Thursday, October 18, 2018

Show Him The Money!

Lawrence Martin understands what is at Donald Trump's core -- money, plain and simple:

While so much of Mr. Trump’s policymaking is helter-skelter, scattershot, spur of the moment, it’s not so difficult to discern a constant in what he is doing, not just on foreign policy but with everything. Money is the morality. The drive for riches underpins this man’s entire life, his grotesque vanity, Mar-a-Lago, his gold-embossed Trump towers. It’s what’s behind the scandals, his alleged Russian ties, his Saudi softness, his refusal to release his tax records. It drives his thinking to the extent that the word kleptocracy has entered into the debate to describe how his presidency seeks to enrich himself and friends and family.

Money is at the root of everything Trump does:

David Hendrickson, author of Republic in Peril, argued that [Trump] was more imperialist than isolationist. In his book he writes that Mr. Trump sees alliances “as arrangements between a superpower protector and deadbeat dependents who should pay up or shove off.” In extracting rents from allies, he says Mr. Trump is trying to create “an empire of tribute.” He’s a president who decries not so much the lives lost in Middle East wars as the trillions of dollars America has squandered in them.

His refusal to deal with climate change is all about money:

The profit mentality can be seen in his approach to climate change. I was seated beside Jim Speyer, who worked for the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, back in the early 1970s when the agency was created by Richard Nixon. Subsequent presidents, Mr. Speyer noted, at least took environmental issues seriously. But for Mr. Trump all that counts is near-term economic health. Climate-change programs get in the way of it. They need to be nixed. A carbon tax is the way to go, Mr. Speyer said, pointing to Canada as being on the right track.

And the obsession with money shows up most egregiously in Trump's tax cuts:

In the meantime, the administration must take care of its wealthy, even if the giant tax breaks that are going to them as well as the huge budget dollars for a rearming of an already overarmed military are creating such a deficit that, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned this week, social programs will have to be cut back.

Trump is no towering intellect. But he does know what he wants -- money. And he's going to squeeze it from whomever he can -- as he watches his own bank account grow.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bud Day

Today is the day that sweet smell in the air becomes legal. Truthfully, it doesn't concern me much. I was one of those people who made it through the '60's without becoming a smoker of any kind. I do not say that with pride. It just didn't make much sense to me. At one point, I wanted to cultivate an the image of an English professor. So I bought myself a meerschaum pipe. But I spilled the tobacco on my knee, and I never got the hang of the thing. It hit me that what mattered was what was between my ears, not between my teeth.

And, as a high school teacher, bud was always a problem -- out in the schoolyard or out in the street. There were always kids who smelled of the stuff. I sent more than my share of students to the principal's office. In short, I always found marijuana to be a nuisance.

Today it is no longer a nuisance. But, as Tom Walkom points out,  it is big business:

Legalization is about big business. Or, to be more accurate, it’s about shifting cannabis production and distribution from illegal big businesses to legal ones.
As the tobacco and alcohol industries have shown, mood-altering substances can be immensely profitable. They are cheap to produce (it’s easy to make wine in your basement) yet face what economists call an inelastic demand curve.
Simply put, that means people will continue to buy these mood-altering substances even as their cost rises.
Industries such as tobacco and alcohol also tend to be dominated by a few big players. That’s because they rely on advertising and product differentiation, both of which are subject to economies of scale.
For instance, it’s cheaper on a per bottle basis to advertise beer if the cost can be spread over a large production run. Think Coors.
Canada’s cannabis companies are only starting and their advertising remains rudimentary. It’s not clear who will be left after the market shakes itself out. But the most obvious beneficiaries of marijuana legalization are Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.
Big Tobacco has experience in the field of inhalants and the ability to produce high-quality marijuana cigarettes. Big Pharma has the capacity to isolate the active ingredients in cannabis and market them as either pills or edibles.

And that concerns me. I suspect that, once again, big business is calling the tune.

Image: Yahoo Finance

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Big Market For Humbug

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman takes on what he calls the "cockroach arguments" of climate change deniers. Cockroach arguments are "false claims you may think you’ve gotten rid of, but keep coming back."

Even when proved false, these arguments are recycled. Consider taking the temperature from a particularly warm year and arguing that succeeding years have been cooler:

Climate change models “have not been very successful,” declared Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser. Actually, they have: Global warming to date is well in line with past projections. “Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” asserted Donald Trump on “60 Minutes,” based upon, well, nothing.

Trump makes up all kinds of stuff. Then there's the argument that, while the planet may be warming, man is not responsible for the rise in temperatures:

 “I don’t know that it’s man-made,” said Trump. And while he has sort-of-kind-of backed down on his earlier claims that climate change is a hoax concocted by the Chinese, he’s still seeing vast conspiracies on the part of climate scientists, who he says “have a very big political agenda.”
Think about that. Decades ago experts predicted, based on fundamental science, that emissions would raise global temperatures. People like Trump scoffed. Now the experts’ prediction has come true. And the deniers insist that emissions aren’t the culprit, that something else must be driving the change, and it’s all a conspiracy.

Trump is all about conspiracies. Then there's the argument that the economy can't withstand efforts to fight global warming:

Apocalyptic claims about the cost of reducing emissions are especially strange given tremendous technological progress in renewable energy: The costs of wind and solar power have plummeted. Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants have become so uncompetitive that the Trump administration wants to subsidize them at the expense of cleaner energy.

It's all humbug. But, these days, there's a big market for humbug.

Image: LeadGenius

Monday, October 15, 2018

Morally Vapid

The West's reaction to the apparent death of Jamal Kashoggi  has been appalling. Micheal Harris writes:

For sheer, cold-blooded monstrosity, you would have to review the handiwork of Jeffrey Dahmer to find an equivalent to Khashoggi’s end — assuming the Turks have, as they claim, the audio and video evidence to document the moment of his gruesome murder.
The Washington Post columnist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a whole person. He apparently left as a collection of pieces in the possession of the 15-person hit squad the Turks believe was dispatched from Riyadh to take his life.
Most of the 15 people who arrived and departed on chartered jets from Riyadh have been identified as having connections to Saudi Arabia’s state security apparatus.

Donald Trump was unfazed:

Trump emphasized that even if the allegations against the Saudis prove true, there wouldn’t be sanctions. Nor would he reconsider the $110 billion arms deal the U.S. recently inked in the wake of the president’s sword dance with Saudi royalty on his visit to Riyadh.
That, he explained, would cost “U.S. jobs.”

Likewise for Justin Trudeau:

Justin Trudeau has been uninspiring in his reaction as well, befitting a politician who signed off on a Harper-era sale of $15 billion worth of Canadian made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The same Saudis who brutally invaded Bahrain in 2011 and are now conducting a genocidal war against the Houthi in Yemen.
A telling statistic: Although the Trudeau government has deplored the war in Yemen, it has sold $284 million worth of military equipment to the countries that are bombing the Houthis, primarily Saudi Arabia. By comparison, Canada has given the war torn country $65 million in aid. As with climate change, the Liberals say we can have it both ways.

