Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Small, Cautious Budget



Kevin Page writes that yesterday's budget was not a history making event:

From a fiscal vantage point, Budget 2017 was a very small event. There’s about $6 billion in new federal resources cumulatively planned for the next six years. By comparison, Budget 2016 allocated about $11.5 billion in new resources in year one, rising to $14.5 billion in year two.

The Liberals are still going to run deficits, but they're investing in nothing new and nothing big. And there's not much of a plan:

What will we get for the $140 billion addition to our stock of debt over the next 6 years?
We are doubling infrastructure spending over the next ten years. Budget 2017 lays out where this money will go. Still, there is no national needs assessment — no national or sectoral plan. If there is no plan, how can we hold the government to account?

Budget 2017 lays out a strategy to strengthen skills and innovation. It may be a good strategy but it’s not a plan. There are commitments to review existing programs and to work with the provinces to strengthen labour market agreements. This is all good — but why did we not do the spending review before Budget 2017, so that we would have resources to fund new priorities and programs?

Why the caution? The reason, we're told, is that Donald Trump -- ever the disruptor -- hasn't laid out his plan. And, until he does, we are going to tread water.

Like the rest of the world, we're waiting for Donald. But perhaps. like Godot, he'll never show up.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Pivotal Moment



Last week's meeting between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel was -- to put it mildly -- awkward. Joseph Ingram writes:

Take a close look at the body language on display at that press conference. What we saw was not the courteous warmth typical of a first encounter between two world leaders with common interests and similar world views. Rather, we saw what looked like an encounter between a wiser, more confident, more mature leader and a petulant, scornful child. And no handshake. No doubt, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his erstwhile populist allies in France, Germany and Italy were heartened.

As Trump pursues his American First agenda, he diminishes his -- and his country's authority throughout the world:

Already we see the baton of global leadership being pulled from America’s grip. President Trump’s criticism of trade alliances, and his subsequent withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to suggest that the partnership be resurrected — with China replacing the U.S. as the pact’s lynchpin. The Latin Americans are not far behind him.
There is a growing recognition out there that the Trump/Bannon world vision is one of tightly-controlled European nation states, which — along with Russia — could serve as a white Christian bulwark against Islam and the ‘invasion’ of those job-stealing non-white hordes arriving from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In the minds of those now running the White House, the West should be dominated by strong Christian nations — the U.S. and Russia, through their respective spheres of influence — with South Asia dominated by an emerging Hindu-run India, and East Asia by China, tempered in its ambitions by an emboldened Japan.

Which means that Canada has to rethink its role in the world. And, as unnerving as that world is, Canada may have a new place in it:

Because of these developments, Canada — as the United States’ racially and religiously diverse neighbour to the north — finds itself today in a critical geo-strategic position, linked as it is (economically, culturally and militarily) with the U.S., while simultaneously reflecting many of the core liberal democratic values of today’s EU. And if Europe continues to reject alt-right populism, as it has in Austria and the Netherlands (and may well do in France and Italy), President Trump and the U.S. will find themselves even more isolated.

Canada needs to walk a very fine line here. It must balance its economic and security relationship with the United States (one which, in any case, needs to be diversified) with the interests of its partners in Europe, the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. To ensure the long-term survival of our liberal democracy and economic security, Canada must establish a more symmetrical balance — one guided not just by American economic imperatives but equally by the core progressive values it holds. Values like openness and transparency in the electoral process, ensuring the tools for economic success are widely available to all citizens, defending cultural tolerance and diversity and fighting climate change.

This is a pivotal moment. We will have to decide how to handle the pivot.

Image: puresurethoughts.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

With A Capital L



Yesterday was a bad day for Donald Trump. If there was one thing that yesterday's hearing made clear, it is that Trump is a Liar --with a capital L. David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:

I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about — among many other things — Obama’s birthplace, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.

The question is, how long will he be able to get away with it? Apparently, he'll be able to avoid accountability for quite awhile. The Republicans on the committee focused on the leaks, not the lies. And Sean Spicer

went before the cameras and lied about the closeness between Trump and various aides who have documented Russian ties. Do you remember Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s campaign, who ran the crucial delegate-counting operation? Spicer said Manafort had a “very limited role” in said campaign.

Lies. With a capital L.

Image: Pinterest

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Koch Party


When David Koch was the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980, he and his running mate, Ed Clark, advocated the abolition of public schools, social security and taxation. They garnered one percent of the vote. Koch took the appropriate lesson from the experience. Third parties in the United States are non starters. If you seek political power, you have to capture one of the two major parties. And so, Linda McQuaig writes, Koch and his brother Charles set out to take over the Republican Party:

Operating mostly behind the scenes, and driven by an abiding hatred of government and anything that smacked of distributing wealth more broadly, the Kochs invested massively over the next few decades in creating a vast network of think-tanks, academic programs, front groups, political action groups and campaigns, lobbyists and politicians, as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer documents in her powerful book Dark Money.

With the election of Donald Trump, they have achieved their objective:

Trump's independence may be overstated; his vice president, Mike Pence, has been a major recipient of Koch money and was Charles Koch's first choice for president in 2012. Pence has brought Koch operatives into the White House and shows signs of becoming a Dick Cheney-style puppet master. For that matter, the Kochs are only an impeachment away from having their guy running the free world.

