has never really ended. Mr. Trump and Mr. Miller are shamefully keen to extend it into this campaign.

Source: With Stephen Miller pouring poison into Trump’s ear, the uncivil war rages on: Lawrence Martin

Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump: Martin, Hébert, Glavin – The Globe and Mail

Tricky balance for the government to navigate, one that will likely only become more challenging:

Exaggerators, overreactors, alarmists, wolf criers. They make up the ascendant, paranoid right in politics. Canadians, by contrast, show an opposite lean. We’re more inclined to equanimity, seeing things in the round.

It’s one of our finer qualities and it was manifest following Donald Trump’s action against Muslims and refugees, as well as the Quebec murders allegedly perpetrated by a lone-wolf screwball.

Justin Trudeau was out before other world leaders with the message that the excluded were welcome here. Many Conservatives, Jason Kenney included, took issue with the Trump edict as well.

Following the horror in Sainte-Foy, there were no overheated calls from Mr. Trudeau or opposition leaders for a security crackdown on freedoms. Instead, there was this statement by the Prime Minister: “We will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion. Always.”

That, of course, runs directly counter to the Archie Bunkerish proclivities of the new U.S. President and his Visigothic sidekick, Stephen Bannon. Mr. Trump has just come to power and already cross-border relations are rocky. We should get used to it. A long run of bilateral warfare is likely in the offing.

The initial idea, a reasonable one, was to wait before jumping to conclusions about where Mr. Trump was headed. Maybe a lot of his campaign demagoguery was just P.T. Barnum bluster. But it took only a week of announcements – Mexican wall, Muslim wall – to show that he was fully intent on implementing his agenda.

We’re in completely new territory with this U.S. administration. There has never been one like it – and never one so unlike our own. The John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy fissure was based on less. So was the split between Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau. The divide today extends to trade, immigration, climate change, social justice, foreign policy and much else. It also extends to temperament, world view and philosophy.

Some say we should bury our differences because relations with Washington are simply too important to let sour. Others say you can suck up to power or you can stand on principle. The Trudeau government would like to find a middle ground. It may be able to work out an accommodation on trade issues. But events are dictating – and likely will continue to dictate – a wide divide.

Global protests greeted Mr. Trump’s actions, with Mr. Trudeau being saluted for his initial statement. Many see Canada as playing a leading role in countering “America First” naiveté.

The country is well-equipped to take on such a challenge. Our unity has rarely, if ever, been stronger than it is today. Regional discontent is at one of its all-time lows. The spirit of positivism that Justin Trudeau has ushered in to contrast the bunker mentality of the Conservative decade has weakened somewhat owing to his recent stumbles.

But to get the measure of how well, comparatively speaking, this country is doing, one need only look at what have been seen as the big controversies stirring in Ottawa. There was the Prime Minister’s Christmas holidaying with the Aga Khan. Horrors. There was his self-admitted slip-up in answering a question in French instead of English. A barn burner, to be sure. There’s been the endless, tedious debate over the issue that most Canadians could not care a fig about. Electoral reform.

Many times in the past our government has had to stake out positions running directly counter to Washington’s. Jean Chrétien’s run-ins with George W. Bush are one example. Pierre Trudeau’s handling of Mr. Nixon constituted another. On neither occasion did we pay too big a price. As for Mr. Trump, he can’t put up walls everywhere. He can’t go about alienating every economic partner.

Mr. Trudeau should make it clear in his coming meeting with him that there will be no relenting on Canada’s contrary beliefs. He and the President are going to have to agree to very much disagree.

If he sells out to Mr. Trump, Canadians will make him pay. And so they should.

Source: Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump – The Globe and Mail

Chantal Hébert in the Star:

Canada would not even beg to differ in public with Trump’s outlandish assertion that keeping out refugees, visitors and immigrants including green card holders from some Muslim-majority countries was necessary to keep the U.S. safe from attacks.

Given that we share the same continent, it is hard to think of a government leader better placed to offer a rebuttal of that narrative than Canada’s.

But while Trudeau and many others in his government spent the past weekend reaffirming their attachment to Canada’s diversity and their determination to continue to enrich it, they all steered well clear of rebutting the premises of the U.S. ban.

That task fell to non-Liberals such as former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney. In a series of tweets on Saturday, he described Trump’s executive order as “a brutal ham-fisted act of demagogic political theatre” and called on Republicans in the American congress to challenge it.

In a statement issued on behalf of all Canadian universities on Sunday and calling for the ban to be ended immediately, their association pointedly noted that this was an issue “that was too important to stay quiet on.”

Asked point blank to address the ban issue in question period on Monday, the prime minister skirted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s question and stuck to touting Canada’s diversity.