The West is morally vapid. Meanwhile, authoritarians around the world are wrecking havoc:

Police in Dubai concluded that a team from Mossad carried out the assassination of Palestinian Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in a city hotel in 2010.
The British concluded that Putin assassinated former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko with polonium, and suspect that members of a Russian spy unit poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England with novichok, a deadly nerve agent.

As Yeats wrote, The worst are full of passionate intensity while the best lack all conviction."

Image: Scoopnest

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fordian Folly

The United Nations has told all of us that we have little time to mitigate the effects of climate change. Doug Ford, however, is on a national roadshow, railing against a carbon tax. How does one explain that cognitive dissonance? Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Climate change has become climate disruption at the precise time that political disruption is upon us. Unless we limit global warming by a further half-a-degree Celsius beyond current targets, we face incalculable human dislocation to homes, livelihoods and lives.
Responding to the future peril by establishing a high price on carbon requires the kind of economic mettle and political will that has “no documented historic precedent,” the UN report notes dryly. Don’t we know it.
The fight against climate change was the first casualty of Ontario’s “change” election on June 7, when Ford proudly announced the demise of the cap-and-trade system that put a price on carbon to “cap” and discourage greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Ford’s government has budgeted more than $30 million for a court battle against a future federal carbon tax (from which we would have been exempted with cap and trade).
It is a truism of our political times that it is easier to tear something down than to build it up. It’s also more profitable to campaign as a tax-fighter than a climate-saver.

Ford, unfortunately, was not gifted with much cognitive ability. The obvious sign of that is his tunnel vision. He's sees a tax and he wants to tear it down -- even if it was beginning to move things in the right direction:

The UN study — released last Sunday while Ford’s anti-carbon road show was in full swing with stops in Regina, Calgary, and Etobicoke — was preceded by an equally alarming report by Ontario’s own non-partisan environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, last month. It is a depressing account of how the province made steady progress with cap and trade before Ford pulled the plug after winning power.
“Despite flaws, these were good policies that worked,” she notes. Now, they have been “swept away, with nothing in their place” because the Ford government’s suggested replacement “lacks most of the features of a good climate law.”

When historians write about our times, surely they will be taxed to explain how and why we turned over the reigns of government to the Monumentally Stupid.

Image: The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Trump And State Sanctioned Ignorance

Under Donald Trump, Henry Giroux writes, the United States is becoming a full blown fascist state:

The threads of a general political and ideological crisis run deep in American history, and with each tweet and policy decision Donald Trump pushes the United States closer to a full-fledged fascist state. His words sting, but his policies can kill people. Trump’s endless racist taunts, dehumanizing expressions of misogyny, relentless attacks on all provisions of the social state and ongoing contempt for the rule of law serve to normalize a creeping fascist politics.

Trump moves ever closer to his goal by encouraging state sanctioned ignorance:

State-sanctioned ignorance is more than fodder for late night comedy shows, it also provides the psychological conditions for certain individuals and groups to associate “pollution” and disposability with what Richard A. Etlin calls “a biologically racialist worldview, which divides the human race according to the dichotomy of the pure and impure, the life-enhancing and the life-polluting.” This is a language mobilized by the energies of the ethically dead, and echoes strongly with the anti-Semitism that was at the center of the genocidal policies of the Third Reich.

And, taking his cue from the Third Reich, Trump is entrenching a "culture of death:"

The smell of death is everywhere under this administration. The erosion of public values and the rule of law is now accompanied by a developing state of emergency with regards to a looming global environmental catastrophe. An ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change has accelerated under the Trump administration and appears imminent.Trump’s ongoing attempt to pollute the planet through his rollback of environmental protections will result in the deaths of thousands of children who suffer from asthma and other lung problems. Moreover, his privatized and punitive approach to health care will shorten the lives of millions of poor people, uninsured youth, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed and the elderly. His get-tough “law and order” policies will result in more police violence against blacks while his support for the arms industry, military budget and gun laws will accelerate the death of the marginalized both at home and abroad. Under the Trump regime all bets are off regarding the sustainability of democracy.

We've been here before, but the ignorant -- with the blessings of the state -- fume and seek their revenge.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, October 12, 2018

Harper's Selling A Lie

Stephen Harper has written a new book in which he dons the mantle of populism. Andrew Coyne is not impressed:

Well now we have it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. The young firebrand who famously deserted Preston Manning for being too populist and not enough of a conservative now claims the mantle of populism for himself: if not as a whole-hearted adherent, then as the statesman who understands where others only condemn. His new book Right Here, Right Now, is indeed in large part an attempt to portray his own government, not as the cynical power-seeking machine it appeared to be, but as populist before its time. In defending populism, he defends himself.
And yet the mind it reveals is not that of the subtle, sometimes rueful voice of experience he clearly wishes the reader to imagine. It is, rather, all too conventional, even banal. What are presented as iconoclastic insights, in which the rise of populism is explained in terms of the failings of conservatism — former Conservative prime minister breaks with decades of conservative orthodoxy! — are a mix of received wisdom and undergraduate shibboleths, many of them long debunked.

Harper hasn't changed. He remains the same neo-liberal mouthpiece he always was, repeating the tired -- and untrue mantras -- first espoused by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He claims that Donald Trump's supporters are the economically disenfranchised. But that simply isn't true:

Rather, opinion research has shown, they are driven primarily by cultural resentments and racial fears: resentment of educated elites and their media allies, who are accused (not without justice) of looking down their noses at the people in “flyover country”; fears of losing their place in a society that is rapidly changing. That Trump was adept at tapping into those resentments is not in doubt, but it is less a matter of his superior insight or willingness to challenge conventional wisdom on matters such as trade, as Harper seems to imagine, than unprecedented, unimaginable shamelessness.
So, too, Harper misrepresents populism, certainly of the kind that Trump and his ilk practice. It is simply wrong to describe it, as he does, as “any political movement that places the wider interests of the common people ahead of the special interests of the privileged few.” Indeed, as he himself acknowledges, “every political party tends to frame its core appeal in such terms.” A definition that could describe any party or movement is without significance.
Rather, the term describes a view of “the people” as being under siege: if the populist is famously “for the people,” it invites the question of who is against — the Them that is supposedly menacing Us. The populist is never short of Thems: elites, foreigners, racial minorities, “globalists” — or in Harper’s (borrowed) formulation, the cosmopolitan “Anywheres” who owe no allegiance to nation-states, move between homes in New York, London and Singapore, and hanker after a world without borders: a description that would apply to perhaps dozens of people but whom Harper is convinced now control “all the main traditional political parties.”

It's the same witches' brew that Doug Ford is selling. It's politics of by and for the wealthy. And it's a lie. Perhaps that's why the media was uninvited to the book launch at the Canadian Club.

