Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coming Down The Pike



Canada Post and CUPW have reached an agreement. But that's not the end of the story. The real drama, Tom Walkom writes, is just beginning:

The main event – what to do with the Crown corporation – is set to begin next month.

That’s when a four-person task force set up by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is due to report. Chaired by the head of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, the task force has been told to “identify viable options” for Canada Post.

In announcing the move this May, Public Services Minister Judy Foote said that everything except privatization is on the table.

The volume of mail has steadily declined. But the delivery of parcels has become a booming business. And, to take advantage of that fact, Canada Post bought Purolator Courier several years ago. But new circumstances mean that employment for mail carriers is on the line. And it leaves the corporation with two broad choices:

First, it can cut costs and raise stamp prices. This is the strategy that Canada Post management is vigorously following through its cuts to home delivery and its take-no-prisoners approach to collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

The problem it faces is that this strategy is ultimately self-defeating. As service becomes even more inconvenient and expensive, fewer people will use the post office.

This can lead only to a death spiral.

Second, the post office can cover part of the cost of those operations that lose money by investing in activities that make money.

Canada Post already engages in cross-subsidization. The money it earns by delivering junk-mail helps cover the cost of standard mail. Its policy of delivering letters anywhere in the country for the same price acts, in effect, as a subsidy to those who correspond over long distances. Its Purolator parcel delivery segment cross-subsidizes its less profitable post office segment.

The corporation is now considering getting back into the banking business -- something which would benefit small communities. Whatever model the post office adopts, changes are coming down the pike. 

Image: sheldonkirshner.com

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Praise For Philpott



Jane Philpott has been getting a lot of blow back for a ride she recently took in a supporter's limousine. It cost, admittedly, much more than public transportation. But Gerry Caplan has come to her defence:

Jane Philpott is exactly the kind of citizen we should want in Parliament: a doctor of medicine, with a masters degree in public health; doctored in Niger, one of the world’s very poorest countries, for a full decade; chief of the department of family medicine at her hospital; central to a Canada-Ethiopia collaboration to develop a training program for family medicine in Ethiopia.

Beyond any formal credentials, she is known among all who work or deal with her for her decency, integrity and deep devotion to her community. She is what the “honourable” in “The Honourable Member” should mean.

And, unlike the former medical minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet, Philpott is trying to do something on the asbestos file:

This month something quite wonderful changed, as Kathleen Ruff has now enthusiastically reported on her website RightOnCanada. She was “extremely encouraged” to learn that Jane Philpott is actively involved with her cabinet colleagues in setting a new policy on asbestos for Canada.

“I was glad to receive a phone call from a policy adviser for Minister Philpott and had a constructive and positive dialogue. I am extremely hopeful that in the next session of Parliament the government will announce its plans to ban asbestos, take measures to protect Canadians from asbestos harm and play a leadership role at the UN in support of the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention.”

This is a very big deal after a decade of irresponsibility by the Harper government (including its well-known doctor, Kellie Leitch), and I, too, happily congratulate Dr. Philpott for living up to expectations.

So, yes, the ride in the limo was a mistake. But, Caplan writes, let's keep things in perspective:

With all the contrived indignation they could muster, opposition critics were swift to leap down her throat, automatic media attention being guaranteed. Canadian Press now immortalizes the entire issue as an “expensive mistake,” referring to “the thousands” Philpott spent “to be chauffeured around in a luxury vehicle owned by a Liberal volunteer.” The actual figure seems to be about $6,500. This says more about Ottawa’s obnoxious political culture than it does about our Minister of Health.

These days, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. 

Image: thechronicleherald.ca

 

Monday, August 29, 2016

But For Fortune


A little more than a year ago, the lifeless body of little Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. His image went viral and struck a cord around the world. Last week, the image of another battered child -- Omran Daqnesshes, also a victim of the war in Syria -- went viral. It reminded us of the depravity of which we are capable. But it should also remind us, Crawford Killian writes, of our duty to refugees and the benefits they bring with them:

If we treat them as unavoidable nuisances and a drain on our resources, they will become a drain indeed: underschooled, underemployed, alienated, linked to the rest of the country only through the police and social services bureaucracy.

But if we treat the thousands of Alan Kurdis and Omran Daqneeshes as an incredible stroke of luck, an opportunity to energize and sustain the country as a prosperous democracy, we will do very well indeed. They will enliven our classrooms, break our sports records, start new industries and do business around the world in English, French and Arabic.

Yes, they will bring unique problems that our schools and universities will have to deal with. But we’ve dealt with the traumatized and uprooted for at least 60 years, ever since we absorbed almost 40,000 Hungarians in a few months after the 1956 uprising. The University of British Columbia even took in a whole Hungarian school of forestry. We’re a lot better at it than we realize.

The argument against accepting refugees is always the same -- they're not like us. But, if our memories are long enough, we'll remember that we're all refugees. And, but for fortune, we'd be refugees today.

Image: thetyee.ca

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Chip Off The Old Blockhead



The New York Times has been looking into how the Trumps -- father and son -- have done business. Consider the following anecdote:

She seemed like the model tenant. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a “beautiful application.” She did not even want to look at the unit.

There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black.

Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump.
“I asked him what to do and he says, ‘Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,’” Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview.

It was late 1963 — just months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act — and the tall, mustachioed Fred Trump was approaching the apex of his building career. He was about to complete the jewel in the crown of his middle-class housing empire: seven 23-story towers, called Trump Village, spread across nearly 40 acres in Coney Island.

He was also grooming his heir. His son Donald, 17, would soon enroll at Fordham University in the Bronx, living at his parents’ home in Queens and spending much of his free time touring construction sites in his father’s Cadillac, driven by a black chauffeur.

“His father was his idol,” Mr. Leibowitz recalled. “Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side.”

Over the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company’s practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle.

And, when the Trumps were accused of discrimination in housing -- under the new Civil Rights Act -- young Mr. Trump reacted with what has now become a familiar routine:

“Absolutely ridiculous,” he was quoted as saying of the government’s allegations.

 Looking back, Mr. Trump’s response to the lawsuit can be seen as presaging his handling of subsequent challenges, in business and in politics. Rather than quietly trying to settle — as another New York developer had done a couple of years earlier — he turned the lawsuit into a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to “welfare recipients” and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation.

Mr. Trump is obviously a boar. And he's a chip off the old blockhead.