The role of Koch money in shaping Republican politics gets surprisingly little media attention. But it helps explain the otherwise baffling behaviour of Republican politicians scrambling to justify stripping health coverage from their constituents and using the savings to pay for $600 billion worth of tax cuts for the rich. Awkward.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in the "freedom caucus," who've been heavily funded by the Kochs, consider the proposed reform too generous to the disadvantaged.

Who says you can't buy a government?

Image: rabble.ca

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Disappearing President



Maureen Dowd's analyses of presidential character are always interesting. She uses Freudian and Shakespearean analogies and, for students of literature like herself, she makes interesting reading. She cottoned on early to Oedipal issues in George W. Bush, as the son vainly tried to live up to his father's expectations. In yesterday's New York Times she turned her attention to Donald Trump. She wrote:

Consumed by his paranoia about the deep state, Donald Trump has disappeared into the fog of his own conspiracy theories. As he rages in the storm, Lear-like, howling about poisonous fake news, he is spewing poisonous fake news.

He trusts his beliefs more than facts. So many secrets, so many plots, so many shards of gossip swirl in his head, there seems to be no room for reality.

His grandiosity, insularity and scamming have persuaded Trump to believe he can mold his own world. His distrust of the deep state, elites and eggheads — an insecurity inflamed by Steve Bannon — makes it hard for him to trust his own government, or his own government’s facts.

Trump's disdain for facts is particularly disturbing: 

According to CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Trump got furious reading a Breitbart report that regurgitated a theory by conservative radio host Mark Levin that Barack Obama and his allies had staged a “silent coup.”

It is surpassingly strange that the president would not simply pick up the phone and call his intelligence chiefs before spitting out an inflammatory accusation with no proof, just as it was bizarre that Trump shrugged off the regular intelligence briefings after he was elected. He preferred living in his own warped world.

And Trump's minions -- who were hired for their loyalty, not their brains -- make fools of themselves trying to explain Trump to the world:

Sean Spicer offered a shaky Jenga tower of media citations to back up the president, including the contention of Fox’s Judge Andrew Napolitano that Obama had used GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, to spy on Trump.

But the world isn' t buying what they're selling:

In a rare public statement, the GCHQ called the claim “utterly ridiculous.”
Fox News also demurred, with Shepard Smith saying it “knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.”

Even Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, gave up the Sisyphean effort of defending Trump’s tripe. He said that if you took Trump’s remarks “literally” — as we expect to do with our commander in chief’s words — “clearly the president was wrong.”

Only those who live in Trumpworld believe him. And, as the believers fall away, Trump diminishes himself with each passing day. He is the disappearing president. 

Image: Pinterest

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When We Lose Our Memories



Henry Giroux writes that, if we are looking for a way to explain the rise of Donald Trump, we should look to our memories -- which Giroux believes we have lost:

Trump is the fascist shadow that has been lurking in the dark since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, pursuing new avenues to spread its toxic ideology of bigotry, cruelty, and greed into every facet of society. Its legions of “alt-right” racists, misogynists, and xenophobic hate-mongers now expose themselves publicly, without apology, knowing full well that they no longer have to use code for their hatred of all those who do not fit into their white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.

Trump’s victory makes clear that the economic crisis and the misery it has spurred has not been matched by an ideological crisis– a crisis of ideas, education, and values. Critical analysis and historical memory have given way to a culture of spectacles, sensationalism, and immediacy. Dangerous memories are now buried in a mass bombardment of advertisements, state sanctioned lies, and a political theater of endless spectacles. The mainstream media is now largely an adjunct of the entertainment industries and big corporations. Within the last 40 years training has taken the place of critical education, and the call for job skills has largely replaced critical thinking. Without an informed public, there is no resistance in the name of democracy and justice; nor is there a model of individual and collective agency rising to such an occasion.

There was a time when the memory of Fascism in Europe was still fresh. But it's been seventy years since the end of the Second World War. We are three generations away from that event. And those who lived through it are dying off. Giroux writes that a memory is a terrible thing to waste, because once it is gone, what is left in its wake is ignorance. And those who assume power compound the problem by manufacturing ignorance:

Manufactured ignorance erases histories of repression, exploitation, and revolts. What is left is a space of fabricated absences that makes it easy, if not convenient, to forget that Trump is not some eccentric clown offered up to the American polity through the deadening influence of celebrity and consumer culture. State and corporate sponsored ignorance produced primarily through the disimagination machines of the mainstream media and public relations industries in diverse forms now function chiefly to erase selected elements of history, disdain critical thought, reduce dissent to a species of fake news, and undermine the social imagination. How else to explain the recent Arkansas legislator who is pushing legislation to ban the works of the late historian Howard Zinn? How else to explain a culture awash in game shows and Realty TV programs? How else to explain the aggressive attack by extremists in both political parties on public and higher education? Whitewashing history is an urgent matter, especially for the Trump administration, which has brought a number of white supremacists to the center of power in the United States. 

It is abundantly apparent that Donald Trump is a profoundly ignorant man. And those who elected him are equally ignorant of the world in which they live.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Not Exactly As They Appear



There was a collective sigh of relief when Geert Wilders did not come out on top in the Netherlands election. But Tom Walkom warns that all is not sweetness and light:

Wilder’s Freedom Party still did well. It came a strong second, winning five additional seats in the 150-person legislature, for a total of 20.