Image: London Free Press

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Next Recession And Climate Change

Larry Elliott writes that the next recession will be complicated by climate change. The outlook is grim. And the solutions are not as simple as they were during the Great Depression:

The threat posed by global warming means the current crisis of capitalism is more acute than that of the 1930s, because all that was really required then was a boost to growth, provided by the New Deal, cheap money, tougher controls on finance and rearmament. In today’s context, a plain vanilla go-for-growth strategy would be suicidal.

One size will no longer fit all:

There are countries that are prepared to self-immolate their economies in pursuit of growth at all costs. America is one. Australia appears to be another. At the other end of the spectrum are those who say there will be a future for the planet only if the idea of growth is ditched altogether. Politically, this has always been a hard sell, and has become even more difficult now that populations in the west have experienced an entire decade of flatlining living standards.
In the developing world, the problem has been too little growth rather than too much. Tackling global population growth is a no-brainer from a climate-change perspective, and most of the projected increase comes from low-income countries, most notably in Africa. The reason is simple: poor families have more children. Birthrates fall as countries become richer.
Between the two extremes are those who think the circle can be squared by carbon-free growth, made possible by the dramatic fall in the cost of renewable energy. Technology will ride to the rescue, they insist.

But technology alone can't save us:

This sounds like a cost-free (or at least relatively cheap) option, and that’s why almost all politicians pay lip service to green growth. But then they act in ways that make achieving global warming targets harder – by building new roads and expanding airports. And always for the same reason: because doing so will be good for growth. This is called a balanced approach, but it is nothing of the sort. If the IPCC is even close to being right about its timeline, speeding up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is vital.

So how do we speed up that transition? William Nordhaus -- one of this year's Nobel Economics laureates -- says there's a way -- "if policymakers get serious about a carbon tax set high enough to price oil, coal and gas out of the market." But, as the developing debate in Canada shows, there is increasing pushback to Nordhaus' prescription. And that pushback is worldwide:

Here, though, the breakdown in international cooperation and trust becomes really damaging. Ideally, existing global institutions – the IMF, the World Bank, the UN and the World Trade Organization – would be supplemented by a new World Environmental Organisation with the power to levy a carbon tax globally. Even in the absence of a new body, they would be working together to face down the inevitable opposition to change from the fossil fuel lobby.

What chance is there for a World Environmental Organization?


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

No Rapprochement

NAFTA 2.0  has landed. But, Lawrence Martin writes, that doesn't mean there will be a rapprochement between Canada and the United States. That's because Canadians despise so much of  what Trump stands for:

Though the trade problem has been alleviated, there is still so much more to oppose. There are his race-baiting proclivities and immigration policies which run counter to the diversity drive in Ottawa. There’s his attitude toward women – which is straight out of the 19th century. There’s the fact that he is an environmental ignoramus who is rolling back programs to address climate change.
There’s his nativist creed which threatens the international order and its institutions. There are his authoritarian impulses and his refusal to stand up to thugs like Vladimir Putin. There are his taxation policies which primarily enrich the rich, his opposition to gun control and his extreme rhetoric which divides rather than unites.
Mr. Trump doesn’t bear any animosity toward the Canadian people as such. He “loves” Canada, he says. But in terms of values, beliefs and hostile actions, no president has been more anti-Canadian. He is not about to change and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to represent his population, his post-trade-deal approach with Mr. Trump must reflect its disdain.

In what ways can Canada  show that disdain? Certainly not by reducing issues to name calling -- which is Trump's favourite mode of speech. There are much more meaningful ways to do it:

It means staking out Canadian ground in a firm clear manner. It means that even though Mr. Trump opposes the World Trade Organization, Ottawa should go ahead, as it is planning, and host a conference of 13 WTO countries later this month.
It means Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland should continue as per Canadian tradition to speak out loudly in support of multilateralism and collective security. If it rankles the U.S. State Department, good. It means, especially since Canada is a border country, registering more virulent opposition to Mr. Trump’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It means pushing harder on trade diversification. It means carving out good relations with Congress and other key players other than the President. Ambassador David MacNaughton is planning a golf game with U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. Good idea, especially if he lets the American win a couple of holes.

At some point Trump will be gone -- the questions are when and how. But, eventually, he'll sink back into the slime. Until then, Canada would be wise to maintain its strategic distance.

Image: ipolitics

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The March To Oblivion

The United Nations has just told us that we have twelve years to prevent a global catastrophe. Global warning will soon have disastrous consequences. But the U.N. report isn't on Doug Ford's and Jason Kenny's radar. Geoffrey Stevens writes:

Appearing together before an overflow crowd of 1,500 true believers in Calgary, the two provincial leaders — one in power, the other in waiting — pledged their mutual, undying opposition to carbon taxes, and they took turns swatting enthusiastically at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, of course, is doubly damned among Conservatives in Alberta. Not only is he a Liberal who is friendly with NDP Premier Rachel Notley, he is the son of Pierre, the Great Satan of oilpatch That was back in 1980, but the grievance doesn't just linger. It bursts into flame whenever the issue of national carbon pricing is raised. Justin Trudeau did have the backing of both Ontario and Alberta for it, but Ford has withdrawn Ontario's support and Alberta's support, which was contingent on completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, is wavering and may be lost.
That was red meat for the Calgary "Scrap the Carbon Tax" rally last Friday. Neither Kenney nor Ford is much of an orator, but both have a bit of Donald Trump's knack for exploiting a sympathetic crowd.
The crowd roared approval when Kenney called Notley's carbon tax "the biggest lie in Alberta's history" and promised that a United Conservative Party government would repeal it. It roared again when the Ontario premier bestowed the blessing of Ford Nation: "Stay strong, your next election is one that conservatives can win, an election we will win, and an election we must win."mythology, who will never be forgotten or forgiven for his notorious National Energy Program.

The biggest lie in Canadian history? Other provincial premeirs are falling in line behind Ford and Kenny:

On his way to Calgary, Ford stopped in Saskatchewan long enough to pick up the support of Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party. Meanwhile, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative premier, Brian Pallister, announced he would no longer support a carbon tax.
If, as expected, New Brunswick joins the flock, Doug Ford, the most improbable of premiers, would find himself at the head of a block of five provinces out to do battle with a federal government that is supported — for now, at least — by two major provinces, British Columbia and Quebec.

What Ford, Kenny and the others are selling is the biggest lie in Canadian history -- that we'll be alright as long as oil is combustible and we can live in purposeful ignorance.

And they march -- cheering -- to oblivion.


Monday, October 08, 2018

A Judical Coup

E. J. Dionne doesn't mince words. He writes in this morning's Washington Post:

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in tatters. Conservative forces in the country, led by the Republican Party, have completed a judicial coup, decades in the making.

And the level of hypocrisy behind it all is stunning:

More recently, Senate Republicans kept the late Antonin Scalia’s seat open for more than a year, refusing Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee, either a hearing or a vote. Neil M. Gorsuch, a far more conservative jurist, took the seat instead.
Now comes Kavanaugh. In blocking Garland, Republicans said it was urgent to wait until after the 2016 election to let the voters speak. They rushed Kavanaugh through to get him onto the court before the voters could speak in 2018. When power is all that matters, consistency is for suckers.

