Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He's Beginning To Stumble



Lawrence Martin writes in today's Globe that Justin Trudeau is beginning to falter. First, there was the sound and fury over Castro -- although  much of the noise was the consequence of short historical memory. Beyond that, today's media is decidedly right-wing. Forty years ago,

there was no giant conservative chain like Postmedia, which is the preponderant print voice in many of the country’s big cities and which fields conservative commentators in greater number than progressives. Today the right side has the balance of power in the print media and has gained ground at the CBC where a conservative has been appointed to head up its new on-line commentary service.

More serious is the unfolding cash for access story:

The other rhubarb, the cash-for-access story, is one that stings because although it’s an age-old political practice it contravenes the clearly worded pledge Mr. Trudeau made before coming to power. To wit: “There should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.”

There is as yet no direct evidence of kickbacks or quid pro quos in what the PM and his ministers have done. On the question of openness and integrity, this government has shown more of it than their predecessors, who last we looked were embroiled in a cover-up scandal on Senate expenses that saw them trying to falsify a Senate report, misleading the House of Commons and offering testimony at the trial of Mike Duffy that was risible.

That said, the cash-for-access story could have legs, lots of them. Examples keep popping up. Liberals’ heads keep popping down. The Conservatives have them on the defensive and with Mr. Trudeau facing difficult decisions on upcoming nettlesome files, they are likely to keep them there.

And, yesterday, the Liberals approved Kinder-Morgan and the pipeline to Wisconsin. Both pipelines are on existing routes. Perhaps Trudeau feels that's a safe strategy. But recent events in the U.S. and the UK suggest that, these days, there is no such thing as a safe strategy.

Image: 123RF


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Playing The Victim



The present crop of conservatives are a strange lot. They are, Scott Reid writes, nothing like their predecessors:

Conservatives used to campaign on rugged individualism and the projection of strength. Those of the modern breed are a whimpering litter of easily wounded weaklings. And they just can’t shut up about it.

Exhibit A is the President-Elect of the United States:

Almost daily, Donald Trump takes to Twitter to complain about the slights and insults inflicted upon him and, by extension, his millions of supporters. He is a 70-year old white male billionaire set to assume the full authority of the presidency of the United States. Outside of comic books, it’s impossible to imagine someone with greater access to personal power. And yet, he persistently rallies his followers with claims that he, and they, are subject to humiliating treatment by powerful, threatening forces. Like comedians and Broadway musicals.

Across the pond, it's more of the same:

Consider the messages underpinning the appeal of Marine Le Pen or the disaffection that fuelled Brexit. It’s a familiar litany of propagandized harms. Immigrants are taking your jobs. Sharia law is set to sweep our cities. Dollars spent on the EU could fund the National Health Service. And to quarrel with these arguments is to be branded as some sort of reverse-bully — with minorities portrayed as menacing scolds and bigotry applauded as politically incorrect courage.

And, in Canada, the Conservative Party is populated by the same kind of whiners:

Kellie Leitch moves from caucus nobody to number one in the Conservative leadership contest by reminding the rank and file that she is permanently under attack for the audacity of her views. Recently, her campaign went so far as to blame a break-in at her home on unscrupulous, dangerous leftists. So rattled was she by the violent intentions of these anonymous, tax-hiking multiculturalists that she had to withdraw from a leadership debate. The police, meanwhile, reported that there was no evidence that anyone — on the left or the right — had broken into her house. Never mind. It made for a good fundraising email.

There are no profiles in courage in this crop. Reid correctly calls them "Crybaby Conservatives."

Image: Pinterest

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fools That We Are



These days, when it comes to public discourse, nuance is nowhere to be found. Michael Harris writes:

There is no public discourse, just an ongoing screed between those fighting for the controls. It’s not just sex, lies and videotape that is used to bring the opponent low — but a hearty boot to the meat pies if you can manage to get the other guy down. The mayhem etiquette of cage-fighting has vanquished any vestige of the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Welcome to Trumpland and the skewed reality of the alt-right.

Making matters worse, we have entered the Age of Dishonesty and Deception as author Ralph Keyes calls it, where casual dishonesty has become a pandemic in public life. What does that mean? All the whoppers no longer come from Burger King.

 Consider the reaction to Justin Trudeau's statement following the death of Fidel Castro:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lamented the passing of a world leader and family friend, and offered condolences to the Castros in the name of a deep friendship between the Canadian and Cuban people that runs back to the days of his father, Pierre Trudeau.

Stephen Harper’s son, Ben, called Trudeau’s statement about Castro “an embarrassment for Canada.”
Since Ben’s father set the record in that department, perhaps he could offer further enlightenment to the Great Unwashed. Perhaps Ben might share his wisdom on the subject of his father’s words of praise for the despot who ran Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, when he died. The record shows that Harper spent $175,000 to send Governor-General David Johnston to Saudi Arabia to personally convey his condolences. Nice treatment for a misogynistic dictator with a human rights record far worse than Castro’s.

US Senator Marco Rubio saw Trudeau’s remarks as flowers for a brutal dictator, misplaced compassion for a political thug who brought opposition to his revolution to an abrupt end against a wall or deep inside a prison.

No one remembers Fulgencio Batista, the dictator Castro replaced. Donald Trump  has made degraded discourse and outrageous lying normal. And we follow the Pied Piper, fools that we are.

Image: The Road To Cuba

Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Black Days In July


It's been almost half a century since the assassination of Martin Luther King and the urban infernos that followed his death. That's two generations, and many people have no memory of that time. But we may be returning to that time. Linda McQuaig writes:

I’ve always been amazed at the way Americans routinely describe their country as “the greatest democracy on earth,” without considering how that characterization fits with its history of genocide against Native Americans and more than two centuries of slavery.

The fact that slavery was central to the American experience is rarely acknowledged, with little attempt to make amends for this atrocity — as South Africa did after apartheid or Germany did after the Second World War. There’s been only a belated apology, from the U.S. House of Representatives, in 2008, after decades of pressure.

And certainly the emerging Trump administration is in no mood to offer apologies:

The soft, itchy underbelly of American racism has been given a good scratching by Trump, who for years kept alive birther attempts to discredit the first black president.

Whatever damage Trump is likely to do around the globe, at home — under the guidance of master provocateur Bannon — he is almost certainly going to pick a fight with the Black Lives Matter crowd, despite their reliance on peaceful protests in the face of routine police killings of unarmed black men.

And when those tensions are further inflamed, the man who will be there to ensure justice is done will be Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator whose racial comments led to his rejection as a judge by the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate in 1986.

