Thursday, May 23, 2019

At Each Other's Throats

American politics have always been partisan, Glen Pearson writes. But Canadian politics used to be different:

Americans have always remained divided along partisan lines, while the Canadian context has been more of accommodation along general principles – a hegemony usually kept together by political parties usually hewing close to the political centre.  That national coherence is now fraying in light of more extremist tendencies weighing heavily on our traditional parties.

Increasingly, we are adopting the American model:

Seriously, we make assumptions based upon our belief that our positions are well thought out and we wonder how those with opposing views can be so na├»ve.  I’ve encountered a lot of this lately, as a conservative mindset sweeps across much of the world.  Those holding to such views who I encounter every day and work within our community think it’s high time that liberal thinkers started waking up to reality.  Liberal thinkers feel exactly the opposite.  How can they be so dumb?  Why can’t conservatives be open to research, to rational thinking?

We would do well to read a book by Jonathan Haidt titled The Righteous Mind:

Haidt declares right off that his goal for the book is to help people better understand and dialogue with each other as they work their way through their differences – a task seemingly impossible in our modern world where everything is about politics.  But the reader needs to beware that Haidt believes that all of us act more by intuition than rationality, so if you’re going to use reason to debate others, you might not get far.  In doing so, he provides plenty of research, as we would expect from a social scientist.  It’s more important to understand the other point of view than it is to defeat it, he says, adding that we were never designed to listen to reason:
“When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve already decided.”
Haidt believes that people reason all the time, but that they base it upon their preconceived intuition or value systems – filters that make movement in thinking a pretty difficult thing.  And, yet, we all think we’re smart and capable people.  There’s a significant disconnect here and it has its effects not only on our relationships, but ultimately on our politics – how we reason, vote, and collaborate together to face our greatest challenges.
The Righteous Mind reminds us that our certainties could end up being dead ends, leaving us little room to maneuver when the time comes for compromise.  We don’t necessarily have to agree about our political directions, but we do have to respect that we all – millions of us – hold to core beliefs that require one another to achieve together instead of dividing into rigid camps that could put the lie to what we have historically constructed together.  As DeShanne Stokes would put it: “We owe our loyalty to each other and to our children’s children, not to party politics.”

Wise words. Until we get our loyalties straight, we'll be at each other's throats.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ford Nation Never Noticed

Doug Ford sold himself as a man of the people. His first budget was supposed to underscore that perception. But things didn't work out that way. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

His first budget would recast him as a kinder, gentler premier. Not too tough, not too soft — just right.
It didn’t go according to plan.
By holding back the bad news — under the guise of a good-news budget — Ford’s Tories are belatedly paying a heavy price. Not as high a price, however, as ordinary Ontarians facing the daily drip-drip-drip of cascading cutbacks in recent weeks.
It all adds up to billions of dollars slashed from local education, transit, health care and social services. And it has provoked a growing backlash.

A recent poll suggests that 75% of Ontarians think their province is on the wrong track. So what's the big man to do? Declare bankruptcy:

Instead of moderation, desperation and disruption are Ford’s new watchwords — because desperate times allow for desperate measures. Rather than talking up Ontario’s prospects, the premier is now taking the province down — way down.
Ford has announced a fiscal emergency that can now be revealed:
Ontario has been declared bankrupt. By our own premier.
“We already came in here with a bankrupt province,” the premier now warns Ontarians every chance he gets.
“We were inheriting a bankrupt province,” he tells the legislature, a talking point faithfully repeated by his Progressive Conservative ministers and MPPs.

This truly is news:

In Ford’s view, Ontario’s economy is coming apart like crumbled feta cheese in a Greek fiscal crisis. One of his top ministers went further by citing the spectre of Venezuela’s economic wreckage, as if Ontario might soon be a failed state.
Never mind those roadside billboards proclaiming “Ontario is open for business.” Now his Tories are spreading the word and telling the world we are under bankruptcy protection.
The underlying premise behind the overheated rhetoric does not require a degree in accounting (nor any degree at all, which suits our premier): Tough times call for rough cuts.

But is it true? Is Ontario bankrupt?

Yes, years of deficit spending under Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative governments (with only a few years of surpluses under the Liberals and PCs) have piled on nearly $350 billion in debt. But a distaste for debt does not equal disaster — as many Toronto homeowners with outsized mortgages can attest.
Ontario’s finances may seem overstretched to some (including me, as I’ve written in past columns). But its net debt as a percentage of overall economic activity, as measured by GDP, has held steady at about 40 per cent over the past six years.
That’s a world away from the 175 per cent debt wall during Greece’s financial crisis. Which is why no credible credit rating agency, no responsible auditor, and no serious analyst would ever endorse Ford’s wild claims.
Bankruptcy is a false premise — like the premier’s false promise in the last election to trim the fat without impacting transit, health, education, or vital social services. Hyperbole aside, it is bizarrely off-message for our populist booster-in-chief.