What is also stunning is that all of this was achieved by the minority party:

A generations-long conservative majority on the court has been cemented in place by a political minority. Kavanaugh was named by a president who won 46 percent of the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing 44 percent of the population. When you lack a majority, controlling the branch of government not subject to the voters is vital to working your will. 

The Republicans want to control the court because they have not been able to generate majority support for their program. A photo from the 1992 Democratic convention has been making the rounds these days. The picture was taken at the end of the convention, when Al and Tipper Gore and Bill and Hilary Clinton were on the platform. The caption under the photograph read: "Three of these people won the popular vote. Only one became president."

It has, indeed, been a judicial coup. What's Dionne's remedy? Expand the court:

If Democrats take control of the House, they should hold hearings on the administration’s manipulation of the FBI investigation. These could also shed light on the extent to which Kavanaugh misled the Senate.
And there should now be no squeamishness about the urgency of enlarging the Supreme Court if Democrats have the power to do so after the 2020 elections. The current majority on the court was created through illegitimate means. Changing that majority would not constitute politicizing the court because conservatives have already done this without apology.

During the 19th Century, the court was expanded seven times. If Democrats win the House, you can bet that lots of changes will be coming down the pike.

Image: Smithsonian Magazine

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Hang A Hard Right

The party calls itself the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. That's a lie. Bob Hepburn writes that, in the 100 days since Doug Ford took office, he and his party have taken a hard turn to the right:

We’ve already seen the first stages of Ford’s agenda, with his moves to slash the size of Toronto City Council, cancel the basic income test program, axe the scheduled move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage and scrap Ontario’s participation in the federal carbon pricing program.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In the coming weeks, Ford is expected to make major changes in social support programs, and slash the senior bureaucratic ranks in the health and education ministries. Some fear the education cuts may be so deep that they spark teacher strikes in early 2019.
Fire sales may be held for the LCBO, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario Power Generation. Also on the possible chopping block are eHealth and dozens of agencies, boards and commissions. Agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario could well see funding cuts of up to 40 per cent.
This, in addition to Ford’s announcement this week that he is “getting rid” of the Wynne government’s labour reforms that increased sick day benefits, paid vacation entitlements and protection for temp. agency workers.

Taking their cue from the Republican judicial coup that has just taken place south of the border, the Fordians are moving fast, hoping that their government  -- which bills itself  "for the people" -- will get what they want before voters understand what's going on. But "the people" are quickly souring on Mr. Ford:

When Patrick Brown stepped down suddenly as leader in late January, polls showed the Tories backed by 43 per cent of voters. For much of Brown’s last year as leader, the party had a 20 percentage point lead over its nearest party rival.
As leader, Brown worked to make the party more mainstream, leading the Conservatives to support the federal climate change program, accepting same-sex rights and reducing Islamophobia within the party.
In mid-February, when the Tories had no permanent leader, they were supported by 49 per cent of voters, according to a Forum Research poll. On election day, the Ford-led Tories captured 40.5 per cent of the votes, winning enough seats to form a solid major government.
Today, three months later, Ford’s approval rating is already down to 37 per cent, according to a DART Insight survey. That surely makes Ford one of the few political leaders never to experience a traditional “honeymoon period” when their popularity rises in the months immediately after an election.

Unfortunately, it will be four years before the divorce decree becomes official.

Image: Global News

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Insidious, Contagious, Poisonous, Corruptive

Roger Cohen's reflections on the Kavanaugh hearings are instructive. Everything eventually makes its way back to President Trump:

Insidious is the man. Insidious is his pollution of the F.B.I., whose former director, James Comey, he fired after Comey refused to show “loyalty.” Loyalty in this instance meant willingness to shelve, at Trump’s demand, an investigation into dealings between his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.
Contagious is the man. Contagious is Trump’s view that judges should be agents of those who appoint them rather than the independent guarantors of America’s constitutional democracy. Trump wants loyalty from Kavanaugh, too, and the angry, emotional testimony that the judge provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee carried this subliminal message: “I am one of yours.” It was right out of the Trump playbook.
Poisonous is the man. Poisonous is Trump’s inability to abandon mob incitement as his mode of political operation. Meanness is how this man gets his kicks. Always was, always will be.
It has become axiomatic to regret the tribal division of the United States — the inability to build bridges or even hold conversations across ideological divides, the sharpening national fracture into algorithm-consolidated political silos — and, of course, the Kavanaugh hearings now constitute Exhibit A in this unraveling.
Corrupting is the man. Corrupting is a presidency dedicated to the blurring of the line between truth and falsehood. False or misleading statements have issued from him several times a day. It’s impossible to recall on Friday the lie that outraged you on Monday. The effect of this is to devalue truth. More and more Americans care little for the sacredness of facts. I see references, even in the nation’s best newspapers, to the “reality-based press” or “fact-based journalism.” What other kind is there?

It was all on display during the Kavanaugh hearings. Donald Trump's influence is pervasive. And it offers proof that most empires are destroyed from within.

Image: The New Daily

Friday, October 05, 2018

So Is Stupidity

As an old Quebecer, I was particularly interested in Michael Harris' take on the recent Quebec election. Harris writes:

The landslide victory of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is a boulder that sends ripples into the furthest reaches of Canada’s political pond. Which is to say, the ascension of Premier François Legault is no regional flash in the pan.
It is suddenly open season on incumbents, with three Canadian premiers recently getting the boot, and a growing animus across the country against traditional politics.

Legault is an old PQ apparatchik who has taken a referendum off the table. But his policies are recycled Parti Quebecois boilerplate. He is pushing a Quebec values test again, precipitating a clash between religion and politics. And his Trumpian focus on immigration fans the age old French Canadian fear of the other. The revenge of the cradle no longer soothes Quebecois fears that they will be overrun by outsiders.

And to enforce his policy prescriptions, Legault -- like his neighbour next door -- threatens to use the notwithstanding clause.

Harris points out that Philippe Couillard's Liberals were not defeated for the usual reasons:

Former premier Philippe Couillard was a pretty good steward of the province’s economy.
He leaves office with public finances in good shape and a record-low unemployment rate. For those who like to rant about tax-and-spend Liberals, Couillard proved to be an exception. His government even paid down the provincial debt.
So it wasn’t the economy, stupid.

Change is in the air. And so is stupidity.

