Michael Coren Cannot be Taken Seriously

It is not possible to take Michael Coren seriously when he has Anne Coulter as a guest on the first episode of his new show. It’s an utterly cynical move bereft of taste or ambition or intellectual integrity or guts– and all the self-seriousness in the world can’t wipe the stain of it off Coren’s naked forehead.

He might as well have interviewed PeeWee Herman about his socialist leanings.


Most of the time, political differences are a matter of debate between reasonable people with different priorities. Not any more. The Republican party has tilted off the spectrum, into a kind of psychotic delirium. They believe that if they only absolutely, hysterically, intransigently insist on having their way, they will win and they will be right. They’ve gone mad.

As a matter of curiosity, I do wonder how long someone like John McCain can remain in the party, or Jon Huntsman, or even Mitt Romney.

Ayn Rand and the Trees

People own things. In fact, today, one of the most sacred rights in our society is the right to keep what I have out of your hands. It’s mine.

This would be good and just if all of us started from zero on the day we were born and only acquired what we actually earned directly from our own labour. This is the myth a lot of conservatives love to flog: that somehow they earned it. And those who have nothing didn’t work hard enough.

Somewhere, some time in the past, obviously, nobody owned anything. You are thrown into the world with nothing. The world is already here, including the trees.

Do some human beings have the innate right to take whatever they want? If you’re a royalist, I guess they do. For the rest of us, the idea that anything or everything in the world can be taken is repugnant.

If you’re Ayn Rand, life is simple. According to Rand, if you are big enough and strong enough to take it, you should take it, you must take it, you have a divine right to elbow aside those weaker or less ruthless than yourself and take it. Take it. Take all of it, without reservation. Let the sheep tweet about justice and rights– the only thing that matters is that they can’t take it from you. Unless you have a government. Damn! They’ve organized.

Forget that. It’s not too hard to buy the government. An assistant to a congressman recently went to work for the Recording Industry of America after sneaking a provision through the back door of some irrelevant legislation granting lavish privileges to their members in the battle against composer’s rights. That is one tiny example among a ocean of cheating. It works pretty well- you won’t hear Michelle Bachmann complaining about this kind of deal. Rick Perry won’t complain, obviously, because this is exactly the way he does business all the time in Texas. There is nothing more maddening in the world than the crowds of inflamed tea-partiers mad for Rick Perry because they actually believe he’s going to reduce corruption in government.

So, back to the trees. Most people would agree: trees are magnificent. But not all trees are equally magnificent. The most magnificent trees are the ones that are 200, 300, 400 years old. These trees are monumental. They are gloriously tall and beautiful and endowed with the patina of age and endurance. Most people would enjoy seeing trees like that. Even once or twice in your life.

Already back in 1802, Lord Nelson was appalled to discover that few trees suitable for navy shipbuilding were left in England, and requested that replacements be planted and protected for an anticipated 200 years.

What is really quite shocking is that no one prevented anyone from taking tree after tree after tree until virtually all of the oldest and most beautiful trees had been permanently removed. Forever. No one can go back now and see a primeval forest. No one can recreate a forest of 300-year-old oaks or pines or anything: someone wanted to build or burn or cook, and so the trees were taken.

The use of these trees was so transient and ephemeral. The ships or homes or fires made are all long gone. So is the forest. When my wife and I walk through the forests of Ontario for pleasure, we cannot be unaware of the fact that all of the trees were are looking at infants compared to what might have been there if only the government had said, “no, you can’t take every single tree. Leave some forests for the future”. No, they said “screw the future– take every last one.”

Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry both want to excise the Environmental Protection Agency from American life and allow oil companies to drill everywhere, any time, without annoying restrictions, regulations, or consumer protections. In fact, it appears that they both want to give the oil to the oil companies in the bizarre belief that citizens have no rights to the resources that exist under the ground in their own country.


The Three Days of the Tea Party

In the uncannily prescient 1975 movie “Three Days of the Condor”, Turner (Robert Redford) gradually unravels a rogue CIA plot to destabilize the Middle East in order to secure vast supplies of oil for the U.S. We are, wisely, not given too much detail– it’s more believable that way.

A hired killer named Joubert played suavely by Max Von Sydow, has been trying to murder Turner since he stumbled into the plot. He seems to have finally tracked him down just as Redford has uncovered the mastermind behind the oil plot, a middling CIA manager named Leonard Atwood. But instead of shooting Turner, Joubert suddenly turns and kills Atwood. Turner is shocked, and puzzled– why did you kill Atwood? Joubert doesn’t know, and doesn’t care. I suspect, he says, that he was about to become an embarrassment. Then he offers Turner a ride back into town. He sees that Turner is still afraid of him. Joubert smiles– my contract to kill you, he says, was with Atwood. As you can see…

It’s an elegant, profound moment. Joubert is one of the more intelligent creations of the genre– a professional, passionless, rational killer. There is baggage with the term “hired killer”, but how different, really, is he from a soldier? I liked him. He advises Turner to go into hiding. There is no future for you in New York (his home). Turner insists he wants to keep fighting the corruption he has uncovered. Doesn’t Joubert care? How do you not care?

