Saturday, December 16, 2017

An Extraordinary Chief Justice



Beverley McLachlin has left the bench. Adrienne Clarkson knows her well and puts her tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in perspective:

Rarely does public life bring you into intimate contact with people for whom you instantly feel great personal affinity. And in my case, a sharing of a generation's strivings in the second wave of feminism. It's not easy to be a woman in public life in Canada. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and I, having been governor-general, have shared different kinds of travails, but we know what sharing means and we know what sisterhood means. Yes, I use that rather dated and old-fashioned word because I think it is really what I have found with her.

It's her approach to the law which -- most of all -- defines McLachlin:

This Chief Justice understands that law is an organic entity, or, "the living tree," which grows and evolves with the evolution of societal views. This Chief Justice knows that courts can justify the making of substantial changes to the law if in doing so they reflect clear changes in social values.

Nowhere was this more evident in the Court's battles with Stephen Harper -- who consistently refused to acknowledge the existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- and who personally badmouthed McLachlin.

Moreover, she never forgot where she came from:

I am sure that she is the only Chief Justice we have ever had who knows how to deliver a calf. I don't think there is anything more revealing than going to Pincher Creek – which I have done – and seeing that beautiful little town nestled in the foothills of Alberta and to enter through the roadway that is now called Bev McLachlin Drive. I think that Bev McLachlin Drive really says a lot. It says that she comes from there. It says that she is known to everyone there. And it says that she is one of us.

The air inside Canada's legal temples can get pretty rarefied. It's important that our judges remember the air that most of us breathe everyday. It was a principle McLachlin followed scrupulously.

She was  -- and is -- an Extraordinary Chief Justice.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, December 15, 2017

The OJ Defence


Republicans have Robert Mueller in their sites. They plan to mount the OJ Defence. Michael Harris reminds his readers how it worked:

Instead of allowing the prosecution to try their client on the evidence, Johnnie Cochran and company managed to put LAPD investigators on trial. It was the judicial world’s equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. 
In the face of Cochran’s relentless attack on the police, buttressed by full courtroom theatrics, prosecutor Marsha Clark’s mountain of evidence against Simpson was obscured behind all the legal smoke.

An email from FBI investigator Peter Strzok has been uncovered which calls Donald Trump an "idiot." When it was brought to Mueller's attention, Mueller removed Strrzok from the investigation. Now the Trump propaganda machine is going after Mueller. Harris writes:

Given Strzok’s role in the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, they are now demanding that the Justice Department appoint a second special counsel to investigate Mueller. 
Their position is at once absurd and another example of obstruction of justice by the Republicans. For one thing, Strzok’s texts were discovered by an internal investigation conducted by the Inspector General’s Office of the DOJ. When Mueller learned of them, Strzok was removed from the investigation. Does that sound like Mueller has it in for the president? Isn’t it proof of the exact opposite — that the former FBI director wouldn’t tolerate even the appearance of bias on his team? 
Secondly, if the premise of Congressional Republicans’ argument is that Strzok’s political leanings mean that he is unfit to conduct a fair investigation, then what about others who have clearly expressed their political preferences? 
Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. Does that make him unfit to lead the investigation? At the time of his appointment, Senator Lindsey Graham and Republican kingpin Newt Gingrich raved about his stellar credentials. Now they say he’s “corrupt”?

Trump and the Republicans are all about distraction. They're desperate to change the channel away from the big picture -- which is getting darker:

It is all about obscuring the clearly visible mountain range of lies told by Trump and his people about their Russian connections. It’s all about the serial instances of Donald Trump trying to obstruct justice, from lying about the Russia connection to pressuring James Comey to let the case against Michael Flynn go.

A showdown is coming. And the OJ Defence is at the heart of it.

Image: You Tube

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Reckoning Is Underway


The Republicans claim they have a deal on their tax bill. And they're rushing to get it done -- before Doug Jones takes his seat. Why? Paul Krugman thinks that the main reason for their behaviour is that they've been living in a bubble:

Today’s Republicans are apparatchiks, who have spent their whole lives inside an intellectual bubble in which cutting taxes on corporations and the rich is always objective #1. Their party used to know that it won elections despite its economic program, not because of it – that the whole game was to win by playing on social issues, national security, and above all on racial antagonism, then use the win to push fundamentally unpopular economic policies. But over the years the party has seemed increasingly out of touch with that reality, imagining that if only it preaches the gospel of supply-side economics loudly enough voters will be won over.

More than anything else, however, they want to put points on the board. Barack Obama tried the same strategy:

I’m taking the phrase from Rahm Emanuel, who believed that Obama could gain electoral capital simply by racking up legislative victories. The idea is that voters are impressed by your record of wins, or conversely that they’ll turn away if you don’t win enough. 
The truth is that this strategy didn’t work at all for Obama, who won a lot of stuff in his first two years then got shellacked in the midterms. And think about the things that have been going wrong for Republicans in special elections: desertions by highly educated suburban voters, massive African-American turnout, weak turnout by rural whites. Which of these is likely to be improved by a massive, unpopular corporate tax cut? Still, the idea that you have to win something seems to have a grip on the GOP, and of course especially on our childlike president.

The stuff this bill does will hit the fan in time for the mid term elections. And the coalition which organized in opposition to Roy Moore will enter the polling booths of the nation.

The reckoning is underway.

Image: Scream Magazine


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Toughest Road


Donald Trump likes to think of himself as a winner. So does Steve Bannon. But neither man won last night in Alabama. Quin Hillyer reports in The New York Times:

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are politically impotent. 
The president and his former grand strategist threw considerable weight behind Roy Moore, the polarizing Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. For the second time this year, the state that gave Mr. Trump crucial early support during the presidential campaign — and his first senatorial endorsement — has rejected the candidate Mr. Trump endorsed for the Senate.

That's because the people Trump has scapegoated -- and others Trump thought were on his side -- came out to vote for Doug Jones:

Extraordinarily high turnout among African-American voters pulled the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, a former United States attorney, to a narrow victory. Mr. Moore was held back by a significant resort to write-in ballots (some 1.7 percent of the total, a fact on which Mr. Trump quickly fixated) that presumably came from voters who ordinarily lean Republican — suburban professionals, especially women — along with tens of thousands fewer suburban Republicans voting at all. For example, in Shelby County, neighboring Birmingham, Mr. Trump earned 73,000 votes and a 51,000-vote margin, but it appears that Mr. Moore won 36,000 votes and a 9,000-vote margin.