Image: National Post

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Defeat Disguised As Victory

It's beginning to look like the fix is in. The truncated F.B.I. investigation of allegations against Brett Kavanaugh has arrived at the White House, which is crowing that there is "no corroboration" of those allegations. It's a dark time in the United States. The Trumpists will soon control all three branches of the American government. But Geoffrey Kabaservice writes that the Kavanaugh  confirmation may be the Republican Party's last hurrah. The Kavanaugh circus has underscored just how male dominated the Republican Party is:

Congress has long been a lopsidedly male place. There have only been 52 women senators in the entire history of the United States, and it took until 2011 for women legislators to get a restroom near the floor of the House of Representatives. Congress is still about 80% male, so gender parity is a long way off. But that figure blurs the imbalance between a Democratic caucus where one-third of the members are women and Republican caucus where women are only around one-tenth of the membership. 

The faces of the Republican and the Democratic Parties couldn't be more different:

The 3-to-1 ratio by which Democratic congresswomen outnumber Republican congresswomen may soon become even more imbalanced. According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, there are over 200 Democratic women running for Congress this year (15 in the Senate, 187 in the House) but only 60 Republican women (8 in the Senate, 52 in the House). 

The Republicans know about the difference. But they have refused to do anything about it:

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, many Republicans appeared to understand the need to narrow the gender gap, both in voting and in women’s representation in Congress. The Republican National Committee’s 2013 “autopsy” report highlighted “the party’s negative image among women” and emphasized how essential it was “to improve our brand with women throughout the country and grow the ranks of influential female voices in the Republican Party.” But the Republican leadership largely ignored these recommendations. Making matters worse, Donald Trump, both as candidate and president, has gone out of his way to make comments widely perceived as insulting toward women — most recently with his mocking of Kavanaugh’s accuser and the Me Too movement.

With Trump and Kavanaugh as the two faces of the Republican Party, American women are as mad as hell. And that anger shows up in the gender of the candidates running in the mid term elections:

While the number of Republican women running for Congress this year actually represents a modest improvement upon the party’s past standards, it’s dwarfed by the Democrats’ record-breaking totals. In fact, while the number of Republican women who filed as House candidates this year went up by 11% compared to 2016, Democratic women’s numbers soared by a whopping 87%. 

While the votes are still to be counted, this election could be a turning point. Like George Armstrong Custer, Donald Trump may have marched the Republican Party into its Little Big Horn.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Second American Civil War

Tom Friedman writes that he grew up in the 1960's when the United States was divided over Vietnam. But what's going on now is much worse than the divisions of the '60's:

There is a deep breakdown happening between us, between us and our institutions and between us and our president.
We can’t find common ground on which to respectfully disagree; the other side is “the enemy.” We shout at each other on television, unfollow each other on Facebook and fire verbal mortars at each other on Twitter — and now everyone is on the digital battlefield, not just politicians.
And nothing is sacred. Brett Kavanaugh defended himself the other day with the kind of nasty partisan attacks and ugly conspiracy theories that you’d expect only from a talk radio host — never from a would-be justice of the Supreme Court. Who can expect fairness from him now?
And this fracturing is all happening with a soaring stock market and falling unemployment. Can you imagine what it will be like when we face the next recession?

While malpractice can be found on both sides of the divide, one side is more responsible for this debacle than the other:

It would be easy to blame both sides equally for this shift, noted [Norman] Ornstein, but it is just not true. After the end of the Cold War, he said, “tribal politics were introduced by Newt Gingrich when he came to Congress 40 years ago,” and then perfected by Mitch McConnell during the Barack Obama presidency, when McConnell declared his intention to use his G.O.P. Senate caucus to make Obama fail as a strategy for getting Republicans back in power.
They did this even though that meant scuttling Obama’s health care plan, which was based on Republican ideas, and even though that meant scuttling long-held G.O.P. principles — like fiscal discipline, a strong Atlantic alliance, distrust of Russian intentions and a balanced approach to immigration — to attract Trump’s base.

It may be too late to end the cycle of self destruction. Certainly, the United States is running out of time. If the country doesn't self correct quickly, it will disappear before the warming planet destroys the place. And global warming is the crisis that faces all of us.


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Carbox Taxes

It's disconcerting to see how conservatives tout ideas -- until other people implement them. Then they go on a tear and furiously reject them. Mitt Romney developed a health insurance program for Massachusetts, then conservatives branded it Obamacare and tried to get rid of it. The same is true of the carbon tax. Gillian Steward writes:

Whatever the labels — carbon taxes, carbon pricing, or putting a price on pollution — they are actually conservative ideas. Prominent Conservatives such as Preston Manning, and former Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning started promoting the idea years ago. Mark Cameron, former policy director in the prime minister’s office under Stephen Harper recently stated that Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax plan is a “smart conservative policy.”
Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta and one of the architects of Alberta’s climate change strategy earlier this year told a parliamentary committee studying Trudeau’s carbon pricing legislation that carbon pricing “leverages the power of the market to enable emission reductions.” Instead of relying on government edicts and regulations, individuals will make decisions about how much fossil fuel they want to use given the price.
That kind of talk should be music to the ears of a conservative.

But  that isn't the case. Jason Kenny, Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer are committed to killing a carbon tax -- because it is a tax. And Rachel Notley is, of course, a left wing apostate:

Since carbon pricing is a key part of NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s climate change policies and has been in place for over two years, it could well become the main issue in the next election. Especially since the NDP hoped carbon pricing would thwart opposition to oil pipelines in the rest of Canada: a strategy that has so far failed.
But at least Notley had a plan that attempted to recognize both the fossil fuel industry as a key economic driver and the need to reduce carbon emissions.
Neither Kenney, Ford, nor Scheer have any such plan.

Kenny, Ford and Scheer are sailing -- like  the rest of us -- on the Titanic. And they'll party until it goes under.


Monday, October 01, 2018

A Farmer's Lot

I'll have something to say about the new trade agreement when more details are available. However, I understand that Canada's farmers will make concessions under the deal. I'm a city kid. But for forty-five of my seventy one years, my neighbours have been farmers. And a new study concerns me. Kelsey Johnson writes:

Canadian farmers are dangerously stressed out, a reality that’s putting this country’s farm families, rural communities, and entire agriculture industry at risk.
“We can’t have a sustainable food system in Canada if we don’t have sustainable farmers,” Andria Jones-Bitton, an associate professor from the University of Guelph who specializes in farmers’ mental health, told the House agriculture committee on Sept. 27.

When we lived in the Eastern Townships, I got to know several dairy farmers. They were stressed out by milk quotas. But they also understood that those quotas made them sustainable. It sounds like the quota system will be altered -- whether for better or worse remains to be seen.

One statistic is particularly troubling:

It’s estimated Canada’s farm community sees 20 to 30 per cent more suicides compared to other sectors. While Canadian data are limited, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. found the risk of suicide among farmers was five times higher than for the average American.
In June, Michael Hoffort, the president of Farm Credit Canada (this country’s main agricultural lender) told MPs that in two and a half months, the credit union had already provided emergency funding to 67 families – eight of which involved suicides.

Farmers carry crushing debt loads. And, if they perceive they will never get out from under them, suicide may seem like the only option.

What's to be done?

