Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pop! Goes The Bubble

It's been almost a decade since the American real estate market collapsed, triggering a world wide recession. Unfortunately, we tend to track the United States -- with about a ten year lag. And now, Alan Freeman writes, the Canadian real estate bubble is about to burst:

For years, this bubble has been carefully nurtured by governments desperate for economic growth, realtors who will do anything for a sale and financial institutions happy to plow billions into housing, knowing Ottawa would always backstop their losses.

And as more and more people, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, find themselves shut out of the housing market, those who had the good fortune to get in early sit in self-satisfied silence, content in the knowledge that their modest bungalows have turned them into millionaires — on paper, at least.

As was the case in the United States, people who look at the data straight on can see the storm that is coming:

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) reported this week growing signs of “problematic conditions” in the housing market, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, where there is “a combination of price acceleration and over-valuation.” An overheated price climate was a problem in nine cities; over-building was a problem in seven.

“CMHC assesses that there is now strong evidence of overvaluation across Canada: house prices across Canada remain higher than levels consistent with personal disposable income, population growth and other fundamental factors,” the agency said. In other words, there’s no rational reason justifying current prices.

The Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) has an even grimmer assessment of the situation. It has imposed harsher criteria on stress tests for smaller lenders, forcing them to evaluate how their balance sheets would be affected by a decline of at least 50 per cent in house values for Greater Vancouver and at least 40 per cent for Greater Toronto.

The problem is that governments have encouraged people who don't have the capital to buy homes. And those who have capital to burn -- particularly in Vancouver -- have made home ownership unaffordable.

When the storm hits, the aftermath won't be pretty.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hillary's Mountain

Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination for president. Now the hard part begins. She'll have to climb a mountain. A substantial number of Americans see her as the status quo in an election where the majority of them are clamouring for change. Tom Walkom writes:

When U.S. President Barack Obama called the former senator and secretary of state the most qualified presidential candidate ever, he wasn’t far off.

When he noted on Wednesday night she was more qualified than both he and former president Bill Clinton had been when they first took office, he was absolutely correct. Compared to Hillary Clinton today, both men then were callow newcomers.

But it’s worth noting that both Obama and Bill Clinton won. And they won in large part because they were new.

Victor Hugo wrote that there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. If Americans think that Hillary's time has passed, she'll loose -- even if Donald Trump is a very bad idea. That's why the theme floating through Bill Clinton's biography of his wife was that she was the "best darned change maker" he knew:

Bill Clinton understands the problem, which is why in his speech to the convention Tuesday night he insisted on referring to his wife as a “change-maker.”

In particular, he cited her role in passing a law to provide health insurance to poor children and her ability to winkle out federal funds for New York City after 9-11. He pointedly didn’t talk about her failure to get a more generalized health insurance reform though Congress.

Hillary's mountain isn't Everest. It's more like the Matterhorn. It can be scaled by a skilled politician. Donald Trump's approach to mountain climbing appears to be, if you generate enough hot hair, you can soar to the top.

So Hillary's task will be twofold. As she scales the mountain, she'll have to puncture Trump's balloon.


Friday, July 29, 2016

The Meaning Of "Growth"

Economists are obsessed with growth. Unfortunately, Jim Stanford writes, they define the term much too narrowly -- because they assume that good growth is inextricably linked to profit. Progressives should be fighting this idea. Growth means much more than profit. It really means "work:"

"Growth" has to be correctly defined and measured, and we must always be crystal clear that lifting living, social and environmental standards -- not "growth" for its own sake -- is our goal. In this context, I prefer to discuss "work" rather than "growth," since after all human productive activity ("work," broadly defined) is the only thing that adds value to the natural resources we harvest (hopefully in a sustainable fashion) from the environment. It is obvious that there is plenty of work to be done out there (caring for ourselves, our communities and the environment), and millions of underutilized people with the desire and ability to do it.

There is so much work to do. And that work is important for reasons other than profit:

In terms of its impact on living standards, the effects of growth depend totally on how new GDP is produced and what it is used for. If higher GDP is associated with higher profit margins, which in turn are accumulated in undistributed corporate cash hoards or paid out in fat dividends to well-off investors, then growth may accomplish nothing. And if higher GDP is generated through extensive resource exploitation, sucking more value out of a non-renewable resource base and ignoring the need for conservation and amelioration, then it will certainly be associated with continued environmental degradation.

On the other hand, there are many other ways in which an economy can "grow," and a country's real GDP increase. It could happen, for example, through a major expansion in human services delivery (e.g., child care, elder care, education and culture). Proper programs in these areas would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, tens of billions of dollars in new incomes, and many billions in revenues for government -- not to mention delivering services that are valuable and life-enhancing in their own regard. GDP might also grow because of huge investments in public capital and physical infrastructure -- things like utilities, affordable housing, education and cultural facilities, and parks.

For nearly fifty years now, the world economy has been operating on a narrow definition of growth.The benefits of that narrowly defined growth have gone mainly to those at the top of the economic pyramid.  The powers that be have told us that growth, so defined, is a scientific law -- like Newton's Law of Gravity.

Put simply, that's hogwash. And, in the places most devoted to that narrow conception of growth -- like the U.S. and the UK -- the natives are getting restless.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Inside The Tent

Bernie Sanders' revolution has had a profound effect on the Democratic Party.  Once upon a time, that party didn't cower to Wall Street. Linda McQuaig writes:

In the midst of the 1930s Depression, Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt showed backbone, championing unions, bringing in universal pensions, taxing the rich and restraining Wall Street with the Glass-Steagall Act. Addressing a wildly cheering crowd at Madison Square Gardens in 1936, Roosevelt vowed to defy the enraged bankers and financial tycoons lined up against him. “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred!”

Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in a postwar era in which workers made impressive economic gains as a rising middle class while the wealthy elite lost ground.

But, beginning in the 1970's, the party lost its nerve:

Indeed, the Democratic Party had soon virtually abandoned working people, realigning itself with Wall Street and voting with Republicans for financial deregulation and dramatically lower taxes on the rich.
All this only encouraged the financial elite to become more grasping and assertive. When President Obama took the minimal step of trying to close a notorious tax loophole favouring hedge fund managers, Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman. “It’s war,” he declared. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

Republicans sided with Schwarzman and other angry billionaires. Even though the Democrats initially had control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they capitulated, thereby maintaining a tax loophole that delivers billions of dollars in tax savings to some of the least needy people on the planet.

Not content to protect their own tax breaks, the Wall Street barons, including American Express CEO Harvey Golub, went on the offensive, demanding an end to tax breaks that helped low-income Americans — a group dubbed “lucky duckies” by the Wall Street Journal for their low-tax status.

