Tag Archives: screaming

Soap Operas in the News

We find ourselves in the middle of a well-known curse, for it is true that we live in interesting times. Common sense has fled, as has basic numeracy, and our media fails us yet again, for the story isn’t about what is going on, but about the cut and thrust of competing sound-bites.

Truly, this is an era — internationally, federally, provincially and municipally — where soap opera has taken over all programming.

Delays of Our Lives

Does one hand know what the other hand is doing? Can anyone count? The current contre-temps in Ottawa is Conservative claims that the Senate (dominated by the Liberals) is hold up their spending bills, while, at the same time, Liberals claim the Conservatives could move faster. Go figure.

Do any media hosts point out that the bills in question arrived in the Senate only last Thursday and that they are already in committee? No, they do not. Instead, the story becomes the current line of “they’re not pulling EI changes out”. Good heavens, an ever-shifting target — on both sides of the aisle — is all that is deemed newsworthy now. It is the game of “he said, she said” and no logic applied.

As The Stomach Churns

Then there’s the meme of the “ever worsening economic conditions”. Does anyone ask why any of us should expect that anything done to intervene could have made a difference when it is historically established that monetary policy changes take nine months minimum, and as much as eighteen, to work their way into the economy and make a difference? Fiscal policy changes are typically a year or more into the future as well, yet the charge is “not good enough, do more” mere days after action is taken.

We are staring at an abyss, mostly brought about by our own bad policy decisions. So far, in listening to the English-language news, only the Australians (ABC Radio National) seem willing to actually add up the days, challenge the wisdom of doing more until the last actions have had a chance to work, etc. But in most of the rest of the world, no one is asking the question: they simply echo the Opposition’s standard mantra of “not good enough” (wherever they are). It is certainly no different here.

Meanwhile, of course, we are not solving the underlying issues. It is now clear that systematic embezzlement and pyramiding of risk was undertaken, yet we seem determined as international policy to leave it all in place. No wonder there is no confidence. Do you hear anything of this in the stories? No.

General Horses**t

Meanwhile, of course, we all stumble down the same paths while blaming other governments. “It’s not our fault, it’s theirs” has become as much of a meme as “they’re not doing enough” has across the aisles of our legislatures.

Let’s be clear: just because everyone else wants to, lemming-like, be an idiot, why does this require you to be one?

Countries (the UK, Germany) are already having trouble selling their government debt. In the case of Germany, this is the strongest part of the EU: we are not dealing with minor nations here. US debt demand is crowding out everyone else — including corporate needs, as businesses closing around the world because they can’t sell their debt at any price shows — and yet everywhere, from profligate provinces to spendthrift nations, there is an assumption that this paper can just “be placed” — and at rock bottom interest rates, too.

Again, where is the media, adding up the deficit numbers and asking where the placement money will come from? That might actually require the ability to add 2 + 2 and get 4, so forget that. Far easier to put on competing talking heads yelling at each other, isn’t it?

Beast-Enders

Here is where this sorry story will end: governments will fail. Provinces and states will have no choice but to wholesale chop their core programs for lack of funds. Nations will have no choice but to let inflation loose — and it will rise as interest piles up on the debt they’ve added. Trade deficits will lead to protectionism and further reductions in economic activity, as will the disappearance of more and more companies and with them their activity.

Where will what’s left of the media (for it is not immune to this) be? Carrying the screaming and reporting on the riots — but never, never pointing out how we’re headed toward this due to our choices today.

After all, the talking heads won’t point that out, and the idea of putting a story in context died a long, long time ago.

Constipated Street

The refusal of the media to do its job had its roots in the ease with which they could put talking heads on the air. Real investigation, and working out how to make it approachable for readers, listeners and viewers, costs more money than opening the phone lines or letting people shout at one another does. If today the media is looking at its irrelevance and shrinking audiences, it has only itself to blame — well, that and the theory (advanced by the media) that concentration of ownership was a good thing, especially using debt to make the concentration work.

The refusal of politicians to tell the truth to the people — to treat them as citizens, not as consumers — is also a key part of this. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can look at the banking “industry” (there’s your first sign of failure: banking is a “utility” and thus requires utility-style regulation) in the US, UK, etc. and see that the old Glass-Steagal and pre-Big Bang rules served those nations well — and that the current regime, of collateralized debt obligations, mark to market securities, liar-loan risk on mortgages, etc., has not. We might disagree about how to fix the situation, but the source of the problem is clear. It’s even bipartisan: the Conservatives made it happen in the UK and Labour has extended it; the Democrats made it happen in the USA and the Republicans extended it. Yet the issue cannot be spoken of — and the media only speaks of it in partisan terms.

No wonder our countries are dying. Systematic mediasclerosis and the big lie sound-bites will see to that. No wonder, too, the average person now has no confidence in the political system, the fixes on offer, or the news and reporting they see, hear and read.