Image: nytimes.com

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Not With A Bang


When he was defeated by his arch nemeses -- the Liberals -- and by the young upstart he claimed simply "wasn't ready," Stephen Harper went dark. Michael Harris writes:

He gave not a single interview after getting waxed in the 2015 election by Justin Trudeau. Las Vegas proved more attractive to the MP from Calgary Heritage than the House of Commons, where, post-defeat, he lurked rather than sat. And while he was doing little for his constituents other than cashing his paycheck, he did find time to set up his political consulting company in Calgary after a few visits to U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the man who has promised, but not yet delivered, $100 million to support Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Even Harper’s resignation was an in-house Harper job, controlling — and distorting — the message until the very end. Steve writing his own report card, as he did while in office. (Did Ray Novak shoot that cheesy video?)

Perhaps he thought that, after a good night's sleep, it would all go away. But it won't. His record will remain:

Here’s the real story. This ersatz economist delivered seven consecutive fiscal deficits and ran through the $13.8 billion surplus handed to him by the outgoing Liberal government of Paul Martin in a single year. The country’s economy grew at a snail’s pace, wages stagnated — and then the Great Navigator denied that the Great Recession of 2008 was happening during the federal election of the same year.

Throughout most of that time — while he was smothering critics, stifling information flow, practising vigilante justice on people like Mike Duffy and Helena Guergis without facts, attacking the Supreme Court, promoting unconstitutional legislation and surrounding himself with people even Trump might not feel comfortable with — nobody called him out for what he was. They were too afraid, because this guy took down numbers.

Neo-liberalism predated Harper's rise. And it lives on after it. But yesterday Stephen Harper's political career ended -- not with a bang but a whimper.


Friday, August 26, 2016

It's Not Easy Being Orange



It would be a lot easier if social democratic governments were elected during flush times. But voters turn to social democrats when times are tough. Consider the case of Rachel Notley's government in Alberta. Tom Walkom writes:

Notley was elected last May on a wave of discontent. The ruling Progressive Conservatives were seen as out of touch. Their fiscal solutions — spending cuts plus tax increases for the middle class — were thought unfair.

Some voters moved to the even more right-of-centre Wildrose Party. Others gravitated to the NDP, with its call for higher taxes on corporations and the rich, action on climate change and more spending on infrastructure, health and education.

On winning power, Notley moved quickly to implement part of her platform. She raised taxes for corporations and the well-to-do. She also announced a new carbon tax set to take effect next year.
She did all of this without antagonizing the main corporate players in Alberta’s oilsands.

If oil were still bringing in $100 a barrel, Notley would be doing swimmingly. But such is not the case:

The collapse in world oil prices and the consequent recession in Alberta have changed everything.

A fiscal update this week from the provincial finance department predicts that Alberta’s economy will shrink by 2.7 per cent this year, while the unemployment rate will hover at about 8 per cent.
Government stimulus is expected to create 10,000 new jobs this year. But that number will be swamped by the 50,000 jobs already lost to the oil-price induced recession.

Thanks in part to the Fort McMurray fire, Alberta will face a $10.9 billion deficit this year. The government’s books are not expected to reach balance until 2024.

Still, Notley is sticking to her guns:

The NDP government insists it will stay the course — that it will not slash government spending and that it will continue to fight the recession with fiscal stimulus.

Logic is on Notley’s side. Her government may be running deficits. But net debt as a percentage of the province’s gross domestic product is still below 4 per cent, a remarkably low measure. By comparison, Ontario’s debt to GDP ratio is about 40 per cent.

Her promise to wean Alberta’s economy away from its reliance on the vagaries of world oil prices should, in today’s context, have even more urgency.

And her job-creation measures, while not enough to make up completely for the collapse in the oil economy, are better than nothing. Still, the pressure on her government to change course promises to be intense.

Will she? Bob Rae did. And those of us who live in Ontario remember how that turned out. 

Image: Codie McLachlan / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The TFW Program


The Liberals have vowed to reform the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. John McCallum is making noises about developing a pathway to citizenship for them. But the program is a minefield because it was developed as a sop to business. Its raison d'etre was to keep labour costs low across the country. Tom Walkom writes:

The problem the Trudeau government faces is that the temporary foreign workers program in any guise is a low-wage strategy.

When businesses say they can’t find qualified labour what they usually mean is that they can’t find anyone at the wage they are willing — or able — to pay.

Appearing before the Commons human resources committee this spring, representatives of the meat packing industry said they must bring in foreign workers because native-born Canadians just aren’t interested in such tough jobs.

What they didn’t dwell on was the fact that native-born Canadians are quite willing to work in other tough manual jobs — such as the oil rigs — that pay more.

Christopher Smillie of the Canadian Building Trades Unions put the problem succinctly. “If employers can’t entice Canadians to take certain jobs (they should) raise wages,” he told the committee.

After all, that is supposed to be how the free market operates. But the Conservatives -- who proclaimed their faith in free markets -- never really believed in them. What the Liberals believe is not entirely clear. And it's not entirely clear what they will do:

At one level, their problem is a practical one. Even if they are opposed to using temporary migration as a wage suppressant, they live in a world where this is the norm. That’s why, in an attempt to pander to East Coast fish plants, they lifted the ceiling this year on the number of temporary foreign workers seasonal employers may bring in.

Stay tuned. 

Image: ccweb.ca

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

God Help Us



In the wake of 911, it's increasingly clear that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is seminal to Canadian democracy. The latest example of the Charter's importance is illustrated by a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Nadar R.Hassan and Stephen Aylward write:

Last week, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a startling resolution calling for legislation that, on judicial authorization, would “compel the holder of an encryption key or password to reveal it to law enforcement.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale invited public debate on the proposal.

Police are responding to new challenges wrought by modern technology. Encryption renders data unintelligible without the user’s password. Even with a warrant to seize and search a cellphone or computer, police cannot gain access to the valuable information stored on those devices unless they can guess the password (or hack into the device, as the FBI recently did with a locked iPhone in the San Bernardino case).

Police worry criminals are “going dark”— i.e., using encryption to evade detection and prosecution. Compelling suspects to surrender their cellphone and computer passwords is an enticing solution to this problem. But it is one that ought to be unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

What is at stake is a basic principle of British Common Law:

The police chiefs’ proposal would lead to a radical erosion of our constitutional rights protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the state accuses us of a crime, we are entitled to say, “prove it.” The Supreme Court of Canada has said this right — the right against self-incrimination — is the organizing principle of our criminal justice system. An accused person is under no obligation to assist the state in her or his own prosecution, whether by answering questions about where she was the previous night or by revealing passcodes.