Consider Sessions' record on race relations:

Less well known is the insidious role Sessions played in preserving Alabama’s long history of separate and unequal education. In the 1990s, 30 of the state’s poorest school districts and a disability rights group successfully challenged the system, with an Alabama judge ruling it unconstitutional.

Sessions, then Alabama’s attorney general, fought to ensure ongoing inequality, using his office to wage a fierce two-year battle to overturn the decision — which was eventually upheld by the state’s supreme court.

Given Sessions’ history, it’s not hard to imagine how, as the nation’s attorney general, he’ll clamp down on black street protestors, stripping away their civil liberties and emboldening police — moves that will lead to more anger, violence, further clampdowns, mass arrests, etc.

Gordon Lightfoot's song "Black Day in July" may, once again, be getting a lot of air play. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Calling The Kettle Black



We live in the Age of Misplaced Faith. A stunning example of what this means for ordinary people is CETA -- the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Murray Dobbin writes:

The federal government makes its own "reality" by crafting "facts" to fit its policy objectives -- no matter how outrageous they are when put to the test. Three numbers stand out in the talking points of federal governments under both Harper and Trudeau: that CETA will increase GDP by $12 billion, that it will create 80,000 jobs and that the newly created wealth will boost income by $1,000 per family.

But economist Jim Stanford debunked these numbers long ago -- pointing out in 2012 that the federal trade department simply took the $12-billion figure (itself a highly dubious figure) "[a]nd divided it by the number of families in Canada. That assumes that every additional dollar of GDP translates directly into family income. In fact, higher GDP never fully trickles down into income..." The money that does find its way into income goes mostly to the wealthy.

The $12-billion figure came from a study commissioned by Canada and carried out by three EU economists. Stanford pointed out that the model used made some outrageous assumptions:
"[c]onstant full employment (so no one can be unemployed due to imports), balanced trade (so a country's total output cannot be undermined by a trade deficit), no international capital flows (so companies cannot shift investment abroad), and no impact from fluctuating exchange rates."
Stanford called the study "outrageous." He was being far too polite. It was outright fraud. Anyone paying even cursory attention to the Canadian economy knows that not one of these assumptions holds. We haven't had full employment for decades, we have been experiencing trade deficits for years, NAFTA resulted in the shifting of billions of investment dollars to Mexico and China, and our exchange rate has been all over the map.

A recent study from Tufts University took a long look at CETA and arrived at these conclusions:

  • "CETA will lead to a reduction of the labour income share. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on firms and transferred onto workers will raise the share of national income accruing to capital and symmetrically reduce the share of national income accruing to labour. 
  • By 2023, workers will have foregone average annual earnings increases of €1776 in Canada and between €316 and €1331 in the EU depending on the country.
  • CETA will lead to net losses of government revenue. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on governments by international investors and shrinking policy space for supporting domestic … production and investment will reduce government revenue and expenditure. 
  • CETA will lead to job losses. By 2023, about 230,000 jobs will be lost in CETA countries, 200,000 of them in the EU, and 80,000 more in the rest of the world [the study projects a loss of 23,000 Canadian jobs due to CETA in the first seven years].
  • CETA will lead to net losses in terms of GDP. [D]emand shortfalls nurtured by higher unemployment will also hurt productivity and cause cumulative losses amounting to 0.96 per cent of national income in Canada..."

Mr. Trudeau lambasted Mr. Harper for his misplaced faith. It was the pot calling the kettle black.

Friday, November 25, 2016

It's Later Than We Think



The news on climate change is not good -- and it's getting worse. The mainstream media are beginning to get the message. Ole Hendrickson writes:

The headline of a recent Washington Post article says "The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends." Scientists are stunned by the magnitude of this deviation from past climate norms, as warm air keeps flooding into the high Arctic. But don't be fooled into thinking this means a warm winter in Canada. Even as the Arctic Ocean stubbornly resists winter, extreme cold has prevailed over Siberia and could spread to North America. This represents an ever-more chaotic climate. 

Another example is a must-read New Yorker article entitled "Greenland is melting," by Elizabeth Kolbert, winner of the 2015 non-fiction Pulitzer Prize for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert describes in great detail what scientists working in Greenland are witnessing: "The shrinking of the country's ice sheet is triggering feedback loops that accelerate the global crisis. The floodgates may already be open." 

We are rapidly approaching a worse case scenario:

How bad could it get? Scientists aren't talking about complete human extinction, are they?
Sorry, but they are indeed. This may be the first you've heard of "euxinia" (pronounced "yuke-zenia"), but basically, this involves a planet devoid of higher life forms that depend on oxygen, oceans choked with rotting organic matter and bacteria spewing out toxic hydrogen sulfide. This happened during past mass extinctions, notably the biggest of all at the end of the Permian Period, 252 million years ago.

One study published this year says "exacerbation of anoxic "dead" zones is already progressing in modern oceanic environments, and this is likely to increase…" Another study says "[g]lobal warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic." Authors of the latter study add that "[t]he end Permian holds an important lesson for humanity regarding the issue it faces today with greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change."

And Mr. Trump thinks it's all a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

Image: climatechangecentral.com

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Another One


Crawford Killian voices the frustration that many of us who spent our lives in the classroom feel in the wake of the American election:

As a lifelong teacher, this really alarmed me. After all, I’d spent over 40 years trying to teach students to be critical thinkers with well-tuned bullshit detectors, able to detect a bogus argument and counter it with solid evidence. I wasn’t alone; critical thinking is built into the B.C. curriculum, and no doubt the curricula of most American schools as well.

Yet here was a president-elect who was a living, breathing repudiation of what teachers dedicate their lives to. It’s bad enough to get panned on RateMyProfessor.ca, but Donald Trump’s triumph really rubbed our collective nose in our failure. A teenage Trump would have been the class clown in any school in North America, and promptly flunked. Instead he has flourished through a long life and many wives and bankruptcies. Now he’s proved that anyone, indeed, can become president of the United States of America.

Searching for an explanation of Trump's triumph, Killian returned to the work of Jean Paul Sartre and Theodor Adorno, two survivors of Nazism:


Reading Sartre again in 2016, I found him unpleasantly timely: “The rational man groans as he gropes for the truth; he knows that his reasoning is no more than tentative, that other considerations may supervene to cast doubt on it. He never sees clearly where he is going; he is ‘open’; he may even appear to be hesitant.

“The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons. How entirely at ease he feels as a result. How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew appear to him. …

“[Anti-Semites] know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. 