And then came Bernie -- who calls himself a socialist, but who really is a New Dealer. He and his folks are not going away:

The youthful Sanders crowd, which threatened to derail the convention on opening day, isn’t likely to go away. It’s determined to shape the Democratic Party of the future, believing that the only way to respond to the class war being waged by an aggressive billionaire class is with backbone — a body part that’s been noticeably missing from Democrats in recent decades.

Hillary owes Bernie big time. If she's wise, she'll give him a prominent position in her administration. As LBJ once said of J. Edgar Hoover, it's better to have him "inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Into The Halls Of Mythology

The Chilcot Report has been made public. Yet Tony Blair And George W. -- who claimed to stand for truth, justice and the American Way -- are enjoying their retirements. Gerry Caplan writes:

The invasion of Iraq never was about Saddam or his fictional weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had nothing whatever to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda and had no WMDs. Look, if I knew that, how could Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair not have known?

What did they want, those two BFFs? Mr. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the neocons, as far as anyone can figure, mostly wanted to show the world that America could not be disrespected by a two-bit Middle East despot like Saddam. That refusal to abide America being humiliated was at the very heart of neoconservatism. For his part, Mr. Blair was consumed with being America’s most faithful lapdog. He needed Mr. Bush to know he could always be counted on, no questions asked. “I will be with you, whatever,” Mr. Blair wrote Mr. Bush.

In  their names, crimes were committed:

In the hierarchy of the world’s international crimes, the top three are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It’s hardly in question that the Americans and British committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. So what penalties are their leaders paying?

Why, the same penalty all Western leaders pay for their villainy. As Henry Kissinger did for his many crimes against humanity, from Chile to Indonesia to Bangladesh. He’s now a mentor on world affairs to Hillary Clinton – the non-reckless presidential candidate. Or Ronald Reagan, who backed sadistic terrorist groups across Central America and worked closely with the apartheid regime in South Africa. He’s now totally mythologized, the revered hero of the Republican Party.

Bush and Blair will never see the interior of the International Criminal Court. But they're hoping to enter the Halls of Mythology. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pierre Would Be Appalled

Sometimes silence isn't golden. June 21st marked the anniversary of the passage of Bill C-51. When Justin Trudeau's party voted to pass the bill, they did so saying they would change it substantially once they were elected. Michael Harris writes:

C-51 handed Canada’s spy service grotesque new powers that are unconstitutional, indefensible and unnecessary. Short of killing or sexually assaulting ‘persons of interest’ in its quest to disrupt activities deemed to be ‘dangerous’ to national security, CSIS was handed carte blanche by the Harper government. Not a good situation when, at the time, Canada — unlike the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand — had no parliamentary oversight of the activities of the country’s spies.

 As far as civilian oversight went, Harper starved the Security and Intelligence Review Committee of funding and never even bothered to fill a vacancy (the committee only has five members to begin with). Harper didn’t want oversight — he wanted a rubber stamp and zombie appointees. And if Arthur Porter hadn’t been accused in a kickback scheme in a Montreal hospital project, Harper’s personal choice to head up SIRC would have continued his oversight of SIRC. (As it happened, he died a fugitive from Canadian justice in a Panamanian jail.)

More importantly, the bill bore the marks of the Harperites' utter contempt for the Charter of Rights and  Freedoms:

Basic civil rights went on the chopping block when the bill received Royal Assent in June 2015. The spy service could infringe on free speech because “promoting” terrorism was now a jailing offence. CSIS could make more arrests without warrants, even in cases where all the authorities had was the suspicion that an individual “may” carry out a terrorist act. The spy agency was no longer restricted to simply gathering intelligence, but now had the power to “disrupt” suspected terror plots. CSIS could even siphon personal information about an individual from 100 government departments, including the Canada Revenue Agency and Health Canada. And if the spooks planned to break the law or violate the Constitution, they could go before a judge in secret to get pre-approval of their illegal acts.

The Liberals said that they would hold public meetings to get input on how the bill should be changed.  So far there have been no meetings.

Pierre Trudeau would be appalled.


Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Not Easy Being Hillary

The action shifts to Philadelphia this week. And Hillary Clinton will be its epicenter. Doubts follow her there. Why? Tom Walkom writes:

The Clintons’ time in the White House was marked by a series of so-called scandals with names like Whitewater and Travelgate that, for most people, have long vanished into the mists of time.

An independent prosecutor later concluded that Hillary Clinton had done nothing wrong in any of these.
Nonetheless, they damaged her. Critics were unable to pierce Bill Clinton’s glad-handing popularity. 

But Hillary was easier prey. By the time the Clintons left the White House, a notion — not entirely without merit — had taken root in the public mind that she sometimes skirted the truth.

And let's be frank. She's a woman. For Republicans, she fits into a "sub-catagory." And they claim that she's corrupt:

On the face of it, the email scandal should have appealed only to IT aficionados. Her stated and very plausible motive for using a private cellphone on government business was that she didn’t want to carry two mobile devices.

However, this was Hillary Clinton. Once again, an investigation was launched. Once again, she was cleared of criminal wrongdoing (although not of bad judgment) — this time by the FBI.

A House investigation into another soi-disant Clinton scandal — her role in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans — found no evidence of negligence on her part.
But both contretemps served to reawaken the old doubts. In May, one pollster interviewed Americans with a negative view of Clinton. It found, to no one’s surprise, that 50 per cent of Republicans polled found her untrustworthy.

More alarmingly for the Democratic presidential candidate, it found that 39 per cent of Democrats polled held the same view.

Donald Trump -- who operates on the assumption that small phrases entertain small minds -- has taken to calling her "crooked Hillary."  Meanwhile, he's doing his best to throw a cone of silence around his own business practices.

It's not easy being Hillary.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

It Hasn't

Conrad Black lives on another planet than the rest of us. He is untroubled by the anxieties of those of us who are mere mortals. That's why he believes that we've misunderstood Donald Trump. In Friday's National Post he opined:

Even in the week that he is nominated by the Republican party for the presidency of the United States, intelligent people fail in droves to understand what Donald Trump has accomplished. It was disappointing to read the editorial in this newspaper on Tuesday that “a Trump presidency would be a descent into the uncertainties of anger, bitterness, and division … a recipe for disaster.” This is a widespread view, but it is bunk. 

Lord Black believes that Trump has been grievously maligned:

These parrots of gloom should be celebrating the fact that one of the only moderates among the Republican candidates won. Senator Ted Cruz pitched his campaign to the Bible-thumping corn-cobbers with M16 rifles in the rear windows of their pickup trucks and announced that God had told him to run. Trump and Sanders are the only candidates who favour universal health care, and Trump, contrary to a great deal of unfounded over-reactive comment about him, never said anything remotely antagonistic about women, gays, African-Americans or Latinos who came to the U.S. legally.

