Monday, April 28, 2008

Theo Caldwell on Bill Clinton's talk in Toronto: He covered everything from Hillary to Himalayan glaciers

Last week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke at an event hosted by Toronto’s Economic Club. Speculation swirled among the attendees as to what subjects the American statesman would touch upon: his legacy, the environment, poverty or, especially, his wife’s campaign for the presidency.

As it happened, all guesses were correct. From Hillary to the Himalayan glaciers to health care to the housing crisis, the 42nd American president opined on every conceivable topic. Bill Clinton is a man who is used to being listened to, and plainly believes that the mere force of his words is sufficient to square his personal opinions with reality. Making claim after claim, unsourced but emphatic, Clinton’s leitmotif was inequality, starting with income levels in the United States.

“Ninety per cent of the benefits of this decade — ninety — nine-zero — have gone to the top 10% of earners,” he informed his audience, declining to dilute the import of this message by citing evidence or defining his terms. If her campaign rhetoric is to be believed, Mrs. Clinton shares her husband’s fixation on income redistribution: One shudders to think what would be the practical upshot for taxpayers and free markets if another Clinton were in the White House.

“In America … there is a lot of pain,” he sighed, pausing to bite his lower lip for posterity. A hushed crowd dared to hope, “Would he continue with ‘and I feel it’?” Instead he went on, “… and outright anger.” These words were oddly reminiscent of Senator Barack Obama’s recent talk of “bitter” Americans and their frustrations. Perhaps showing the benefit of his political experience, however, the former president was careful to assign anger to the entire country, rather than single out the rural voters of a pivotal primary state, as Obama did.

Warming to his theme of inequality, Clinton continued, “A lot of people want to know what we can do to return to being a country of shared prosperity” — a hopeful sentiment echoing Hillary Clinton’s prescription for “shared prosperity.” To wit, she will raise the highest “shared prosperity” rate back to 40%, with marginal “shared prosperity” rates perhaps topping 70%. Moreover, if she has her way and the Estate Tax is made permanent, Americans will be compelled to “share” their prosperity even when they die. Such is the peril of happy words.

He named global warming as the greatest threat to the future, inspiring gratitude for the 22nd Amendment in this age of terrorism. He extolled the Kyoto Accord and bemoaned the environmental insouciance of the current administration.

“The U.S. takes the rap for pulling out of Kyoto after I left office and President Bush came in, and I do think it was a mistake,” Clinton tut-tutted, opting not to mention that the U.S. Senate unanimously rejected the treaty during his own presidency. Whatever Kyoto’s shortcomings, what comes of such a hijacked half-truth is wistfulness for the days when former presidents did not publicly lace into their successors.

For one hour, the left index finger of the former leader of the free world jabbed at what organizers described as an A-list audience of Toronto’s business and cultural elite. When the president’s point seemed to him particularly potent, the poking finger was replaced by a karate chop of justice to the podium. Through it all, the message was clear — the world is unfair, and was far better when he was in charge.

That is the way of things, because Bill Clinton says so.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Barack Obama--known by the company he keeps

If he becomes the Democratic Party's nominee for President, Sen. Barack Obama will lose the general election for this reason: When the smiles and platitudes are set aside, Obama's campaign and the philosophy of his cadre amount to one big put-down of America.

Anomalous among Western leaders, the president of the United States serves as head of both state and government. Moreover, he is elected nominally by the voters, unlike in a parliamentary system whereby a leader attains power through the success of his party. As such, the president represents something very personal to Americans. He is, for four or more years, the personification of their country, embodying the aspirations and goodness of the land that they love. A president may disappoint after assuming office, but America is not in the habit of electing candidates who hold their country in contempt.

Not only have the comments of Obama's wife, Michelle (who has referred to America as "downright mean" and stated that she was not proud of her country until her husband started winning primaries) and his minister, Jeremiah Wright (whose hateful, anti-white, anti-American diatribes are available for sale in Obama's church, or for free on YouTube) revealed the tired, leftist scorn for America that Obama represents -- the Senator's own remarks have exposed this ugly, unelectable side.

Speaking to a fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama attempted to explain his persistent deficit in Pennsylvania primary polls by describing small-town Americans as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." This is hard stuff, and patronizing, besides. Add to this Obama's characterizations of the "typical white person" (in the context of describing his grandmother, whom he had originally tossed under the campaign bus in order to create a false equivalence with Wright's racism), and one finds something far more damaging than a simple series of gaffes --it is a window into how the Senator sees his countrymen.

Obama's associations, even beyond Wright, speak to this unappealing point of view. William Ayers, a domestic terrorist of Weathermen infamy, enjoys a friendly relationship with the Obamas. As general-election voters will learn, Ayers bombed the Pentagon on May 19, 1972, and fondly recalls, "The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them." Ayers and his accomplices also bombed the U.S. Capitol, the State Department, as well as banks, police stations and courthouses.

In one's associations, as in other aspects of life, mistakes are made. But a hallmark of a leader is the willingness to make them right. For this, Obama has shown little talent or enthusiasm.