The walls are closing in on Donald. And as Robert Mueller moves to indict members of his family -- his son-in-law chief among them -- Trump will increasingly become unglued. His next step will be to try and fire Mueller.

That will initiate a constitutional crisis. The toughest road is still ahead.

Image: History Asia

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Through A Glass Darkly


The future does not look bright. George Monbiot writes:

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.
Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in south Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by the year 2050. Where will it come from? 
The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. These predictions could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4C of warming in the US corn belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

Now consider that by 2050 there will be 2 to 3 billion more people occupying the planet, and you begin to see that we're in deep trouble. The solution, Monbiot believes, lies in changing how we use the land -- and that means no longer using it to grow beef:

The greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UN expects meat consumption to rise by 70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When all those mouths start asking, "Where's the beef?," try telling them no.

Image: Snell Valley Ranch


Monday, December 11, 2017

The Assault On Mueller



Donald Trump's acolytes are waging a full court press on Robert Mueller. Randall Ellison writes:

Critics on the right charge that Mueller’s investigation is politically biased or worse. Some of the attacks are particularly vitriolic. Sean Hannity has called Mueller a “disgrace to the American justice system” and said his investigation is “corrupt” and abusive. Newt Gingrich, who effusively praised Mueller when he was appointed, now says Mueller’s probe is corrupt, dishonest and a “partisan hit.”

As Mueller closes in on Trump the Republicans are trying to deligitimatize Mueller -- who by all accounts is one of them. They do not understand -- or care -- how prosecuters work:

Such criticisms betray a profound misunderstanding of the way professional prosecutors and FBI agents do their jobs. Prosecutors and agents are human. They are allowed to have political views, belong to political parties and support political candidates. It is not a conflict of interest if a prosecutor who belongs to one political party is involved in an investigation of a politician from another party. We’ve never had a system where Republicans could be investigated only by partisan Republicans or vice versa.

In fact, trying to deligiimize their opponents is now standard Republican practise. On the day Barack Obama took office, Republicans doubled down on the lie that he was not born in the United States. Everything in the United States is now seen through a political lens:

We live in a hypercharged environment, where almost every move is seen through a partisan political lens. Many people don’t believe that a prosecutor such as Mueller could simply follow the facts and the law. But that’s exactly what happens. Prosecutors and agents set aside their personal politics when they work on investigations, and it’s essential that they do so. In this country, we don’t use criminal prosecutions to attack political enemies. That’s the stuff of despots and dictators, not the American justice system. For good prosecutors and agents, this principle is part of their DNA.

If the Republicans win this battle, the United States is doomed.

Image: Pinterest


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Democracy And Pipelines


Andrew Nikiforuk believes that Canadian democracy is in trouble. The most recent sign of that fact is the National Energy Board's approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline:

On Thursday the scandal-plagued federal agency ruled that Kinder Morgan, a U.S. pipeline company that’s the spawn of Enron (remember that tale of corporate corruption) doesn’t have to comply with City of Burnaby bylaws. 
The board effectively ruled that there are two classes in Burnaby: those who have to follow the rules and a U.S. pipeline company that doesn’t. 
With Trumpian flare the NEB added that it will explain this injustice when it feels like it.

The residents of Burnaby have made it clear that they have no wish to be the terminus of the pipeline. But they have simply been ignored:

Burnaby has been dragging its feet on the Trans Mountain pipeline because its citizens have opposed a project they feel will irrevocably change their community and the province. 
The city would be the unfortunate terminus for the $7.4-billion project to triple the capacity of the existing 63-year-old oil pipeline from Alberta. 
The NEB heightened public discontent with a string of injustices during public hearings on the pipeline. 
The dysfunctional agency did not consider the pipeline’s full impacts on climate change through offshore and upstream emissions. 
It failed to examine the full impact of diluted bitumen spills on B.C.’s coast, although the pipeline would bring a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic. 
It failed to assess the full economic need for the project. 
It failed to even analyze the impact of stress corrosion cracking and its causes and consequences on an aging pipeline. 
And it restricted the narrow review to “applied capacity” of 540,000 barrels a day as opposed to “designed capacity” of 780,000 barrels and failed to access the full costs and benefits of the project in a volatile global oil market.

And then, to add insult to industry, the Trudeau government rubber stamped the NEB decision:

In so doing Trudeau broke election promises and once again ignored the impacts on climate change and First Nations. 
Why? To please the totalitarian Chinese government. 
The Chinese told Trudeau that they won’t consider a new free trade deal without the removal of investment restrictions and the construction of a bitumen pipeline to the coast. 
Canada has become the rarest of democracies: one willing to surrender its sovereignty for a pipeline ferrying a junk crude.

Money -- domestic  and international -- calls the shots.

Image: CBC


Saturday, December 09, 2017

Worse Things Await


Michael Harris' contempt for Justin Trudeau keeps growing. He's particularly ticked at Trudeau's response to the bonfire Trump has set in the Middle East:

Issuing timorous platitudes in response to Donald Trump’s disastrous decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not leadership. It’s abdication.
Everyone understands the need for expediency, diplomacy and practicality in geopolitics. No government sticks its nose into another country’s affairs on a whim.
But for his government to offer nothing more on Trump’s catastrophic political decision than a promise that our embassy is staying put — along with an anodyne statement that the Israelis and Palestinians are our friends — is decaffeinated politics at best and, at worst, a disgraceful cop-out.

It's not easy living next door to the United States. But Donald Trump is not a normal American president. And sometimes neighbours have to deliver unpleasant truths to those who live across the yard:

President Trump reversed seventy years of U.S. foreign policy after consulting his belly-button and Steve Bannon. According to CNN, American evangelicals were informed of this reckless and self-interested political move before the State Department.
In the end, Trudeau will gain nothing by molifying Trump. The shear number of people who have left his employ during the last year should make that clear. And those who stay on  -- like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson -- merely serve as punching bags fro Trump. In the end, Trump must be confronted -- certainly not a pleasant experience.