And, he predicts, Trump will move to the centre and radiate peace, order and good government:

Now that Trump is the nominee, having come from the political wilderness and paid for his own campaign, he will drastically scale back the stylistic infelicities (which are as disagreeable to me as to most serious people, but are just part of his shtick). He is not ideological and will make the system work — he is, as he never tires of telling us, a deal-maker. In foreign policy, he will be neither trigger-happy like George W., nor an other-worldly pacifist like Obama. He will spend a billion dollars of the Republican party’s money reminding the country that legally and ethically, Hillary is carrying more dead weight cargo than the Queen Mary. He and Hillary will now both campaign toward the centre, but whoever wins, this is the last stand of moderation. One more debacle like the past four or five presidential terms, and the animals will be released. The paint-ball parks, the shooting ranges, and the teeming ghettos (scores of millions of Americans unnoticed by Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Walt Disney) will not be gulled again by a limousine liberal in a neon pantsuit or a pseudo-blue-collar billionaire.

The animals have already been released. And they're furious at people like Lord Black. One would have hoped that his stay in a Florida prison would have acquainted  Black with the earthly existence of mere mortals. Obviously, it hasn't.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lessons From Weimar

In the wake of the Republican Convention, Charles Dermer writes that there are three lessons progressives should remember about the failure of Weimar Germany:

First, the German Left splintered and failed to create strong coalitions. The Social Democrats and the German Communist Party -- both large parties of Labor -- made little efforts to work together or to organize and coordinate closely with many of the remarkably progressive Weimar urban feminist, gay and civil rights movements. Much of the blame falls on the Communists, who decided to take their marching orders from Stalin, believing that the collapse of the German economy would lead to a Communist revolution. But the Social Democrats were also responsible, aligning themselves with conservative parties and aristocratic landed elites -- and supporting repression of Far Left movements while failing to reach out to and make concessions to either the Communists or the movements.

Had the Social Democrats and Communists formed a common bloc, working in a strong coalition with progressive urban cultural movements, they would have controlled the majority of Parliament and might have kept power. The lesson here is that we must wrestle with the potential ways in which the Democratic Party, the Sanders supporters and our major social justice movements might work together, building a coalitional front that can push back against the dangers posed by Trump, promote the aims of the Sanders "revolution," and help unite or "universalize" Left grassroots movements in a long-term effort to create a systemic transformation of militarized, racialized, patriarchal capitalism.

Second, to build a united front, all types of progressives must grapple with the real threat of a Trump victory and of a broader right-wing populist ascendancy, with or without a Trump victory. The German Left -- as well as the German corporate and landed gentry Establishment -- never took Hitler seriously, dismissing Far Right movements and believing Hitler had no large popular base. Likewise, many US progressives cannot imagine that Americans would embrace Far Right populism and elect an overtly racist demagogue such as Trump.

The Weimar Left and the German Establishment wildly underestimated the Far Right and Hitler's resonance during a massive economic crisis with a public with authoritarian tendencies. They lost touch with the working and lower middle class, especially the rural or small town population, who felt they were losing not just their jobs but their country and culture. They also never believed Hitler could gain so much support in his pursuit of genocide.

This leads to a third lesson: the need for a massive shift in the Democratic Party and a resurgence of progressive movements to solve the economic crisis and address the sense of national decline perpetrated by the Establishment itself. The Weimar Left, especially the Social Democratic Party, largely disconnected from grassroots urban progressive cultural movements, had no transformative vision or energy. It was an exhausted, reformist party offering no economic or social solutions. The Communists didn't even try, as they promoted collapse.

The inconvenient truth is that the Democrats have bought into neo-liberalism with almost the same fervor as the Republicans:

The Democratic Party in the age of Clintons, disconnected from social movements, has aligned with the corporate and military establishment. While Bernie Sanders resonated far and wide because of his urgent message of "political revolution" and democratic socialism, Hillary Clinton has only begun to -- at least in rhetoric -- embrace the importance of structural change. But to win, she has to take Sanders more seriously and respond not only to his demands but also to the demands of the civil rights, Black liberation, peace and environmental movements.

Germans made the mistake of believing that Hitler was simply a nutbar who would self destruct. That's what he eventually did. But what he left in his wake was utter devastation.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Leadership and Ideals

Rick Salutin speculates this morning that we may be living in a non-leadership moment. Consider what has happened in the United States:

It’s tempting to say Donald Trump is all leader and no ship: no party inclinations in any recognizable forms, nor typical policies, organization, strategy or scripts. It centres on him alone. Except for a literal ship, labelled Trump, that he flies in on and speaks in front of. He likes it so much, he flies it home to New York each night to sleep in his bed — which is kind of touching — then drops in again next day.

In the UK, Jeremy Corbin is Trump's polar opposite:

There’s now a full-blown leadership challenge to him, before he’s fought a single election — after being elected with unprecedented member backing. Why? After one of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, Hilary Benn, was sacked (as they say) for plotting against his leader — being the UK, foes are called regicides — Benn explained, “Jeremy is not a leader.” That’s what they all repeat. He won’t work ferociously, doesn’t build bridges or concoct complex strategies to ally with others and achieve power, utterly lacks charisma, seems uninterested in doing anything he hasn’t done for years. Yet somehow he hoovers up manic support. 

His opposition claimed that Justin Trudeau was not a leader -- but he has surprised a lot of people:

Justin Trudeau did it with all the basics of the old formula, though in his own rendition — which is worth keeping in mind. But something else is also going on, especially in the aftermath of the quashed hopes that attended Obama’s coming. Would you rather have a victory for plausible principles or one for leadership itself without believable ideals? Because in the UK at the moment it seems impossible to have both elements.

And that's the real question: Can leadership and ideals coexist?


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Republican Death Notice

Brent Rathgeber writes that the Republican Party is dead. It's been replaced by The Donald Trump Show:

This is no longer the Republican Party; it’s becoming the Trump Party — bombastic, obnoxious and playing deliriously on the fears of white America. Trump has dumped the conservative Republican playbook — he favours brick walls over free trade, a police state over smaller government. His appeal is based almost entirely on xenophobia and many Americans (mostly, but not entirely, Republicans) seem to believe what he is saying about Mexicans and Muslims.

The only constant coming out of the Trump Convention has been the sustained, visceral and vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton. I’m no fan of the former Secretary of State, but one should rely on facts when attacking a political opponent — not wild hyperbole and unhinged fantasy. Given the lack of anything like substantive policy in his campaign, Trump’s strategy seems to be limited to malicious, often reckless, character assassination.

And that may be the most alarming thing about Trump — nobody really knows what he wants to do as president. His speeches are generally too incoherent to allow for inferences about whether he stands for anything apart from racial prejudice and misogyny. He is unpredictable, offensive and a blowhard. He is one of the most polarizing figures to aspire to high office in a western democracy in ages.

