Now-now, Now

The self-professed progressive free speechies at Now are threatening to sue me again. Yawn.

Sure can dish it out, etc. etc.

In Friday’s Sun: it’s (still) the economy, stupid

It’s the economy, stupid.

That’s what Bill Clinton’s top strategist, James Carville, famously wrote on a piece of paper, a generation ago. He then put it up on the wall of the Clinton campaign war room in Little Rock, Arkansas. (He also posted two other important messages that have achieved less recognition: “Change vs. More of the same” and “Don’t forget healthcare.”)

Clinton, aided and abetted by Carville, would go on to win the 1992 presidential election campaign, of course. Most folks attribute that victory to Clinton and Carville’s laser-like focus on the economy.

It’s become conventional political wisdom in the intervening years. Incumbents win when the economy is good; challengers win when the economy is bad. Everything else – health care, national security, whatever – is important, but not nearly as important as the economy.

But is that axiom still true? Justin Trudeau doesn’t talk about the economy all that much, but he is doing rather well with just the above-noted “change” formulation, thank you very much. He could win simply by being unlike the other two guys, and by maintaining a pulse.

Stephen Harper, meanwhile, is defying the conventional political wisdom with a singular focus on foreign affairs. In recent months, the Conservative Prime Minister has been much more preoccupied with international files: brokering détente with Cuba and the U.S., staring down Russia’s despot Vladimir Putin, an increasing focus on the Arctic Circle geopolitics, and of course military action against ISIS/ISIL. It is harder to recall anything noteworthy that he has had to say about the economy.

Despite that, Harper’s party is competitive again – and he has started to emerge in polling as Canadians’ preferred choice as Prime Minister.

So what, then, of the economy? With both Trudeau and Harper remaining popular, and with both saying precious little of note about it, is the Clinton/Carville formulation no longer true?

One senior analyst with a major bank (one who, unlike most bankers, knows a great deal about politics, and has even helped run a few winning campaigns) knows why Harper has not yet been hurt by his pirouettes on the international stage. The bad news – plummeting oil prices, a declining dollar, and a December drop in jobs and building permits – hasn’t really registered on the public consciousness, he says.

“The next fiscal year, 2015-2016, is when we will see the big impact from oil prices,” says the analyst. “[But Harper] will still balance the budget this year – the $3 billion contingency fund allows him to do that. Next year may show a slight deficit, which is bad for political purposes. But it’s virtually meaningless for financial markets.”

The analyst concedes that this week’s much-publicized TD Bank report likely caused some consternation at the Department of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office. In the report, TD predicted that the Conservative government’s balanced budget would now only happen “with the thinnest of margins.”

Our anonymous political-financial analyst, who works for a rival bank, is undeterred. “The trend in debt-to-GDP continues down, and positively,” he says. “Canada’s AAA credit rating is intact. Even TD projects surpluses to return. And refinancing of the debt is resulting in big time savings for federal government.”

But does that mean, then, that the Prime Minister has many more months of wiggle room – and that he can put off Election 2015 to the Fall?

The smart banker doesn’t hesitate. “If was his advisor, I would say: let’s go sooner. Let’s not give any more time to the Opposition on the Summer BBQ circuit!”

In other words: it’s still about the economy, stupid. And Stephen Harper is well-advised to go before the economy gets worse, and the electorate start to notice.

The Pope agrees with me, naturally

Free speech, but not without limits. In other words, say whatever you want, but don’t expect to never, ever get a reaction that isn’t somehow wrathful (not homicidal).

But that’s not why I posted this. That’s not the best part. The best part? The notion of priestly fisticuffs. Classic.

By way of example, [the Pope] referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Tomlinson on Lang: “The problem was the perceived conflict of interest…It raised questions about Amanda Lang’s involvement in the story”

The good news, I suppose, is that CBC has learned a few lessons from their handling of the Ghomeshi mess. Now, at least, they’re letting the main actors in this latest drama speak to other media.

That’s the good news. The bad news for CBC is that Ms. Tomlinson isn’t backing down. Like Canadaland, she’s still saying that Lang may be in a conflict of interest. And she’s saying that Lang’s involvement in her story “raises questions.”

It sure does.