More important, other parties felt compelled to ape Wilders, at least in part.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy ran on a platform of economic liberalism and cultural nationalism, warning immigrants to adopt Dutch values or leave.

If there was any saving grace, it was the pledges of the other parties that they would not work with Wilders. But the way seats are spread among the other parties is a bit troubling: 

Rutte’s party lost eight seats but still managed to come first with 33.

The Christian Democratic Appeal, another conservative party, campaigned on a nationalist platform that included banning dual citizenship and requiring schoolchildren to sing the national anthem.

That, too, worked. The Christian Democrats saw their seat total rise from 13 to 19, virtually guaranteeing them a central role in whatever coalition government emerges.

Much has been made of Jesse Klaver’s Green Left party, which saw its seat share rise from four to 14.
The 30-year-old Klaver is of Moroccan and Indonesian heritage. He supports immigration, the EU and efforts to combat climate change. With his movie-star looks and dark, wavy hair he has been called Holland’s Justin Trudeau.

His success, as well as that of the pro-Europe D66 party, which went from 12 to 19 seats, underlines just how complicated the new populism is.

And, as is the case with any coalition government, everything depends on how well Rutte can get a team of rivals to work together. If he fails, the number two man may step in.

Things are not exactly as they might first appear.

Image: Metopolis

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What Goes Around Comes Around



Yesterday, a judge in Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order against Donald Trump's  second travel ban. Last night, in Nashville, Trump fulminated against the judge's decision to a chorus of boos. If you read the decision, the judge's language is quite curt:

The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the ‘veiled psyche’ and ‘secret motives’ of government decision-makers and may not undertake a ‘judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts’.

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry.

For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release: ‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’

Nor is there anything ‘secret’ about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:

Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”

Trump assumes that the courts will forget about what he has said as quickly as he does. And he assumes that no one will see through the true intent of his actions. But judges aren't as stupid as he claims they are:

When signing the first Executive Order [No. 13,769], President Trump read the title, looked up, and said: ‘We all know what that means.’ President Trump said he was ‘establishing a new vetting measure to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America’, and that: ‘We don’t want them here.’
These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose.

Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.

The judge sees through the Donald. He is just as blunt in dismissing Trump's executive order as Trump is when dismissing his opponents. What goes around comes around.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Paying The Price For Ignorance

 
Mr. Justice Robin Camp has resigned. You may remember that Camp is the Alberta judge who wondered why a woman who appeared in his courtroom -- alleging that she had been sexually assaulted -- couldn't keep her knees together. He recently underwent a "re-education" regime. Gerry Caplan writes:

Since the rape trial at which he presided so ignorantly, many had argued for the need to educate Mr. Camp in the ways of women and the world. Several feminist scholars were even brought in to give him what was called “in-depth counselling” – a kind of crash course, I guess, on modern women. Three of them decided that he was genuinely interested in changing.

The same goes for his colleague in Halifax, Judge Gregory Lenehan, who in his recent ruling on a sex assault case said “a drunk can consent.” Right. Even when they’re found unconscious in the back of a cab and had peed themselves.

Who are these judges? Have they been on Mars? Do they represent the male judges at the pinnacle of our criminal justice system? Were they unconscious while the endless struggle for women’s equality and a woman’s right to be respected played out as front-page news?

Both men are not uneducated. But both men are ignorant. Caplan argues that the antidote for ignorance is paying attention: 

Justice Camp was a university graduate; a well-paid professional. We have the right to expect judges like him to be aware of their surroundings. Of basic morality. When asked why his cabinet was gender-balanced, the Prime Minister said, simply, “Because it’s 2015.” Everyone, but everyone, knew what he meant. No special courses were required by anyone.

It's not just judges. Lots of folks are simply not paying attention. And there is always a price to be paid for ignorance.

Image: Trading Street

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

They're All Lunatics



The Congressional Budget Office has just released its analysis of Trumpcare. It concludes that, by next year, fourteen million of the twenty million Americans who now have healthcare won't have it. Republicans argue that Americans will be able to choose the healthcare they want. Consider what they are really saying: Fourteen million Americans will be free to choose the healthcare they can't get. It's sheer lunacy.

The Washington Post's Catherine Rempel writes that the Trump administration is full of lunatics.  Consider Kellyanne Conway's explanation of how Barack Obama tapped Trump's telephone:

Over the weekend, Bergen Record columnist Mike Kelly asked Conway point blank, “Do you know whether Trump Tower was wiretapped?”

Conway’s response: “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. . . . There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their — certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.”

Trump's budget director Mick Mulvaney has agreed with Trump -- until now -- that  you can't trust the information published by the Bureau of Labour Statistics:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been calculating the unemployment rate the same way since 1940. But Mulvaney nevertheless supports the theories of his tinfoil-hat-wearing boss, who throughout the presidential campaign called the unemployment rate a “hoax” and “totally fiction.” Most recently Trump relayed through his press secretary that the jobs report “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” 

Trump's EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt "suggested that — despite the overwhelming scientific consensus — carbon dioxide may not be a “primary contributor” to climate change." Trump appointee Curtis Ellis, who works in the Labour Department, " previously argued that Democrats were engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of working-class whites." And Sid Bowdidge " the massage therapist with no relevant experience. . . landed a job as a political appointee at the Energy Department, despite tweeting that Muslims ought to be exterminated and Obama was related to radical Islamist terrorists."