Trump represents Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy in full fruition. His supporters are seething with resentment and not very bright. All they bring to the table is a long, hard hate. And Trump -- who has transformed the party into a cult of personality -- has focused that hate on Hillary Clinton.

Last night Ted Cruz refused to support Trump. He urged Americans to vote their conscience. Rethgeber understands Cruz' message. That's why he left the Stephen Harper Show.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blind Stupidity

Andrew Nikiforuk writes that we falsely assume we can clean up oil spills -- because we believe we have the technology to do it:

In many respects, society's theatrical response to catastrophic oil spills resembles the way medical professionals respond to aggressive cancer in an elderly patient. Because surgery is available, it is often used. Surgery also creates the impression that the health-care system is doing something even though it can't change or reverse the patient's ultimate condition. In an oil-based society, the cleanup delusion is also irresistible. Just as it is difficult for us to acknowledge the limits of medical intervention, society struggles to acknowledge the limits of technologies or the consequences of energy habits. And that's where the state of marine oil spill response sits today: it creates little more than an illusion of a cleanup. Scientists -- outside the oil industry -- call it "prime-time theatre" or "response theatre."

Technology has its limits:

Part of the illusion has been created by ineffective technologies adopted and billed by industry as "world class." Ever since the 1970s, the oil and gas industry has trotted out four basic ways to deal with ocean spills: booms to contain the oil; skimmers to remove the oil; fire to burn the oil; sand chemical dispersants, such as Corexit, to break the oil into smaller pieces. For small spills these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.

Conventional containment booms, for example, don't work in icy water, or where waves run amok. Burning oil merely transforms one grave problem -- water pollution -- into sooty greenhouse gases and creates air pollution. Dispersants only hide the oil by scattering small droplets into the water column, yet they often don't even do that since conditions have to be just right for dispersants to work. Darryl McMahon, a director of RESTCo, a firm pursuing more effective cleanup technologies, has written extensively about the problem, and his opinion remains: "Sadly, even after over 40 years experience, the outcomes are not acceptable. In many cases, the strategy is still to ignore spills on open water, only addressing them when the slicks reach shore."

The only way to avoid oil spills is to avoid oil. Yet the word from Cleveland this week is that the Republicans plan to revive the Keystone XL pipeline. It's called blind stupidity.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Great" Means "White"

As the Republican Convention unfolds, certain loudmouths are given the stage. One of them is Steve King, a member of the House of Representatives from Iowa. Consider the following story from the New York Daily News:

One Iowa congressman may not know history, but he’ll go down in it for his ignorance.
Rep. Steve King, known for his racially charged remarks, said Monday that non-white “subgroups” have not contributed to civilization.

Responding to writer Charlie Pierce’s MSNBC panel comments about “old white people” running the Republican Party, King preached his own race’s supremacy.

“I would ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” the Republican said.

“Than white people?” moderator Chris Hayes interjected.

“Than Western civilization itself that's rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where Christianity settled the world," King replied.

And, as a corollary to that thought, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sent out a picture of himself yesterday, with what he figured were "the most number of Capitol Hill interns in a single selfie." You'll notice that there is not one person of colour in the photograph.

When Donald Trump proclaims that he will make America great again, there is a clear subtext. Great means white. He'll build walls to keep non-whites out. It's those folks who drive Republicans crazy -- because they know that white people are well on their way to minority status in the United States.

Trump and modern Republicans forget that it was their hero, Ronald Reagan, who urged that The Wall be torn down. And it was another Republican president -- Dwight Eisenhower -- who said, "Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him."


Monday, July 18, 2016

Leaders In Search Of Scapegoats

Where have all the leaders gone? That's the question Michael Harris asks over at ipolitics. The newly anointed and the wish to be anointed don't inspire a lot of confidence:

As the apocalypse beckons, the need for real political wisdom has never been greater. But no Titans have emerged. Instead, obscene caricatures of political leadership have risen to the top of several world establishments.

In Britain, Theresa May sits astride the absurd political ascendancy of the post-Brexit-referendum era. One of her first acts was to shut down the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. Britain’s Tin Lady made another decision which is even more dangerous to the planet on the short term: putting the Brexit Boor and “serial liar” Boris Johnson in charge of foreign affairs.

One has to wonder about May's appointment of Johnson as Britain's chief diplomat:

Johnson is the man whose claim to fame is a bad mop of hair, pants that are perpetually on fire, and a yen for racism. Making him the country’s chief diplomat is like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of pension plan. After Barack Obama stuck his nose in the Brexit debate, urging the UK to remain in the European Union, Johnson responded by talking about the U.S. president’s “part Kenyan” ancestry.

Johnson’s previous remarks though made clear that his jibe wasn’t meant as a compliment. As reported in the Guardian, Johnson went on to describe Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.” Their problem, he opined, was “not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”

Over in France, Francois Holland is cracking down on civil liberties, but the attacks keep coming:

The government has used its extraordinary new police and anti-terror powers to round up and arrest hundreds of its own citizens. Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality — the clarion call of one of the world’s most famous revolutions — has morphed into an obsession with policing. Strange that. Civil rights are cancelled but terrorist attacks increase. The French once exported the Statue of Liberty to America. Today they are building a Statue of Oppression at home.

And, in the land of the Statue of Liberty, the choice is between Donald and Hillary:

Look at the choice facing Americans in this November’s presidential election — a political lifer investigated by the FBI for possible breaches of national security while Secretary of State; versus a to-the-manor-born ignoramus with a Jesus complex whose idea of big, international news is a new irrigation system for his golf course in Scotland.

They don't stoke inspiration. But they do stoke fear. Harris writes, "Frightened people always have an index finger ready to point to the external causes of their woes. They’re also more likely to ignore any part they played in creating the morass like, say, invading Iraq in the first place."

And, before we get too smug, let's remember that the guy we just sent packing set up a snitch line so that the paranoid among us could rat on those of us they felt engaged in "barbaric practices." When leaders go searching for scapegoats, anyone of us could qualify for that moniker.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Historians On Trump

As Donald Trump -- and now Mike Pence -- head for Cleveland, a group of prominent American  historians have decided to launch a full scale assault on Trump. With the help of filmmaker Ken Burns, they have set up a Facebook page that has been garnering millions of views.

Kenneth Jackson, David McCullough, Ron Chernow, William Leuchtenburg, Vicki Lynn Ruiz, Kai Bird, Joseph Ellis, Jonathan Alter, Alan Kraut, Sean Wilentz, Richard Moe and Todd Gitlin each offer their views on Trump.

It's scathing stuff. Is anybody listening? And is anybody asking what kind of a man Mike Pence -- who calls himself  "a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican -- in that order" -- really is?