Canadian law jealously protects the right against self-incrimination for reasons that are both historical and principled. The right against self-incrimination has its roots in the revulsion towards the 17th century courts of the Star Chamber, which would detain supposed enemies of the state on mere suspicion, compel them to swear an oath, and then require them on pain of punishment to answer questions.

Our constitutional law protects the right against self-incrimination because we recognize there is a power imbalance in criminal prosecutions, which frequently pit a single (often marginalized) individual against the overwhelming power of the state. The right against self-incrimination is the great equalizer. It ensures an individual is put through the criminal process only once police have built a case. It also protects the dignity of the accused and limits the risk that state officials will abuse their power.

Since the 1970's, economic power has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Since 911, there has been a push to concentrate judicial power in fewer and fewer hands. We've seen the effects of the so called economic revolution. God help us if a similar judicial revolution takes hold.

Image: tvoinnews.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

That's What Leadership Is About


Elizabeth May has announced that she will stay on as leader of the Green Party. That will make Linda McQuaig happy. She had advised May to stay put. But she's also advising May not to walk away from the BDS resolution which the party passed at its recent convention:

Whether you agree with the boycott strategy or not, it is a peaceful way to protest a serious violation of human rights: the fact that millions of Palestinians have been living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza for almost 50 years, with Israel effectively annexing their land.

Some commentators have suggested that it’s OK to criticize Israel, but a boycott goes too far.

In the end, words will not change things. Action is required -- the kind of action which Brian Mulroney took against South Africa's apartheid regime: 

Back in the 1980s, it was divisive when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney imposed sanctions against the white-minority regime in South Africa.

Today, everyone agrees that Mulroney’s stance was laudable. But at the time it was highly controversial, with Mulroney acting in defiance of business leaders, members of his own cabinet and caucus, as well as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. 

Some are uncomfortable comparing Israel to South Africa. Not so Desmond Tutu:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu considers the comparison valid. In a 2010 letter to students urging the University of California to divest from Israel, Tutu wrote: “[D]espite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing…I have been in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.”

May is in a difficult position. But that's what leadership is about. 

Image: Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press


Monday, August 22, 2016

House Of Cards


Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money. In the case of Donald Trump, reporters are beginning to take the same advice. Michael Harris writes:

Suzanne Craig of the New York Times reported in the paper’s international edition that Trump’s heavily-marketed self-image is as phoney as a degree from Trump University. Trump-owned companies carry a debt of $650 million, which, as the Times reports, is “twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House.”
It’s pretty clear why he won’t disclose his income taxes, and why he will never allow any independent valuation of his net worth. It kind of looks like he’s up to his assets in debt?

They followed the same advice when they looked into the finances of Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager:

What kind of a dude was he? The kind whose name showed up on a secret ledger in Ukraine that listed $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort from the political party of deposed Ukrainian President and Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych. When the New York Times reported that, Manafort still thought that he could hold on.

But then the second shoe dropped: the Associated Press reported that in 2012, Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, had secretly channeled $2.2 million to a pair of Washington lobbying firms to boost the image of the Kremlin-backed Ukrainian president in a way intended to circumvent disclosure requirements.

So, Manafort had to go. But, then, Trump made a name for himself by firing people. Still, all this merely underscores a point which should have been clear from the beginning: Trump -- and Trump Tower -- is a House of Cards.

Image: memegen.com

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Not Good Days


Jack Layton was a perpetual optimist. But Chantal Hebert believes he'd find it hard to be optimistic about his party's current state of affairs. Perhaps that's because the party under Layton made the Harper government possible:

At the last national convention Layton presided over, less than two months after the party’s historic breakthrough in Quebec, he was rightly celebrated for his election performance. But it was not all rainbows and roses. Among NDP members, elation over the party’s accession to the rank of official Opposition was often tempered by dismay at the advent of a Harper majority.

Just as the Conservatives are having a hard time living down the stain of the Harper years, the Dippers have to contend with a public which holds the NDP responsible -- at least partially -- for Harper's ascension.

But there is a bigger problem. Unlike the Liberals, the next generation in the party is in no mood to take the reins:

The reluctance of the next generation of New Democrats to step up to the leadership plate would trouble him. He would not be particularly thrilled by speculation that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May could or should jump ship to come lead the NDP. She always seemed to click more with her Liberal counterparts (and vice-versa).

And the enthusiasm Layton generated in Quebec isn't there any more:

I live in Laurier-Ste-Marie, a riding the NDP twice won against no less than then-Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe. This week something that looked like an in-store raffle ticket was slipped into my mail slot. It was MP Hélène Laverdière’s latest correspondence.

It would be an exaggeration to call it a householder for it gave no sense of the NDP’s plans for the next sitting of Parliament. Instead it was a straw poll designed to produce a list of priorities for the party to tackle. One can only wonder what Layton would make of the NDP turning itself into a blank slate.

These are not good days for the New Democrats. 

Image: torontoist.com

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Orange Id


On Thursday, Donald Trump apologized -- sort of. James Hohmann writes:

Parsing the speech, which was read from a teleprompter, veteran campaign strategists and historians noted that Trump sounded much more like a conventional politician than he has all year. In their view, he’s following a path of rhetorical evasion that has been well trod by candidates in both parties.

Linguists and relationship experts, meanwhile, said Trump’s comments were ineffective and that his words cannot accurately be described as an “apology.” In fact, the GOP nominee did not specify exactly who or what he was talking about. The targets over the course of his campaign are plentiful, including the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Megyn Kelly, New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, Mexicans and Muslims.

Trump said he regretted any slips of the tongue he might have made. That one word -- regret -- signals that his apology is a non-apology:

New York University historian Tim Naftali, who previously directed the Richard Nixon presidential library, heard Nixonian echoes as he watched the tape of Trump’s speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday night. Two men who Trump talks to – Roger Ailes and Roger Stone – worked for the former president.

“An apology involves contrition. Neither Trump, so far, nor Nixon showed real contrition,” Naftali said. “Nixon, at least, believed apologies were a sign of weakness, which exposed him to more attacks from his real and perceived enemies.”

The only apology Trump is capable of is a non-apology. He is the Orange Id -- a rolling wrecking ball whose prime product is toxic waste.  If he weren't so dangerous, he'd be pathetic.