Like their boss, The Great Orange Id, they're all lunatics.

Image: Opacity.us

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rae On Diversity


Canadians like to think that, as a nation, we value diversity. Bob Rae reminds us that we haven't always felt that way:

Canada’s commitment to diversity and pluralism has become a critical feature of our identity. For many generations we were no such thing — a deputy minister of immigration in the 1930s was asked how many Jews would be admitted that year. His reply was devastatingly simple: “None is too many.” Chinese immigrants paid a head tax. Japanese and others were rounded up and lost all their property and livelihood in the Second World War. The litany of exclusion and discrimination is long — and we lapse into it still today.

A particular kind of brutality was imposed on the indigenous community. Children were rounded up and taken away to boarding schools whose mission was appallingly simple — “to take the Indian out of the child.” This was the policy of the government of Canada from the 1830s to as recently as the early 1990s. The Chief Justice of Canada has called it “cultural genocide.” This is the system a Tory Senator wants to defend and find the “positive parts of this experience.” This mind boggling comment has rightly set off a firestorm.

South of the 49th parallel, there is a rising tide against people who don't look and sound like us. And -- particularly in the Conservative Party -- one hears echoes of Trumpian nationalism. Rae warns that:

The blustering nationalism he now champions runs contrary to everything America has stood for in the world. Other countries will have to counter what he is doing and saying by insisting that pluralism, openness, and embracing the dignity of difference need to lie at the core of international politics. 

“America First” is a dead end, because it will only lead to everyone else insisting on the same protectionism.  

We should learn from our own history. And we certainly should not repeat the American present.

Image: Anne Chia's Grigingles


Sunday, March 12, 2017

A New Era?


I often disagree with David Brooks. But I read his columns in The New York Times because I find them interesting and occasionally intriguing. On Friday, he predicted that the Republican attempt to "reform" Obamacare would fail. But then he went on to suggest that its failure marked the dawn of a new era in American politics. It is an era, he writes, that has been presaged by three crises:

First, the crisis of opportunity. People with fewer skills were seeing their wages stagnate, the labor markets evaporate. Second, the crisis of solidarity. The social fabric, especially for those without a college degree, was disintegrating — marriage rates plummeting, opiate abuse rates rising. Third, the crisis of authority. Distrust in major institutions crossed some sort of threshold. People had so lost trust in government, the media, the leadership class in general, that they were willing to abandon truth and decorum and embrace authoritarian thuggery to blow it all up.

For Brooks, the Republican attempt to destroy Obamacare is a symptom, not a cause:

If President Obama had made these crises the center of his administration, instead of the A.C.A., Democrats wouldn’t have lost Congress and the White House. If the Tea Party had understood the first two of these crises, there would have been no opening for Donald Trump.

Trump came along and exploited these crises. But if his administration’s health care approach teaches us anything, it is that he has no positive agenda for addressing them. He can tap into working class anxiety negatively, by harnessing hostility toward immigrants, foreigners and the poor. But he can’t come up with a positive agenda to make working class life more secure.

For the last four decades we have operated on a thesis popularized by the Austrian professors and their acolyte, Milton Friedman. They believed that a strong market is preferable to a strong state. But Brooks suggests we need both:

The core of the new era is this: If you want to preserve the market, you have to have a strong state that enables people to thrive in it. If you are pro-market, you have to be pro-state. You can come up with innovative ways to deliver state services, like affordable health care, but you can’t just leave people on their own. The social fabric, the safety net and the human capital sources just aren’t strong enough.

Can we have both? I have not thought through Brooks' thesis. That will take time. But I'd be interested to know what readers think of it.

Over to you. 

Image: Amazon.com

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Keeping People Out







The Conservative leadership race is almost at the finish line. And the contestants are firing up their base, not building a big tent. Bruce Anderson writes:

On a range of policy issues, the Conservatives seem determined to re-create the same coalition of voters that supported them in 2015, when they were handed their hat. Stephen Harper’s party bet heavily against compassion for refugees and tolerance towards Muslim immigrants. Most observers in the Party acknowledged that the low point of the campaign was when Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander stood at a podium to announce that Canada needed a special measure—a toll free snitch line—to report the barbarism of your next door Muslim.

That didn’t work very well. But both those former Ministers are running, and hanging out with the Ezra Levant crowd which never wants to talk about anything else. Too often the only news about this race was the fight over who cares enough to keep Canada ‘Canadian’, if you know what we mean.

To win an election in Canada, a party has to do what Justin Trudeau did -- appeal to millennials: 

You don’t have to be elbows deep in polling data to know intuitively what we see in our studies—that most young people are progressive and open minded, global in outlook, interested in new ideas, compassionate about the refugees, concerned about climate change, and inspired by technology and innovation.

Younger voters want smart, creative thinking about how to shape an evolving Canadian economy in a constantly disrupted world. They want a society that’s welcoming and open, not suspicious, anxious and closed. 

They need a big tent. But Conservatives seem obsessed with keeping "the wrong kind of people" out.

