Wednesday Night #1262 – Invitation

Written by  //  May 7, 2006  //  Politics, Public Policy, Taxation, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

10 May 2006

Amidst the cacophony of the chattering classes debating the pros and cons of the Conservative budget, Pierre Bourque’s retirement from the political arena, the longing for Lucien’s return, the ongoing dispute, despite endorsement by the Quebec Liberal Party’s general council, of Jean Charest’s plan to privatize Mount Orford, or whether Alberta will accept Curtis Sliwa’s Guardian Angels as defenders of the Wild West, we are once again struck by the triviality of our media’s preoccupations. We deplore the headlines given over to such world-shattering events as the eating habits of a 7 year-old (and now it appears that after all it was anything but a cultural criticism), or whether Mission Impossible III is going to live up to its billing.

There is real material for debate hidden in the back pages of our newspapers and in the last 5 minutes of the Nightly News. Jack Layton on Canada’s role in Darfur ; the appearance of the U.S. delegation in front of the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva; the escalating debate over Iran’s nuclear capability; The new “extraction tax” of 33% on foreign oil companies in Venezuela; the threat to Asian economies of rising oil prices; the provocative Chinese government’s consecration of Roman Catholic bishops as it presses for closer ties with the Vatican ….

These, and many other items, make us more than ever aware that we have failed to appropriately acknowledge the passing of John Kenneth Galbraith, and, for that matter, a lesser intellectual light, Louis Rukeyser. The latter dominated Wednesday Nights from the screen, as many will remember. We wonder, along with John Harris of the Washington Post, when we will see the emergence of new influential thinkers who appeal to a broad spectrum of the people, pushing them to consider issues and form opinions despite what they hear from the flavour-of-the-month pundit.

We invite you to consider two pieces from The Post, one by Galbraith’s good friend and intellectual equal, Arthur Schlesinger, the second by John Harris. And before you dissolve in despair, read Madeleine Albright’s thought-provoking piece as a prelude to her recent book, “The Mighty and the Almighty” in which she details the historic conflicts between Christianity and Islam, between Israelis and Muslims, and conflicts among Muslims, all based on interpretations of religious texts.

Today’s commentary in Maisonneuve MediaScout given us a great appetite to read the book and even before doing so, to debate the merits of the argument as we understand it.

We are pensive tonight, despite the Merry-month-of-May weather and accordingly, we invite you to join us for reflection on some of these questions. As always, we know that your contribution will be valuable. Also, as always, we remind you that as we write, this is our proposed topic, but events have a way of overtaking Wednesday Night.

J.K. Galbraith’s Towering Spirit
By Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006;

Edmund Burke once made a famous prediction. “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophists, economists and calculators has succeeded and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.” Some years later Thomas Carlyle disdained economists as professors “of the dismal science.” The profession has indeed done little since to disprove Carlyle and to refute Burke. But neither Burke nor Carlyle foresaw John Kenneth Galbraith.
In the first place, Galbraith was the tallest economist in the world. That reinforced the boldness with which he confronted the establishment and its “conventional wisdom.” Salvation, Galbraith argued, lies in the subversion of the conventional wisdom by the gradual encroachment of disquieting thought. “The emancipation of belief,” he writes, “is the most formidable of the tasks of reform, the one on which all else depends.” He was the republic’s most valuable subversive.
… His brilliant deployment of subversive weapons — irony, satire, laughter — did not always please the more sedate members of his profession. But it vastly pleased the rest of us. Ken used the whiplash phrase and the sardonic thrust for several purposes: to reconnect academic economics, walled off in mathematical equations, with human and social reality; to rebuke the apostles of selfishness and greed; and to give the neglected, the abused and the insulted of our world a better break in life.
He challenged the national conscience with a series of thoughtful books, provocative interviews, merry rejoinders and lethal wisecracks. The Bush presidency led Ken to muse aloud that it had caused him to think thoughts that he never thought himself capable of thinking. I asked, “For example?” Ken replied, “I begin to long for Ronald Reagan.”

Friends Who Fit Together Smartly
Galbraith and Schlesinger, Like-Minded Neighbors
By John F. Harris
Monday, May 8, 2006

There was a time — it’s been decades now — when politicians or pundits would call people “liberal intellectuals” and not mean it as an insult.
The phrase carried no sarcasm or disdain. Nor was it an abstraction. There were specific individuals who answered by the name. The chances are good, in fact, that the liberal intellectuals being spoken of lived at one of two addresses: 30 Francis Ave. or 109 Irving St., both in Cambridge, Mass.

A Realistic Idealism
There’s a Right Way to Support Democracy in the Mideast

By Madeleine K. Albright
Monday, May 8, 2006

Recent events in Iraq and the Middle East have revived the hoariest of academic debates — between the so-called realists in foreign policy and the idealists. Realists, who come in both Democratic and Republican varieties, argue that the Bush administration has been naive to promote democracy in Arab countries, as evidenced by ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq, recent gains by Islamist parliamentary candidates in Egypt and Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections. They suggest that, in the storm-tossed atmosphere of the Arab Middle East, democracy will do less to extinguish terror, as President Bush predicts, than to ignite it….
We should remember that the alternative to support for democracy is complicity in backing governments that lack the blessing of their own people. That approach confuses the appearance of stability with the reality, betrays Arab democrats and smells of hypocrisy. America cannot refurbish its tarnished reputation as a global leader by abandoning what sets it apart from the likes of China or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

HOLY POLITICS, BATMAN!
… it was strange to see former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on CBC News: Sunday Night discussing her latest book, “The Mighty and the Almighty : Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs”, an exploration of the role of religion in US foreign policy. Based on her comments, the book’s thesis is this: Religion is an important part of many global conflicts; rather than try to ignore it, as past US administrations have done, diplomats should embrace it as a force for peace. She suggested that secretaries of state should have religious advisors the same way they have political and strategic advisors. Wait a second, more religion in US politics? Yes and no. Dubya may believe God is on America’s side, but Albright carefully aligned herself with Abraham Lincoln: We must be on God’s side.

And – on a less elevated note, we cannot resist sneaking this one in:

Harper blew chance to offer better public services
Linda McQuaig (Toronto Star)
May 7, 2006

“Of the six experts assembled by the National Post to grade last week’s federal budget, five were from the business world and one was the head of a right-wing taxpayers’ federation. So it wasn’t surprising they were all keen on Stephen Harper’s tax-cutting budget. Their only complaint was that the tax-cutting didn’t go farther.
…Nobody offered the counter viewpoint ­ that taxes are a crucial vehicle for paying for public services we need and want, and cutting taxes diminishes our ability to have these services.
No sensible person would deny Canadians want these services: health care, education, pensions, public transit, highways, water inspection, parks, libraries, museums, police, to mention a few.”

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