Joubert tells him, life is easier if you don’t believe in either side.

Later, Turner meets with another CIA manager, Higgins. Higgins is probably not part of the corruption, but he must protect the agency from the threat Turner represents. He argues with Turner: Americans want us to make those difficult, morally ambiguous decisions, without telling them, so they can preserve the illusion that they live moral lives while enjoying their big cars and heated homes.

Cut to 1992 and “A Few Good Men”, far inferior film even if it was written by Aaron Sorkin. (After all, it was directed by Rob Reiner, not Sydney Pollack.) We all know the line spoken by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson): “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” In this case, a pair of marines have caused the death of a fellow marine who brought discredit upon their brand by complaining about his treatment. The viewer perhaps needs to be reminded that in most other dramatizations, the two marines would be the villains. Here they are the heroes: stalwart, proud, professional. Oops– we killed a fellow marine. Jessup is the villain because he ordered them to do it, and then strung them out to dry, dishonored.

Higgins might well have said to Turner: “You can’t handle the truth”. “It’s easier if you don’t believe in either side”. Jessup believes he is so right that he must make life and death decisions for us. He passionately argues that our society can’t stomach the kind of moral decisions he has to make all the time, but, by God, we want killers like Jessup out there on the walls protecting us from …. well, the truth is, from the other Jessups out there, on the other side. He and Atwood and Higgins are all of a piece: we make the unpleasant decisions so that you can enjoy your Hummers, your air conditioning, your jobs.

Cut to Norway, 2011. Anders Behring Breivik. Europe is being overwhelmed by Moslem immigrants who threaten the foundations of Western Culture and religion. And Norway’s political leaders do nothing, except welcome them with open arms, and allow them to build their mosques and cover their faces.

What’s an earnest little fascist to do? His lawyer says, “he hates all the Western ideas and the values of democracy.”

Cut to the Tea Party: at a recent debate, the Republican presidential candidates were asked if they would accept a deal with the Democrats that made $10 of cuts for every $1 of increased revenue, if it meant raising taxes. Not a single one was willing to compromise. That is the definition of fanaticism: they are so right they need to defy all common sense and reasonableness.

There is not much of a future in Washington for a reasonable man.

You can’t handle the truth.

Aaron Sorkin is a brilliant writer but, like the Editorialists at the New York Times and 60 Minutes, he has an odd, fetishistic reverence for the military, because he really believes in the myths of honor and integrity, and that there really are enemies out there trying to kill us.  He’s right about the enemies, but that doesn’t mitigate the creepy allure military men posses in Sorkin dramas, especially since Sorkin himself, of course, of course, never served in the military.

Tea Party Down the Deficit

So if the real problem is jobs and the real solution is more government stimulus and all you really want to do is cut taxes for those who are already extremely well-off, what do you do? You scream about the deficit. A reasonable solution to the deficit problem probably includes a tax increase on the rich. But your real mission is to get the poor and middle-income people to pay for government services, while you grab a bigger and bigger share of the pie. How do you get that past the rational people?

In other circumstances, the voters could have had choice between the screaming, hysterical mad hatters of the tea party and the rational, measured Reid and Obama. If…. if Obama had immediately counter-attacked the Republican hysterics with a strong, determined insistence that, at a time of 9% unemployment and recession, the government needs to step up.

The minute Obama agreed to make the deficit a priority, Reason went out the window. I think it was a huge mistake. Republicans demanding tax cuts is nothing new. But by endorsing the basic principle, Obama seemed to validate the idea that the deficit is the big problem facing America right now. It’s not. It’s unemployment.

Even so, it’s surprising how many people out there kept their heads. And a little baffling in terms of Obama’s strategy: the majority of Americans still seemed to support the idea that unemployment was the number one issue and that the Republicans were acting like a bunch of spoiled children. And that the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, at least as they apply to the rich. Why, oh why, did he cave?

The biggest irony of all this, of course, is that the Republicans don’t actually give a damn about the deficit. When Bush borrowed billions to finance his tax cuts, throwing the budget into a deficit a scant one year after Clinton (who left a surplus) left office, there was nary a whimper from the mad hatters. (Yes, since his tax cuts put the budget into a deficit, Bush took out a loan, made the taxpayers liable for repayment, and handed the money all over to his rich benefactors.

The Republicans only ever seem to care about decreasing taxes on the rich. That’s it. That’s all. The military, Wall Street, Copyright, Patent Law, Homeland Security— everything is to protect the wealthy from the claims of the poor and lower classes. Everything must maximize the burden on working families to pay for the minimal necessary government services so that the rich can send you to die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and he, how about Iran?

Iran is there waiting. It is waiting for the vacuum that develops when America is not at war with anyone else.

Obama’s only hope for the next election– and it is NOT a dismal one– is that the Tea Party will apply their effluent enthusiasms to the primaries next year and they will nominate a Gingrich or Bachmann or Palin or Perry to run against him.