Image: pinterest.com

Friday, August 19, 2016

No Reason To Reject The System Outright



As Canada moves towards proportional representation, the Cassandras are wailing loudly. Andrew Coyne gives two examples -- from opposite ends of the political spectrum:

Here, for example, is Bill Tieleman, B.C. NDP strategist, writing in The Tyee: “How would you like an anti-immigrant, racist, anti-abortion or fundamentalist religious political party holding the balance of power in Canada? … Welcome to the proportional representation electoral system, where extreme, minority and just plain bizarre views get to rule the roost.”

At the other ideological pole, here’s columnist Lorne Gunter, writing in The Sun newspapers: “PR breaks the local bond between constituents and MPs … In a strict PR system, party leaders at national headquarters select who their candidates will be, or at least in what order they will make it into Parliament …” 

To the sceptics, Coyne writes, look at the countries where PR has been adopted:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, all of whose parliaments are wholly or partially elected by proportional representation. 

We can at least describe accurately how their political system actually works, rather than rely on caricatures born of half-remembered newspaper clippings.

At one end, you have countries such as Austria, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden, all with six to eight parties represented in their legislatures — or about one to three more than Canada’s, with five. At the other, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, with 10 to 12. 

Virtually all of these countries have some element of local representation: only the Netherlands, whose total area is less than that of some Canadian ridings, elects MPs at large. And none uses the “strict” form of PR Gunter describes, known as “closed list.” Rather, voters can generally choose which of a party’s candidates they prefer, so-called “open lists.”

How unstable are these systems? Since 1945, Canada has held 22 elections. In only one of the PR countries mentioned has there been more: Denmark, with 26. The average is 20. It is true that the governments that result are rarely, if ever, one-party majorities. But, as you may have noticed, that is not unknown here. Nine of Canada’s 22 federal elections since 1945 have resulted in minority parliaments. 

The sceptics like to point to two countries -- Israel and Italy. But both countries are outliers:

The Israeli parliament has 12 parties, Italy’s eight. By comparison, France, which uses a two-round system, has 14, while the United Kingdom — yes, Mother Britain — now has 11. More to the point, there are circumstances unique to each, not only in their parliamentary systems — Israel uses an extreme form of PR, while Italy’s, which has gone through several, defies description — but in their histories and political cultures. 

So, yes, it's important that the system be designed with care. But the fact that two countries have designed their systems poorly is no reason to reject the system outright.

Image: canadians.org

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Can They Survive?



The Conservative Party of Canada is a pretty fractious group. Consider each of the party's leadership candidates. Brent Rathgeber writes:

Kellie Leitch comes from the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Before entering politics, she worked with the late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his wife Christine Elliot, and was encouraged to run by former Ontario premier Bill Davis. Her support for the ill-fated barbaric cultural practices tip line notwithstanding, Dr. Leitch qualifies as a ‘progressive’ conservative.

Tony Clement served under Mike Harris before entering federal politics. He is a former president of PC Ontario and was said to be close to Mike Harris. He can be a fiscal hawk. He’s also the king of pork-barrel politics, having infamously diverted G8 security money to unrelated projects in his own riding.

Michael Chong is both a Red Tory and a democratic reformer. The author of the Reform Act, he once quit a cabinet position on a matter of principle. He knows how responsible government and parliamentary democracy are supposed to work.

Although Deepak Obhrai is tied for the longest-serving Conservative MP record, I don’t recall ever having heard him give a speech on domestic politics. I’m not sure what he stands for. His interests lie primarily in global affairs. If nothing else, the Tanzanian-born politician’s entry into the race shows that the CPC is still relevant to new Canadians.

Max Bernier is the darling of the libertarian wing. His plans to abolish supply management and end industrial subsidies also appeal to fiscal hawks and free-market classical liberals. But his live-and-let-live attitudes on social issues put him in direct conflict with Brad Trost, who entered the race yesterday.

Trost is unapologetically pro-life and anti-gay marriage. At the May CPC convention in Vancouver, Trost was the MP spokesperson for delegates opposed to a resolution deleting from official Tory policy the traditional ‘one-man-one-woman’ definition of marriage.

Each sect in the party has its candidate. But you see the problem. There appears to be no one who can bridge the divides. And those divides could tear the party apart. Conservatives may soon be asking the same question the Republicans are asking: Can the party survive its leader?

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Whither Liz?



Ever since the Green Party adopted a resolution to support the BDS movement, there has been lots of speculation about Elizabeth May's future. Gerry Caplan has suggested that she should consider running for the leadership of the New Democratic Party. But Susan Delacourt suggests she may join the Liberal fold:

No leader wants to be seen walking away from a party in anger, of course — and May is a smart politician. It doesn’t strengthen her negotiating hand to present herself as a leader at odds with her own people. But she is. She called herself “broken-hearted” in the interview with Cochrane.

Working with the Liberals wouldn’t be a huge stretch for May. In 2007, she and then-leader Stéphane Dion announced a red-Green pact, the terms of which barred the Liberals from running a candidate in the Nova Scotia riding where May was vying for a seat, while the Greens agreed to do the same in Dion’s Montreal-area riding. The two were natural allies on the environmental front in particular; the Green Party and Dion’s ‘Green Shift’ covered a lot of common ground.

And May appears to be on very good terms with Justin Trudeau:

When Trudeau was an opposition backbencher, his assigned seat in the Commons was right at the back of the Liberal ranks, close to May’s desk. The two could often be seen chatting.
In the days before he became Liberal leader, she went so far as to tell a reporter that Trudeau was much easier to work with than Thomas Mulcair or the New Democrats.

“Over the last two years, I found Justin Trudeau to be collaborative and friendly,” May told the Georgia Strait in April 2013. She contrasted her experience working with Trudeau to her more strained, “discouraging” relations with the NDP leader.

However, with proportional representation on the radar, she no doubt would like to see the Greens benefit from the change.

May has said that she will take a walk in the snow -- something which admittedly is hard to do at this time of year. When she emerges, she says, she will have reached a decision. You can bet that nobody but May knows what that decision will be.

Image: cbc.ca

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why Not Try Socialism?



The NDP is having a really hard time these days. They don't seem to know who they are -- and Canadians don't know who they are either. Rick Salutin  writes that perhaps its time for the party to return to its roots -- not because returning to the past is a good idea, but because socialism is making a comeback:

Maybe it’s time to go back to Coke Classic, by which I mean socialism. I don’t say this out of nostalgia, it’s sheer opportunism based on empirical evidence. Because, consider the recent, shocking revival of the term:

Bernie. He says he’s a democratic socialist and always was. It should’ve sunk him when he ran for mayor in Vermont in 1981, but he went on to Congress, the Senate, then hijacked this year’s Democratic presidential race and exacted a partly “socialist” platform in return for supporting Hillary.