Justin needs to remember his father's response when the Watergate tapes revealed that Richard Nixon had called him a "son of a bitch." The elder Trudeau's response was, "I've been called worse things by better men."

Worse things await Justin the longer he remains silent about a man who most assuredly deserves the qualifier "worse."

Image: The National Post

Friday, December 08, 2017

Republican Sellout


David Brooks understands what has happened to the Republican Party. He used to be a Republican cheerleader. Today he can find nothing and no one to cheer about -- because the Republican Party is now the Trumpian Party. Trump keeps asking his party to betray what they have long stood for. And they keep obliging him:

First, he asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.
There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too. 
That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Party stands for one thing and one thing only -- hypocrisy:

You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message. 
“What shall it profit a man,” Jesus asked, “if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” The current Republican Party seems to not understand that question. Donald Trump seems to have made gaining the world at the cost of his soul his entire life’s motto.

Republicans rolled over for Donald Trump -- and sold their souls.

Image:rebelcircus.com


Friday, December 01, 2017

The Sociopathic Corporation


The Paradise Papers -- like the Panama Papers before them -- have revealed a stark fact: Corporations have run amok. Murray Dobbins writes:

Global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet. The deliberate starvation of government, climate change, grotesque inequality, Dickensian working conditions, environmental degradation, dwindling biodiversity, the slow (or not so slow) death of the oceans and the creation of the security state on corporations' behalf threaten not only the natural world but our capacity to democratically govern ourselves while maintaining some semblance of civilization.

Consider what we now know:

A recent study by Canadians for Tax Fairness (disclosure: I am on their board) revealed that the 60 largest public companies in Canada have 1,021 subsidiaries in a string of tax havens. Four had none; Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Sun Life Financial have over 50 each. According to the study, "Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI) in tax havens grew from $2.1 billion in 1994 to $284 billion in 2016." 
By now most people know how these "profit-shifting" schemes work. Companies assign profits made elsewhere to tax haven subsidiaries in countries with low or no income taxes. They half-heartedly claim they actually do business in these countries, but the numbers say otherwise. The study shows subsidiaries in non-tax haven countries employ between 1,244 to 2,760 employees per billion in assets; for tax-haven users the ratio is one to 250. In 2014, Canadian corporations held almost $31 billion in assets in Bermuda; their subsidiaries employed a total of 35 employees.

Governments have the power to make and to breakup corporations. But, for the last thirty years, they have become the handmaidens of their corporate masters:

Governments are the only institutions that can seriously challenge the power and reach of transnational corporations: they made them and they could unmake them. Only governments can curb their predatory nature, constrain their contempt for their workers, communities and the environment, and genuinely punish them when they openly break the law as part of their fiduciary "duty" to their shareholders. 
Of course, it's difficult to imagine current governments in any role other than the unindicted co-conspirator which have played for decades. The implementation over 30 years of neoliberal policies by governments of virtually every stripe has liberated corporations, increasingly removing constraints designed to make them accountable to the broader society.

And now, south of the border, there is a tax "reform" bill which unashamedly does the bidding of those corporate masters. The assumption is that the rest of the world will follow in lock step.

It's also undeniable that, if the planet is to survive, governments will have to reassert their authority over the sociopathic monsters they have unleashed.

One personal note: I've come down with some kind of bug. I'm on my second round of anti-biotics and the doctor has dosed me up with puffers. I'm going to take a couple of days off and try to beat this thing into submission. But I'll be back.



   

Thursday, November 30, 2017

No Special Relationships


When Theresa May criticized Donald Trump for tweeting British anti-Muslim propaganda, Trump took to Twitter:

“Theresa@theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom,” the US president tweeted on Wednesday evening. “We are doing just fine!”

But, in what has become Standard Trumpian Operating Procedure, Trump sent the message to the wrong Theresa May. The Guardian reports that:

The “@theresamay” Twitter handle that Trump targeted does not belong to the British prime minister, but to a woman called Theresa Scrivener. Minutes later Trump deleted and reposted the tweet, this time with the correct handle: @Theresa_May.

It should be abundantly clear that the days of Britain's  "special relationship" with the United States are long gone. Julian Borger also writes in The Guardian:

There are many layers of humiliation here for May to get her head around over breakfast. Not only is it personally demeaning, it is also politically toxic. 
The prospect of a successful or at least survivable Brexit is posited on a strong relationship with Washington. In that regard, May’s successful rush to Washington in January to become the first foreign leader received at the Trump White House was presented as a coup.

Humiliation is what Trump is all about. He sees enemies everywhere. And he sees his mission as belittling every one of them -- whether it's  "Little Marco," "Rocket Man" Kim or disabled reporters in wheelchairs.

Trump has no special relationships. And now he walks on the world stage.

Image: Reuters

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

One For The Record Books


Robert Kuttner has an interesting op-ed in this morning's New York Times. Trumpworld, he writes, is controlled by what are euphemistically called "financial engineers:"

This is an administration run by and for financial engineers. The president’s policies have sought to gut what remains of the Dodd-Frank Act and other legislation that protects consumers from financial wrongdoing, most recently in his assault on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mr. Trump’s administration rewards what we might call an “extraction economy.” Rather than adding value, financial engineers often extract as much as they can — from operating companies that they buy, strip and sell as well as from consumers, borrowers, workers and other taxpayers. 
Private equity epitomizes financial engineering. The very term “private equity” is a sly rebranding of what used to be called “hostile takeovers” or “leveraged buyouts.”

Trump's Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, personifies the extraction economy:

In 2002, Mr. Ross bought several steel factories that had been closed; he reopened them after persuading the steelworkers union to take major cuts. When he cashed out three years later, he made 14 times his original investment of $90 million. According to the economists Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt, “his three-year investment netted him $4.5 billion — just equal to what retirees lost in their health and pension plans.”

Remember: it was precisely these people  for whom Trump said he would fight. He was the champion of the forgotten. And, after the election, he forgot them. It certainly was a scam for the record books.

But, then, Donald Trump's whole life has been a scam. And he will go down in the record books.