Obama has defended Wright by insisting that he merely represents the convention of "Black Liberation Theology," as though this were just some quaint offshoot of traditional Christianity. One need not pore over the tenets of Black Liberation Theology or its founder, James Hal Cone -- although a Google search of either would provide a world of clarity to the undecided voter -- to recognize that a would-be President who cannot utterly disassociate himself from such racist, anti-American rubbish lacks sufficient character and affinity for his country's ideals to be its leader.

The bumper-sticker slogan "dissent is patriotic" has for decades been employed to legitimize any insult to America, no matter how hateful or moronic. But Americans understand that their president's instinct ought to be to defend the nation against unfair invective, not embrace those who purvey it -- or, in the case of Ayers, seek to blow it up altogether.

With his demonstrable view of America, and considering his cohorts, Obama would be wise to make himself very comfortable in the Senate.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mayor brings "Torontonian values" to China

Trip funded by city taxpayers

Mayor David Miller has defended his recent, taxpayer-funded jaunt to the People's Republic of China by insisting he will be bringing "Torontonian values" to the despotic regime.

As our city faces a number of imminent difficulties, including a potential transit strike, it is fair to ask whether our chief executive should be travelling abroad on our dime, assuming for himself foreign policy duties heretofore unrelated to municipal government. More important, one wonders just what "Torontonian values" Miller means to represent.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of my values for Toronto: I value being able to get to work. I would value my trash being picked up without it having to be gift-wrapped. I value a city in which kids of every economic background have places to play, free of charge, all four seasons of the year. Just how, exactly, does His Worship buggering off to China address any one of these?

Prosaic as such things may seem to a romantic soul like Miller, these are precisely the sort of issues we elect city leaders to address. Moreover, if these and other city-level concerns like crime, litter and taxes were well in hand, I doubt I or anyone would begrudge the mayor soaring over to Asia to show folks how it's done.

Instead, Torontonians face spiralling costs, deteriorating services, and funerals for teenage victims of violence on our streets. Through it all, our mayor always seems to have someplace else to be. He would rather skip town for a brow-furrowing session over solar power and windmills with Robert Redford than stick around and deal with the issues for which Torontonians elected and pay him.

Here is a simple value David Miller ought to understand -- do the job in front of you before setting off to save the world.

Miller has promised that among his espousal of "Torontonian values" will be some discussion of China's abysmal attitude toward human rights. Not for nothing, what leverage does the mayor of Toronto suppose he can bring to bear upon China's dictatorship? The sheer power of his personality? Having had some years to assess that power, Torontonians may advise Tibetans not to start ringing the bells of freedom just yet.

So far, the trip is going just as one might have predicted. According to Miller's April 14 press release, he has signed a suitably Soviet-sounding "Memorandum of Understanding" to forge a new "culture of partnership" with the mayor of Beijing. Knowing Miller as we Torontonians do, could any of us conceive of a more typically inane gesture for our mayor to undertake? The man continues to defy satire.

The gist of this agreement is that the cities will co-operate to enhance future prosperity (wisely shunning an earlier draft, wherein the mayors would quarrel in order to destroy prosperity of the past), including an exchange of senior staff between Toronto and Beijing. As the arrangement progresses, one wonders who will be schooling whom on the finer points of socialism and state control. If you think the City of Toronto has nothing to teach the Chinese communists about authoritarianism and overreach, try removing a dead tree from your private property or appealing your house taxes.


We don't ask Henry Kissinger to fix our potholes. We expect the mayor to tend to such matters. So the question remains -- what is Miller doing conducting diplomacy in China?

The mayoralty of Toronto may seem too small for a man of Miller's outsized ambitions. But the job is important to those of us who live here. If the basic needs of our splendid city are uninspiring to our current mayor, any number of right-thinking folks, with their priorities in line, would be happy to relieve him of the task in 2010.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What would Eric Liddell do?

The 1924 Olympic Games in Paris are most remembered today because a single athlete made a decision. British runner Eric Liddell refused to run on a Sunday, spurning appeals to his patriotism and sportsmanship, because he would not compromise his Christian faith. Liddell's story was dramatized in the film Chariots of Fire, which won the 1981 Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 2008, the Summer Olympic Games are being hosted in Beijing by one of the world's most brutal regimes, the People's Republic of China. As governments and citizens debate whether and how free countries should participate in this event, Liddell's act of conscience may serve as a guide.

It has been noted that countries whose names begin with "People's Republic" are always neither. China is no exception, and the world has watched for 60 years as the cancer of communism has ruined a magnificent, millennia-old culture. Despite being an economic powerhouse, the PRC remains an enemy to free nations, its own citizens and the ideals of liberty.

Ostensibly, the Olympics are about nations putting aside their weapons and differences for the sake and nobility of pure athletic competition. As the Games have grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry of sponsorships and media rights -- the International Olympic Committee itself having morphed into a notorious cash cow -- it may behoove us to squint a little closer at the Olympics' altruistic pretensions.

But, even if the Games were the idealistic love-in of hand-holding and pole-vaulting that its profiteers purvey, it does little good to beat swords into ploughshares when only one side does the beating. In fact, it can do a great deal of harm.