There are echoes of Neil Postman there. And Theodor Adorno spent a lot of his time researching the authoritarian personality:

“Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber,” a projection of the fantasies of his followers.

“Hitler was liked,” Adorno argues, “not in spite of his cheap antics but because of them, because of his false tones and his clowning.” So he could shout the unspeakable things that his followers had long thought, including the prospect of sadistic cruelty against the enemy.

Seen in that light, Hitler’s raving and Mussolini’s strutting were strictly show business, a way to market violence. They were also literally irrefutable. The late historian Tony Judt noted that “The fascists don’t really have concepts. They have attitudes.” You can’t debate an attitude.

Again, more echoes of Postman.

History has had its share of dangerous clowns. We are now going to have to live with another one.

Image: The Guardian

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Which Number?


We live in a digital age -- a time when numbers are everywhere. One number -- we've labelled it GDP -- has taken on a mystical quality. It has become the sole measure of our progress -- or lack of it. But there are other numbers that give a much more comprehensive measure of how far we've come or how much we have regressed. Roy Romanow writes:

Based at the University of Waterloo, the CIW [the Canadian Index of Wellbeing] tracks 64 indicators representing eight domains of vital importance to Canadians’ quality of life. Where GDP counts money circulating in the economy, the CIW captures fluctuations in community vitality, democratic engagement, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standards and time use to describe how we’re really doing.

And that number explains what has been happening in Canada, the United States and Britain:

From 1994 to 2014, Canada’s GDP grew by 38 per cent while national well-being only rose 9.9 per cent. What’s more, the 2008 recession stole our living standards, our leisure and volunteer time, even our sleep — and we never got them back.

At the national level, the picture that emerges over the past 21 years is a GDP rebounding post-recession but Canadians literally continuing to pay the price. From 1994 to 2008, the living standards domain rose 23 per cent. Then it plummeted almost 11 per cent and has yet to recover. Gains made on reducing long-term unemployment and improving the employment rate were lost. Income inequality is rising. And, despite increases in median family incomes, millions of Canadians struggle with food and housing costs. When living standards drop, community, cultural and democratic participation follow suit. Surely, this is not our vision of equality and fairness in Canada.

Canadians’ were hardest hit in the leisure and culture domain, which declined by 9 per cent overall. We’re taking less time enjoying arts, culture, sports — even vacations — the very activities that help define us as individuals. On the eve of Canada’s sesquicentennial, household spending on culture and recreation is at its lowest point in 21 years.

For the last thirty-five years our policy makers have suffered from economic tunnel vision. Each month they have waited for that monthly GDP measurement -- and for quarterly stock market results -- like addicts waiting for a fix. And, like all addicts, they have lost sight of the big picture. 

Romanow insists on looking at the big picture:

Critics will argue that governments cannot afford to worry about well-being, especially when GDP is fragile. What we cannot afford is ongoing environmental degradation. We cannot afford the human and economic costs of poor health. We cannot afford the erosion of equality and fairness that underpins Canadian democracy.

The complex issues of our time require evidence, integrated systems thinking and proactive approaches. As we set our course for the next 150 years, we need to place the well-being of all Canadians at the very heart of Canada’s vision.

Image: University of Waterloo

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Can They Do It Without Him?



When George W. Bush was elected president, he withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada followed suit. Now, sixteen years later, Donald Trump vows to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord. But this time, Justin Trudeau says that Canada will back the accord. In fact, yesterday he vowed that by 2030 coal would no longer be a source of Canadian energy. Tom Walkom writes:

Still, the world carries on. At an international climate-change summit in Marrakesh, Morocco last week, delegates issued a proclamation confirming the Paris accord and pledging that the battle against global warming would continue to be a matter of “urgent priority.”

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Ottawa will forge ahead with its plans to reduce carbon emissions by, in one way or another, taxing them.

China’s delegate to the conference said tackling climate change is “a global trend that is irreversible.” His remarks were echoed by delegates from all the big emitters, including India, the European Union, Japan, the Middle Eastern oil states and Brazil.

It's true that the accord does not do enough.  And the commitments are promises. they're not binding. But that makes it easier for the rest of the world to not knuckle under to Trump. And he's a man who measures success by his ability to get others to knuckle under.  Then there's China:

More to the point, there is China. It wants to be recognized as a world leader. It is willing to spend money to achieve that goal. It is attracted to renewable energy in part to deal with its own coal-based smog pollution. But it also sees renewable energy as part of a long-run industrial strategy.

Trump believes he can get China to knuckle under by imposing stiff tariffs on Chinese goods. He's a fool, of course. Can the rest of the world prove him a fool on climate change? We'll see. Still, Walkom advises his readers not to buy ocean front property in Florida. 

Image: Peace Palace Library

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Tall Order


It's tempting, after Donald Trump's election, to think magically. If you're an evangelical, why worry about climate change if you're convinced that The Rapture is just around the corner? And, if you're a desperate coal miner or steel worker, why not think magically when Trump promises that he'll bring your jobs back? But bringing those jobs back won't be as easy as settling a $25 million suit against Trump University.

And Trump's opponents are making a mistake if they, too, begin to think magically. Chris Hedges writes that Trump's opposition must focus on economic justice:

We cannot battle the racism, bigotry and hate crimes that will be stoked by the Donald Trump presidency without first battling for economic justice. This is not a gap between the tolerant and the intolerant. It is a gap between most of the American population and our oligarchic and corporate elites, which Trump epitomizes. It is a gap that is understood only in the light of the demand for economic justice. And when we start to speak in the language of justice first, and the language of inclusiveness second, we will begin to blunt the protofascism being embraced by many Trump supporters.

You will not find the fight for economic justice on the Christian Right:

Those enthralled by such thinking are Christian heretics—Jesus did not come to make us rich and powerful and bless America’s empire—and potential fascists. They have fused the iconography and symbols of the American state with the iconography and symbols of the Christian religion. They believe they can create a “Christian” America. The American flag is given the same sacred value as the Christian cross. The Pledge of Allegiance has the religious power of the Lord’s Prayer. That a sleazy developer and con artist was chosen as their vehicle—81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump—for achieving this goal is startling, to say the least. But this is not a reality-based movement. Most of those who profit from this culture of despair, many wrapped in the halo of the ministry, are, like Trump, slick, amoral trolls.  