Image: SafetySign.com

Friday, March 10, 2017

Why Sources Matter



There is an old journalistic trick. It's called planting a story. Only now it's done online. And Chrystia Freeland is the latest example of how it works. Michael Harris writes:

This week, one of the true stars of Canadian journalism, Bob Fife, published a story in the Globe & Mail that made waves. And for good reason. It hit all the hot buttons from bygone wars. According to Fife’s story, Freeland had known for 20 years that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi-controlled newspaper in occupied Poland.

Although Freeland had mentioned her maternal grandparents in articles and books, she had never stated that her grandfather, Mikhail Chomiak, had been a Nazi propagandist for the Krakow News. Or that the paper had published articles supporting Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. This, despite the fact that Freeland helped edit a scholarly article written by her uncle on this very subject back in 1996.

Where did the story come from? We're learning that Russia plants lots of stories these days. Why? Well, consider:

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in the wake of a so-called “referendum”, Canada imposed sanctions against Moscow. In retaliation, Freeland and twelve other prominent Canadians, including then-Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, were banned from travelling to Russia. Cotler had long advocated on behalf of political prisoners in Russia and was a supporter of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who died in prison after accusing Russian officials of colluding with organized criminals.

It was after Freeland was appointed minister of Foreign Affairs that stories began to appear on the internet, especially on pro-Vladimir Putin websites — stories about the Ukrainian side of her family. They had titles such as “A Nazi Skeleton in the Family Closet”. Her maternal grandfather, Mikhail Chomiak, grew up in Western Ukraine and graduated with a Master’s degree in law and political science from Lviv University. He became a journalist in 1928.

The stories on these pro-Russian websites detailed how during the Nazi occupation Chomiak edited a Ukrainian language newspaper, Krakivski Visti, that spread anti-Semitic, Nazi propaganda. Some of Ukraine’s most prominent intellectuals wrote for the paper — those who had survived mass arrests and executions. The newspaper has been described as “a Ukrainian paper edited within the German reality.” It was a kind way of describing collaboration.

After the war, Chomiak immigrated to Canada. His daughter — Freeland’s mother, Halyna — was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Her paternal grandmother was a war bride from Glasgow — lucky to be on the winning side of a war that crushed so many young people.

Freeland got back on Russia’s radar as Canada’s policy on Ukraine developed with the Liberals in charge. On March 6, 2017, Canada announced a two-year extension of Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine — Operation Unifier, which is part of a wider NATO mission. She was seen as an enemy of Russia with a personal animus against the Kremlin. 

Knowing what we now know about Russian interference in the American election, we'd be foolish to think that the Russians will leave us -- or any perceived enemy -- alone. But there are a couple of lessons to be drawn from all of this:

1. All of us have skeletons in our closet. And  all of us have relatives -- past and present -- who have not been paragons of virtue. That knowledge should, but often doesn't, vaccinate us against self- righteousness.

2. The sources we choose for our information are critically important. It would appear that Donald Trump has been relying on Breitbart News to explain the world to him.That fact might go a long way to explain why every time he opens his mouth he can't be believed.

Sources matter.

Image: Politicoscope

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Immigration Rage


Around the world, immigrants are becoming the enemies of those who see themselves as "we, the people." South of us, that rage wears a large orange face. But the disease is creeping north, across the border. Andrew Coyne writes:

Whether it is Kelly Leitch’s insinuation that immigrants need to be instructed in such Canadian values as hard work (“Do you recognize (you) can’t expect to have things you want given to you?”) or Kevin O’Leary’s instantaneously discovered concern for closing the “loophole” in Canada’s refugee system (“Canada can’t afford to sit back & watch thousands of people walk right into our country … pretending to be refugees”) or Maxime Bernier’s weird demand that immigration policy “should not aim to forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada,” there’s evidently a market for this sort of thing.

The debate is all about the meaning of citizenship and the assumptions which underlie the concept:

One is the notion that birthright — where you were born, or who you were born to — should confer automatic right to citizenship. Heredity is not usually considered an appropriate basis for assigning  status and rights in modern societies. Yet while a landed immigrant may live and work here for years without being entitled to citizenship, should you have been born here while your parents were changing flights en route to Mongolia, you’re considered one of us.

The other, more basic assumption is that those born here have the automatic right to prevent others from joining them. Of course any society is entitled to set the terms of the social contract, that is the rights and obligations that go with membership, such as paying your taxes, obeying the law and so forth. But immigrants are not asking to be let out of the social contract: they ask only to be allowed to sign it. That they are nonetheless prevented from doing so, and on no other basis than where they were born, seems arbitrary in the extreme.

And there's the rub. Some of us have been blessed with good fortune. Others, like the millions of displaced people these days, seem to be followed by ill fortune and ill will wherever they go. Coyne reminds his readers that those of us who have the benefit of good fortune need to walk in the shoes of the displaced:

Certainly there is no “natural” or “right” level of population for a country, but if there were it would be an astonishing coincidence if, wherever we were, we should happen to be precisely at it. And yet that is the very thing our immigration restrictionists assert. Indeed, they always have.

If the restrictionists had had their way, most of us wouldn't be here.

Image: The National Post

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Is Trump A New Carter?