Image: PRLog


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

We'll Be In



There has been a lot of discussion about whether the Trans Pacific Partnership is a good deal for Canada. The discussion, Tom Walkom writes, is inconsequential. Business wants the TPP. And, when it comes to trade, business has always gotten what it wanted:

Canada has always based its trade policy on the needs of business. John A. Macdonald’s 19th century National Policy of protective tariffs was instituted to meet businessmen’s demands for what they called a “living profit. 
In the 1970s, when Canadian businesses persuaded Ottawa that they were being overwhelmed by American corporate takeovers, Canada dabbled briefly with economic nationalism and foreign investment controls. 
But by the 1980s, big business wanted something different. It told a royal commission studying the Canadian economy that it needed access to the big U.S. market.
And now business wants into the Asian market:
Last week, the Business Council of Canada, which is made up of the CEOs of 150 of the country’s largest firms, scolded the government for dragging its feet on the TPP.
Council head John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister, said Trudeau’s delay in agreeing to the TPP put at risk Canada’s participation in the scheme.
Manly, just back from a trip to Tokyo, said that there are already hints that the other 10 countries — Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand — might go ahead without Canada.
 You can bet that Mr. Manley  has Mr. Trudeau's ear. So we'll be in on the deal. But there are still big problems to be addressed -- like labour and environmental standards.
Stayed tuned.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Policies Don't Change


I'm a lucky man. I have a defined benefit pension. It guarantees me a particular income at retirement. It used to be the standard type of pension. But, in the 1980's, businesses began to complain that they could no longer afford defined benefit pensions. Because of the vagaries of the market, they argued, retirement payments should fluctuate. And so the push began for defined contribution pensions. The monthly payment remained the same, but the payout at retirement was not guaranteed.

Government bought into the idea of defined contribution pensions because they relieved government of the responsibility of providing adequate pension payments to its employees. And, because business was also relieved of that responsibility, what no longer went to pension payments fattened corporate bottom lines.

Except, Linda McQuaig writes, the wealthy managed to maintain defined benefits, even as corporate profits rose:

The corporate keenness to foist riskier pensions on their workers is not driven by necessity. Corporate profits have risen significantly in recent years, even as companies have switched to the stingier pensions that transfer all risk to employees. 
Even fabulously rich corporations are adopting the new pensions — not because they can’t afford to pay workers fixed pension benefits like they used to, but because they’d rather not be obliged to do so. 
Take the Royal Bank — with staggering profits of $10.5 billion last year. In 2011, RBC adopted the new-style pensions for all new employees.  
But CEO Gordon Nixon didn’t feel the need to convert his own pension to the riskier model. 
He retired in 2014, at the age of 57, with an old-fashioned, risk-free pension guaranteeing him $1.68 million a year. And when he turns 65 — no matter what happens in the markets — he can count on receiving an even more comfortable $2 million a year (more than $5,000 a day) for the rest of his life. 

The Trudeau government -- as part of Bill C-27 -- is now proposing to make defined contribution pensions the Canadian standard. It's policy Stephen Harper would cheer. The faces change -- but the policies don't.

Image: yellowpages.ca

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sealing His Fate


As Americans celebrate their Thanksgiving, it may be hard to see any blessings which Donald Trump is showering on his fellow citizens. But Robin Sears sees several:

Wilmot Collins, an African who became an American, is the first Black and the first African to be elected mayor of this small city. When he had recently arrived and spoke out against racism, his house was smeared: “Go back to Africa, KKK.” He called the police. When they arrived, his neighbours were already washing the painted threat away. 
LaToya Cantrell was just elected mayor of New Orleans — the first woman and the first Black woman. She is a transplanted Californian who came to prominence through her post-Katrina rebuilding efforts, defeating a field of 18, including several from prominent Louisiana families.

These kinds of changes are happening throughout the United States:

The triumphs of Collins and Cantrell are a powerful reminder of why American democracy has survived slavery, civil war and rampant political corruption. American voters can and do push back when offered a better choice of leader. And, increasingly, those leaders are younger, more progressive, non-white, women and men. 
The Democratic sweep in Virginia was not altogether surprising, but the background of many of the candidates was: the first Asian woman, the first two Latina women, the first trans woman, and the first African-American woman. Across the country, the pattern was repeated: newcomers, especially women and non-white men, successfully challenged establishment candidates.

And the current revulsion against men who assault women goes back to Mr. Trump:

Today, aging white men open their devices with dread, preparing for the shock of the latest stupid man caught behaving stupidly. As revolting as Roy Moore et al are, we must thank Donald Trump for having launched this dramatic sea change in what is acceptable. The silent complicity that greeted Bill Clinton’s transgressions came to a sudden stop, and the trigger for the building roar of anger from newly empowered victims today, was when we saw the infamous Trump Access Hollywood video. So, thank you, Donald.

It's easy to lose track of what is happening when one is greeted every morning with a barrage of self promoting tweets. But make no mistake. Mr. Trump is sealing his fate.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Habitat: A Guest Post From The Salamander



Those of  you who visit this space regularly know the salamander. His comments are always insightful, tightly argued, and a pleasure to read. He sent this comment on yesterday's post which suggested that it's hard to find a true progressive in the House of Commons these days. His response was much more than a comment. And so, this morning, I turn this space over to him:

.. I am ill informed regarding some of the various regions of Canada.. I speak mainly of the economic forces, opportunities or threats facing the regions and their inhabitants. Humans being but one species of inhabitants.. and of course we do rely on our habitat, last I looked.

There are 'layers' if you will.. to habitat, and one can 'map' these layers in many many ways.. but one of them can be 'politics' - whether progressive or liberal or failure or enlightened. And the boundaries are essentially provincial borders, invisible aside from road signs or the American border etc.

Last week I looked at Alberta & British Columbia from the 'habitat' point of view.. while thinking of the politics, election campaigns, promises, candidates, names, jobs jobs jobs, the wild claims, the public serpents, the snake handlers, the lobbying.. I guess that's all part of the foliage, the flora & fauna of governments, political parties and wannabe politicians. I look at Notely, Horgan, Kenney, Wynne etc.. and the johhny cum latelys Patrick Brown, Singh.. The Left, the Right, the Extreme Right.. the libtards, Greens.. and I wonder.. Yes I truly do wonder

My current context is environment & species.. that's the only reason I became involved.. or weighed in.. or waded into 'politics' - It was Stephen Harper winning a majority government that was my personal trigger. My perspective is how does Left or Right or Liberal or United Conservative Party navigate or initiate or perceive 'environment' ? How do they see 'habitat' - habitat being partly or heavily influential in how they get votes, get alected, or run out of town.