Corbyn. Very old-fashioned leftist, without Bernie’s personal appeal. (God, I miss him.) Corbyn’s a postwar Atlee or Nye Bevan British socialist. But he’s moved his party and many beyond it. Even for a clear relic, “socialism” has been a plus.

Hillary. Hold the guffaws. Her sole contribution to political jargon has been, “It takes a village.” It’s not her coinage but she adopted it. That sounds to me like another way to say socialism.

 But the really persuasive evidence can be found in the young:


The young today know the economy may never let them own a detached home, or even a car, and they’re making peace with that. When you turn 16 now, you don’t immediately run to get your learner’s permit. That’s a sea change from earlier times.

What do they care passionately about? Connectivity. If they had to choose between a house (and car) or the Internet, there’d be no hesitation. I’m not restating the messianic claims made 25 years ago about some revolutionary transformation of human nature due to the Internet. But I do think there’s been an anthropological shift in the baseline of what counts as normal, day-to-day human experience.

Till now – since forever – one of the ongoing, always underlying human states of being was aloneness, out of which you stepped often into social contact and then back again. Society was never absent but you weren’t surprised to slide in and out of solitude. I don’t mean anything romantic; just nobody around at the moment and that’s fine.

Now the default state is connectivity. People don’t disconnect as they move from home to work or just dart out to the store. They, especially the young, are always connected. They wake in the middle of the night and check where their friends are. They don’t panic if they go offline (adults more so than youth, I’ve found) but what’s normal is connectedness.

Perhaps Mr. Salutin has a point.

Image: noebie.net

Monday, August 15, 2016

He'd Never Blame Himself


Last week, Donald Trump blamed the "disgusting and corrupt media" for not covering him "honestly" and for putting "false meaning into the words I say." Philip Bump, of the Washington Post, writes:

Donald Trump has the same ability as any other candidate to say precisely what he wants to any voter in any state: By advertising. He can buy ads in swing states and run 30- or 60-second spots making whatever case he wants in any language he chooses. He can send mail, he can knock on doors. He can, in other words, run a campaign. But he’s not.

He isn’t running any ads, spending zero dollars on television (and getting outspent by the Green Party and Libertarian candidates). He isn’t contacting voters on doors or on phones, and has hardly any field offices. He isn’t sending mail. He’s tweeting and he’s holding rallies, and not much else.

And he’s holding rallies in places like Connecticut, where he was on Saturday. He told the crowd there that he was going to make a “big play” for the state, which one has to assume isn’t true. Trump won’t win Connecticut, a heavily Democratic state. There’s no point in his wasting campaign resources on the state (in the event he starts expending resources anywhere) since it only holds a couple of electoral votes anyway. It’s simply baffling that he would hold a public event there at all, even if he’s not serious about carrying the state.

Trump trumpets his management expertise. But, given his many failed ventures and serial bankruptcies -- and now his floundering campaign -- it appears that he couldn't manage a two car funeral. 

As a manager, he believes his prime function is to assign blame. Of course, he'd never blame himself.

Image: almostdailybrett.wordpress.com


Sunday, August 14, 2016

What Trump Means By "Loser"



Neo-Liberalism seeks to, in Henry Giroux's words, "atomize individuals." It's not a new idea. It pre-dates the rise of Donald Trump:

I have recently returned to reading Leo Lowenthal, particularly his insightful essay, "Terror's Atomization of Man," first published in the January 1, 1946 issue of Commentary and reprinted in his book, False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism. He writes about the atomization of human beings under a state of fear that approximates a kind of updated fascist terror. What he understood with great insight, even in 1946, is that democracy cannot exist without the educational, political and formative cultures and institutions that make it possible. He observed that atomized individuals are not only prone to the forces of depoliticization but also to the false swindle and spirit of demagogues, to discourses of hate, and to appeals that demonize and objectify the Other.

If there is one thing that Donald Trump is very good at, it's demonizing the Other -- whether she be Hillary Clinton or Mexicans. Trump's word for the Other is "loser:"

As has been made clear in the much publicized language of Donald Trump, both as a reality TV host of "The Apprentice" and as a presidential candidate, calling someone a "loser" has little to do with them losing in the more general sense of the term. On the contrary, in a culture that trades in cruelty and divorces politics from matters of ethics and social responsibility, "loser" is now elevated to a pejorative insult that humiliates and justifies not only symbolic violence, but also (as Trump has made clear in many of his rallies) real acts of violence waged against his critics, such as members of the Movement for Black Lives. As Greg Elmer and Paula Todd observe, "to lose is possible, but to be a 'loser' is the ultimate humiliation that justifies taking extreme, even immoral measures." They write:
We argue that the Trumpesque "loser" serves as a potent new political symbol, a caricature that Trump has previously deployed in his television and business careers to sidestep complex social issues and justify winning at all costs. As the commercial for his 1980s board game "Trump" enthused, "It's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!" Indeed, in Trump's world, for some to win many more must lose, which helps explain the breath-taking embrace by some of his racist, xenophobic, and misogynist communication strategy. The more losers -- delineated by Trump based on every form of "otherism" -- the better the odds of victory.

The unbridled individualism which drives neo-liberalism creates very few winners -- Trump sees himself as one of the few -- and turns everyone else into "losers." Its results are catastrophic:

Atomization fueled by a fervor for unbridled individualism produces a pathological disdain for community, public values and the public good. As democratic pressures are weakened, authoritarian societies resort to fear, so as to ward off any room for ideals, visions and hope. Efforts to keep this room open are made all the more difficult by the ethically tranquilizing presence of a celebrity and commodity culture that works to depoliticize people. The realms of the political and the social imagination wither as shared responsibilities and obligations give way to an individualized society that elevates selfishness, avarice and militaristic modes of competition as its highest organizing principles.

Under such circumstances, the foundations for stability are being destroyed, with jobs being shipped overseas, social provisions destroyed, the social state hollowed out, public servants and workers under a relentless attack, students burdened with the rise of a neoliberal debt machine, and many groups considered disposable. At the same time, these acts of permanent repression are coupled with new configurations of power and militarization normalized by a neoliberal regime in which an ideology of mercilessness has become normalized; under such conditions, one dispenses with any notion of compassion and holds others responsible for problems they face, problems over which they have no control. In this case, shared responsibilities and hopes have been replaced by the isolating logic of individual responsibility, a false notion of resiliency, and a growing resentment toward those viewed as strangers.