Coordination between provinces, health professionals and agricultural experts, [Jones-Britton] said, is critical. Programs, she stressed, “need to actually work,” and be designed so that farmers will actually use them.
Those delivering the programs, [she] added, must understand agriculture in order to gain farmers’ trust. Prevention is also critical.

Let's hope Canada's farmers haven't been hung out to dry. A farmer's lot can be perilous.

Image: Telegraph-Journal

Sunday, September 30, 2018

From Queen's Park To Jurassic Park

Yesterday, in this space, I wrote about misogyny in the United States. But Ontarians shouldn't be smug. We suffer from the same disease. Jennifer Howlett was a candidate for office in a 47 seat Toronto City Council. But now that Doug Ford has slashed the size of the council to 25 seats, she has dropped out of the race. She writes in The Globe and Mail:

At present, 32 per cent of Toronto’s city council is made up of women. The numbers drop significantly when we look at women of colour and/or LGBTQ councillors. There are also many systemic class barriers to elections. This is one of the reasons why a diverse range of new candidates entered the 47-ward city-council race. It was an opportunity to elect a new cohort of councillors who truly reflect the people of Toronto. Municipal elections, especially races in new wards or wards without incumbents, are an entry point for many into political life.
Now, in the 25-ward scenario, the majority of the ward I intended to run in becomes a megaward made up of four others, with two city councillors in the race. As I outlined in my affidavit in the court challenge to Bill 5, I would never have quit my job and made the decision to enter that race. I have no interest in running against Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, a progressive, a friend and a mentor to many women interested in city politics. She’s also the only woman of colour on city council, and the only out queer councillor. A true city leader.
Ausma Malik, the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to be elected to public office in Canada as school board trustee, is also no longer running for city council now that it is a 25-ward race. A big loss for the city. We both know many women who are continuing to run, even though they face much tougher and bigger races. Pollsters and journalists are already looking at the new map and making predictions at who will likely win. My friends and I did the same recently, on the back of a restaurant receipt. Based on the incumbent advantage, breakthroughs for new candidates are unlikely.

The deck has been stacked. And the challenges Howlett faced were already significant:

To run for office and win, I’ve learned you have to be strategic: You have to identify an opportunity with a path to victory, and have the resources to get you there. And you have to be fully committed, clearing your work and personal schedule to canvass day and night, and have the savings to cover the costs of living during that time. For parents, it becomes a third full-time job on top of kids and career.
You also have to be able to put yourself out there, physically and virtually. Always on, upbeat and positive, despite anything and everything others will say. To quote a recent troll of mine on Twitter: “I checked out your election site and noted you have the same heavy thigh and glute areas as fat Hillary Clinton. Perhaps it’s time to consider a wardrobe of colorful pantsuits.” This is on top of continued unsolicited advice on how to run your campaign, as well as friends of opponents suggesting you shouldn’t run at all.

What's at the bottom of it all?

Mr. Ford is threatened by our power. And there was power in the 47-ward system, power in the organizing taking place across our city, power in new and effective representation. And that is why Mr. Ford did everything he could to suppress candidates. 

Under Doug Ford, Queen's Park has become Jurassic Park.

Image: The Globe and Mail

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sleeping Through The Changes

What was on display during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing last week was toxic masculinity. Jonathan Freedland writes:

It was the nominee himself who delivered a masterclass in male privilege, flushed and raging at the impudence of those who dared stand between him and the seat he believed was his right. He gave explanations that were so implausible they simply had to be false, he implied without evidence that one female Democratic senator had a drink problem, he lashed out at a supposed leftwing conspiracy, alleging this was all “the revenge of the Clintons” coming across as a partisan political hack with an honesty problem rather than a would-be member of the nation’s highest court.

It was a performance right out of Donald Trump's playbook -- which is why, when it was over, Trump tweeted, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him.”

Trump has established the template. But that same template is on display in several places:

Competition in the global misogyny league comes from Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, whose response to the rape and killing of an Australian missionary in the town where he was once mayor was to say, “They raped her, they lined up. I was angry because … she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.” Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary distributes primary school textbooks that have revived the part of a traditional children’s song that cheerfully describes men beating their wives as a normal part of family life. In Britain, our own wannabe Trump is Boris Johnson who, when looking to take a cheap, rabble-rousing shot at Muslims, aimed his fire at Muslim women and their appearance.

Freedland believes that, besides a personality disorder, what is behind these ugly displays is the perception among  a lot of men that "their status has been shaken by the shifts of the last several decades."

Indeed, the world has changed. But men like Kavanaugh, the Republican senators and Donald Trump have slept through the changes.


Friday, September 28, 2018

A Sinkhole Of A Country

It was a volcanic day in Washington. It was all about he said/she said. It didn't have to be. The  FBI could have investigated the charges. In fact, the American Bar Association is now demanding that the nomination be put on hold until such an investigation is completed. But that's not going to happen. The Republicans will, in Mitch McConnell's words "plow ahead" with Kavanaugh's confirmation. So who's lying? Jonathan Chait writes that he's come to the conclusion that it's Kavanaugh:

Why do I believe Kavanaugh is lying? The charges are credible, and his accusers are willing to put themselves at risk, with no apparent gain to bring them to the public. Kavanaugh has said too many things that strain credulity for all them to be plausibly true. He almost certainly lied about having had access to files stolen by Senate Republicans back when he was handling judicial nominations in the Bush administration. His explanation that the “Renate Alumni” was not a sexual reference is difficult to square with a fellow Renate Alumnus’s poem ( “You need a date / and it’s getting late / so don’t hesitate / to call Renate”) portraying her as a cheap date. His insistence “boof” and “devil’s triangle” from his yearbook were references to flatulence and a drinking game drew incredulous responses from people his age who have heard these terms. His claim that the “Beach Week Ralph Club” was a reference to a weak stomach seems highly unlikely.

He who is willing to lie about small matters will lie about larger matters. And then there is the matter of Kavanaugh's judicial temperament:

He has, for one thing, all but abandoned the posture of impartiality demanded of a judge. A ranting Kavanaugh launched angry, evidence-free charges against Senate Democrats. “The behavior of several of the Democratic members of this committee at my hearing a few weeks ago was an embarrassment. But at least it was just a good old-fashioned attempt at Borking,” he said, using a partisan term invented by Republicans to complain about ideological scrutiny of an extreme judicial nominee. “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled by pent-up anger over President Trump in the 2016 election.”

Kavanaugh claimed that this was all about the Clintons exacting their revenge. And, on the subject of judicial temperament, consider Lindsey's Graham's tirade. Graham claims he's been a judge. "This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics," he bellowed.

Regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh is guilty as charged, in the final analysis, it's abundantly clear that the United States is a sinkhole of a country.

Are you paying attention, Justin?