But, more importantly, those who Hedges has labelled "the liberal class" must realize that their place is on the side of the economically dispossessed:

The liberal class has no hope of defeating the rise of American fascism until it unites with the dispossessed white working class. It has no hope of being an effective force in politics until it articulates a viable socialism. Corporate capitalism cannot be regulated, reformed or corrected. A socialist movement dedicated to demolishing the cruelty of the corporate state will do more to curb the racism of the white underclass than lessons by liberals in moral purity. Preaching multiculturalism and gender and identity politics will not save us from the rising sadism in American society. It will only fuel the anti-politics that has replaced politics. 

Convincing Americans to buy socialism is going to be a tall order.

Image: Always On Watch

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Lie People Choose To Believe



Mark Zukerberg is embarrassed. Facebook is getting to be known as the Home of the Whopper. John Naughton writes that critics of the last election are focusing on social media:

Their baleful glare has fallen upon the internet generally and social media in particular. “For election day influence, Twitter ruled social media,” fumed the New York Times. “Donald Trump won Twitter, and that was a giveaway that he might win the presidency,” claimed Business Insider. And “Donald Trump won because of Facebook,” wrote Max Read in New York magazine.

Facebook was in the dock, though, for a different reason: it was claimed that fake news stories that had spread virally on the service had inflicted real damage on the Clinton campaign. Among these were stories that the pope had endorsed Trump, that Hillary Clinton had bought illegal arms worth $137m and that the Clintons had purchased a $200m house in the Maldives.

Twitter is Donald Trump's favourite medium. Some newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, kept track of the lies Trump told on a daily basis. But The Star works on a different model than Twitter or Facebook. After all, it employs editors. Not so with Facebook:

It makes its vast living, remember, from monitoring and making money from the data trails of its users. The more something is “shared” on the internet, the more lucrative it is for Facebook.

Just to put some numbers behind that assertion, research by BuzzFeed journalists discovered that “top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined”. The study found that over the last three months of the election campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook, whereas the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions and comments. In other words, if you run a social networking site, fake news is good for business, even if it’s bad for democracy.

Victor Hugo observed that there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. There is, however, a corollary to Hugo's observation: There is nothing so powerful as a lie people choose to believe.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

He's Henry VIII



Roger Cohen has a pretty good handle on Donald Trump. He wrote in the New York Times this week that:

It all began as a game, turned into an ego trip and ended in a strange apotheosis. Trump has uncanny instincts but no firm ideas. He knows the frisson authority confers. A rich boy from Queens who made good in Manhattan, he understands the galvanizing force of playing the outsider card. A man who changed his past, purging German lineage for “Swedish,” he understands America’s love for the outsized invented life. For his victory he depended on America’s unique gift for amnesia.

Trump saw the immense potential appeal of an American restoration — all nationalism finds its roots in a gloried, mythical past — after the presidency of a black man, Barack Obama, who prudently chose not to exalt the exceptional nature of the United States but to face the reality of diminished power.

But Trump is ambivalent about being president:

Trump affects something close to a regal pout, close enough anyway to be perfected through Botox. He loves gilt, gold and pomp. He’s interested in authority, but not details. He yearns to watch the genuflections of the awed. He loves ribbon-cutting and the regalia of power. Used to telling minions they’re fired, he prefers subjects to citizens. In short, he’d be better off at Buckingham Palace.

Certainly, Steve Bannon is comfortable with the royal ambience. On Friday, he told the Hollywood Reporter that he sees himself as Cromwell to Trump's Henry VIII. Perhaps Bannon has forgotten that Henry -- who made a habit of relieving his subjects of their heads -- relieved Cromwell of his, and ordered it impaled on London Bridge.

Image: Reference.com

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Ball Is In The Government's Court



The NDP has come out in favour of holding a referendum on electoral reform. Given the recent history of such efforts -- Brexit and the American election -- we're getting into dangerous territory. The status quo looks more and more like the outcome.

Dennis Pilon writes that there are essentially three positions on electoral reform:

Since the Liberals announced their plan to move forward on voting system reform, responses have fallen into three broad categories. One response insists that everything about changing the voting system is constitutional in nature and would, at the very least, require the sanction of a referendum.

The second approach says that as there is no perfect or ‘right’ voting system, the issue is simply a matter of taste that depends on what you prefer in terms of electoral outcomes.

The last approach argues that voting system reform is a means to significant and necessary democratic reform and, as such, is not really up for legislative debate or a public vote — that changing from an undemocratic system to a more democratic one is the only acceptable option.

Two of the parties now favour the first approach. How much support is there for the third approach? Well, Pilon writes:

The third position — that voting system reform is a matter of urgent democratic reform that should be implemented by the government as soon as possible — is the only one that has any serious academic support. Canada’s traditional single member plurality voting system fails to represent what most individual voters say with their votes. It misrepresents legislative results for parties in terms of their popular support, and tends to create phoney majority governments that do not enjoy the support of a majority of Canadian voters, leading to all sorts of problems.

And there is plenty of evidence to support that position:

By contrast, the experiences of western countries which have used different forms of proportional representation suggest we can do better — that we can create more accurate and inclusive representation in our legislatures, with governments that really do reflect a majority of the Canadian electorate. Critics complain that PR is all about giving parties what they want — but this is just empty campaign rhetoric. PR is about empowering individual voters to get what they want, by equalizing their voting power.

There really are no compelling democratic arguments for keeping our current voting system. Indeed, most of the arguments against reforming it sound a lot like 19th century arguments against giving working people the vote: that they’re too ignorant, that they might vote for parties that elites don’t like, that it might lead to unpredictable outcomes, etc.

The ball is now in the government's court.

Image: fairvote.ca


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Now So More Than Ever



Canadians would be foolish to ignore the ill wind that is blowing from the south. Rather than ignoring it, Clare Boychuk and Mark Dance suggest that Canadians should push back against it:

In the wake of Trump’s election, the main lesson for Canadians is that change is coming. We can shape that change and choose pluralism over the forces of white nationalism, but to do so will require listening to a diversity of voices and a willingness to participate in robust public conversations about racism, land, multiculturalism and equality.

The American model has always been the melting pot. But that model no longer holds. And it's that change that drives Trumpism. Fortunately, we have always worked from a different model. But there has been pressure over the last fifty years to copy the sins of the Founding Fathers.

To ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes which have come to fruition in Donald Trump, there are several things we must do. We must be

willing to diversify our news sources, read things that make us uncomfortable from authors we haven’t heard of and acknowledge the racial and class strata that cut through society — the way that the same words can reverberate differently in different ears, the way one person’s pinhead can be another’s Pericles — we will be incapable of responding to this historical moment and renewing our commitment to real equality.