The problem with Canada’s tongue-biting approach is that some actions speak louder than others, especially when they are those of a U.S. administration that is using the office of president as a bullhorn to equate Muslims with security threats.

The refusal to engage beyond the very narrow scope of securing Canadian exemptions from measures that have negative planet-wide implications leaves the field wide open to those — starting with the new administration — who are only too eager to distort facts for their own purposes.

Surely Trudeau did not see the White House’s appropriation of the Quebec City tragedy as fodder for its controversial entry ban coming. Chances are this will not be the last time he is blindsided by his U.S. vis-à-vis.

It was always a given that there would be limits to the lengths the Trudeau government could go to in its quest for a transactional relationship with the Trump administration. But few expected those limits to be reached over a matter of little more than a single week. And yet they have.

In wake of mosque shootings, Trudeau silent on Trump’s ban on Muslims: Hébert

And Glavin calls for action on Syrian refugees turned away by Trump:

This is just one small, brave thing that Canadians can do that would be rather more useful than being entertained by their politicians composing tweets about what a nice country Canada is. We could take in at least some of those refugees that Trump has turned away.

Over the Christmas holidays, Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, quietly capped the 2017 quota of privately sponsored Syrian refugees at 1,000—this after Canadians privately sponsored nearly 14,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. There are about 25,000 Syrian refugees still in the backlog for resettlement in Canada in 2017. Hussen could lift McCallum’s cap on private refugee sponsorships. This is more or less what the Canadian Council for Refugees proposed on Sunday.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 18,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 since November 2015. The United States was set to take in 3,566 Syrian refugees during the first three months of this year. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, 1,318 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States between Jan. 1 and last Friday, when the American door slammed shut. That leaves 2,248 innocent Syrian refugees immediately “stranded,” indefinitely, by Trump’s idiocy. We could take them, at a minimum. We could do this.

Either Canadians are the big-hearted and welcoming people our politicians claim we are, or we’re not. Either diversity is our strength, or it is not.

Piety is one thing. Brave policy is quite another.

It’s time for Justin Trudeau to do brave things

Canada’s foreign policy invites retaliation: Lawrence Martin

Mr. Taylor, the well-known philosopher who headed up a Quebec commission on cultural and religious minorities, suggested that the federal Conservatives are surfing on Islamophobic sentiment, which makes alienated Muslim Canadians easier targets for recruitment by radical Islamist terrorists.

Mr. Taylor is no slouch. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has called him “one of the world’s greatest living philosophers,” although the minister might well be revising that appraisal now.

But the Montreal professor makes a valid point, and one that should be seen in a broader context. It’s not just anti-Muslim rhetoric that puts Canada high on the radar list of enemies, or the upping of the ante by extending the Islamic State mission to Syria. It’s also how Ottawa has resorted to provocative rhetoric and incendiary statecraft elsewhere: With Russia by way of unsubstantiated accusations, the latest being that they confronted us in the Black Sea. With Iran in shutting down our embassy in Tehran. With the Arab world through unconditional support for Israel.

… Mr. Alexander has had experience as a diplomat – in Afghanistan, no less. But you’d never know it. Last week, he listed the hijab as a face covering that has no place in the citizenship ceremony. The problem? It’s a head scarf, not normally used to cover the face. “Hey, before you send a race-baiting e-mail,” tweeted Liberal strategist Gerald Butts, “at least know the difference between a hijab and a niqab.”

 Canada’s foreign policy invites retaliation 

A star like Jason Kenney should avoid the gutter – Martin

Every now and then, it happens.

But a sharp contrast when he was the only Cabinet Minister to state that Rob Ford should resign (Rob Ford should ‘step aside,’ Conservative Jason Kenney says):

What was particularly noteworthy this time was the involvement of Employment Minister Jason Kenney. He’s the party’s star. He’s touted as the inside favourite to succeed Mr. Harper. He gets a lot of votes, including mine, for most effective cabinet minister. He has more mental equipment one envious Tory calls him “Smarty Pants” than anyone on the Tory front benches.

On the question of ethics, you might think he would want to nurture an upright and honourable image in contrast to many in his party. Unlike other Tories, he’s got enough clout to tell the toadies in the Prime Minister’s Office what they can do with their talking points.

So what did he do last week? He jumped into the gutter with both feet. He showed himself to be all-in with the bottom-feeders.

My earlier tweet brought a flurry of tweets of those suffering from the “Harper/Kenney derangement syndrome” rather than more measured criticism.

A star like Jason Kenney should avoid the gutter – The Globe and Mail.

And the earlier Globe editorial:

 Conservatives’ dirty tricks have no place in Canadian politics