This pot may continue to boil, it may not. CBC has obviously decided that they can’t allow another of their marquee name to go down in flames, so they’re digging in and hoping this one blows over. For the rest of us, however, it marks a long-overdue look at the private doings of assorted journalist big wigs, like Ghomeshi, Mansbridge, Murphy, Roberts and now Lang.

For PR practitioners, meanwhile, it offers an opportunity to pass along some free advice to CBC bosses:

When stuck in a hole, kids, stop digging.

In Tuesday’s Sun: the real haters

[Inspired, in part, by a post from last week.]

God gave us the powers of judgment.

In Her infinite wisdom, She gave us the ability to look, and listen, and consider. She bestowed upon us the ability to recognize that there is, indeed, a qualitative difference between publishing a cartoon poking fun at a religious leader, and publishing a propaganda poster calling for all Muslims to be exterminated.

That distinction was apparently lost on not a few folks the morning after the mass murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. If you look at what the French satirical magazine was doing – and it is advisable that you do so – you will see they weren’t in any way agitating for genocide, or knowingly propagating hatred.

Over the years, they were publishing cartoons that poked fun at several religions and religious figures. During the time that they did so, Islam became the world’s fastest-growing religion, at a rate of 2.2 per cent every year. While Charlie Hebdo was publishing satirical cartoons, to put a fine point on it, the sky – filled, as it is, with assorted deities – did not fall.

Decide for yourself. I did. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are all over the Internet; they’re easy to find. My hunch is that if you look at them, some of you will laugh, some of you won’t, and all of you will go about your day, undeterred.

It should be added, here, that the writer who gratefully occupies this space is no anything-goes libertarian kook. And, in the week following the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, it’s probably not a popular position to take: when it comes to speech, I believe reasonable limits should indeed exist.

Child pornography. Promoting genocide. Denying the Holocaust in the classroom. All of those things are prohibited by Canadian law, as it should be.

There are reasonable and proper limits on human expression, because certain words and images have power. Words and images indeed have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, persuade people to kill.

As a society, we should reproach those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others – as with the aforementioned child pornography, promotion of genocide or Holocaust denial. And, yes: as society, we are entitled to object to the expression of actual hatred towards religious faiths. Words and images that expose the tenets of a person’s faith to hatred are not helpful. Because expressing actual hatred about someone else’s spiritual beliefs is just that: expressing hatred.

Almost a decade ago, a global debate raged about cartoons depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist – and my colleague Ezra Levant’s decision to display them in the magazine he then published. The cartoons set off a wave of emotional protests and threats on a global scale – and fostered a vigorous debate about what constitutes free speech. Was the publication of those cartoons satirical, or was it hateful?

When we attempt to answer that question – honestly, diligently, impartially – we will quickly ascertain the difference between an act of mischief (say, spray painting a graffiti artist’s tag on the doors of a synagogue), and an actual expression of actual hatred (say, spray-painting “DEATH TO THE JEWS” on the doors of a synagogue). Certain words and images can stir up actual fear and pain and hate. Others don’t, or shouldn’t.

So, again: God gave us the wherewithal to debate and determine where the line should lie. She bestowed upon us critical faculties. We should use them.

When we do so, we know that those who were slaughtered at Charlie Hebdo weren’t in any way propagating hatred or promoting genocide. They were being rude, yes. They were being scurrilous, yes. They were being equal-opportunity offenders, yes. But they weren’t hating anyone.

The real haters, instead, weren’t the men at Charlie Hebdo.

The real haters were the ones who killed them.

I’m not quite sure how Amanda Lang continues to have a job at CBC, as opposed to RBC

…but she does. (And, hearing that Raj Ahluwalia – a journalist of exceptional integrity – was on the other side of this latest CBC ethical mess renders, for me, Lang’s ongoing employment even more bewildering.)

Oh, and great work CanadaLand. Again.

“Last month CANADALAND reported that Amanda Lang took lucrative speaking jobs from insurance companies and then gave them positive news coverage on CBC TV.

That was nothing.

Multiple sources within CBC News have revealed to CANADALAND, under condition of anonymity, a shocking campaign Amanda Lang undertook in 2013 to sabotage a major story reported by her colleague, investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson.”

Read the whole thing.