Image: You Tube

Thursday, September 27, 2018

If His Tongue Were Notarized

Having delivered a review of the province's books -- which took six weeks to complete -- Doug Ford says that Kathleen Wynne's Liberals were criminals. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Listen to Ford’s inflammatory, defamatory language: “If you lie on your taxes ... there are consequences..... A lot of Liberals got rich under Kathleen Wynne.”
Yet more implications of criminality and venality: “If you tried to pull this kind of coverup in the private sector, the (Ontario Securities Commission) would come calling. The police would come calling ... We are not going to let Kathleen Wynne and her cronies walk away from their $15-billion scandal.”
And finally, what did you know, and when did you know it: “Who authorized the coverup?”

But there was no cover up. The figures were there in black and white. The issue was which numbers went into the credit column and which ones went into the debit column. Like the man south of the border, Ford has no respect for the truth:

As for that supposedly damning forensic audit, it was no such thing. Peter Bethlenfalvy, the minister who ordered it up, sheepishly admitted to reporters later that it was produced by private sector “consultants” at EY Canada — not qualified auditors in the firm’s audit department. It was “not a forensic audit, not a line by line review,” he acknowledged.
Awkwardly for the Tories, the quickie study noted that spending increases within the Ontario public service were virtually zero during the Liberal years. What has risen, significantly, is spending on health care and education — precisely what Ford promised not to cut on the campaign trail.

Doug Ford is a thug. He's always been a thug. And what the deputy mayor of New York said of Donald Trump decades ago also applies to Ford today: "I wouldn't believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized."

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Nightmare At The U.N.

Donald Trump addressed the U.N. yesterday and he had them rolling in the aisles. After all, absurdity can be down right funny. Dana Milbank writes:

The world is now laughing at us — specifically, at our president.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump boasted, in typical fashion, to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “So true,” he added, as if addressing a campaign rally.

But the rest of his speech wasn't funny at all:

It felt as though Triumph the Insult Comic Dog had been unleashed in the General Assembly.
Not only did Trump criticize the usual suspects — Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and particularly Iran — but he also attacked China, the 15-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 164-nation World Trade Organization, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Germany, the International Criminal Court, socialist countries (what did the Scandinavians ever do to him?), and the United Nations’ two-month-old Global Compact on Migration. He threatened recipients of U.S. foreign aid — almost all of South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia — and reiterated his vow to cut payments for peacekeeping.
By the end of the barrage, he had taunted nations that are home to perhaps 90 percent of the world’s population. Billions of people dissed in half an hour? Even for Trump that’s huge.

Trump's ignorance was on full display. The man who avoided service in Vietnam doesn't know what so many other soldiers died for in World War II:

Each time he used the word “global,” it was as an epithet, disparaging the very principle on which the world body was founded amid the ashes of World War II. America rejects “global governance, control and domination,” he said, and “we will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy,” and “we reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

Trump confirmed Samuel Johnson's observation that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. And he confirmed that the Ugly American is back -- and on steroids. The laughter quickly died and the delegates shook their heads. How else should they have responded to Freddie Kruger at the U.N?

Image: Looper

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

He Doesn't Know Much At All

Over the weekend, Faith Goldy attended Ford Fest for the sixth time. She gained notoriety by appearing on the Neo-Nazi website Storm Trooper and Ezra Levant's Rebel Media. After supporting the white nationalists in Charlottesville, Levant banned her from his platform. But she's welcome in Ford Nation and, as Martin Regg Cohn writes,

Now, she is the fringe mayoral candidate who famously posed with Ford over the weekend, and whose photo has gone viral — putting the premier in political peril.
To be fair, our popular and populist premier poses for photos all the time, not least when he hosts thousands of people at a weekend “Ford Fest” with free food and drinks for his base.
Could this be a case of mistaken identity? A blind spot — personal, political, historical — earnestly explained and easily excused?
Faith Goldy, however, is not just any supporter, even if this is her sixth Ford Fest. Accompanied by her entourage of campaign volunteers wearing election T-shirts, she stands out in a crowd.

Given the opportunity to walk back that photograph, Ford refused to do so:

Ford refused to denounce or renounce Goldy and their shared photo in its aftermath Monday. Instead, as a hushed legislature awaited his explanation, he lapsed into partisan rhetoric and personal boasting that left his own Progressive Conservative MPPs uncharacteristically subdued, averting their glances, sitting on their hands.
Does Ford not know his history, our history, world history? Does the premier not know the perennial story of racism and anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia? Could someone in cabinet or caucus explain to him the role of a political leader as the embodiment of tolerance and defender of diversity?

Ford , like the song says, doesn't know much about history. Clearly, he doesn't know much at all.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, September 24, 2018

It Can't Be Redeemed

As new allegations of his sexual misconduct arose over the weekend, Republicans doubled down on their defence of Brett Kavanaugh. If you're searching for the motivation behind their behaviour, E.J. Dionne writes, take a good look at the Christian evangelicals who form the base of the party:

They want Kavanaugh on the court, no matter what. “If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the New York Times, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”
Note that Reed warned against the failure to “defend” Kavanaugh. Republicans intend to prove their willingness to stand up for him, no matter how unseemly or offensive their campaign becomes.

And they're willing to break several commandments to achieve their objective:

The depths to which Kavanaugh’s defenders are willing to sink was underscored when Ed Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out a tweet thread pushing a mistaken-identity alibi to explain away Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Whelan, a friend of Kavanaugh who is in the thick of the strategizing on his behalf, actually named and posted photographs of one of Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Preparatory School classmates as the possible perpetrator.
Ford blew the theory away. Noting in a statement that “I knew them both,” she added: “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

So much for Ethics and Policy. The Republican Party was corrupt before Donald Trump barged in. The depth of its corruption made it easy for Trump to stage his hostile take over. The Kavanaugh circus underscores the fact that the party is rotten at its core. And, when the rot goes that deep, its host can't be redeemed.

Image: TeePublic

Sunday, September 23, 2018

To Slash And Burn

Last week, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced that the previous Liberal government had saddled his province with a whopping $15 billion dollar deficit. He claimed that his predecessors had deliberately tried to "cover up" a  "crippling hidden deficit." Martin Regg Cohn writes that we've seen this movie before. Each incoming government accuses its immediate predecessor of cooking the books. But Fedeli's claims are simply not true:

To be clear, no one “hid” any numbers from anyone, least of all financial analysts. To be sure, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk disagreed strongly with the last government’s interpretations, and issued a “qualified” opinion of their recent budgets. But everyone was working from the same set of numbers and cash flows at the time. That’s why Fedeli’s fulminations about outright deception — not just different interpretations — don’t add up. In fact, his Tories quietly adopted the Liberal numbers as their fiscal framework for their own wild promises before and during the last campaign.
In any case, a partisan political cover-up isn’t as simple as it sounds. As Fedeli now knows, finance ministers and political staff don’t have sole signing authority for budget numbers, because they flow through the public servants who put their names to financial statements.

What is really at the heart of the matter is how the government accounts for public service pensions. The Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, reported that "a massive surplus, in excess of roughly $11 billion in jointly-controlled public service pensions, was improperly counted as an asset (which auditors had approved ever since the Tories were last in power)."