Rather than scoff at so-called marginal voices, now is the time to pay attention to them — to listen to Cindy Blackstock’s call for action on equal treatment of indigenous children in this country, to listen to what Black Lives Matter has to say about police brutality and race, to listen to the water protectors challenging the Dakota Access pipeline. If we do that, we will find new ways to live with and care for each other. If we do not, we will stand gaping as darkness envelops us, saying — as Mansbridge did last week — “I’m still not sure why we didn’t see that happening.”

The Dean of the Law School at McGill  and poet, F.R. Scott, wrote that it was critically important to "learn by living." Now so more than ever. 


Image: Canadian Poetry Online

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stupidity Squared



Television made Donald Trump. Television elected him. In retrospect, Neil Postman's critique of the medium makes Trump's rise seem almost inevitable. In Amusing Ourselves To Death, Postman argued that the real danger television posed was that it would eventually replace print as our prime medium of communication.  George Orwell didn't accurately predict our future. But Aldous Huxley did:

We [have] forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

And, now, we have a supreme narcissist as president-elect -- a man who admits that he doesn't read, but he does pay attention to "the shows."


In the process of getting what we desire, the whole nature of opinion has changed:

“In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us. What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of 'being informed' by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this world almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information--misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information--information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?” 

And that is what has happened in the United States. Ignorance has been taken as knowledge. A profoundly stupid man has been elected by a significant number of profoundly stupid voters. When that happens, you get Stupidity Squared.


 Image: channelbiz.es

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hayek In Full Fruition


Donald Trump has admitted that he doesn't read much. Instead, he pays attention to" the shows." However, there is one book -- even though he's probably never read it -- that Trump carries around in his head. In fact, for the last fifty years, most politicians have been carrying it around in their heads. George Monbiot writes:

The book [is] The Constitution of Liberty by Frederick Hayek. Its publication, in 1960, marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy to an outright racket. The philosophy was called neoliberalism. It saw competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. The market would discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers, creating a more efficient system than could ever be devised through planning or by design. Anything that impeded this process, such as significant tax, regulation, trade union activity or state provision, was counter-productive. Unrestricted entrepreneurs would create the wealth that would trickle down to everyone.

This, at any rate, is how it was originally conceived. But by the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, the network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. Not every aspect of the neoliberal programme advanced their interests. Hayek, it seems, set out to close the gap.

Consider the politicians who have used the book as an operations manual:

Thatcherism and Reaganism were not ideologies in their own right: they were just two faces of neoliberalism. Their massive tax cuts for the rich, crushing of trade unions, reduction in public housing, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services were all proposed by Hayek and his disciples. But the real triumph of this network was not its capture of the right, but its colonisation of parties that once stood for everything Hayek detested.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did not possess a narrative of their own. Rather than develop a new political story, they thought it was sufficient to triangulate. In other words, they extracted a few elements of what their parties had once believed, mixed them with elements of what their opponents believed, and developed from this unlikely combination a “third way”.

And consider the wealthy who have used it as their bible:

 A lively network of think tanks, lobbyists and academics promoting Hayek’s doctrines [has] been established on both sides of the Atlantic, abundantly financed by some of the world’s richest people and businesses, including DuPont, General Electric, the Coors brewing company, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, Lawrence Fertig, the William Volker Fund and the Earhart Foundation. Using psychology and linguistics to brilliant effect, the thinkers these people sponsored found the words and arguments required to turn Hayek’s anthem to the elite into a plausible political programme.

Donald Trump represents Hayek's philosophy come to full fruition.

Image: politicos.co.uk

Monday, November 14, 2016

It's Going To Take Time



Timothy Garton Ash places Donald Trump's election victory in an international context. Throughout the world, he writes, right wing populism is fuelling the development of illiberal democracies:

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia we have something very close to fascism. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is rapidly crossing the line between illiberal democracy and fascism, while Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is already an illiberal democracy. In Poland, France, the Netherlands, Britain and now the US, we have to defend the line between liberal and illiberal democracy.

All of these movements claim to be the voice of the people. But that's a half truth:

On closer examination, it turns out that “the people” – Volk might be a more accurate term – is actually only a part of the people. Trump perfectly exemplified this populist sleight of hand in an impromptu remark at a campaign rally.

“The only important thing is the unification of the people,” he said, “because the other people don’t mean anything.” It’s not the Others, you see: the Kurds, Muslims, Jews, refugees, immigrants, black people, elites, experts, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, cosmopolitans, metropolitans, gay Europhile judges. Ukip’s Nigel Farage announced that Brexit was a victory for ordinary people, decent people, real people – 48% of those who voted in the referendum being thereby declared neither ordinary nor decent nor real.

We've been here before:

Nationalist populism now, globalised liberalism (or neoliberalism) in the 1990s, fascism and communism in the 1930s and 40s, imperialism in the 19th century. Two lessons perhaps: that these things usually take a significant period of time to work themselves out; and that to reverse them (if the wave is of a kind you want to see reversed) requires courage, determination, consistency, the development of a new political language and new policy answers to real problems.

It's going to be what John F. Kennedy called a "long, twilight struggle." And, to succeed, we'll have to call on a number of resources:

A great example is the development of western Europe’s combination of market economy and welfare state after 1945. This model, which finally saw off the waves of communism and fascism, needed the intellectual genius of a John Maynard Keynes, the policy know-how of people like William Beveridge and the political skill of people like Clement Attlee. I say “people like” because other names could be inserted for the versions adopted in other west European countries. But what an ocean of blood, sweat and tears we had to swim through to reach that point.

There are no easy fixes. And it's going to take time.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Transactional Not Transformational



When he assumed office, Stephen Harper boasted that we wouldn't recognize Canada when he was through with it. But Jennifer Ditchburn and Graham Fox argue in the final chapter of the book, The Harper Factor, that -- after ten years in office -- there is little lasting in his wake:

While he was certainly a polarizing political figure — perhaps the most polarizing of his generation — it would be difficult to argue that his government fundamentally changed the course of public policy in Canada. This is not to say that some of his decisions weren’t controversial, or didn’t break with the past, and as David Zussman’s chapter explored, Harper did alter the way in which policy was developed inside government. But the analyses in this volume have shown that in many cases there was a significant gap between the scope of change announced by his government (or decried by his opponents) and the amount of change that was actually implemented.

Murray Brewster’s examination of the government’s commitment to re-equipping the military is just one example. Even in cases where the change was more dramatic, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the change will be lasting.