Saturday, July 16, 2016

They Never Were

Tony Clement wants to be leader of the Conservative Party. Perhaps he believes that the third time will be the charm. But, Bob Hepburn writes, there are five reasons Clement should reconsider his bid:

First, Clement deservedly earned the title of “The King of Pork-Barrel Politics” for his disgraceful role in doling out $50 million in special projects in his riding that were to be related to the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville. Instead, most of the money went to totally unrelated projects far from the summit site, such as renovating bandshells and gazebos, planting flowers, repairing public washrooms and paving roads in his riding.

Second, Clement became an international joke when he enthusiastically killed the important long-form census of 2011. He saw it as an invasion of privacy for asking such delicate questions as how many bathrooms are in your home. The move so outraged Munir Sheikh, the country’s chief statistician, that he quit in disgust.  

Third, Clement is talking up his immigrant background, but he has a lot to answer for on immigration. Despite being a senior cabinet minister, he did and said nothing over the last few years as the Harper government deliberately dragged its heels in allowing Syrian refugees to come to Canada. He also kept his mouth shut when his cabinet colleague Kellie Leitch proposed a snitch hotline clearly aimed at Muslims where people could report “barbaric cultural practices.” 

Fourth, Clement is a Harper clone — and happily so. Like Harper, he is stiff, devoid of charisma and uninspiring. He is well-liked by the out-of-favour Harperites and offers voters nothing fresh, from his call to stop funding the CBC to Iran-bashing that voters didn’t see — and reject — in Harper himself in the last election.

And, fifth, there is Peter Mackay. Hepburn is sure he too will throw his hat in the ring. Mackay also has lots of skeletons in his closet. But, at least, he seems less moribund than Clement.

All in all, they're not an inspiring bunch. But, then, they never were. 

Image: Chris Young/Canadian Press

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bring On The Independents

Patrick Bazeau walked back into the Senate yesterday, the charges he faced having been dropped. What does that say about the government and the man that brought the charges? It's pretty clear that the Harper government was a smear machine. And, in the end, the smears didn't stick.

But the Senate still needs reform. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

In recent months the Red Chamber has been going through its own version of rehab, working to show that it actually is a chamber of sober second thought, rather than a den of feckless spendthrifts. It voted to amend the government’s assisted suicide legislation (though it ultimately passed the government’s more restrictive version), amended another piece of legislation conferring unionization rights on RCMP officers (which will come before the House in the fall) and, most recently, issued a report calling for better integration of Syrian refugees.

The Liberal government also is keen to give the Senate a makeover, appointing new senators with the help of a committee process and opening up Senate seats to “applications” from interested Canadians. “We are beginning to see how a less partisan, more transparent, accountable and engaged Senate on public policy issues will act,” said Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate. “It has been a very intense period of change.”

The changes will have to be internal. There will never be enough support in the provinces for wholesale change or abolition. So it will be up to the  Senators themselves to design that change. That should be a little easier to do when the majority of Senators are officially independent.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Betrayal

Stephen Harper's public career has been filled with betrayals. He added another one last week. Brent Rathgeber writes:

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean was in the crowd for this year’s riding association BBQ — feeling less than festive, no doubt. Patrons were expecting Harper merely to announce that he was resigning as their MP. Instead, he enthusiastically and unequivocally endorsed Jason Kenney for the leadership of the PC Party of Alberta — instantly turning a social gathering into a campaign event.

It’s important to remember just how unusual an action this was for the former prime minister. When Harper was running things, Conservative MPs were expressly discouraged from wading into provincial politics. When the Harperites were in power, PMO staffers frequently reminded caucus members that, as the federal government, “we” had to deal with the people in power at the provincial level, no matter what party “they” represented.

But with the PCs out of power in Alberta and the CPC in Opposition in Ottawa, the rules seem to have changed. Either that, or the MP for Calgary Heritage assumes the rules that applied to his caucus don’t apply to him. They don’t apply to interim CPC leader Rona Ambrose either; she also endorsed Kenney, as Harper encouraged all CPC members in Alberta to join Kenney’s campaign to lead the PC Party into oblivion.

Harper always maintained that he made the rules -- and he could break them. But Alberta's Progressive Conservatives and Wild Rosies are not happy:

You’ve already heard about the pushback in the PC camp. Progressive PCs such as MLA Sandra Jensen and former MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk and Dave Quest are openly questioning whether Kenney’s vision clashes with the PC party’s platform.

What you haven’t heard is how Harper’s endorsement is going over with the Wildrose crowd. Many Wildrose supporters were stunned by it, and by Harper’s decision to publicly snub Jean.

Mr. Harper has always believed that leading a political party implied kingship by Divine Right. He has provided yet another illustration of who he is.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Appreciating Good Fortune

Britain is in crisis. The United States is roiling. But, in Canada, we're pretty sanguine. Lawrence Martin writes:

In Canada, it’s the 1960s in an entirely different optic. None of the rage and tumult. Rather, a new harmony. As we hit 150 years, with our relative unity, peace and prosperity, it’s akin to the time of the centennial. Crises elsewhere make us look even better. A haven of stability and hope.

Just like 50 years ago, there’s a Camelot North aura brought on by a new-styled leader. On Pierre Trudeau’s ascension to power in 1968, The London Spectator wrote, or rather hyperbolized: “It was as if Canada had come of age, as if he himself singlehandedly would catapult the country into the brilliant sunshine of the late 20th century from the stagnant swamp of traditionalism and mediocrity in which Canadian politics had been bogged down for years.”

In the UK and the U.S, baby boomers are making their last stand. In Canada, the torch has been passed to the next generation:

The Canadian advantage is not just in avoiding the fracturing in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Rather, we’ve crossed a threshold. With this government we finally have given the boot to the baby boom generation, a generation which has dominated Canadian life for four decades.

Today’s government is young not just by age but in spirit and, by contrast to the venomous partisanship of its predecessor, attitude. The United States is about to elect a president who will be 69 (Hillary Clinton) or 70 (Donald Trump). Britain’s soon-to-be new leader, Theresa May, is turning 60. In neither country will the thinking at the top be at one with the mindset of the new generational wave.

The well-aged political leaders, particularly those on the right, sustained much of their support from old whites or those with old white attitudes. They mock Justin Trudeau for an alleged lack of substance. The younger generation would tell them about his substance; that it is racial tolerance, that it is gender rights, that it is preserving the planet, that it is social justice for native people, that it is open and fair democracy.

One would be wide to remember that what happens in Britain and the United States eventually makes its way here. But there is no law against appreciating our good fortune. 