So.. take a navigational map of Alberta & British Columbia showing inland and coastal waters, and to some extent, terrain such as mountain chains. Then overlay the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, then overlay the identified energy deposits, resources, whether tar sands, natural gas, shale oil, coal, lumber, potash etc.. Bingo ! You are looking at the habitat of captured politicians, lobbyists and all too often, foreign owned resource stripping and exporting corpoations. There really is no LEFT or RIGHT.. Conservative, Green or NDP, UCP etc.. Progressive ? Those are just the cutesy hockey style sweaters of political 'brands' - Harper and Kenney sure prove that.. and they can wear several team sponsor patches too.. even the same sponsor for the different team brands !

All I see is what will become the largest, toxic desert in North America. Follow the same 'habitat mapping' in South America & you will see how the forests, waters and air will be trashed.. Apply any projection or map reflecting Climate Change & the situation becomes compressed, extremely dire. Fatal. What 'jobs' will exist in Alberta if my scenario unfolds. Where all those resources in Alberta are removed via British Columbia or the North West Territories? Or via pipelines to Galveston, Texas? Or to New Brunswick 'tidewater' ?

Extirpation or extinction ? Complete system failure.. of wild creature food chains.. No salmon, no polar bear, no caribou or bald eagles. No bobcat or raven, no steelhead, no orca or other cetaceans.. just supertankers and pipelines for Asia.. and no 'Energy Security' for Canadians as Notely, Kenney, Joe Oliver, or Christy Clark proclaim.. its all wonderdust political posturing for 'power' & that is the only 'direction' you will find on the compass rose of my political mapping exercise.. We need a new political model.. even disease can be progressive.. then fatal for the creature .. I think we need a 'jury selection' style model now.. three years local, prov or fed 'duty' random selection of course & you're gone.. done.. 'thank you for your service' & yes there is a useful but hardly large 'pension' as added incentive.

Thanks, sal. Your contributions are deeply appreciated.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Who Is The Progressive?



Jagmeet Singh is trying to define himself as the one and only progressive leader in the House of Commons. But two provincial premiers -- Rachel Notley and John Horgan --are making it hard for Singh to make his case. Michael Harris writes:

NDP Premier Rachel Notley has done a better job of promoting new pipelines than any Conservative premier before her. 
In fact, it is hard to see how a Premier Jason Kenney could out-perform Notley at cheerleading for fossil fuels and the tar sands — or at completely obfuscating the mortal threat of climate change.

And in B.C, environmental concerns are gumming up Singh's pledge to be the environment's champion:

British Columbia represents another danger to Singh which is not his fault but might end up as his problem — the Site C dam dilemma. 
This obvious boondoggle from the Christy Clark era was given approval and permits by the Trudeau Liberals. Opponents of the $9 billion dam have been fighting a pitched battle to stop the project, which is already over-budget, behind schedule and, in the opinion of many experts, completely unnecessary.
On the merits, the Site C decision should be a no-brainer. Even a former president of B.C. Hydro, Marc Eliesen, thinks the true cost of the project will be 30 per cent higher than the utility’s $9 billion estimate. A similar cost overrun in Newfoundland’s Muskrat Falls hydro dam could end up costing Newfoundland ratepayers a staggering $1,800 more per year on their hydro bills.
Construction on Site C is behind schedule and will only fall further behind now that two “cracks” have appeared in the banks of the Peace River. These “geotechnical problems,” as B.C. Hydro’s president Chris O’Reilly called them, will delay work for another year.
With other energy alternatives available (geothermal, wind and solar) and no immediate customer or provincial need for Site C’s power, one would think that pulling the plug $2 billion into a nightmare in the making would not be a hard call to make.
But British Columbia's  labour unions want the jobs created by Site C. If Horgan nixes the project, there be a lot of disillusioned NDP supporters. However, if Horgan gives Site C a greenlight, it will make a mockery of Singh's vaulted environmentalism.
Singh certainly is a new face. But he's dogged with the same old problems. So, we're left with a tired old question: Who is the real progressive?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Illness Is Now A Pandemic


Donald Trump personifies what ails the United States. Jared Yates Sexton writes:

Throughout the first year of his presidency and the entirety of his campaign, Mr. Trump has shown an otherworldly ability to be on the wrong side of every significant issue. Now, with record-low approval ratings and a track record of bad judgment, it's time for Americans to realize the stark, cold truth: our president embodies the most pressing ills of our nation.

Every time he opens his mouth, he makes a situation worse. His latest debacle is his support for Judge Roy Moore -- a man who, like Trump, has been accused of sexual assault:

Mr. Trump has shown time and again a deep disrespect for women, and seems stuck in a patriarchal past that is both crumbling by the day while still maintaining a desperate stranglehold on our culture.

And then there is Trump's fixation on wealth:

 Mr. Trump's constant fixation on material possessions and his life's work of amassing wealth for no other purpose than the amassment itself, is indicative of two of America's most pressing issues: the widening wealth gap between the haves and have-nots, and unrestrained greed. In the interests of both, Trump's Republican Party is currently pushing legislation to grant a tax cut for wealthy Americans that will simultaneously punish the middle and working classes – a bill that, on the surface, seems to have no other purpose than to further enrich the wealthy and punish the poor.

Trump personifies the illness which currently threatens the United States. In fact, it's an illness which has refused every attempt at a cure for the last thirty-five years:

The truth of the matter is that Mr. Trump personifies a backward worldview that prevents America from moving forward and realizing its potential. His actions are regularly misogynistic, racist, ignorant and authoritarian. On issues that are black and white – both in terms of ethics and public opinion – including freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the removal of Confederate statues, he stands firmly on the side of the wrong and vocal minority.

The illness is now a pandemic.

