Tag Archives: Harper’s Magazine

Up in smoke


For those who insist that public attitudes move with only glacial speed, a quick review of some of the hot button issues of the past generation serves to rebut the assertion – none, perhaps, more convincingly than recreational drug use.

This may explain why members of New Brunswick’s medical establishment are urging the provincial government to exercise all due circumspection as it ponders ways to deliver the federal government’s presumed (not yet announced) framework for legalizing marijuana. “There should be a discussion about it,” Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association, told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal earlier this month. “The province shouldn’t be acting unilaterally. We would certainly hope that whatever decision they are making they’re doing so with health consequences in mind.”

Mr. Blanchard’s comments came on the heels of news that the provincial government’s liquor Czar, Brain Harriman, has been spearheading research by liquor boards across Canada to investigate the merits of a new world order for the sale of legal, regulated weed in retail outlets.

“It’s a health concern,” Mr. Blanchard said. “I’m certain that the provincial government is looking at other jurisdictions. . .and seeing there is an opportunity on the sales tax side. But we think there are also some health consequences here that need to be factored in.”

To be fair, he has a point. Some recent, credible research has found that adolescent and teenage pot smoking raises the risk of developing some form of mental illness later in life (which form, I presume, depends on the number of brain cells you manage snuff out in callow youth).

Still, the speed with which the conversation about illicit drugs has evolved in recent years is astonishing.

In the most recent issue of Harper’s Magazine, writer Dan Baum notes in his provocatively titled piece, “Legalize it all: How to win the war on drugs”:

“In 1994, John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results? Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman’s boss, Richard Nixon, who declared the first ‘war on drugs’ and set the country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues. “I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. . .At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of . . .questions that he impatiently waved away. ‘You want to know what this was really all about?’ he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. ‘The Nixon White House. . .had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. . .We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against either (hippies and black people). . .but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

The times. . .they, are, indeed, a changing.

All of which raises a question: If we can so quickly reimagine the universe on the dubiously redeeming subject of drugs, can we also apply this flexibility of mind to the fundamentally pressing issues that have vexed us for generations?

Shall we declare a war on poverty?

Only this time, we won’t rest till we win.

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Between a rock and the hard place


Only at election time does the rhetoric about the Maritimes’ proud and noble traditions – and its resilient and inventive people – soar above the Parliament buildings like so much papal smoke.

If we are to believe the campaign propaganda issuing from the mouths of all party leaders, we East Coasters are a sturdy and discerning bunch – willing to strip the shirts from our backs for those in need, sure, but equally suspicious of political carpet-baggers and snake-oil salesmen, fresh off the plane from the Centre of the Universe, asking that we buy what they’re merchandising.

Good for us, they say, rightly so: Handle us with care.

Of course, at any time other than an election cycle, they call us defeatists, welfare bums, worthless leeches sucking the life-blood from the national economy thanks to our alleged addiction to seasonal employment disorder and the requisite tankers of money Employment Insurance generously supplies.

The truth is, as always, somewhat more nuanced. Perhaps that’s one reason why we Maritimers are having a hard time making up our minds about who should own the keys to the castle in Ottawa later this month.

Shall it be the current prime minister, whom the decidedly non-conservative Toronto Star political columnist, Heather Mallick, castigated (rather brutally, if funnily) in a recent issue of the broadly left-wing American journal, Harper’s Magazine?

“What a long, strange slide it has been for Canada since 2006, when Stephen Harper became prime minister,” she wrote. “You thought you saw the last of Richard Nixon when he helicoptered off the White House’s South Lawn. Wrong: the man had a clone. And that clone must have been watching a lot of Sarah Palin speeches. Harper is Nixon without the charm, he’s Nixon without the progressive social and environmental programs. If he wins re-election in October, Americans might want to consider a northern wall.”

Nixon without the charm? Come on Ms. Mallick. I was 13 years old in 1973, when the world learned of the egregious crimes engineered by his bunch of thugs and supplicants determined to upend the U.S. democracy. President Nixon was famous for being entirely charmless. If anything, Stephen Harper is “Tricky Dick” on a good day.

Still, mistrusting democratically elected boosters of the so-called status quo has become our. . .well, status quo.

Shall our next federal leader be Liberal Justin Trudeau, about whom his political opponents say is untried, untested, elitist, infantile, unschooled, irresponsible, and, maybe worst of all, a true believer in the national Grit track record in this country?

