The pale, ghastly silver lining to a second President Clinton

In a commentary for Mercatornet I argue that if Hillary Clinton wins the election she may be so bad she’ll actually have a beneficial purgative effect on American politics by forcing voters to reexamine themselves.

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Bathing suit brouhaha

So there’s this story out of France where the “top court”, the Council of State, has suspended various bans on the burkini, an arguably excessively modest form of swimwear popular among some Muslims. In a characteristic leading paragraph, NBC said “France’s top court on Friday suspended a controversial ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has sparked heated debate both inside the country and abroad.” And I wonder: Why so much attention to this one?

Now I could write at some length about the way “controversial” is used in the press to mean “thing you should disapprove of”. Or the logic of the ban itself. Or the extraordinary French way of doing things, including that freedom of association is a largely foreign concept as opposed, in the English-speaking world, to a core right that is fast disappearing. (To give another remarkable example, this “top court” of which stories speak, the Conseil d’État, is at once the supreme court for administrative law, that is, for settling disputes about the behaviour of executive agencies, and the legal advisor to the executive branch. In the Anglosphere such an arrangement would be an unthinkable conflict of interest; in France it is seen as commendably efficient in empowering the state to run people’s lives for them.) But for now I want to ask a different question.

Why all this hoo-hah about the French ban, and not a peep about the legal and social restrictions on “immodest” swimwear and indeed clothing generally in much of the Muslim world, including extralegal violence to enforce it? Why are so many people calling the French intolerant on this issue and saying nothing about what goes on elsewhere? Where’s the “heated debate” on bans on infidel attire?

To ask this question is not to suggest that the French ban should not be debated, or that there are not reasonable arguments on both sides. Quite the reverse. And for what it’s worth, as I’ve written elsewhere, I favour considerable freedom of dress provided it isn’t obscene or likely to cause justified public alarm. But I also favour, and indeed regard as inseparable from the former, freedom of association; if I do not like how you are dressed I should be free to shun you personally and, yes, professionally. Especially if you cover your face on the grounds that if I see you, one or both of us will be soiled, which I find deeply offensive. But again, that’s not really the point here.

The point is that we seem to be holding France and the French to a much higher standard than, say, Jordan and Jordanians, let alone Iran and Iranians. For instance, a recent Daily Telegraph Travel/Advice piece said that in Jordan generally, “Women should wear loose fitting clothes, covering the arms, legs and chest area, while T-shirts are best avoided for both sexes. Women’s hair should be dry, as wet hair is said to suggest sexual availability…” What? Are you kidding me?

Obviously I would not want to be judged by that standard. I think we can do better. And the French, for all their foibles and fondness for state direction, generally do better. But for the sake of perspective about such things I also think we should be clear, in going after the French for responding to the menace of radical Islam in their own characteristic way and sometimes getting it wrong, that we are holding them to a higher standard. We might even want to fumble toward an explanation of why.

See, they’re a Western country. And while it’s politically correct to despise Western arrogance, cultural imperialism and so forth, just about everybody knows deep down that… that… that public policy in Western countries is broadly rational and tolerant whereas elsewhere it too often isn’t.

If that’s a “controversial” thing to say, well, I said it anyway.

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And that’s an argument against it?

The Daily Telegraph reports a warning from Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven that if Britain cuts corporate taxes it will make its discussions with the European Union over a Brexit “more difficult.” He insists that his own country will keep taxing heavily and spending (no, sorry, “investing”) because “Tax cuts are not the future.” Dude, the whole point of the Brexit is that Britain won’t have to keep implementing bad policy because European politicians condescendingly tell them to.

It’s even odd that Loefven believes the EU has leverage to dictate policy to a member whose citizens have voted to leave, let alone that threatening to will make them less determined to get away from such things.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject, the Telegraph also notes (you have to read down a bit in the story) that, as if deliberately seeking further to persuade Britons that the Brexit vote was a good idea, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker wants all EU members to open their borders entirely in a gesture of solidarity with the refugees now causing EU members to tighten border controls. Juncker went so far as to say “Borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians” which is a mind-boggling fatuity given the horrors governments have inflicted on people from tax rates over 100% to concentration camps. I know, I know, you’re not meant to end every discussion by invoking Hitler. But in this case Juncker’s claim invites the retort from Bertrand de Jouvenel that, as Milton Friedman recounts it, “said he had always been an ardent advocate of world government until the day he crossed the border into Switzerland ahead of the pursuing Nazis.”

Borders exist to protect people from the excesses of big government, from the petty to the ghastly. And Britain is correct to assert within its own the right to have tax policy that favours private initiative over a smothering state.

Hence the Brexit. Obviously.

 

 

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Glavin strikes again

In today’s National Post Terry Glavin has another excellent piece on Canada’s troubling relationship with China. He’s not only very clear on the sinister nature of the government in Beijing and the aggressive style as well as content of its foreign policy. He’s also one of the few commentators I know who understands that we are cozying up to an “increasingly decrepit” as well as “belligerent Chinese police state”.

It is remarkable how wrong the conventional wisdom is about the nature and dynamism of this regime. And Terry is much to be commended for seeing through it.

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Nineveh

In my latest National Post commentary I say we cannot play an effective role in the region unless we understand the complex relationship between Sunni and Shiite, Kurd and Assyrian and other groups that Western policy makers often seem not even to have heard of.

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Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

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If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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