When you atomize people, you turn them into losers. One wonders what will happen if the public resoundingly declares that Trump is a "loser."

 Image: brutallyhonest.org

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Trouble With A Capital T


The newspaper business is dying -- slowly. Alan Freeman writes:

I spent most of my career in newspapers and I’m not particularly nostalgic for the print version. Like most people, I now consume most of my news online. But I am worried about how the death of newspapers is affecting newsgathering itself.

For generations, newspapers formed the core of non-partisan, fact-based coverage of what was going in our communities. After waves of cutbacks, reporting jobs are disappearing. In the U.S., there are 20,000 fewer positions in newspaper newsrooms than there were 20 years ago. And though it’s great to see the growth of online media, from Buzzfeed to iPolitics, so far it has not been able to make up the shortfall.

Every new idea seems to meet with disaster:

Torstar Corp., the publisher of The Toronto Star, announced this week that it was eviscerating the dedicated team set up for its tablet edition — after having spent something like $35 million to launch the product over the past two years. It’s laying off 52 employees, most of them attached to the tablet edition.

Just last year, John Cruickshank, The Star’s recently retired publisher, gushed that the tablet version of the paper, Star Touch, was going to be “the biggest change in storytelling in a century.”

And the concept which was going to revolutionize the business has fallen flat:

Before the tablet, there was “convergence.” Remember that? At the height of the dotcom bubble in 2000, somebody had the smart idea that the future would be about marrying telecommunications providers with content companies like newspapers and TV stations. So we got the mega-merger of Time-Warner with AOL in the U.S. and copycats in Canada — BCE’s purchase of CTV and The Globe and Mail and CanWest Global’s purchase of the old Southam newspaper chain from Conrad Black.

Leonard Asper of CanWest Global breathlessly called his deal “the ultimate convergence transaction.” By 2009, CanWest had collapsed. What emerged from the ashes is Postmedia, the zombie newspaper chain that has never made a dollar in profits for anybody except its executives and whose stock last traded at 2 cents a share. And with new leadership at BCE, that convergence miracle also collapsed and the Thomson family ended up back as the sole owner of The Globe and Mail.

Journalism is in trouble. And, when journalism is in trouble, democracy is in trouble.

Image: newspaperdeathwatch.com

Friday, August 12, 2016

What's Wrong With Democrats


Like Chris Hedges, Thomas Frank has been analyzing what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party over the last fifty years. Don Lenihan writes that, if you really want to understand what's going on in this year's presidential election, you should read Frank's latest book, Listen, Liberal:

As part of the American left, Frank regards Roosevelt’s New Deal as the high-water mark for the Democratic Party—a concerted effort to use the power of the state to defend working people’s interests in the face of economic calamity.

However, Democrats have ceased to be the party of working people, at least according to Frank. Under Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, the party has begun catering to a new and very different class of people, which he calls professionals.

And the evidence is in. Professionals have done very well under the Democrats. Working people have not:

Income inequality is the smoking gun. From the middle of the Great Depression up to 1980, Frank reports, the lower 90 percent of the population took home 70 percent of the growth in the country’s income. Look at the same numbers between 1997 and today and the same group pocketed none—zero, he notes emphatically.

Readers should pause to consider what an inconvenient fact this is for Democrats. They like to portray themselves as fighting to protect the middle class. They focus on the bank CEOs and captains of industry—the notorious 1%—who’ve profited so nicely from the New Economy. It turns out, however, that the professional class has also done very well.

While Frank is appalled that this wealth has come at the expense of the middle class, in his mind, the bigger scandal lies elsewhere. There is no evidence this gap is going to close again. The professional class is not, as Clinton promised, a rebirth of the middle class, but the birth of a new elite. Indeed, Frank’s real point is that the interests of the new professional class are profoundly at odds with working people.

It's absolutely true that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. But a vote for Hillary should not be interpreted as approval or acceptance of Democratic Party policy since Bill Clinton. Roosevelt used to tell his supporters that if they wanted him to adopt policy, they had to push him in that direction.

Hillary needs to know that support for her comes at a price:

Working people are furious about what’s been happening to them. (Brexit provides further evidence of the unrest.) And Frank makes a convincing case that real debate over the causes has been stifled by group think for a quarter century.

 Bill Clinton’s new New Deal sells politics short. Globalization and the digital economy may be forces that no one ultimately controls, but there are all kinds of things that presidents (and prime ministers) can and should be doing to shield working people from the worst effects. And that should command their full attention.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

It's Hard To Say Goodbye


Stephen Harper has disappeared. Rumour had it that he was going to resign his seat in the House. Jason Fekete writes:

He has registered his own company with two longtime aides and has all but left politics, but questions persist about exactly when Stephen Harper will actually resign as a member of Parliament.

Even members of the board of directors of his Calgary Heritage Conservative riding association aren’t quite sure — they’re relying on media reports.

It is approaching three months since reports first surfaced, shortly before the Conservative party’s national convention in May, that Harper would resign his seat as Calgary Heritage MP before the fall sitting of Parliament, which begins Sept. 19.

He appears to be planning the next stage of his journey:

Harper, his former chief of staff Ray Novak, and Jeremy Hunt, another longtime trusted aide, are listed as directors of Harper & Associates Consulting Inc., a business incorporated in late 2015 with an Ottawa-based address.

And, of course, he's still earning his parliamentary salary of $170,400 a year. At those prices -- and with the memory of the fear in the eyes of his underlings still fresh -- it must be hard to say goodbye.

Or perhaps the consulting business isn't working out.

Image: pressprogress.ca

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Next Battle


In the 19th century, we fought over religion. In the 20th century, we fought over language. And, as the National Energy Board considers Trans Canada's application for the Energy East pipeline, it's becoming clear that, in the 21st century, pipelines could divide the nation. Chantal Hebert writes:

As of this week and until the end of the year, the National Energy Board is hearing from proponents and opponents of TransCanada’s plan to link Alberta’s oil sands to the Atlantic coast via a 4,600-km pipeline.

From New Brunswick the panel will be moving on to Quebec, Ontario and points west over the next four months.

But the process is only a warm-up act for an expanding national debate that could rival for its length but also its divisiveness the constitutional wars of the early 1990s. Reconciling the economic aspirations of some regions with the concerns for their ecosystems of many of the others will not come easily.