Conservative commentator Ross Douthat argues in this morning's New York Times that Donald Trump may be another Jimmy Carter:

But with the release of the House Republican “replacement” (I use that term loosely) for Obamacare, it’s worth returning to the analogy. It rests, in part, on the work of the political scientist Stephen Skowronek, who argues that certain presidencies are “disjunctive” — straddling a political order passing into history and another one struggling to be born. And “disjunctive” generally means ineffective, because the parties such presidents are leading are likewise trapped between past and future and unable to unify and act.

The release of the Republican Plan to replace Obamacare has made clear yet again how disjunctive the Republican Party really is:

In the long Reagan era, the Republican Party was, in effect, the party of the health care status quo — bending to accept certain expansions of the welfare state (S-CHIP, a prescription drug benefit in Medicare) in order to forestall a larger government takeover of health insurance.

By the late 2000s, however, the decline in employer-provided coverage and the steady rise of health care costs made status-quo politics untenable: Too many workers who made too much to qualify for Medicaid were unable to afford insurance. Meanwhile, over the same period, Republicans were winning more working-class votes, which meant that their own constituents increasingly stood to benefit from a coverage-expanding health care reform.

When it comes to public healthcare, the Republicans are still the Party of No

because the party’s limited-government ideology was hostile to increased spending, and many of its strongest interest groups stood to lose out from reform. So resist the G.O.P. did — sometimes by embracing a more libertarian vision of health care, but more often by incoherently and opportunistically attacking whatever the Democrats proposed.

And now that they are in the driver's seat the Party is attacking what its leaders propose. They are what they have been for a long time -- an opposition party which has forgotten how to govern.

Trump may, indeed, be the next Carter.

Image: jif.org

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Future of The NDP


A lot has been written about the Conservative leadership race. But, so far, the contest for the leadership of the NDP has generated little comment -- mainly because, until recently, nobody wanted the job. But now that Peter Julian, Charlie Angus and Guy Caron have put in their applications, attention will tip toward the Dippers.

But, Tom Walkom writes, interest in the party's future does not mean that it will turn to the left. The Leap Manifesto was an attempt to steer the party in that direction. However,

the brief excitement over the so-called LEAP Manifesto — a clarion call to fight climate change — seems to have ebbed.

With the exception of British Columbia MP Peter Julian, who explicitly opposes all pipeline projects aimed at moving bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands, the leadership candidates have been eloquently vague on the topic of climate change.

Angus, an MP from Northern Ontario, says Canada must move toward a green economy and away from fossil fuels. But he also says this must be done in way that doesn’t penalize workers in the energy sector — which is the position of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley, Mulcair and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Julian and Quebec MP Caron favour a fairer tax system. But they are vague on how they would accomplish that.
Angus has said he wants to find out what New Democrats are thinking before he comes up with specific policy pronouncements on taxes or anything else.

The fixation with taxes indicates that the party -- like Canada's two other major parties -- is still firmly in the grip of Neo-liberalism. And when it comes to free trade and deficits:

Free trade? The NDP used to be against it. But the party has watered down its opposition. Under Mulcair, it actively embraced a free-trade pact with South Korea.

In this leadership race, the candidates to date have taken carefully ambiguous positions on trade and investment deals. Julian wants “fair trade,” a term used by both the Canadian labour movement and U.S. President Donald Trump. Caron says he wants “trade deals that work for Canada.”

Deficits? Mulcair was hammered from within his own party for vowing during the last election campaign to balance the budget no matter what, thereby allowing Trudeau to outflank the NDP from the left.
But the NDP’s official policy, like that of the Conservatives, is to balance the books over the length of any boom and bust business cycle — by running deficits in lean years and surpluses in fat ones.

It appears that all three parties are offering the same menu. The only differences deal with the way they spice up the meal.

Image: CBC

Monday, March 06, 2017

He's Nuts


Reports are that Friday was a rough day at the White House. Having discovered that his attorney general had recused himself from all investigations of Russian meddling in the American election, Donald Trump went ballistic and reamed out his staff for allowing Jeff Sessions to step aside. Then he headed to Florida to play golf. At six o'clock Trump sent out a series of tweets claiming -- with no supporting evidence -- that Barack Obama had tapped his phone. Michael Harris writes:

What he came up with was fresh from the outbox of Elsie the Cow.

Even the language was improbable. Do you know anyone who suspects they are under covert surveillance who says they had their “wires tapped”?

Most people would say “I’ve been wiretapped.” Or that “My phone’s been tapped.” Who says “I just found out I had my wires tapped.”? What wires? The ones sticking out of his tin-foil hat when he communes with Agent Mulder’s clientele?

Once again, Trump revealed his ignorance of the government he is supposed to lead. The law specifically forbids a president from doing what Trump claims Obama did. Trump's phone could only be tapped with the approval of a judge. And former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper -- who was in office at the time the telephone would have been tapped says he is not aware of any such authorization.

Trump is engaging in an old tactic --  the counter suit. When Trump went bankrupt in 2008, Trump went to court an argued that he shouldn't have to pay back the money because the Great Recession was an extraordinary event. In fact, he told the court that Deutsch Bank -- by his calculations owed him $3 million. Harris writes:

Trump is indulging in self-exoneration. He is not only saying that every intelligence agency in the United States has it wrong; he’s saying he is the victim of a wire tap, just now uncovered, that he wants the Congress of the United States to investigate.