Shall it be the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, who is losing his base in Quebec as I write – the victim of his own hubris and arrogance?

Shall it be Elizabeth May, whose Green Party does a magnificent job of criticizing the mainstream parties in its sights, but seems to fail repeatedly in transforming popular opinion into votes?

Whatever the reasons are for our general, political lassitude in this part of country, we must shake ourselves awake, become who we must be: the heroes of our own lives.

It’s all very well to talk about New Brunswick’s emerging industrial clusters, technology centres of excellence, and innovative economic sectors, but none of it means much when the crucial resource needed to power these initiatives is vanishing.

As absurdly simple as it sounds, people, not governments, build long-term economic capacity. They launch businesses, invent new products and services, and employ relatives, friends, and strangers. They inspire others to become entrepreneurs, exporters, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and builders.

That’s not only at election time. It’s all the time

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A pot-kettle-black moment for a good read

Where the hypocrites float

Where the hypocrites float

It’s not that I disagree with Thomas Frank, the resident writer of Harper’s polemical column “Easy Chair” and one of America’s finest living essayists. It’s not that I take issue with his latest effort in this month’s issue of the magazine and what he says about the financial collapse of 2008 or the “waste product” that “had been deliberately moved through the bowels of a hundred shady mortgage outfits.”

In fact, I have no problem at all with his visceral renderings of the villains and thugs who further soiled the already reeking back alleys of Wall Street with the scat from their gorging on other people’s money bought with the proceeds from their particular form of legal larceny. I have no problem with this: “Bribery and deceit and crazy incentives had been the laxatives that pushed this product down the pipe; money and bonhomie and reassuring economic theory had been the sedatives that put the regulators to sleep.”

I was one of those people “who were left to cry over cratered investments.” I have friends and relatives in the United States who were left “to pay for the bailouts and endure the downturn.” No one needed to be Greek, in those days, to appreciate that this wretched thing of ours “may well be the central economic episode” of our lives.

Surely, it has scarred us, marked us, made us less generous, less trusting – especially of authority, which is ironic when you consider that it was an almost complete lack of oversight that facilitated the global disaster. Or, as Mr. Frank, puts it: “The industry would supervise itself, we were told – and we believed it. Instead, our economic order turned out to be wobbly, even rotten. The great banks looked insolvent. The great capitalists looked like criminals.”

As for the salvation of these cheats and their confederates, it was purchased at the expense of trillions of dollars in taxes – dollars that would never again be fully available to the purposes and projects for which they were intended. In the process, we learned that “there was a whole class of businesses that could not be allowed to fail, no matter what kinds of suicide missions they undertook. . .That this class’s chosen public persona was one of churlish, sniggering contempt for the non-crooks who were now required to rescue them only compounded the shock.”

And the shocks keep coming: The evisceration of what was once known as the middle class; the yawning and widening chasm between those who have and those who have not; the gnawing suspicion that meaningful economic progress is a thing of the past; the scattering of all but the richest members of the global entrepreneurs’ club; the mounting debt; the disappearing jobs; the pervasive, collective sense of impotence.

Writes Mr. Frank: “A society that believes good government to be an impossibility is unlikely to do what is necessary to keep industry honest. Instead, its regulators will come to see the regulated, rather than the public, as their main clients. . .The rest of us will resign ourselves to scandal after scandal, as a new generation of looters rises up to claim positions at the trough when the old looters retire.”

As this esteemed writer – with decidedly progressive leanings and an artful skill at the angry lament – notes, we have become hardened by our travails, cynical in the long shadow our rage once cast. We no longer demand to know how these things could happen to us. We expect them with the regularity of the changing seasons. It’s not our fault, exactly, though “we have chosen to live with that.” What else should we expect of ourselves? “Just grab your cash,” he writes, “and hang on.”

No, I don’t disagree with any of this. I take no issue with the premise or conclusions of this lengthy screed.

Still, I do wonder, as I cast my eyes down past the bottom of Mr. Frank’s worthy essay on the crimes of the rich, the essential unfairness now bred in the bone of a once-far-more-generous society, and read the following ad posted by his own employer, Harper’s, which is “accepting applications” from university grads for two art and editorial department internships:

“All interns are encouraged to generate ideas, read widely, and approach problems creatively. . .Both positions are unpaid.”

What say you now, Mr. Frank, on the subject of grabbing cash and hanging on?

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