Consider how the future of several governments hinges on pipelines:

 
At the top of the list is British Columbia premier Christy Clark. She will take her ruling Liberal party to the polls in about nine months. Between now and then, the federal cabinet is scheduled to decide whether to give the green light to Kinder Morgan’s plan to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline.

The project has elicited stiff municipal opposition in the Greater Vancouver area as well as within the aboriginal community. Although her government came down against the project over the course of the NEB hearings, Clark has kept her options open — possibly in the hope of negotiating trade-offs that could bolster her party’s case on the hustings. If the federal government gives Trans Mountain the nod later this year, the issue stands to make the B.C. election the must-watch event of the 2017 political season.

Few would be following a pipeline-driven B.C. debate more closely than Quebec’s Philippe Couillard. He is to next face voters around the time the NEB is expected to make its recommendation to the federal cabinet on Energy East in 2018. Couillard might not have become premier if the last Quebec election had not turned into a referendum on the Parti Québécois’ sovereignty agenda. He might not fare as well in a plebiscite-style vote on a controversial pipeline development.

In Alberta, the province’s first NDP premier has staked her pro-pipeline agenda on a more rigorous climate change policy. Rachel Notley is betting it will make her provincial counterparts more amenable to facilitating the transport of Western Canada’s oil to tidewater. If only to counter opposition charges that the NDP is not economically competent, she needs a win on the pipeline front. 

And, of course, there's Justin Trudeau's government:

It has been sitting on a fence whose pickets can only become more uncomfortable over time. As prime minister, Trudeau has nodded in the direction of more pipelines on a number of occasions. But little could do more to diminish his appeal to the left-leaning voters who have abandoned the NDP for the Liberals including many of the Quebec and B.C. voters who have been key to his majority victory than forcing a pipeline through either province.  

Meech Lake and Charlottetown have faded into history. But the next battle is about to begin.

 Image: commonsensecanadian.ca

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Dream Lives On


Mel Hurtig died last week. He was an economic nationalist who watched as Lester Pearson sacked his hero, Walter Gordon. And he watched yet again as  Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper integrated Canada into the American Empire. But, if you look around the world, economic nationalism is making a comeback. Tom Walkom writes:

Globalization is under attack in the U.S. and Europe. Americans fret about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership deal and the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. They have come to understand that such trade and investment pacts don’t always work for them.

The entire European Union project is being questioned in France, Italy and the Netherlands. The single European currency is rightly viewed by many of the countries that use it as a Trojan horse.

The Council of Canadians, which Hurtig helped found, didn’t have much luck in Canada when it argued against the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU.

But it did have some success in Europe where its agitation helped produce a backlash that may well sink CETA.

The signs are everywhere. But those signs have been ignored by Canadian businesses:

Today, there is little support for economic nationalism among Canadian business. Conversely, there is little desire among the general population to protect Canadian firms that ultimately don’t want protection.

Still, this does not mean the urge for autonomy has disappeared completely from the country. If economic nationalism means economic democracy then the spirit of Mel Hurtig arguably lives on among those who want a fairer shake for the middle and working classes.

It also lives on among those who don’t want the laws of the land overturned by foreign business in the name of free trade.

It may be one of history's ironies that Mel Hurtig's ideas will be more powerful after his death than they were when he was alive.

Image: rabble.ca

Monday, August 08, 2016

A Symptom, Not A Cause


Donald Trump is desperately trying to hit the reset button. But John Cassidy, writing in the New Yorker, believes it may be too late:

There was particularly bad news for Trump from the battleground states. According to the latest surveys, he’s trailing Clinton by six points in Florida, nine points in Michigan, eleven points in Pennsylvania, and fifteen points in New Hampshire. The polls are also running strongly against him in Virginia and Colorado, two swing states that have been trending toward the Democrats, and there was even a survey a few days ago that showed Clinton ahead in Georgia, which has voted Republican in seven out of the last eight Presidential elections.

Given the fundamentals—the state of the economy, the President’s approval ratings, and the fact that the Democrats are seeking to win a third term in the Oval Office—history suggests that this should be a close election. But Trump’s self-destructive antics, coming on top of what was a pretty effective demolition job on him at the Democratic Convention, have, for now at least, taken the pressure off Clinton. While one hesitates to cite Newt Gingrich as an authority on anything other than zoos and his next book contract, there was a good deal of truth in what he said to the Washington Post a few days ago about Trump and Clinton: “The current race is which of these two is the more unacceptable, because right now neither of them is acceptable. Trump is helping her to win the election by proving he is more unacceptable than she is.”

The Republican Party grandees are just as desperately trying to separate themselves from Trump, fearing that they'll lose the Senate. And that prospect has the Koch Brothers worried.

The truth is that the Republican Party has brought all of this on themselves. William F. Buckley used to boast about the crazies he had managed to keep out of the party. But, in 1968, Richard Nixon invited White Supremacists into the party. In 1980, Ronald Reagan offered evangelicals salvation. And, in 2000, George W. Bush invited Tea Partiers to party with him. Charles and David Koch's father was a card carrying member of the John Birch Society -- which held that Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist agent. And Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy's counsel during his Senate hearings, was a family friend of the Trumps.

The Crazies are now the party's base. They put Trump where he is. He's a symptom, not a cause.

Image: hdclarity.com

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Don't Let Anybody Tell You Differently


In the midst of Toronto's most up market neighbourhood, stands Casa Loma -- a monument to one of the last robber barons of the 19th century. Linda McQuaig writes:

In the early 1900s, Toronto entrepreneur Henry Pellatt used his enormous wealth to build the most magnificent private residence ever seen in Canada -— a stunning palace that took 300 workers three years to construct and featured an oven large enough to cook an ox.

The construction of Casa Loma put to rest any doubts about whether there was money to be made harnessing the power of Niagara Falls, which was how Pellatt had made his fortune.

But, in 1907,  after a series of referendums, Ontarians decided to make electricity generation the business of a public corporation:

The results of those referendums overwhelmingly confirmed that Ontarians favoured wresting control of the budding power industry from the clutches of a handful of entrepreneurs, including Pellatt, whose effective monopoly enabled them to jack up prices and restrict scarce electricity to communities where it could be provided most profitably.

The vote followed a long campaign by a popular alliance of farmers, workers, businessmen and civic leaders, who fought to ensure the vast energy of Niagara Falls would be developed, not for the benefit of Pellatt, but in the public interest, as Howard Hampton and Bill Reno document in their 2003 book Public Power.