No wonder, too, that so many dedicated bloggers have lost interest in blogging lately (myself included). There’s a feeling of ennui abroad that the train wreck is inevitable.

This is what happens when politics and the news and analysis work of the media degenerates into entertainment — and nothing more.

Assume Nothing About the Electorate

Delightful though the new polls may be (or, depending upon your politics, horrid — I can’t rightly say that I care all that much at the moment) I think that, between last night’s Alberta election result returning very solid results to the Alberta PC Government of Ed Stelmach and the inability of either Federal party to capture the public’s imagination we have entered into a realm of waiting that will be resolved, eventually, by an earthquake.

Let me explain. All the incessant posturing, pre-electioneering, shouting, etc. that is modern politics in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle, the spinmeisters, political consultants, and so on — all of which is focused on hard, fast, negative sound-bites — has alienated the electorate. The parallel to this, for those of us who have worked in and around the computer industry, was the late 1980s, when then “no one ever got fired for buying” giant IBM was almost universally disliked, mistrusted, yet (when a decision needed to be made) rewarded, for lack of an alternative. Alternatives are not a substitution of one company for another; they are a shift in the paradigm of use. When it came — with LANs, Windows 3.1, and the client/server computing model in and around 1992 — an earthquake occurred. IBM was rocked and spent years reinventing itself. (There are those who think this is about to happen to Microsoft in turn. We shall see.)

What this means is that the problem with politics has practically nothing to do with who the leaders are! The Liberals, for instance, will see no real gain by dumping Stéphane Dion for another leadership choice. Alberta PCs may be led by a less than stellar leader in Ed Stelmach — I expect the negative comments about him and his actions to begin again immediately — but that’s not the point.When the problem is the way we handle politics in the public arena, leaders are irrelevant.

I sometimes think the Green Party has it precisely backward (and I speak of them here because Green is as much a movement beyond normal politics as it is an attempt to enter the fray in the chambers of government). It’s not that we need another party. Instead we need a new politics. Part of the mania for Barack Obama that we see south of the border — and the original Tony Blair in Britain — and recently, Nicholas Sarkozy in France — and ever (malheursement) Pierre Trudeau in 1968 — is that they didn’t need to campaign from the sound-bite, negative, “my opponent est un gros enmerdement” point of view. They could strike out positively and say nothing about their opponents. (“Vote for us because of a, b & c” is so much more appealing than “Vote for us because we’re not those lying, cheating, stealing cretins”. So is treating the electorate as thinking, rational adults who are capable of responding to a sense of history, of vision and of direction rather than scaring them into taking action to avoid their fate.) That’s not to say that at various points in the campaign the experts didn’t create negative views, and the sniping didn’t begin — clearly it has — nor that the public is fooled with the leader keeping to high road while his or her entourage gets down in the mud (it is not; merde can be smelled even when the front-man’s shoes don’t stink).

Periodically institutions need reform. This is because, as Thomas Langan showed in his book Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom, the institution takes on a life of its own separate from the tradition that gave it life. The faith yields the Church, and by so doing people in charge of the churches have interests in their roles separate from those required of them by the faith. The desire for societal self-government yields parliaments and assemblies, and those who sit in them have interests (for their factions, as the first American President, George Washington, noted) that diverge from what the process of governance requires of them. So it goes, everywhere.

Our political institutions are in advanced decay. They have been subordinated to parties, and those who cling to the apron-strings of power these represent.

What this electorate — and I care little whether we speak of your municipal government, your provincial government or institutional Ottawa — is most waiting for is the person who will come to politics to reform the system. Reform, in this sense, need not mean “a new political faction”: it could come just as easily by working within an existing party. But it would be a reform, indeed, of how politics is conducted. They would take the Kinsellas with their “ass-kicking”, and the Carvilles and Morrises with their “triangulation” and “it’s (just) the economy, stupids”, and others of their kind and boot them overboard. They would stop playing to the polls, or even worrying about them — pollsters need not apply for work here. They would treat their counter-parts with respect and speak firmly but quietly about matters of import rather than seizing upon the “issue of the day” or seek to blow up the scandal du jour (really, what’s the difference between that and the pumping and dumping which our Securities Laws say is illegal around the stock market?) in their place. They would assume in everything they do that their potential voters are capable of following complex issues with complex argumentation and rational (i.e. not simplistic) solutions on offer.

They would, in other words, offer an adult in place of the schoolyard bullies we must listen to today.

Would they win at first? Oh, heavens, no! — for staying the course is part of proving that this is reform and not merely a dash of lipstick on the same old street-walking. But there comes a tipping point, and then the whole structure from before comes tumbling down. When they do, it will wipe much of the past out of existence.