The truth is that Ford and his party have been pedalling bankrupt ideas. They were proved bankrupt definitively over ten years ago. Ford Nation never noticed.

Image: Shale Directories

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Turning Back The Clock

For over seventy years now, conservatives have been working hard to turn back the clock. And, lately, they have been achieving what they see as victories. The latest evidence comes from Alberta. Justin Giovannetti reports in the Globe and Mail that:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has promised a “summer of repeal” as his United Conservatives prepare to enter the legislature for the first time as government with an agenda to quickly cut taxes and spark economic growth.
After four years of New Democrat government in Alberta, Mr. Kenney’s UCP plans to take aim at former premier Rachel Notley’s legacy by swiftly tabling a dozen bills that will roll back the province’s climate plan, cut corporate taxes and repeal toughened labour rules. The legislative session, which comes after a Speech from the Throne on Wednesday, could stretch into the dog days of summer after the Calgary Stampede.

In Ontario, Doug Ford has repealed Kathleen Wynne's cap and trade plan and gone to war against the federal carbon tax, while nixing the Liberals' Guaranteed Annual Income experiment in three cities.

In Alabama and Georgia, conservatives are hell bent on repealing Roe vs. Wade, forbidding all abortions. The procedures will now go underground and into the back allies -- as they did seventy years ago.

And Mr. Trump has repealed President Obama's Iran Nuclear Deal, setting the Middle East on a knife's edge. He's still trying to repeal Obama's health care program.

Throughout North America, conservatives are marching, proclaiming their belief in "That Old Time Religion." Certain that God is on their side, they march blindly into the past.

Image: You Tube

Monday, May 20, 2019

An Overcompensating Bully

Chas Danner reports in New York Magazine that things are heating up in the Middle East:

On Sunday, a rocket was fired into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone for the first time since late last year, landing less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy. No one was injured by the rocket, which according to the Washington Post may have been a warning shot from Iran-backed Shiite militias, who have used rockets to protest U.S. policy in the past. The harmless rocket was also precisely the kind of thing that Bolton and Pompeo have threatened to retaliate for, as they have said Iran will be held responsible for any attacks on U.S. forces or interests by its allies and affiliates throughout the Middle East. The rocket has thus fueled dread among Iraqi officials that the U.S. and Iran will act out some kind of conflict inside Iraq and destabilize the country.

That event brought an immediate Twittter response from Donald Trump:

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump responded. “Never threaten the United States again!”

Trump's reaction generated an immediate response from a national security think tank:

The RAND Corporation’s Ariane Tabatabai . . . wrote on Twitter that Trump’s aggressive message was a step backward when the two countries need to be moving toward some kind of dialogue.
More concerning yet, this undermines the Trump administration’s efforts to reach the Iranian people,” she continued. “Threatening not just war but ‘the official end of Iran’ taps into deeply and historically rooted anxieties in Iran. Far from leading Iranians to oppose their leaders, it’ll rally them around the flag and cement distrust of the U.S.”

And Daniel Larison, of The American Conservative, came to a similar conclusion:

Trump’s rhetoric is aimed at appealing to his domestic supporters, so he doesn’t think about or care how it sounds to the targeted regime, but my guess is that the Iranian government will take this as additional proof that there is no point in talking to the U.S. while Trump is in charge. Over-the-top threats of destroying the entire country give the Iranian government another incentive to reject all U.S. demands, and they obviously do nothing to deescalate tensions between our governments when they are already very high. As usual, Trump’s public displays of “toughness” only make him seem like an overcompensating bully and give hard-liners in both countries another boost.

That phrase, "an overcompensating bully," fits Trump to a tee.

Image: The Cut

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Something's Got To Give

For those of us who would like to see the Green Party hold the balance of power in  Ottawa, Robin Sears turns to recent history and offers a cautionary tale:

Forty years ago this spring, an eloquent, passionate, young American-educated German named Petra Kelly helped to launch the Green movement that swept first West Germany and then much of Western Europe. Kelly was one of those naturally charismatic politicians who drew supporters from a broad sweep of German voters: left and right, young and old.
Before her death the rapidly growing Green Party was fraught with fierce internal debates between those who wanted to govern, and those who refused to compromise on an agenda that was fiscally and politically impossible. The two camps, one dubbed the “fundamentalists” and the other the “realists” broke the momentum of their early years. Petra Kelly was a “fundi” herself, and became estranged from the party she helped to found, as the “realos” gradually took over.