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dallas In Context

Chris Hedges puts the recent violence in the United States into a larger context. It's what happens, he writes, when the corporate state has become firmly entrenched:

Globalization has created a serious problem of “surplus” or “redundant” labor in deindustrialized countries. The corporate state has responded to the phenomenon of “surplus” labor with state terror and mass incarceration. It has built a physical and legal mechanism that lurks like a plague bacillus within the body politic to be imposed, should wider segments of society resist, on all of us.

The physics of human nature dictates that the longer the state engages in indiscriminate legalized murder, especially when those killings can be documented on video or film and disseminated to the public, the more it stokes the revenge assassinations we witnessed in Dallas. This counterviolence serves the interests of the corporate state. The murder of the five Dallas police officers allows the state to deify its blue-uniformed enforcers, demonize those who protest police killings and justify greater measures of oppression, often in the name of reform. 

Therefore, policing becomes militarized. And the response is also militarized -- a sniper on the rooftop. All of this takes place in a community which lacks empathy:

Neoliberalism, like all utopian ideologies, requires the banishment of empathy. The inability to feel empathy is the portal to an evil often carried out in the name of progress. A world without empathy rejects as an absurdity the call to love your neighbor as yourself. It elevates the cult of the self. It divides the world into winners and losers. It celebrates power and wealth. Those who are discarded by the corporate state, especially poor people of color, are viewed as life unworthy of life. They are denied the dignity of work and financial autonomy. They are denied an education and proper medical care, meaning many die from preventable illnesses. They are criminalized. They are trapped from birth to death in squalid police states. And they are blamed for their own misery. 

Something to think about in these days following the death of Elie Wiesel.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Sometimes, A Blessing Is A Curse

Jason Kenney has headed back to the Calgary Stampede, proudly waving to the crowds. But, Michael Harris writes, it's easy to spot the phonies:

Jason Kenney is taking part in a parade — riding in the back of a 1958 Ford Fairlane, with an army tank behind him, and a gas-guzzling 1959 Caddy in front carrying fellow-delusional Michelle Rempel. I guess the cars were interesting. (At least Premier Notley rode a Pinto that wasn’t made in Detroit – the kind with four legs, not an explosive gas tank.)

Like Stephen Harper, Kenney claims to be a son of Alberta. But Kenny was born in Ontario -- Oakville to be precise. And he has had an interesting political journey, claiming various residences along the way:

As for his resumé, Kenney left university to work for the Saskatchewan Liberal Party. That led to an odd post for a guy who would one day run the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and after that, spend so much time at Harper’s side dismantling Canada: Kenney became executive-assistant to Ralph Goodale, now Canada’s public safety minister in the Trudeau majority government.

Later, Kenney bounced around like a rubber ball, from Liberals, to Reform, to Canadian Alliance and finally to the CPC. He then entered a decade of celebrity and someonehood as cabinet minister, organizational Machiavelli, and heir apparent in the event Harper had died of fright reading political polls in 2015.

He has always had a nose for the main chance. And his nose brings him back to  Alberta to, he says, "unite the right." But Albertans may not buy the package:

Kenney’s conversion on the road to being a mere MP smacks of the worst kind of political opportunism. Someone should ask Kenney when he decided to save Alberta — before or after the Harper government’s crushing loss? And what will he tell the voters of Calgary Midnapore? They thought they were voting for a federal MP. Will they really believe that he always wanted to be a provincial messiah for a discredited Conservative party but just forgot to tell them about it when he was soliciting their vote? What would he have done had Dear Leader won the federal election, returned to Alberta to perform a by-pass operation on the beating heart of Conservatism, or settled down into some jammy ministerial post in Ottawa?

On the face of it, there is monstrous presumptuousness operating here, exactly the kind that consigned the Alberta PC’s last carpetbagger, Jim Prentice, to the ash-heap of political history. Does Kenney really think that Albertans will swallow the story that the carnage in the oil patch is Notley’s doing? And why would Wild Rose want to unite behind a man whose party couldn’t get a single pipeline built after a decade in power, and which aligned itself with a PC party in Alberta that mismanaged one of the greatest resources on earth and then told Albertans they were the problem when the bitumen hit the fan?

On the weekend, Kenney got Stephen Harper's blessing. Sometimes a blessing turns out to be a curse.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Last Of His Generation

It's been a week since Elie Wiesel's death. Avi Benolo writes that he was the last of his generation:

His generation was the generation of the 20th century that struggled to put a broken world back together. His generation was the generation of Martin Luther King Jr. A generation that fought for social justice and humanity. It was a generation that spoke about not being silent. In King’s words, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Similarly, Wiesel would argue “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

With Elie Wiesel’s passing, the great generation that empowered us and guided us to speak out against repression, violence and hatred - is gone. Gone are the icons who refused to shake hands with the devil, choosing instead to impart their righteousness through their actions and wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the first leaders widely revered for his non-violent methods, gave the world a new path toward freedom. He put the responsibility for social change on each and every one of us, instructing, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And so, each of us becomes the centre – the bridge and the pinnacle – for expressing goodness.

Besides King and Gandhi, that generation included Helen Keller, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. Like Weisel, they believed that the greatest sin was indifference and it spread with silence in the face of evil.

Benolo asks, "Who will take their place?" So far, there don't appear to be a lot of successors.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

There is a long history of race hatred in the United States. Last week added a particularly horrific chapter to that history. Most tragically, the party which was born out of opposition to that history has become its modern home. Paul Krugman writes:

To put it bluntly, the modern Republican Party is in essence a machine designed to deliver high after-tax incomes to the 1 percent. Look at [Paul] Ryan: Has he ever shown any willingness, for any reason, to make the rich pay so much as a dime more in taxes? Comforting the very comfortable is what it’s all about.

But not many voters are interested in that goal. So the party has prospered politically by harnessing its fortunes to racial hostility, which it has not-so-discreetly encouraged for decades.

The late Lee Atwater taught Republicans to talk in code -- beginning with the first President Bush:

These days, former President George H.W. Bush is treated as an elder statesman, too gentlemanly to endorse the likes of Donald Trump — but remember, he’s the one who ran the Willie Horton ad. Mitt Romney is also sitting this one out — but he was happy to accept Mr. Trump’s endorsement back when the candidate was best known for his rabid birtherism.

There are those in the party who are not racists. But  some of its leaders are -- because they have adopted racist rhetoric to achieve their economic goals:

I’m not saying that all leading Republicans are racists; most of them probably aren’t, although Mr. Trump probably is. It is that in pursuit of their economic — actually, class-interest — goals they were willing to act as enablers, to make their party a safe space for prejudice. And the result is a party base that is strikingly racist, in which a plurality of voters believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, and more — a base just waiting for a candidate willing to blurt out what the establishment conveyed by innuendo.