That's because, for Harper, politics always mattered more than policy:

The supremacy of politics over policy also manifested itself in the proliferation of micro or retail policies during his time in office. These tailored measures were aimed at small pockets of accessible voters in target constituencies. The tax credit for children’s sports equipment was marketed as a tool to encourage physical activity, but it was largely about impacting the electoral choice of parents in the suburbs of Toronto. Likewise, barring certain refugee applicants from health care services appeared designed to resonate with certain elements of the party’s base of support.

Winning three consecutive mandates and remaining in office almost ten years is a feat few Canadian political leaders have achieved, and so Harper is assured a place in history. But that is a political achievement, not a policy achievement. During his time in office, he made a great many decisions — some of them good or even great, others bad or worse — but we are at a loss to note one signature policy achievement that will, in future years, define his prime ministership.

We have had prime ministers of both parties who changed the country:

Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights, Pearson’s Medicare, Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Mulroney’s free trade agreements and acid rain treaty. Those signature achievements have ensured each of them has shaped the lives of Canadians well after leaving office.

The only thing that Harper changed -- for awhile -- was the country's tone: As a nation, we became more bellicose and nasty. He did, after all, give us the Barbaric Practices Snitch Line. But the country never took on his ideas.

Image: The True North Times

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trouble In River City

During the American election campaign, I kept thinking of Harold Hill. His creator, Meredith Willson, grew up in Mason City, Iowa. He tapped into something deep in the American character.


The Music Man is a quintessential American story. It's set in 1912. But, in some ways, not much has changed.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sometimes The Difference Is Insanity



The United States has Donald Trump and we have Dr. Kellie Leitch. Leitch likes to burnish her medical credentials. But that doesn't impress Alan Freeman:

Apparently, we were all supposed to be very impressed by somebody being a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. Medical titles do have a certain cachet in politics, the way “brain surgeon” used to be synonymous with brilliance and accomplishment. That, of course, was before Dr. Ben Carson became a candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and convinced us that being a brain surgeon was no barrier to being remarkably dim. (Remember him saying the Holocaust never would have been as deadly if Europe’s Jews had all gotten guns? Or his crackpot theory that the pyramids weren’t the tombs of pharaohs but granaries built by the biblical Joseph?)

Anyway, until fairly recently Leitch seemed incapable of giving a speech or an interview where she didn’t talk about how she was really Dr. Albert Schweitzer first and a politician second. “It’s part of who I am, being a surgeon and taking care of children,” she once said.

Now Leitch is talking about how Donald Trump's victory has energized her campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party:

Now, as a leadership candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada, Leitch has decided to take another stab at stirring up the cauldron of fear with her “Canadian values” test. She literally wrapped herself in the flag for a recent Maclean’s magazine cover and now is embracing Donald Trump.

So a medical doctor, the daughter of a longtime Conservative organizer, a graduate of Queen’s, University of Toronto and Dalhousie and a member of the party since she was a child is — suddenly, somehow — a woman of the people, a populist of the first order.

Sound familiar? God help us if Kellie Leitch becomes prime minister. There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes the difference is insanity.

On an entirely different note: Leonard Cohen died yesterday. We shall not see his like again.

Image: Macleans

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On The Road To Collapse



The writing is on the wall. And it's been on the wall for a long time. David Suzuki writes:

Clean air, water and soil to grow food are necessities of life. So are diverse plant and animal populations. But as the human population continues to increase, animal numbers are falling. There's a strong correlation. A comprehensive report from the World Wildlife Federation and the Zoological Society of London found that wild animal populations dropped by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, and will likely reach a 67 per cent drop by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.

The report points to human activity as the main cause. Habitat degradation and destruction, hunting and overfishing, the illegal wildlife trade, invasive species, disease, pollution and climate change are causing an extinction crisis unlike any since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Animals worldwide are affected, from African elephants to European dolphins to Asian vultures to amphibians everywhere.

Humans will feel the impacts, the study notes: "Living systems keep the air breathable and water drinkable, and provide nutritious food. To continue to perform these vital services they need to retain their complexity, diversity and resilience."

We know from the work of Jared Diamond that the collapse of cultures and civilizations is nothing new. And all the signs tell us that we are nearing the point of no return. Nevertheless, Suzuki writes, we still have time to change course:

To address this, we must find ways to live sustainably, especially regarding energy and food. Rapid renewable energy development and shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources are crucial. So are consuming less animal protein -- especially in high-income countries -- and reducing waste along the food chain. "Furthermore, optimizing agricultural productivity within ecosystem boundaries, replacing chemical and fossil inputs by mimicking natural processes, and stimulating beneficial interactions between different agricultural systems, are key to strengthening the resilience of landscapes, natural systems and biodiversity -- and the livelihoods of those who depend on them."

To a large extent, conserving energy and consuming less of everything will determine whether we succeed or not. And while overconsumption, especially among the world's most well-off, is a key factor in the breakdown of natural systems, overpopulation can't be ignored. The best ways to address the population problem are to improve women's rights and provide greater access to birth control and education.

The challenges may be huge, but a better world is possible. The alternative is to watch as animals and plants go extinct, water becomes scarce, weather hits more extremes, conflicts over land and resources increase, and life becomes more difficult for people everywhere. As we've seen numerous times, once we start to tackle the challenges, we'll see many benefits emerge, from greater equity to better health and more balanced ways of living within planetary limits. Then we can all enjoy the many gifts Earth provides.

Something to think about in light of recent events.

Image: Valley Watch

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The March Continues




Last night Americans handed the White House, the House and the Senate to Donald Trump. And they normalized their demons -- demons that have been there for a long time:

They normalized lying.
They normalized ignorance for public office.
They normalized predatory behaviour.
They normalized the mocking of the disabled.
 They normalized violence as a method for dealing with your political opponents.
 They normalized hatred of Muslims and Mexicans.

That's why David Duke tweeted, "God Bless Donald Trump."

Last night a number of things died:

The Paris Climate Accord is dead.
Obamacare is dead.
The Iran nuclear deal is dead.

We should expect more nuclear activity from North Korea.

A con man relies on human stupidity to succeed. The March of Folly continues. It's going to get very messy as the American Empire falls apart.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

There Are Better Prescriptions

 
Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced last week that the government was changing the rules regarding foreign ownership of Canadian airlines. The goal is to lower air fares so Canadians can fly more. But there's a problem. Tom Walkom writes:

Aviation fuel gives off carbon when burned. It also gives off other particulates that, because they are deposited in the upper atmosphere, contribute to global warming.