This is what Preston Manning didn’t know and lost sight of (and why I could not support his Reform Party). This is what is yet to be born. This is why Albertans told pollsters they wanted change and then voted for more of the same. This is why Federal politics remains deadlocked; why BC’s politics are frozen almost to the point where Gordon Campbell could do anything and not fear returning to the other side of the House; why Dalton McGuinty exists in the face of Caledonia, incredibly bad economic management and the destruction of a province and why, in the face of everything, Vancouver will probably return Sam Sullivan and Toronto David Miller to continue their reigns of error.

We don’t want what’s on offer, but the alternative hasn’t been placed before us. When it is, watch out. The earthquake will be a sight to behold.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Awakening this morning to find that the disrespectful cut-and-thrust that is now Federal Politics in this fair land has now descended into legal action has brought me up short. I understand that there are times in life — even in political life — when libel and/or slander must be met. By this, I do not say that this is one of those times, simply that I recognise the occasional necessity. But still, this morning, I am actually queasy as I think about how low we have sunk as a nation.

Whether Chuck Cadman, MP, was offered an inducement in exchange for his vote is not really the issue here any more. These last five days have been about nothing more than trying to throw mud, to obfuscate, to ruin reputations, and — by so doing — to gain some temporary advantage in the polls that could, in turn, lead to a non-confidence vote and perchance a change of government via the subsequent election. It is the very stridency, the bellicosity and the unending din and roar of it all that makes me see it that way. Right from the beginning this has been about drawing up battle lines, seeing how many influencers could be drawn into the camp and how much anyone who disagrees will be maligned for their personal failing in not joining in on the side of the angelsdevilsangelsdevilsangelscamp, regardless of which camp that be.

No wonder the much-talked-about and generally-ignored Average or Ordinary Canadian just wants politics to go away. All of this behaviour — endless continuing references to Adscam, Sponsorship and Gomery, “let’s attack Mulroney one more time”, now the Cadman debate — is childish in the extreme, unproductive, lacking in care and concern for the country, disrespectful to the tradition of responsible government and to the institution of Queen-in-Parliament, and reminiscent of the sort of taunting best left in schoolyards (and supposedly no longer allowed there with all the rules about “bullying” students have imposed on them today).

It’s why, for instance, there is no sign on my lawn during this by-election in my riding, no money has been given to any campaign, and I am really starting to wrestle with the question of whether I’ll even bother to go to the polls on March 17th, because, frankly, at the moment, a pox on all your houses is looking more and more to be the right answer for Vancouver-Quadra and the nation — and none of this nonsense going on in Ottawa is even a part of a local campaign (yet). Still, the desire to get out the old black brush and the tar and do a little “guilt by association” is flaring high this morning.

“What if they gave an election and nobody came?” is precisely where our political class is taking us. Falling numbers of active voters, in turn, make freakish results much more likely. So, too, the likelihood of further impasses, both between the parties, and within the subsequent leadership campaigns that each will face at some point (probably for most sooner rather than later). The Liberal Party, after all, got their Joe Clark in Stéphane Dion, slipping up through deadlocked front-runners to become “the leader least likely to have been selected, but was”. (Not unlike Bob Rae becoming Premier of Ontario back in 1990, actually.) This will become more and more the norm: grandees in gridlock and someone no one can really rally behind making it through as the “least hated alternative”, just as the country will continue to be divided with each party strong in a region and weak everywhere else, so that no majority emerges time and again.

I’m sure it’s all very emotional and involving to those on the inside. It certainly keeps columnists and pundits fed with material to write about, speak on — and more than enough to keep talk lines buzzing. Very good for ratings, all of that, but frankly the nation tired of this nonsense a long time ago, and I think we will see, more and more, that each outburst of Eau de Scandale or Arôme d’Indignation will lead to a general debasement of all parties’ standings and all leaders’ satisfaction levels. Only the one who calls a halt to this despicable game can expect to see his or her rankings rise.

Of course, for those for whom partisanship is a way of life — as opposed to fidelity to our traditions — all of this will fall on deaf ears. Some may even say “oh, look, his side is weak, so he wants us to down our weapons”. Wrong. On this I take no “side”, other than the one I have put forward today. Sit down, shut up, and hang your head in shame — and I care not whom you support. I am tired of the lot of you failures not governing, not being governments-in-waiting, and not sticking to matters that matter.

As for all those who have blogged this morning about how their parties should keep hammering away, and go for that election call: be careful what you wish for. I can assure you that here sits one citizen who, were that to happen and were the Harper Government to be re-elected, would be mightily angry if you kept this yammering up after having “gone to the people”. (But then, I would be equally angry at that government if it didn’t stand down and stop running a permanent pre-election campaign.)

I’m (to quote the character of Peter Finch in Network) “mad as hell and not going to take it any more”. Somehow I think we are the real majority in Canada these days.