Get it? Congress and the FBI are investigating the wrong president. They shouldn’t be investigating Donald J. Trump, America’s most patriotic plutocrat. They should be looking into whether one of the most popular and scandal-free presidents in American history abused the investigative powers of U.S. law enforcement in his final days and tapped into the Trump Towers looking for dirt. The Trump counter-punch is always aimed at the crotch.

There is a method to his madness. But it's still madness.

Image New York Daily News



Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Rich Are Different From You And Me



The wealthy still call the shots. If you doubt that assertion, consider recent revelations about Fintrac. Alan Freeman writes:

Time and again, Fintrac and the Canadian government have been called out by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental group that develops international standards in the fight against money laundering, for weak laws and half-hearted enforcement. Instead of being a leader, Canada has earned a reputation as a laggard in this battle.

This lukewarm commitment by Ottawa to policing money-laundering wasn’t helped by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015 that exempted lawyers from mandatory reporting of suspicious transactions, accepting the view that this would somehow violate solicitor-client privilege. Welcome, kleptocrats. Canada is beckoning.

If you want to launder money, you need secrecy. And Fintrac can and does provide it:

In almost 10 years of existence, [Fintrac has] assessed financial penalties only 95 times — mostly small fines aimed at currency dealers and jewellers who haven’t kept proper records.
Then, last April, Fintrac finally landed a big fish. For the first time, a bank had been caught breaking the rules by failing to report a suspicious transaction and an undisclosed number of money transfers. It was fined a record $1,154,670 — but Fintrac decided to undermine its own action by using its discretion and refusing to name the guilty party.

Again, it was the dogged work of journalists — at the Toronto Star, National Observer and CBC — that identified Manulife Bank of Canada, a subsidiary of one of our biggest life insurance companies, as the offending institution. According to these reports, Manulife was guilty of five different violations of the law, including failure to report a suspicious transaction with a client who was a convicted felon and failure to report 1,174 international wire transfers of $10,000 or more involving other clients, as well as an overall lack of anti-money-laundering policies.

The little guys haven't received that kind of treatment:

While Manulife could hide in obscurity, protected by Fintrac’s discretion, dozens of tiny outfits have been named and shamed by the same agency and have paid the price in lost reputation. “It’s very unfair to name someone and not name someone else,” Michael Baumbach of the Diamond Exchange told the Toronto Star after his business, which has three employees, was named by Fintrac and fined $12,750 for violations on the same day that Manulife was fined and got its omerta protection. Why Fintrac has named 40 of its violators over the past nine years while protecting the identities of the other 55 is anybody’s guess.

There is a myth that F. Scott Fitzgerald once told  Earnest Hemingway, "The rich are different from you and me." Hemingway responded, "Yes, they have more money." The incident never happened. But the point behind it is still true.  The rich buy influence. And, thus, they have more power.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Hypocrites Are In Charge


There is much to despise about Donald Trump. But Jonathan Freedland points out that Trump is not the only villain in the present drama, which is straight out of the Theatre of the Absurd. The Republican Party --  with a couple of exceptions -- have thrown their lot in with Trump:

Sure, Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham vow to hold Trump to account. But the rest of them are profiles in moral weakness, prepared to turn two blind eyes to the actions of the president simply because he wears the right party colours. So Devin Nunes, chair of the House intelligence committee, which should be investigating all this, says “there’s nothing there”. His colleague Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House oversight committee, declined to look into the Flynn affair because “it’s taking care of itself”. Oversight, it seems, is precisely the right word. But please don’t get the impression that Chaffetz is lethargic in his supervisory duties. On the contrary, there’s one scandal he’s very keen to investigate even now: Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

It’s Republicans who are making a mockery of Trump’s claim to speak for the forgotten millions by planning a tax cut that will send billions of dollars into the pockets of the very richest. It’s Republicans who devoted years to denouncing Obamacare, promising to replace it with a system that would miraculously provide better healthcare to more people for less money. Now that they’re in charge, that’s been exposed as the magical thinking it always was. Trump is the face of that idiocy – saying this week that, “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated”, when in fact everybody but him and the blowhards on Fox News knew precisely that many, many years ago.

The Republican Party is the Party of Hypocrisy:

For decades, Republicans cast themselves as the party of family values, wagging their finger at anyone who had fallen short of the moral standards they set. But when Trump came along, promising them the tax cuts and seats on the supreme court they craved, all that went out of the window. Suddenly they were prepared to embrace a thrice-married worshipper of mammon who brags about sexually assaulting women and was happy to assess his own daughter as “a piece of ass”. Note the polling on white evangelical Christians. In 2011 they were the group least likely to accept that a candidate guilty of immoral behaviour in their personal life might nevertheless be able to act ethically as a leader. Now they are the by 2017 to become the most forgiving on that score.

And of course, for decades Republicans wrapped themselves in the flag, claiming a monopoly on patriotism, casting themselves as the heirs to Ronald Reagan and all those who stood strong against Russian authoritarianism. Yet now, delegates to the CPAC ultra-conservative conference will happily wave little Russian flags, so long as they have Trump’s name on them.

Hypocrisy is nothing new in politics. But the Republicans have made Hypocrisy their calling card. And the hypocrites are in charge.