Navigating the tensions in any political party is not easy -- as Justin Trudeau can attest. May could find herself trying to keep the different camps in her party happy:

It is easy to envision an adroit squeeze play by a shakily re-elected Justin Trudeau, or Andrew Scheer as the prime minister of any minority government. . . Set up a vote of confidence early in the new Parliament based on a decades long, sharply rising carbon pricing agenda, locked in combination with setting the first shovels in the ground on TMX. If the Greens vote yes they will enrage their base. Vote no, and they defeat the government, and they are into a snap election which threatens annihilation.
The climate crisis is a painful irritation for an already wobbly federal government. But they have a short-term trump: “A Green vote means a Scheer government.” For the NDP the threat is more existential. Most European social democratic parties, bobbing and weaving, co-operated with or tried to clobber the Greens. Both strategies lead to more fragmentation of political loyalties, and a steady weakening of the traditional parties’ dominance.
For Elizabeth May to continue to push herself and her party into ever more dismissive and hard-edged rejection of any compromise with the resource sector may be great politics in the short term. But most Canadians know that theirs is a nation built on those industries. Weaning them off their massive carbon emission loads is a project of decades not days.

And that is the dilemma we all face. People move slowly. And the clock is ticking relentlessly. Something's got to give.

Image: Rogers-Long Team

Saturday, May 18, 2019

More Of The Same

Donald Trump says he doesn't want to go to war with Iran. But two of his closest advisors do. Tony Burman writes:

Beyond the incoherence of the president’s overall foreign policy, there are increasing signs that an eventual road to war against Iran is being built by the two anti-Iranian ideologues in the president’s circle who feel it their mission to provide Trump with the brain and backbone otherwise missing from the Oval Office.
Their names, of course, are John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state.
In recent days, Pompeo has flown to Iraq, Europe and Russia in an effort to increase pressure on Iran. He claims that the U.S. could go to war with Iran today for the same reasons the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003: “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Al Qaeda. Period. Full stop,” he told the U.S. Congress last month.
In fact, that statement is false. There is no credible evidence of a connection between Al Qaeda and Iran just as there was no proven connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda in 2003.

Bolton has been beating his war drums for years:

As for Bolton, he has had Iran in his sights for the past two decades, frequently calling for the U.S. to attack. In 2015, he wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times, titled: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
It was Bolton who last week warned Iran that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
But his claim there were increased threats from Iran was immediately denied by British Maj.-Gen. Chris Ghika, who is deputy commander of the American-led coalition fighting insurgent forces in Iraq.

The Trump administration has never been known for telling the truth. So, no one should be surprised by Pompeo's or Bolton's falsehoods. History has shown that recent American wars -- from Vietnam to Iraq -- have been rooted in falsehoods.

We now have more of the same.

Image: Lib Quotes

Friday, May 17, 2019

Ontario's Hulk

Doug Ford likes to talk. But he doesn't like to listen. A  new poll suggests that disability is costing him. Rob Benzie reports in The Toronto Star:

Progressive Conservative support is eroding less than a year after Premier Doug Ford’s majority victory, a new poll suggests.
The Pollara Strategic Insights survey found 31 per cent of respondents now prefer Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats, compared to 30 per cent for Ford’s Tories and 26 per cent for the Liberals under interim Leader John Fraser. Mike Schreiner’s Greens have surged to 11 per cent.
Pollara chief strategist Don Guy said a muddled PC agenda and “a hyper-partisan legislature” have been especially helpful to the Liberals and the Greens.
In last June’s election, the Tories won 40.5 per cent of the vote, the NDP 33.6 per cent, the Liberals 19.6 per cent, and the Greens 4.6 per cent.

Mr. Ford is the face of his party. And it's clear that an increasing number of Ontarians dislike that face:
The poll found 30 per cent of respondents approve of the government, with 64 per cent disapproving and 6 per cent unsure.
Among respondents who voted PC in 2018, just 69 per cent now approve of the Tories, with 29 per cent saying they disapprove and 2 per cent uncertain.
When asked for reasons why they cast ballots for the Tories, 70 per cent said “to get rid of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals” with 42 per cent citing “time for a change, generally” and 25 per cent saying they “have always voted PC.”
Only 21 per cent said it was because they “like Doug Ford.” Similarly, 21 per cent voted for the Tories for cheaper gasoline prices. That’s slightly behind the 22 per cent who said they voted PC because they oppose the “carbon tax.”
Only 8 per cent voted Conservative to expand the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, while 4 per cent said it was because Ford was “bringing back buck-a-beer pricing.”
Five per cent supported the Tories last June because of the promise to build more subways in Toronto.
Guy said the April 11 budget — with its controversial cutting of some services despite overall record spending — has not rolled out well for the government.
“Ham-handed cuts are crippling the core promise for swing voters — governing for the people,” the pollster noted.
“As a result, the swing voters who put the PCs in office are hearing only one meta-message from Ford: ‘Hulk Smash.’ And they are turning away,” he said, referring to the motto of Marvel’s Incredible Hulk.

Doug is Ontario's Hulk. And Ontarians are increasingly unimpressed.

Image: Polygon