Saturday, November 01, 2008


The good

Unless a successful concerted effort to steal the election in several states takes place, the US is about to have its first Black president. Maybe someday, or in a perfect alternate world, nobody would notice one way or the other. But here, now, it's significant. It's a coming of age for a country that in many ways has been fighting the Civil War since 1861.
Appomattox was just an uneasy truce.

"Race" is a central element of the US psyche: the country seethes with it. It bubbles and smoulders, seen and unseen, like a lava flow under a swamp. Coded or blatant, racism
by which I mean the racialization of groups of people, with attendant assumptions of white superiorityhas been ever-present, from the very birth of the United States of America.

But now a corner is about to be turned. Colin Powell was right: Barack Obama's rise to the presidency will indeed be "transformational." And this isn't because Obama is The One, or because he's a "liberal" (whose actual politics would, in the Canadian context, put him shoulder-to-shoulder with Stephen Harper on not a few issues), or because there's any depth to his "Yes we can," "Change we need" cheerleading, or because of his undoubted charisma. It's because a majority of Americans will have decided that "race" should be no barrier to the leadership of their country.

Most Obama voters will vote for him regardless of what colour he is, although some will vote for him in spite of his colour, and others because of it. But the result is what counts: a qualified Black individual will have achieved the very highest office in the land because of who he is and what he stands for.

Transformational indeed. Some years ago my stepdaughter had a birthday party in a local restaurant, attended by a large number of friends. The crowd, to borrow a phrase from a character in Broken English, looked like a UN peacekeeping force. But the very best part of all this was that my late partner and I were the only people who even noticed.

Perhaps America can reach the point where "race" is no longer a category, with its fixed boundaries and its built-in struggles and Angst. But to do that, it had to make a beginning. Never mind Obama's conventional politics, not to mention the dead certainty that any vision he might have will be shaped, chipped away at, moulded and constrained by the machine in whose toils he is trapped. What he offers is possibility
not in the anodyne "hope" and "change" political sense, but for a deep and festering lesion in the very heart of America to begin its slow, inexorable healing.

The bad:

It's always terrible news when a living legend dies. Louis "Studs" Terkel has passed away at the age of 96
a month before his latest book was due to be released. He was a brilliant journalist whose preferred method was letting ordinary folks speak for themselves, not to mention an unabashed trade union supporter (which led, of course, to his being blacklisted in the 1950s). Terkel not only had the common touch, but was that touch: a means by which people were able to tell their own often gripping stories to the world. Check out Working to get the flavour.

More here and here and here.

The ugly:

Once again our American overlords are telling us how things are going to be, and if we don't like it, too bad.

This time it's "an influential analyst on Canada-U.S. relations," one Christopher Sands of the Hudson Institute, addressing an audience of security intelligence professionals in Ottawa yesterday (Hallowe'en).

Sands is an enthusiastic advocate of North American economic integration. But he was not in Ottawa to promote this frankly imperialist agenda. Instead, it was to do yet more of that tiresome Yankee finger-wagging at Canadians, telling us that we've had a free ride for far too long, that it will be on our head if any terrorists enter the US from Canada, that information on our citizens
"people you may be looking at for reasons, but there's no indictment and there's no charge"needs to be turned over to the US forthwith.

Sands quoted some assistant secretary of policy in Homeland Security as saying that Canadians have "had a better deal than anybody else in terms of access to the United States and for that they've paid nothing." (That about sums up the official American attitude to nearly everything, doesn't it?) Sands was indeed correct when he said that the Bush administration's desire for less access and more money "is a very difficult message to pass on to Canadians." And I suspect he is also correct in saying that the next administration (which he assumes will be that of Barack Obama) won't change much in this respect.

Sands then took the obligatory swipe at Maher Arar, saying that Canada has absolved him of nothing at all, and that he wouldn't have his name removed from the pernicious US no-fly list "in (Sand's) lifetime." To Sands and his cohorts, being an Ay-rab seems to be enough. All such people will have to prove their innocence of any and all charges that some Homeland Security munchkin can dream up (with help from incompetents in the RCMP) before they will be treated like normal people. In Europe, centuries of anti-Semitism led to some Jews changing their names, the better to fit in. Perhaps Maher Arar should have changed his to "Wayne Smith."

Canada expects to meet the US "standard" by 2011, but, says Sands, "there'll be tremendous pressure to get there faster." And then the clincher:

[W]hile we live in a world in which an independent foreign policy for Canada is as possible as ever, an independent security policy, an independent intelligence policy, becomes trickier because we need Canada to help us protect ourselves and to protect yourselves.

If a new terrorist attack is traced back to Canada, Sands said, damage to Canada-U.S. relations could last for years. The key will be the new head of Homeland Security:

There is no more important cabinet secretary to Canada today...because homeland security is the gatekeeper with its finger on the jugular affecting your ability to move back and forth across the border, the market access upon which the Canadian economy depends.

Shorter Sands: "Nice country you've got there--be a shame if anything happened to it." The Ugly American, redux.

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