The Chinese government has given no indication that the warm glow of sport will prompt them to kinder treatment either of its own citizens, or of other countries. Repression, brutality and torture continue apace. China executes far more people than the rest of the world combined. Moreover, as this column is written, Chinese troops occupy two million square kilometres of other nations' land. Does this not offer some perspective on the 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics due to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan (650,000 square kilometres)?

Parallels have been drawn between Beijing 2008 and the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and they are apt. Both events figure to be international showcases for despotic regimes. If one extrapolates the comparison to include Germany's adventures a few short years after their festivities had ended, it is reasonable to fear for the security of Taiwan from the instant China's last dove is caged.

In general, boycotts are tricky things, often lending themselves to herd mentality. Olympic boycotts are uniquely problematic, as world-class athletes are informed by supremely unathletic politicians that the moment for which they have worked their whole lives will no longer be available to them. It seems, therefore, that the course of action most fitting with the ideals of free nations is to allow athletes to decide for themselves whether and how they will participate in these Games.

As fate would have it, Eric Liddell died in occupied China at the end of the Second World War. He had been working as a missionary there, and succumbed to a brain tumor and typhoid in a prison camp. A supremely talented runner, Liddell chose to use his skill and fame in the service of his most cherished beliefs. One hopes today's athletes will look to Liddell's example in deciding how best to spend their gifts.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The ‘Vimy Effect’ – 91 Years Later

General Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, addressed the 2008 Canadian-American Trade Summit in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last week, and he brought a message of courage and self-sacrifice. For one hour, Gen. Hillier spoke without notes to a gathering of business and political leaders from both countries, describing our joint mission in Afghanistan and the strengthening state of the Canadian military. When he was finished, the General’s audience had a new appreciation for valour.

Hillier began with an extrapolation on the seminal 1917 Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge, saying it remains the standard for our soldiers to this day as they try to achieve the "Vimy Effect" of success and inspiration in everything they do. “The way they did it has lived on in the legacy of our country,” he says of the ingenuity and courage with which 100,000 Canadians accomplished what no other nation could. “They learned the lessons of the other countries that had tried to go up the Ridge. They empowered their soldiers and their junior leaders. 91 years later, that has strategic implications for Canada and continues to shape our nation on and off the battlefield.”

But wars among nations, fought on open battlefields and overseen by governments, seem a thing of the past. Today, Hillier avers, our enemy is chaos. Failed and failing states, where citizens cannot trust the authorities and no kind of happy life can be scratched from the hard earth, pose a threat to countries around the world. It is not mere altruism that compels blessed nations such as ours to lend a hand; the matter is extremely practical.

“In the war against terror, there is no such thing as a doorstep defence,” Hillier advises. “You cannot be, as a nation – any nation – an oasis unto yourself. You’ve got to be part of an international dynamic that is more stable, less chaotic, and not the fertile garden for growing terrorists.”

As to the noble and practical purpose of Canada’s 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the General is very clear: “We are there to help the Afghans rebuild their country. We are there at their request, as part of a United Nations’ mission. We are also helping them to recover from about 30 years of destruction and brutality and get on with a better life. The Afghan people speak a different language, they dress differently, there are cultural differences, but you scratch away the surface and they’re just like us – they’re moms and dads who have children, and they’d like to have a future.”

Hillier is circumspect about the feelings and motivations of the Afghan people: “They don’t want foreign troops on their soil – let’s not have any doubt about that. Just like us – we wouldn’t want a foreign military in our country. But they don’t want us to leave yet, that’s for sure, and they tell us that all the time. They need help building their army, building their police force, so that they can look after themselves.”

An abiding challenge for Canada and its allies in the war on terror is how to define victory. As is often noted, this conflict will not end with colours lowered or declarations signed on the deck of the Missouri. Our successes, says Hillier, will be incremental and subjective. Counting the number of patrols sent out or police officers trained will not tell the true story. Rather, he advises, when an Afghan citizen who is approached by a policeman can feel secure that he is not about to be murdered or kidnapped for ransom – something we take for granted in Canada – we will know that our mission is succeeding.

Governance in Afghanistan is Hillier’s most pressing concern. While the newly trained Afghan army continues to do the heavy lifting to improve the country, the creep of corruption within the civilian government and police forces gives him pause: “Imagine in three to five years, when a trained Afghan army, having taken its losses, looks over at the civilian government and sees them as corrupt. Can you imagine the sort of things that can happen then?”

But the simple fact that the mission is hard, Hillier insists, ought not to divert our eyes from its nobility and worth. If the job were easy, it would be done by now; if it were not difficult, there would be no debate. As the General describes the plight of children in Afghanistan – poverty, infant mortality, child slavery – one wonders: What would be the point in having a great and free nation like Canada if we did not help such people?

Gen. Hillier concluded by thanking the Americans for their efforts in Afghanistan and around the world. He spoke of the profound similarities between our two countries: our foundations of freedom, our love of liberty, and our belief in the infinite, God-given worth of every single human being. In these cherished tenets, we remain among the minority of the nations of the world. And so, as rare friends, we press on together.