True, air travel is a relatively minor contributor to climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation estimates it is responsible for between four and nine per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In Canada, according to the 2012 transport department report, domestic air travel on its own accounts for just one per cent of carbon emissions.

But these figures are on the rise. The Suzuki Foundation reckons the carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation have grown by 83 per cent since 1990. The transport department report says Canadian emissions rose between 2001 and 2010 in spite of successful efforts by airlines to increase fuel efficiency.

The goal of lower airfares makes it more difficult to meet Canada's commitments under the Paris climate change agreement. When a doctor writes a prescription he or she has a duty to make sure that the prescription doesn't clash with or undercut another prescription. In effect, the government is practising bad medicine:

Long-distance air travel can never be eliminated, particularly in a big country like Canada. But a government serious about climate change could focus on other, more energy-efficient forms of transportation, such as buses and trains for short-haul trips.

I expect Trudeau’s government, like those before it, will balk when it comes to doing something on this or anything else that might significantly improve passenger rail service in Canada.

Something's got to give. There are better prescriptions.

 Image: ForoAviones.com

Monday, November 07, 2016

No Bellowing



A week ago, Justin Trudeau sent the Governor-General to the Middle East. The message he carried with him was much different than the one Stephen Harper promulgated for almost ten years. Michael Harris writes:

A renowned academic known to his grandchildren as ‘Grandpa Book,’ Johnston told the Canadian Press, “The way forward in this very specific region is a two-state solution and a just, longstanding and comprehensive peace.” And if that can be achieved then there is hope that some of the larger problems in the region can be dealt with.

Johnston said the political situation in the Middle East was “complicated.”  Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders told the Governor-General they wanted peace. Despite the rebuke of the Palestinians in the Harper era, where John Baird often looked like the Foreign Minister for Israel, Johnston said that Canada remains firm in its view that a two-state solution was the way to peace. He told CP, “anything we can do to encourage the representatives of those two peoples to get together face-to face to negotiate the challenges, that is very much what we want to do.”

Johnston's visit is a Canadian first:

Johnston is the first Canadian Governor-General to make a state visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. The GG was received by the King of Jordan, and visited Zaatari refugee camp where 80,000 desperate refugees from Syria wait for better days. Johnston met some of the Syrian families who will soon be coming to Canada, and played soccer with their children. Jordan is a country overwhelmed by 650,000 Syrian refugees, and 55,000 Iraqis.  
Canada’s new ambassador to Jordan, Peter McDougall, the career diplomat who replaced PM Harper’s body guard, Bruno Saccomanim, recently announced $20 million in funding for the refugees in Jordan.

All told, Johnston spent three days in Israel, where he was warmly welcome by Netanyahu. Canada signed an industrial partnership agreement with Israel, and Johnston said he had a good discussion with Netanyahu on key areas of Israeli- Canada engagement. Johnston is the first Canadian to plant an olive tree in the Grove of Nations” as a symbol of peace.

Like so many of Trudeau's initiatives, it's hard to predict the long term consequences of Johnston's visit. But one thing is certain: When Canada talks about the Middle East, it no longer bellows.

Image: You Tube

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Reforming Senate



If Meech Lake had passed, the Senate would have been reformed. Ken Whyte writes that Peter Lougheed understood just how radically the Red Chamber would have been transformed:

Mr. Lougheed was a great careerist as well as a great politician, and he had thought about Senate reform with both career and politics in mind. He believed that any step toward Senate reform would transform the institution at the expense of the House of Commons, so much so, he said, that “if I was starting out in national politics today, there’s no way I’d waste my time in the Commons. I’d want to be in a reformed Senate.”

He started with the math. Try it yourself. There are 338 members in the House of Commons (there were slightly fewer back then). There are 105 members of the Senate. If you’re an ambitious politician, do you want to be one of 338 or one of 105?

Justin Trudeau has begun the process of making the majority of Senators independent. Inevitably, that will mean changes:

Senators no longer bound to party caucuses will form their own caucuses and alliances. They will learn to pool their votes, or log roll. The lists of amendments appended to bills from the Commons will get longer and longer, and the negotiations between the chambers to land a bill will get tougher. 

Eventually some senator will draft an act all on his lonesome, and after that they’ll all be draftsmen.
Corporations, lobbyists, special interest groups and ambassadors will start spending time with senators, especially committee chairs, who will become as important as cabinet ministers in Ottawa (and more expert, given the odds on their longevity).

Senators will become head-table fixtures at chamber of commerce luncheons and prized guests on television shows. Not only will these outside forces want to meet and buy senators, they’ll eventually try to plant their own people on lists for consideration as new senators.

Just how things will sort themselves out is hard to know. But the Senate will no longer be a place where nothing important happens. And the tensions between the Green and the Red Chambers will increase.

If  Lougheed were alive today, he'd want to be there -- watching the Senate reform itself.

Image: CBC

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Burning Down The Island


Andrew Coyne writes that probably Donald Trump will not be elected president. That does not mean, however, that the result will be salutary:

The damage he has done just by running — to his party, to American politics, to the country’s sanity — is grievous enough. If the result Tuesday night is as close as now seems likely, he and his followers promise to remain a disruptive force in the Republican party for years to come.

Just a few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton seemed headed for an easy win. Now, the race having closed to within two points, nothing is definite. To be sure, she has a lock on at least 14 states, mostly on the two coasts, worth a combined 182 electoral college votes. Another seven states — Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin — are almost as certain wins, bringing her to 258. And she will probably wobble home in New Hampshire and Colorado. That gives her 271, one more than a bare majority.

Coyne goes on to catalogue Trump's deficits --  which are many. But Trump has been a candidate like no other:

We have to understand how different Trump is from any previous political phenomenon, how completely detached he is from any of the norms that might have restrained his counterparts in the past. And norms — custom, expectation, convention — are all we’ve got. We live under a system of laws, but ultimately it’s only a convention that we obey the law. For most people, convention is enough: indeed, people bow to convention who would not obey the law. Richard Nixon was a crook, when no one was looking. But even Nixon, ordered by the Supreme Court to hand over the tapes, handed them over. Would a President Trump? Pray God we don’t have to find out.

He has broken all the conventions and gotten away with it. Over this election cycle, I've thought a lot about history. But, besides history, in the back of my mind there's always been a passage form William Golding's Lord of the Flies, a harrowing tale about the breakdown of civil society. Ralph, a natural leader, confronts Jack -- who establishes himself as King of the Savages:

The rules!" shouted Ralph, "you're breaking the rules!"
"Who cares?"
Ralph summoned his wits.
"Because the rules are the only thing we've got!"
But Jack was shouting against him.
"Bollocks to the rules! We're strong - we hunt! If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We'll close in and beat and beat and beat-" 

You may recall the end of the novel, where the little savages -- in pursuit of Ralph -- burn down the island.