Image: Natural News

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Rubber Hits The Road



The Trudeau government is very good when it comes to making promises. But, when it comes to delivering on them, their expertise is questionable. That's the message behind the week's Auditor General's Report. Susan Delacourt writes:

Ferguson’s devastating report has described a government that can’t even pay its public servants properly or figure out how to provide results-based service to citizens on one of the most basic aspects of government: taxation. “Check against deliverology” would be a good alternative title for this latest report — especially the parts about the Phoenix payroll debacle and the Canada Revenue Agency’s dismal treatment of taxpayers. 
According to the AG’s report, only a little more than one-third of the calls placed to Canada Revenue Agency were answered, either by a live agent or by an automated service. Worse, in nearly one-third of those calls, the information relayed by CRA to taxpayers was incorrect. One-third of the calls.

You can bet that the opposition will zero in on this information, comparing it to the rosy "mandate tracker" which the Liberals have been trumpeting.

Every government is ultimately judged on the distance between its rhetoric and its performance. Mr. Trudeau is a gifted salesman. But he's going to have to brush up on his management skills.

Image: promisekeepers.ca

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Nasty Folks Behind Him


As Senators like John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have distanced themselves from Donald Trump, some progressives have speculated that Trump may be gone sometime after 2018. But William Anderson writes that their rejoicing is premature:

The possibility of a Republican overthrow of Trump has been considered, even from within his inner circle. Vanity Fair recently reported that months ago, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon warned Trump "the risk to his presidency wasn't impeachment, but the 25th Amendment -- the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president." In addition to this, a source told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, "Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." 
However, we cannot simply rejoice at such possibilities. If one thing is certain, it's that with or without Donald Trump as president, we'll still have to contend with white supremacy and its supporters, who elected this president in the first place. Moreover, we will still have to contend with the violence of capitalism. The forces that pushed Donald Trump to the forefront of the US empire are intrinsic to the US project, and they will not go away with him, should he be cast out. If something happens that removes this president from office, it will be no shock to see those who once praised and used him quickly separating themselves from his name and administration. He may well be tossed asunder as the president "everyone" despised. Yet the millions of people who elected him will still be working, living and voting again, based on the same principles that motivated them to vote for Trump.

Trump's people may be a minority. But, thanks to the Electoral College, they are an influential minority:

Presidents are powerful, but more powerful than them are capitalism's controllers, working in the background, directing for their interests. White supremacy, too, is a grounding undercurrent of this country's history and present-day functioning. If the Trump presidency concludes, we will still be faced with a powerful system of oppressions. Until we confront the systems that enabled Donald Trump's rise to power, we'll always be at risk of seeing someone like him empowered again.

Put simply, there could be another Trump -- a smarter version of the same. Trump is a nasty piece of work. But the real problem is the nasty folks behind him.

Image: wsj.com


Monday, November 20, 2017

Ego Is No Substitute For Intellect



Word has it that NAFTA re-negotiations are not going well. Robert Samuelson writes that's because Donald Trump has misdiagnosed the problem:

What made America great in the 1950s and 1960s were the strength of its economy and the recognition that freer trade was a powerful political force promoting prosperity and cementing Western alliances. 
It is this system that Trump is repudiating on the grounds that it has backfired on American workers and firms. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said in his trade speech Nov. 10. Poor trade agreements and abuses by our trading partners have caused U.S. trade deficits, the president said. 
To be sure, the United States should be more aggressive in pursuing trade complaints against countries that steal intellectual property (patents) or engage in dumping and illegal subsidization of exports. 
Still, these are not the major sources of our trade deficits. That distinction belongs to the dollar’s status as the major global currency, used to conduct trade and cross-border investment. 
This drives the dollar’s value higher, making U.S. exports more expensive and U.S. imports cheaper. Given the nature of the resulting trade deficits — and as is obvious from the economy’s present state — the United States can achieve “full employment” and run trade deficits simultaneously.

 Trump, of course, understands none of this. Ego is no substitute for intellect.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Happens When You're Half Educated



The founders of Facebook and Google are horrified by what they have wrought. John Naughton writes:

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves. 
The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies. 
It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? 

The answer, Naughton suggests, lies in the education each of the founders of these technological giants received:

Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. 
As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”

We are still living in the world C.P. Snow described in The Two Cultures, where the sciences and the humanities are not on speaking terms:

He lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other – with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.

Snow believed that the truly educated person should be steeped in both the sciences and the humanities. And so, here we are, in a world where some very bright and influential people make stupid decisions.

Image:wikipedia


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mad As Hell



It used to be that, when the economy was doing well, the politician at the head of the parade did well, too. But Allen Freeman writes that, even with a vibrant economy, Justin Trudeau's numbers are sinking:

There were always exceptions to the rule that linked the economy and politics — but now the rule itself has to be tossed aside. Voting intentions now seem to be completely divorced from the state of the economy. 
How else can we explain the results of a recent Nanos Research poll that seems to show many Canadians giving the Trudeau Liberals virtually no credit for the current buoyant state of the Canadian economy? According to the poll, only 25 per cent rated Trudeau’s performance as an economic manager as good or better, while 36 per cent saw that performance as poor or very poor.

Denis Cordere, the now former Mayor of Montreal has experienced the same phenomenon:

In Montreal, Denis Coderre just got voted out of the mayor’s office after a single term during which the city experienced the kind of boom times that have escaped it since the 1970s. Property values are up. Unemployment is at record low levels. Tourism is soaring. The city increasingly is seen as a global centre for gaming technology and artificial intelligence research.
Yet Coderre, who obviously underestimated his opponent, got no credit for the good times.

And then, of course, there is the circus to the south of us. How to account for what's going on? Freeman says the public is just plain mad:

I think this stems from the cultural moment we’re in now in western democracies — the widespread urge to give the middle finger to the ‘elites’ no matter what they do, or don’t do. Voters are quick to blame politicians the moment things go wrong but are much less likely to give them any credit for anything positive. It’s as if voters are looking for an excuse — any excuse — to throw the jerks out of office at the earliest opportunity.
All of this doesn’t bode well for the good conduct of public policy. There used to be an assumption that if politicians did the right things economically (especially early in a term) and could show tangible benefits to the public, they had a good chance of being rewarded for it. In this new world of constantly irritable voters, ready to turn their moods and their votes on a dime, forget good policy.

We are living in Howard Beales's world. The voters are made as hell and they won't take it anymore.

Image: stevecurtin.com


Friday, November 17, 2017

Sleepwalking To Extinction



The nations of the world have been meeting in Bonn trying to map out a strategy for dealing with climate change. But we face another crisis -- which, in itself, is related to climate change. William Rees writes:

Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations. But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise. 
On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others. (Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment.”)