But they are not the party's only enablers. A large number of journalists -- under the banner of "balanced" -- have refused to confront what has happened to the party: 

Political analysts who tried to talk about the G.O.P.’s transformation, like Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, were effectively ostracized for years. Instead, the respectable, “balanced” thing was to pretend that the parties were symmetric, to turn a blind eye to the cynicism of the modern Republican project.

The point is that this kind of false balance does real harm. The Republican establishment directly enabled the forces that led to Trump; but many influential people outside the G.O.P. in effect enabled the enablers. And so here we are.

There is plenty of blame to go around.


Friday, July 08, 2016

The Lessons Of War

The Chilcot Inquiry has totally discredited Tony Blair. But, amid the rubble of his reputation, Paul Heinbecker writes that there are five lessons to be learned:

A first lesson for Canada is that foreign policy decisions, especially those involving peace and war, must be guided by values as well as interests. The report makes it clear the essential purpose of the British government going into that war in Iraq was to maintain its privileged relationship with Washington. The British went along to get along.

A second lesson Canada should draw from the report is to be wary of group-think and overly confident intelligence services. According to Chilcot, “there was an ingrained belief in the U.K. policy and intelligence communities that Iraq had retained some chemical and biological capabilities; that it was determined to preserve and if possible enhance them – and, in the future, to acquire a nuclear capability; and that it was able to conceal its activities from the UN inspectors.”

A third lesson we should draw from the Iraq Inquiry report is the importance of the role of the UN Security Council. According to Mr. Chilcot, “most members of the Security Council could not be convinced that peaceful options to disarm Iraq had been exhausted and that military action was therefore justified.”
A fourth lesson is that, with the Chilcot report on Iraq, the Butler Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction and other reviews, the British have manifested an appetite for accountability that is probably unmatched elsewhere. 

A fifth lesson for Canada is that, especially on crucial foreign-policy decisions, it is never true that we have no choice but to support our allies. We always have a choice, if we are willing to pay the cost required by our values. And as it happened, those costs in the case of the Iraq war were entirely bearable.

It's worth remembering that Mr. Harper claimed that he did not believe in going along to get along. But he was hellbent to join the Coalition of the Willing. And he joined every succeeding Middle East military mission.

Rumour has it that he plans to start his own international consulting business. The world would be better off if he bought a Tim Horton's franchise.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Making Matters Worse

When bigots and buffoons -- like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump -- oppose world trade deals, Linda McQuaig writes, they give the globalizers plenty of ammunition:

Having such a collection of bigots and boors opposing “globalization” may turn out to be a boon for those promoting globalization — that is, the laws that govern the global economy.

This is unfortunate, since these laws — and the international trade deals that enforce them — have delivered benefits almost exclusively to those at the top in recent years, and should be thoroughly overhauled.

When you look at history and the evidence, there are good reasons to rebel against NAFTA and the proposed TPP deal: 

There’s a litany of reasons why any sensible person would resist these trade deals.

But the most outrageous aspect of them has always been the special set of legal rights they bestow on foreign corporations and investors. These rights — which go beyond anything that exists in domestic or international law — enable wealthy foreigners to sue governments over policies the foreigners don’t like, and to have their lawsuits decided by closed tribunals.

Indeed, the TPP could open a floodgate of new claims by wealthy foreigners, according to a powerful report by Osgoode Hall law professor Gus Van Harten, released last month but ignored by the media.

“With the TPP, many more such claims will become possible,” notes Van Harten, an expert in international law and investment treaties.

The report documents how corporations and wealthy investors have taken advantage of the bizarrely generous legal rights available to them under NAFTA, suing Canada 39 times and winning more than $190 million in compensation from Canadian taxpayers. There is no cap on how high the compensation can be, and the vast majority of it goes to the ultra-rich – corporations with annual revenues over $1 billion and individuals with net wealth above $100 million.

With all their sound, fury and obfuscation, the buffoons are making matters worse. 


Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wandering In The Desert

Jason Kenny is going home to Alberta. What's that mean? Michael den Tandt writes:

One possible answer is that Kenney has already been there, done that, having effectively put Harper over the top in 2011 with his tireless outreach to new Canadians (the former PM gave partial credit for the victory to Kenney, explicitly, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in September of 2014). Another is that Kenney may be bored, at 48, and craving a big new challenge. And a third reason — perhaps the key for an ambitious, driven man such as this — may be that he doesn’t believe the Conservatives can defeat Trudeau in 2019, regardless of who leads them. If the Liberals are in for the long haul, say two consecutive majorities, he’d be years cooling his heels on the back benches in the prime of his political life.

Consider what has happened to the Harper Party in the last two years:

And here’s where all that gets us: Stephen Harper’s perennial ministerial heavyweights, in no particular order, were Flaherty, John Baird, James Moore, Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay. With all five gone (MacKay may yet declare for federal leader but has not done so) and Harper himself, of course, gone, the party truly has entered uncharted territory.  

The party which once ruled with an iron fist will be wandering in the desert for quite awhile. And there's no Moses in sight.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Harbingers Of The Future?

Nigel Farage has resigned. But the arrogance and hypocrisy he stood for will not depart with him. His speech to the European Parliament on the day after the Brexit vote was teeming with his usual swill. Dan Leger writes:

Farage’s gloating oration in Brussels followed the victory by anti-EU forces in the U.K.’s ill-considered Brexit referendum. In the speech, Farage repeatedly insulted his fellow parliamentarians with a sneering arrogance that will do little to help Britain build new international relationships.

“I know that virtually none of you,” he said, “have ever done a proper job in your lives, or worked in business, or worked in trade, or indeed ever created a job.”

Remember, these are the words of a full-time politician and former commodities trader, professions not known as drivers of employment.

Farage complained that he hadn’t been taken seriously when he first became a salaried and expenses-collecting member of the Euro Parliament he so despises, 17 years ago.

“You all laughed at me. I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?”

The problem with people  like Farage and Donald Trump, writes Leger, is that they have made hate acceptable in modern politics. And while the likes of Farage and Boris Johnson have exited stage right, exposed as the buffoons they are, there will be others who will follow in their footsteps:

Any fool can see through Trump, the preening egotist and shallow showoff. And most can see through Farage’s lies and smugness.

But what if a candidate emerges who isn’t an obvious buffoon, but with similarly toxic ideas?
Seventy-five years ago, German fascists cited “Blut und Boden,” “blood and soil” in their program of race hatred. A similar call might work with American or British nativists, invoking the idea that people who share ethnicity and territory should band together to keep the “others” out.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racial incidents are rising across the U.K., with harassment of immigrants and outsiders. A pro-Europe MP was murdered by a white supremacist right before the referendum.

At Trump’s mass rallies, racist and misogynistic insults are routinely hurled around by the candidate and his supporters.

If Farage, Johnson and Trump are harbingers of the future, we have much to worry about.