Image: The Criterion Collection

Friday, November 04, 2016

A Rare Breed Indeed

 
Michael Gerson used to write speeches for George W. Bush. For sixteen years, he has carried the Republican flag for George W. Bush and against Barack Obama. But he writes in the Washington Post that Americans of both parties should not vote for Donald Trump, a man who represents everything that is antithetical to American ideals:

His political theory, such as it is, is “us” vs. “them.” The “them” may be Republican elites, or liberal elites, or migrants or Mexicans or Muslims. Trump would be elected on the promise of fighting, rounding up, jailing or humbling any number of personal and political opponents. Take away this appeal, and there is nothing left but grasping, pathetic vanity.

What is most appalling about Trump is his monumental ignorance of how government works:

The single most frightening, anti-democratic phrase of modern presidential history came in Trump’s convention speech: “I alone can fix it.” A Trump victory would be a mandate for authoritarian politics. Trump’s ambitions would be bounded by strong legislative and legal institutions and by his own risible ignorance of real leadership. But a Trump administration would be a concession to the idea that America needs a little more China, a little more Russia, a little more “so let it be written, so let it be done” in its executive branch.

Now Republicans appear to be coming home to Trump. And, in the process, they are normalizing him:

It is almost beyond belief that Americans should bless and normalize Trump’s appeal. Normalize vindictiveness and prejudice. Normalize bragging about sexual assault and the objectification of women. Normalize conspiracy theories and the abandonment of reason. Normalize contempt for the vulnerable, including disabled people and refugees fleeing oppression. Normalize a political tone that dehumanizes opponents and excuses violence. Normalize an appeal to white identity in a nation where racial discord and conflict are always close to the surface. Normalize every shouted epithet, every cruel ethnic and religious stereotype, every act of bullying in the cause of American “greatness.”

Gerson refuses to come home. Integrity is not a Republican virtue. He is of a rare breed indeed.

Image: WBDaily

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Bring Back Subsidies


There has been an outcry lately about political party fundraising. I, for one, am getting tired of all the parties sending me emails asking for a donation. Susan Delacourt writes:

We know that all political parties need money — millions of dollars a year, in fact. But what exactly are they selling to get it?

So far, the Liberals’ answers on these questions have been less than adequate. We’ve heard the business-as-usual rationale: “All parties engage in fundraising,” Government House leader Bardish Chagger said in the Commons this week. “We all have to follow the same rules. Those rules were put in place by the previous government.”

In the Commons today, Trudeau himself put forward a similar argument, suggesting that Canadians could trust his party not to sell out to donors. That’s not unlike what the prime minister said when he seemed to be musing aloud in interviews last week about abandoning electoral reform — that the system isn’t so bad, really … as long as Liberals are in charge.

And, like their federal cousins, the Ontario Liberals have also been in fundraising hot water. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Everyone grumbles about grubby politicians getting addicted to cash. But talk is cheap and cheap shots are easy.

Rather than merely badmouthing money politics, we should put our money where our mouths are — by allocating more public funds to elections. True reform means reducing dependency on the seamier underside of fundraising, by adding an above-board allowance from the public purse.

Many will reflexively criticize any use of public money to (partially) underwrite campaign costs. But they might not realize that elections are already heavily subsidized.

As it is, Elections Ontario spends roughly $100 million on organizing the campaign and counting the ballots. If we spend that much on tallying votes, is it asking too much to allocate a further $12 million, plus or minus, to defray costs for the men and women running for elected office?

Jean Chretien's subsidy for each vote cast in the last election was a good idea. Delacourt writes:

I’d be happy, in fact, if the government brought back the public subsidy for political parties, which was based on how many votes they received in the past election. It was a form of proportional representation, levelling the fundraising field somewhat for smaller parties, and it recognized that parties do public work. Without the subsidies, parties have been forced to become 24-7 fundraising machines, selling ‘sticker packs’ or whatever else the public may be keen to buy, just to keep the lights on in their offices.

Moreover, under the subsidy system, every voter is equal, regardless of income. Whether you earn six figures a year or minimum wage, your vote counts for the same dollar or two in the party treasuries.

The first thing Stephen Harper did when he came to office was to get rid of the subsidy -- a move which almost brought his three month old government down. Harper had a lot of lousy ideas.

It's time to return to a good one.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Movers And Shakers Are Getting Shook



Our movers and shakers are in denial about the affects of globalization. Jim Stanford writes:

The architects of globalization are worried, quite rightly, by both the rhetoric and the reality of recent trade developments. On the rhetorical front, the rise of nationalistic populism -- exemplified by Donald Trump, Brexit, and ascendant hard-right politicians everywhere -- is hammering more nails into the coffin of a trade liberalization agenda that was already moribund.

In real economics, meanwhile, the dynamism of world trade was already fading fast, even before the populists came on the scene. In recent decades, trade has grown twice as fast as global GDP; these days, however, it isn't even keeping pace. Canada's exports, for example, equal barely 30 per cent of GDP today, way down from 45 per cent in 2001. The old idea that trade is the engine of growth is taking a beating, from politicians and empirical data alike.

The powers that be oversold golobalization. -- and they tried hard to ignore its downside:

We must remember that the economic theory underpinning free trade assumes that all resources (including all workers) will be productively employed, that trade flows will be balanced and mutually beneficial, and that the efficiency gains from trade will be shared throughout society. In the quantitative economic models routinely trotted out to "sell" each new trade deal, these assumptions are embodied in mathematical equations imposing full employment, balanced trade, and the existence of a "representative household" (portraying each country as one big family, happily sharing all its wealth). None of these assumptions have any connection to reality; they are all imposed for the mathematical (and ideological) convenience of the economists.

In the real world, entire industries and communities have been dislocated by the unbalanced investment and trade flows which the theory denies. Enormous trade imbalances (from China and Germany's huge surpluses, to chronic deficits in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada) correspond to the migration of capital, work and income in favour of free trade's "winners." And these costs are not temporary or transitional. Large swaths of societies have been effectively cast aside under modern free trade -- left to face lasting unemployment, non-participation, or low-productivity service jobs.

After thirty-five years of "free trade" those who have been left behind have figured out that they have been played for suckers. Something to think about in the wake of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. The movers and shakers are getting shook.

Image: thedomusic.com