We are the dominant species -- and we have been crowding out all the others:

Competitive displacement has been going on for a long time. Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent! 
One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century. Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95 per cent to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000). And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970. Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.

We have adopted the mantra of exponential growth. It has become our measure of success. But consider:

The past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years. 

All of this is unsustainable. But we continue to follow the same old patterns -- sleepwalking to extinction.

Image:  USA Today


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hard To Find


In the end, three Republican senators -- Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain -- torpedoed the monstrosity that was intended to put an end to Obamacare. And now they are faced with another monstrosity. E.J. Dionne writes:

The GOP bill that should be called the Cut Taxes on President Trump and Other Very Rich People Act of 2017 always had a secondary purpose: to jack up the deficit so Republicans could later cry out in horror, “Look at that awful debt!” They’d then use the pools of red ink they created to justify deep cuts in social programs. 
But people who call themselves conservative are shovelling out so much money so fast to corporations and the privileged that they needed some health care cuts upfront — at the expense of coverage for millions of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. 
And so on Tuesday, the Senate majority took an appalling bill and made it even more atrocious. To their ungainly concoction of tax breaks for the various interests that support them, they added the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

Most Republicans are still trying to get rid of Obamacare. They're also pushing a huge corporate tax break. And, as with their health care legislation, they are rushing to pass it:

Let’s take a step back and ponder the exceptional irresponsibility of what’s transpiring here. The same people who complained that more than a year of hearings, analysis and debate around Obamacare constituted “rushing” the bill are now recklessly spiriting through the system a gigantic piece of legislation that would touch all corners of the American economy. 
They are changing it willy-nilly, day-by-day, to accommodate this or that political problem. They are rationalizing their thrown-together product with false claims about everything from whom it will benefit to how it will affect the long-term deficit. They are using a tax bill to punish their political enemies (people in high-tax blue states, major universities, low-income Americans) and reward their friends and donors (corporations and the very affluent).

And, with all of the sound and fury about Judge Roy Moore, they may succeed in passing their legislation -- unless the same Republicans -- with a couple of additions -- stand up for their constituents.

These days, it's hard to find profiles in courage in the American Congress.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Making Sure The Sacrifice Is Worth It



As Justin Trudeau prepares to announce Canada's new definition of peacekeeping, retired general Michael Day asks: "Is peacekeeping worth it?"

I've always considered that the litmus test for the deployment of our military should adhere to some version of the six rules outlined by Caspar Weinberger when he was U.S. secretary of defense. The Weinberger Doctrine, as it came to be known, had at its core a series of simple assessments, but the principle Canada might best adopt would be the requirement to articulate why it is strategically important to the country – to be more precise, why it is worth endangering the lives of young Canadians. I can think of many reasons, and I recognize that our democratically elected government has the authority to deploy military force wherever it sees fit. I merely want the government to say why – including why it is worth the cost in coin and, more importantly, the potential cost in blood.

Put simply, there has to be a clearly defined reason to put Canadian troops in danger -- because these days, keeping the peace not only costs money but lives:

If there is one thing observers of all political stripes might agree on, it is that the world is a messy place. Governments may claim that force, or the threat of force, is sufficient to deter violence at some level (despite recent examples to the contrary), but it most certainly does not rebuild a civil society based on the rule of law, let alone create economic well-being. Without these components, no effort can succeed.

Recent events illustrate Day's point. After the "shock and awe" of the invasion of Iraq, there was no attempt to rebuild a civil society. And, once you engage in military conflict, it's hard to bring the conflicted sides together. Syria is the most egregious example of that phenomenon.

What these fractured states need, Day writes, " is an approach that is 'whole of society' in its application, where the cultural, ethnic and religious fractures are equally addressed. Contemplating anything less is tokenism at best and most certainly self-defeating." That is the hard work which follows military intervention. And that work takes years.

Unless we are committed to rebuilding a civil society after the battle, the sacrifice will be for nothing.

Image: Ceasefire.ca

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Return To Pre-Revolutionary France



Paul Krugman has written a blistering analysis of what the Republicans call tax "reform." They're using the same arguments that George W. Bush used to sell his tax plan. But there are new and egregious add-ons:

There are also some new aspects to this latest money grab. This time around, much more clearly than before, the goal seems to be to favor wealth, especially inherited wealth, over work. And buried in the legislation are multiple measures that would make it much harder for the children of the middle and working classes to work their way up.

The bill targets middle class families and makes it harder for children to achieve the American Dream -- to rise further than their parents have:

Suppose that a child from a working-class family decides, despite limited financial resources, to attend college, probably taking out a loan to help pay tuition. Well, guess what: Under the House bill, that interest would no longer be deductible, substantially raising the cost of college.
What if you’re working your way through school and your employer contributes toward your education expenses? The House bill would make that contribution taxable income.
What if your parent is a university employee, and you get reduced tuition as a result? That tuition break becomes taxable income. So would tuition breaks for graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants.
So what we’re looking at here are a variety of measures that will close off opportunities for children who weren’t clever enough to choose wealthy parents.

And, because the bill also reduces the inheritance tax, it makes it easier for the wealthy to pass on their fortunes to their children. It's clear, Krugman writes, that the Republicans are planning to entrench plutocracy:

The tax legislation Republicans are trying to ram through Congress with indecent haste, without hearings or time for any kind of serious study, looks an awful lot like an attempt not simply to reinforce plutocracy, but to entrench a hereditary plutocracy.

It's not just stupid economic policy -- it's a return to pre-revolutionary France.

Image: mentalfloss.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

Stunning


Ed Broadbent has the numbers on what a tax structure tilted towards the rich costs:

According to a recent study in the Canadian Tax Journal, the top 1 per cent of individual taxpayers earn 11.7 per cent of all income, but receive almost all of the benefit of the stock options deduction and 87.4 per cent of the benefit of the capital gains deduction. In the case of both stock options and capital gains, only 50 per cent of income is liable to tax.
The top 1 per cent also receive almost one half (47.8 per cent) of the benefit of special tax treatment of dividends. Even within the top 1 per cent, benefits are heavily tilted to the very rich.
These tax loopholes are costly. Money needed for hospitals, schools and infrastructure is unfairly left in the hands of the rich. Partial inclusion of capital gains in taxable income costs the federal government alone $3.6 billion per year; partial inclusion of stock options costs $725 million per year; and special tax treatment of dividends costs $3.7 billion per year.