Monday, July 04, 2016

Turning Swimming Pools Into Cesspools

Bill Clinton did Hillary no favours last week when he "accidentally" met with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. However, he did give Donald Trump lots of ammunition to use against "crooked Hillary:" Michael Harris writes:

The way Trump tells it, Hillary is a kind of entrepreneurial Benedict Arnold, personally raking in millions along with her famous husband under the guise of philanthropy. Trump insists that she shouldn’t be running for president: she should be making muffins in the same cell once used by Martha Stewart to refine her skills of insider-baking.

But when it comes to corruption -- best defined as having complete contempt for the Constitution -- Mr. Trump has no equals:

For starters, the deepest form of corruption for someone seeking the presidency is to propose measures that violate the constitution. By that measure, Trump himself is dangerously corrupt. It is against the U.S. Constitution to discriminate against people on the basis of their religion. Trump has proposed that in one form or another many times over.

In a country with First Amendment protections, it is unconstitutional to ban the press from covering a public event. In black-balling the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Buzzfeed from some of his events, Trump has done just that.

It is illegal under the U.S. Constitution (as well as domestic and international law), to practice torture. Trump has endorsed water-boarding and promised “worse”, despite the fact that any such presidential order issued to either military or intelligence personnel would be illegal.

And, on the subject of corruption, consider the two men who are rumored to be at the top of the list as Trump's running mates -- Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie:

Christie has more baggage than a caravan of overloaded camels. First there was Bridgegate, that incredible act of political vengeance that saw Christie’s office touch off a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in 2013 just to get even with a political rival who refused to throw his political support to the governor. Three Christie staffers, Bill Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein were indicted for this caper.

Although Christie himself was never charged, and manfully blamed the whole thing on rogue staffers, U.S. National Public Radio is now reporting that investigators never saw Chris Christie’s personal email account that he used during the bridge shutdown in 2013. Nor did they have access to a cellphone he used to contact the man who controlled the George Washington Bridge, the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Samson.

And then there is Gingrich:

True, he was once Speaker of the House of Representatives. But that career ended when the House Ethics Committee hit him with a $300,000 fine for the use of nonprofits for partisan political gains. The Ethics Committee arrived at their action after looking into 84 ethics complaints against the former Speaker.

Some of the other highlights on Newt’s resumé include being on the wrong side of the House banking scandal, and criticizing mortgage lender Freddie Mac while quietly collecting $1.6 million as a consultant to it. He is also the sensitive husband who insisted on discussing the terms of his divorce from his first wife, Jackie, while she was in bed recovering from her third cancer surgery. 

What a team! Hillary has her problems. But the Donald turns swimming pools into cesspools.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Haze Sometimes Disappears

Tony Burman published an intriguing column in yesterday's Toronto Star. Given last week's fallout from the referendum, he believes that Britain and Europe may patch up their differences:

That astonishing thought became more than possible this week as Britain’s political battleground descended into treachery and farce.

In a chaotic response to the slim referendum vote to pull Britain out of the European Union, London’s Palace of Westminster was littered with the victims of political backstabbing and intrigue.

Boris Johnson's political ambitions came to a crashing halt:

Johnson, who studied classics at Oxford University and once argued that studying Greek and Latin would keep young people off the streets, became the centre of his own personal Greek drama. In an act of treachery, his close colleague, Michael Gove, withdrew his support of Johnson at the last minute, saying that he now felt “Boris cannot provide the leadership.” Gove announced he would run for the top job instead.

Jeremy Corbin's political future looks no better:

As if this wasn’t enough, Britain’s opposition Labour party is also in tatters. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, under attack for his lacklustre support of the pro-Europe side in the referendum, received an overwhelming vote of non-confidence from Labour MPs. The pressure on him to resign is building.

So that’s where politics stand in Merrie Olde England, barely a week after the historic referendum on Europe. The final vote by a narrow 52-48 margin was to “leave” the EU, but there is increasing doubt about when this will take effect.

There are two reasons why Britain's exit may never happen:

The idea of a 50-per-cent-plus-one referendum deciding such colossal issues in the life of a nation is increasingly being discredited.

It will likely take another election to even begin to restore the credibility of the Britain’s floundering and self-absorbed political and media elites.

 Buyer's remorse is settling in:

Already, in terms of an economic backlash, there are signs that the biggest losers will be many of the working class people who voted to leave.

In the days since the vote, there has also been more criticism about the referendum process. On an issue with such historic meaning — in this case possibly the dissolution of both the United Kingdom and the European Union — why would the government allow the margin of victory to be as tight as 50 per cent plus one?

On the morning after, the haze sometimes disappears. 

On another note, Elie Wiesel died yesterday. He was a witness to the evil of which man is capable. The opposite of good, he wrote, is indifference. Words to remember in times such as these.


Saturday, July 02, 2016

It May Be Too Late

In his speech to Parliament on Wednesday, Barack Obama called for a version of globalization where the benefits accrued to all, not just the top one percent.  A consummation devoutly to be wished. But, Tom  Walkom writes, it may be too late to make it happen:

Indeed, the best Obama could come up with as a model for humane globalization was the deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment deal. Yet it is so unpopular in the U.S. that even Hillary Clinton, Obama’s ally and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has vowed to deep-six it.

The TPP is unpopular for good reasons. Many Americans (and Canadians) don’t want to lose their jobs to workers in low-wage Pacific Rim countries like Vietnam.

 Given their experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement, Americans are justly suspicious of politicians who promise that these losses will be more than compensated for by new jobs at home.

And so they are fighting back through antiglobalization politicians, such as Trump and would-be Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.

Bucking the trend is nothing new:

In 19th century Canada, it found expression through John A. Macdonald’s National Policy of protective tariffs.

The new Dominion of Canada was losing population as workers migrated to the U.S. in search of jobs. Macdonald’s break from British free-trade orthodoxy was designed to create the jobs that would keep them at home.

A few decades later, in the 1930s, governments around the world used the power of the state to resist the logic of a market capitalism that had depressed wages, prices and jobs.

In some countries, notably Germany and Italy, this resistance was commandeered by racists and fascists.

In others, it was not. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, a direct challenge to the prevailing economic orthodoxy, led not to fascism but to projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority electrification scheme.

Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett’s New Deal, while not quite as bold, led to the CBC.

During the ’40s and ’50s, the battleground moved to the shop floor as North America’s new industrial unions challenged an orthodoxy that said only markets could determine wage rates. All of which is to say that this tension over the market economy never goes away.

And so, once again, we find ourselves in a place where governments -- the latest being the UK's -- are rejecting the conventional wisdom of the day. On Wednesday, Obama spoke in support of the conventional wisdom. But, in spite of the good will he generated on Parliament Hill this week, the train may have already left the station.