However, the government of Kathleen Wynne has decided to sell Ontario Hydro back into private hands:

Wynne is no privatization ideologue, but she wants to use about $4 billion of the proceeds from the privatization to build public transit and infrastructure.

These things need to be built, but is the solution to sell off vital public assets in order to build new vital public assets?

Wynne insists that, even though the government will own only 40 per cent of Hydro One, it will be the largest single shareholder with an effective veto over key decisions.

But can we count on it — or future governments — to actually use that veto, given their well-known timidity to interfere with private enterprise?

The neo-liberal agenda is alive and well. Don't let anybody tell you differently.

Image: staterealestate.ca


Saturday, August 06, 2016

A Successful Con Man



Donald Trump's behaviour last weak appeared to be absolutely insane. Some commentators have taken to calling him the Kamikaze Candidate. But Tom Walkom warns his readers that there is a method to Trump's madness:

The billionaire realtor may be the privileged scion of a wealthy family. But he can win only if he convinces enough disgruntled Americans that he, like them, is an outsider — that he stands aloof from the power elite, that he is not a slave to political correctness and that he tells it like it is.

Up to now he has succeeded by defying the experts, confounding the pundits and doing everything a politician is supposed to avoid.

And so the outrageous behaviour continues. Do the grieving parents of a fallen Muslim soldier challenge him? Then Trump must double down — first by suggesting the wife’s religion forbids her from speaking publicly, second by hinting that Clinton, who brought this couple to public attention, cares only about non-white soldiers.

Does the president of the United States accuse him of being unfit to lead? Are the media on his case? Do his own party’s bigwigs take him to task?

To the self-declared outsider, none of this matters. Indeed, such attacks only prove his point that this election is about Donald Trump versus the elites.

His party is desperately trying to rein him in. But don't expect them to succeed. It's all a con job. But Donald Trump has been a very successful con man. 

Image: businessinsider.com

Friday, August 05, 2016

Andrew Bacevich On American Politics

 
There was a time, Andrew Bacevich writes,  when "the outcome of any election expressed the collective will of the people and was to be accepted as such. That I was growing up in the best democracy the world had ever known -- its very existence a daily rebuke to the enemies of freedom -- was beyond question."

Unfortunately, such is no longer the case. Both parties have nominated terrible candidates. Donald Trump is a narcissistic TV celebrity who, with each successive Tweet and verbal outburst, offers further evidence that he is totally unequipped for high office?" And Hillary Clinton " exudes a striking sense of entitlement combined with a nearly complete absence of accountability. She shrugs off her misguided vote in support of invading Iraq back in 2003, while serving as senator from New York. She neither explains nor apologizes for pressing to depose Libya's Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, her most notable "accomplishment" as secretary of state." 

But the problem runs much deeper than the two candidates. Three pathologies have taken root in American politics:

First, and most important, the evil effects of money: Need chapter and verse? For a tutorial, see this essential 2015 book by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard: Republic Lost, Version 2.0. Those with no time for books might spare 18 minutes for Lessig's brilliant and deeply disturbing TED talk. Professor Lessig argues persuasively that unless the United States radically changes the way it finances political campaigns, we're pretty much doomed to see our democracy wither and die.

Needless to say, moneyed interests and incumbents who benefit from existing arrangements take a different view and collaborate to maintain the status quo. As a result, political life has increasingly become a pursuit reserved for those like Trump who possess vast personal wealth or for those like Clinton who display an aptitude for persuading the well to do to open their purses, with all that implies by way of compromise, accommodation, and the subsequent repayment of favors.

Second, the perverse impact of identity politics on policy: Observers make much of the fact that, in capturing the presidential nomination of a major party, Hillary Clinton has shattered yet another glass ceiling. They are right to do so. Yet the novelty of her candidacy starts and ends with gender. When it comes to fresh thinking, Donald Trump has far more to offer than Clinton -- even if his version of "fresh" tends to be synonymous with wacky, off-the-wall, ridiculous, or altogether hair-raising.

Third, the substitution of "reality" for reality: Back in 1962, a young historian by the name of Daniel Boorstin published The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. In an age in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vie to determine the nation's destiny, it should be mandatory reading. The Image remains, as when it first appeared, a fire bell ringing in the night.
According to Boorstin, more than five decades ago the American people were already living in a "thicket of unreality." By relentlessly indulging in ever more "extravagant expectations," they were forfeiting their capacity to distinguish between what was real and what was illusory. Indeed, Boorstin wrote, "We have become so accustomed to our illusions that we mistake them for reality." 

Trump may be unconventional. But that's no reason to vote for him:

Let me be clear: none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump. Yet together they make the point that Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, notably so in matters related to national security. Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly. Yet her record in that regard does not exactly inspire confidence.

And that's his point. Neither candidate inspires confidence. But, until the three pathologies are rooted out of the system, there will be more Trumps and Clintons.

Image: goodreads.com

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Train Is Leaving The Station


Change is coming to Alberta's oilsands. Carol Linnit reports that:

Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams rocked the oil industry boat last week when he announced a plan to leave some of the company’s oilsands reserves unrecovered during a conference call with investors.

Williams said the company is working to develop a plan with Alberta to “strand” its least economical reserves, a proposal that appears to align with the call of environmentalists to leave the high-cost and high-carbon fossil fuels in the ground to prevent catastrophic global warming.
“We are advocating in a modest way to work with government so that we can strand some of the oil in the oilsands,” Williams said.

It remains to be seen whether the Alberta government will buy into Williams plan:

Keith Stewart, head of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign, said Williams surprised many people with his call for a new approach to the oilsands, but it’s unclear how Alberta will manage Suncor’s request.

“It’s important to recognize that what [Williams] really wants to do is ‘high-grade’ his existing reserves, exploit only the cheapest and most profitable parts,” Stewart said.

The Alberta government, which relies on oil royalties, may be reluctant to allow companies to back out of oil extraction agreements, Stewart added.

Extraction agreements are managed under Directive 82, a regulation Alberta might have to alter to accommodate Suncor’s proposal.

“Lease agreements often establish rules that limit ‘high-grading’ and Suncor is clearly trying to get those rules changed,” Stewart said, adding this would likely help companies shut-in low-performance in situ operations.

It's only a small change. But it's the first time in a long time that someone from the oil industry has talked about leaving bitumen in the ground. The train is leaving the station.

Image: thetyee.ca