The Paradise Papers make clear that Canada treats the rich like most so called "advanced" democracies. And they explain why these democracies are in trouble:

Tax avoidance and evasion by the rich ultimately undermines democracy: it starves social programs and public services, increases after tax income and wealth inequality, and further concentrates economic resources in the hands of a few. The overall message to a majority of Canadians is that the rules of the economic game are rigged against them.

The Liberals campaigned on a platform to restore democracy. But, Broadbent writes, their hypocrisy is "stunning."

Image: taxfairness.ca

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hot Air -- That's All



During the election campaign, Donald Trump talked tough about China. The United States, he said, "cannot continue to allow China to rape our country." But, last week, he put on a much different performance. Tony Burman writes:

Speaking at a joint appearance with the Chinese leader on Thursday, Trump lavished praise on Xi, calling him “a very special man” with whom he had “great chemistry.” He talked of the “absolutely terrific” dinner they had, and how much of a “very, very great honour” it was to be together with Xi.
Unlike past U.S. presidents in their visits to China, Trump made no reference to Chinese human rights violations and he didn’t insist that reporters be allowed to ask questions of the two leaders.
He noted the wide trade imbalance between the two countries, but blamed past U.S. administrations “for having allowed it to get so far out of kilter.” Trump went on to stress: “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

It was a remarkable turn around -- perhaps because the Chinese know how to deal with Big Egos:

Xi rolled out the red carpet when Trump and his wife arrived Wednesday. They were celebrated at an official dinner inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, an honour not granted to any U.S. president since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China put on a military ceremony that featured soldiers swinging their guns in precision and hundreds of tiny children waving flags. Trump gushed afterward that this was “a truly memorable and impressive display.”

After World War I, the 21st century became the American century. But last week, "Trump left Beijing empty-handed. It was clear from the start that Chinese officials had no intention of conceding anything of substance to the U.S. president on issues such as North Korea or trade."

Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Change Accord and the TPP. The countries of the world are watching. It looks like the 21st century will be the Chinese Century. The only thing Trump offers the world is hot air. That's all.

Image: Nicolas Asfouri/AFPGettyImages

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Disease Behind The Anxiety


This week marked the anniversary of Donald Trump's election. The British recently passed the first anniversary of Brexit. Jonathan Freedland writes that, on both sides of the Atlantic, progressives are flummoxed:

While American progressives lament their fellow citizens’ decision to make Donald Trump president a year ago this week, their British counterparts have spent the same period gnashing their teeth over Brexit. When the two groups meet, they exchange apologies: “Don’t blame me,” they tell each other, “I voted the other way.”

They are appalled by the way things turned out and they are mystified why the supporters of both phenomena have not changed their minds:

The US president’s poll ratings are awful, lower than for any predecessor ever at this stage. But his base remains intact: 35% or so are resolutely sticking with him no matter what. Nearly all those who voted for him a year ago tell pollsters they would vote for him again. In the same way, support for leave has barely dipped since the EU referendum. True, for the third month in a row those who think the leave decision was wrong narrowly outnumber those who think it was right. But still, support for Brexit remains firm.

Both camps claim that economic anxiety is at the root of what happened. But Freedland argues that the cause runs much deeper than that:

A revealing report in Politico this week talked to the voters who flocked to Trump a year ago. Most agreed that he’d fulfilled none of his promises – but they didn’t care. He wasn’t going to reopen the mines, bring back the old factory jobs or address the opioid crisis killing their young – they could see that now. Nevertheless, they were with him 100%. Why? As Politico reported: “His supporters here, it turns out, are energised by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments.”
They like the fact that he is constantly lashing out at the people they hate: the elites, the liberal media and, above all, people of colour. They understand what Trump was getting at when he went after those black players in the NFL who refused to stand for the national anthem. One Trump-loving couple said they had always believed NFL stood for “Niggers for Life”.

And, in Britain, immigration -- which many people take to mean the admission of people whose skin colour and whose customs are not like ours -- fuels the fires of British racism:

Here too, though, economic anxiety is not the whole story. Identity, immigration, loss, nostalgia, a sense of reduced status, and alienation from the country taking shape around them – all these played their part as well.

It will take more than an improved economy to cure the disease which infects both nations.

Image: The BBC

Friday, November 10, 2017

To Bee Or Not To Bee


That, Micheal Harris writes, is the question. There simply are a lot fewer of them around:

Plos One, a Europe-based Open Access multidisciplinary journal, published a stunning report this year on the plummeting number of flying insects in Germany. The report, which made headlines around the world, found that the number of such insects fell by a jaw-dropping 75 per cent over 27 years.

The reason? We are using all kinds of  neonicotinoids on our fields. These insecticides are killing off pollinators -- those seemingly insignificant creatures -- who guarantee the long term viability of our crops.  The U.K. and European Union have decided to ban neonicotinoids, And certain jurisdictions in Canada have also forbidden their use:

Vancouver and Montreal have already banned these dangerous pesticides within their city limits. Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to limit the use and sale of neonics. That seems appropriate after ten years of bee-poisoning in that province’s corn fields. Quebec also has limited the pesticide’s use.

But the federal government is still refusing to move. Harris writes that Justin Trudeau vowed that he would protect the environment and rely on science as a driver of policy. But there is a growing gap between Trudeau's rhetoric and his actions. And he should have learned from recent history:

Canadians have had their fill of governments that gave the benefit of the doubt to products and practices that kill the ecosystems that keep us alive. They watched as Ottawa issued larger and larger quotas on the Grand Banks, even as the Northern Cod was disappearing as a commercial species.
Millions of people cringed when the Harper government kept supporting asbestos exports, long after it was banned as a hazardous material in this country and we were paying to take it out of 24 Sussex.
The last thing Canadians want is a government that won’t get its ass in gear in the interests of a marvelous creature that helps pollinate the plants that give us one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat.

Canadians will throw Justin out if he can't back up his words with action.

Image: mnn.com