Image: Politicus


Friday, March 03, 2017

He'll Have To Choose



The Fish Lake Mining Project is Justin Trudeau's moment of truth. He has promised to build a new relationship between his government and Canada's First Nations. Just as the Dakota Access Pipeline has become a do or die moment for American First Nations, Fish Lake has become a defining moment for Canada's Tsilhqot’in Nation. Michael Harris writes:

The New Prosperity Mine — said to be the last major deposit of gold and copper in North America — included turning the pristine lake into a toxic dump site for the proposed mine’s tailings. Even without that outrageous component, the company’s proposal was turned down a second time in 2014 because the feds thought the mine would cause severe environmental damage, harm Tsilhqot’in culture and violate aboriginal rights.

And what Taseko Mines Ltd. proposes would cause all kinds of other environmental damage:

Taseko has asked for permits from the British Columbia government that would allow the company to begin “exploratory drilling”, even though the project doesn’t have federal approval. Here is what exploratory drilling comes down to: 122 drill set holes, 76 kilometres of roads, 367 test pits, 20 kilometres of seismic lines and a 50-man work camp.

For the Tsilhqor'in the lake is sacred ground. For Taseko it's lots of money. And the company has already invested  $130 million there. Christy Clark is on side with the company. But whose side is Justin on?

He'll have to choose.

Image: Wilderness Committee

Thursday, March 02, 2017

O'Leary Doesn't Get It



Kevin O'Leary skipped the last Conservative leadership debate. Instead, he held his own event at a near by hotel. Brent Rathgeber writes that, more than anything else, O'Leary's no show shows that O'Leary is profoundly ignorant about how politics work:

O’Leary claims he boycotted the debate because the format, with all the candidates on stage at once, was unproductive and boring. The people I talked to in Edmonton weren’t buying it; they said O’Leary stayed away because it was a bilingual event and he didn’t want more exposure for his lousy French. (He needn’t have worried; apart from the moderator, very few people at the debate were actually speaking French, and those who were spoke it slowly enough so that even unhyphenated Anglos like me could follow it.)

Whatever his real reason, his decision to flout the rules and run his own event says volumes about O’Leary’s approach to politics. He’s a lone wolf — someone who’s used to getting his own way. He plays by his own rules and is prepared to ignore the ones he finds the least bit inconvenient. He’s already hinting that he might skip the last officially sanctioned debate if the format isn’t changed.

But the format isn’t the issue here — O’Leary’s attitude towards party politics is. Superficially, the worlds of politics and business have a few things in common. In both fields you need leadership skills and an ability to inspire people – and you won’t get far without a healthy sense of self-confidence. But when you own your own business, you can fly solo — making decisions on your own, taking the wishes of others into account only when they’re regulators, or customers.

That’s not how politics works. Canada may have fallen into the habit of letting its politics revolve around party leaders to an unhealthy degree, but politics here is still not a field in which you can freelance. Business leaders can surround themselves with loyal lieutenants. Party leaders and prime ministers are surrounded by ambitious rivals, braced to take over the minute they stumble.

Prime Ministers and presidents have to accomplish their goals by cooperating with a legislature. Donald Trump is just learning that. Obviously, Mr. O'Leary hasn't learned that.

He simply doesn't get it.

Image: You Tube


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Imbecilization Of Conservatism


Andrew Coyne was not impressed with what Stephen Harper did to conservatism. And he's not impressed with what Donald Trump is doing to it. Both men, he writes, merged populism with conservatism. The two concepts really have little to do with one another:

The great blurring in our time is the collapse of conservatism into populism, most notably in the Trump takeover of the Republican party, but also visible in the style and rhetoric of the Harper government. Last week’s Manning Centre Conference seemed to confer respectability on the merger, as did the conspicuous embrace of Trump, and Trumpism, at the same week’s Conservative Political Action Conference south of the border.

Modern conservatives divide the world into  Us and Them:

Of late, the number of Thems has expanded. They threaten Us not only from the right but from the left: not only Big Business, but also Big Labour, or Big Government and its apparatus, bureaucrats, activist groups, lawyers, and so forth. When fused with nationalism, populism acquires a whole catalogue of additional Thems: refugees, Muslims, immigrants of all kinds. 

And, to make matters worse, modern conservatives have become Know Nothings:

Skepticism of received opinion has curdled into automatic rejection of anything experts know or believe, or that the media reports: an ordinary alertness to the ways a reporter can get things wrong or the leanings of a particular outlet has been replaced by a childish belief that “the media,” all of it, is engaged in a one-sided conspiracy to deceive the public, of which any story the reader does not like is taken as evidence. In its most extreme form, this becomes indistinguishable from lefty post-modernists who reject the very idea of truth; the populist dismissal of any argument that originates with a member of the “elite” is akin to the left’s “white male” sneer as ways of denying standing to an opponent.

Conservatism -- true conservatism -- rejects both these tenets:

At bottom, modern conservatism is rooted in the idea of a society composed of individuals of equal worth and dignity, each the unique intersection of any number of different intermediary group affiliations, and as such transcending all of them: bound together, that is, by their common uniqueness. There is no Us and Them in such a vision of society, and conservatives should reject a politics based on such divisions, whether it comes from the right or the left.

Modern conservatism has been set adrift from its moorings. It's simply not what it pretends to be. Like its most visible representative -- Mr. Trump -- it's a fraud.