Whether one puts $11 billion dollars in the credit or debit column makes a huge difference. And the panel Ford hired to review the books -- headed by Gordon Campbell -- has recommended that "provisionally" Lysyk's contention that those dollars should be counted as a debit is the proper interpretation of where things stand.

It all comes down to how you count. And, the way Fedeli counts will enable him to slash and burn.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Fix Is In

Michael Stern is a former prosecutor from Michigan. He admits that he found prosecuting sexual assault cases difficult:

In my early career, as a state prosecutor outside of Detroit, I dreaded handling sexual assault cases. After my first 10 cases, the ache in my stomach would come like clockwork as I sat down to open a sexual assault file for the first time. Evidence in sexual assault cases is often thin and trying to bring justice to a victim in a case with thin evidence is a prosecutor’s worst nightmare.

It all came down to he said/she said. But there was a witness to what happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford -- Mark Judge:

To a prosecutor, learning of a third-party eyewitness to an alleged sexual assault is a boon. Apparently, this additional evidence has had the opposite effect on the Senate judiciary committee.
Rather than embracing testimony from Judge as a means of finding the truth about Ford’s allegation, the Republican Senate judiciary committee chairman, Charles Grassley, has scheduled a hearing for Monday and has refused to call Judge as a witness.
There is a sleight of hand that has allowed Grassley to turn a blind eye to this pivotal piece of evidence. Mark Judge sent a letter to Grassley’s committee saying he had “no memory” of the incident Ford disclosed. Judge also said he never saw Kavanaugh “act in the manner Dr Ford describes”. Other Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham, have fallen in line behind Grassley, saying that there is “no reason” to call Judge to testify because they already know what he will say – exactly what he said in his letter.
But wait. If Mark Judge’s letter to the judiciary committee is sufficient to make its Republican members accept the contents of the letter at face value, why don’t they do the same for the letter Ford sent to ranking committee member Diane Feinstein? The answer simple: Republican members of the judiciary committee want to believe Judge, not Ford.

And that's precisely the point. The fix is in. As Mitch McConnell told an audience yesterday, Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Image: BBC

Friday, September 21, 2018

No Guarantee

As Chrystia Freeland tries to hammer out a new NAFTA deal, Paul Krugman writes about Donald Trump's tariffs:

Trump’s tariffs really are a big, bad deal. Their direct economic impact will be modest, although hardly trivial. But the numbers aren’t the whole story. Trumpian trade policy has, almost casually, torn up rules America itself created more than 80 years ago — rules intended to ensure that tariffs reflected national priorities, not the power of special interests.
So far, Trump has imposed tariffs on about $300 billion worth of U.S. imports, with tariff rates set to rise as high as 25 percent. Although Trump and his officials keep claiming that this is a tax on foreigners, it’s actually a tax hike on America. And since most of the tariffs are on raw materials and other inputs into business, the policy will probably have a chilling effect on investment and innovation.
But the pure economic impact is only part of the story. The other part is the perversion of the process. There are rules about when a president may impose tariffs; Trump has obeyed the letter of these rules, barely, but made a mockery of their spirit. Blocking imports from Canada in the name of national security? Really?

As the fight over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh confirms, Trump corrupts everything he touches:

As with so many other things, Trump has basically abrogated the rule of law and replaced it with his personal whims. And this will have a couple of nasty consequences.
First, it opens the door for old-fashioned corruption. As I said, most of the tariffs are on inputs into business — and some businesses are getting special treatment. Thus, there are now substantial tariffs on imported steel, but some steel users — including the U.S. subsidiary of a sanctioned Russian company — were granted the right to import steel tariff-free. (The Russian subsidiary’s exemption was reversed after it became public knowledge, with officials claiming that it was a “clerical error.”)
Beyond that, America has thrown away its negotiating credibility. In the past, countries signing trade agreements with the United States believed that a deal was a deal. Now they know that whatever documents the U.S. may sign supposedly guaranteeing access to its market, the president will still feel free to block their exports, on specious grounds, whenever he feels like it.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem Canada faces. Even if we sign a new NAFTA deal, there is no guarantee that Trump will live by its rules.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ignoring His Colours

The Ontario Court of Appeal has decided that what Doug Ford did in the middle of Toronto's municipal election was unfair but not unconstitutional. Ford could have waited for the ruling. Instead, he chose to exercise the nuclear option. In the final analysis, the appellate court has underscored the first court's conclusion. The premier's judgment can't be trusted. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

If the verdict was a vindication on constitutionality, there was precious little validation of the premier’s own judgment: His unilateral move to redraw Toronto’s electoral boundaries “disrupted the campaigns that were already underway,” the judges noted. “The decision of the Legislature to change (the rules) during the campaign was unexpected and perhaps alarming.”

There is a lesson for every Ontarian in all of this:

The takeaway for Ontarians is that the premier boasts of his willingness to take away their rights on a moment’s notice, in midnight sittings, while they sleep. People who weren’t paying attention may now watch closely; those who gave his government the benefit of the doubt are now on notice; voters who assumed Ford’s cabinet would keep the premier in check should now check more closely.
Will our lawmakers learn lessons from this fiasco? The premier’s honeymoon has been eclipsed by his darkest hour. He escalated an ephemeral question of municipal seat size into an existential matter for his fledgling government, flouting the fundamental protections of the Charter on a whim.

Ford has displayed his true colours. Most Ontarians knew what they were. Sixty percent of them did not vote for him. Ignoring those colours, however, could be catastrophic.

Image: Tumblr

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

In A Box

Mitch McConnell is a shrewd and putrescent politician. But he did warn Donald Trump not to choose Brett Kavanaugh for his Supreme Court nominee. Walter Shapiro writes:

Mitch McConnell sent a private warning to the White House. The Senate majority leader urged the president to choose someone other than Kavanaugh because the federal appeals court judge had too long a public record dating back to his days as a top assistant to Grand Inquisitor Kenneth Starr.
It is possible that McConnell was also concerned about something personal on Kavanaugh’s record in addition to his paper trail from the George W Bush White House. But Trump, whose idea of a “listening tour” is to watch recordings of his own rallies, turned a deaf ear to McConnell’s plea. The selling point for Trump may have been Kavanaugh’s extreme belief that a president (even one who watches Fox News all day) is far too busy to be questioned by an outside investigation.

Now Trump and McConnell are in a box:

Once Republicans thought that they could politically exploit the votes of red-state Democratic senators who opposed Kavanaugh. Now vulnerable Senate Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) have a convincing non-ideological explanation for voting against the nominee.
Not only would McConnell’s scorched-earth battle for Kavanaugh unite the 49 Senate Democrats, but it would also put beleaguered Republican incumbents like Nevada’s Dean Heller and even the fiercely ideological Ted Cruz in Texas in an uncomfortable position. Then there is Republican House member Martha McSally, who is running for the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. McSally, who once called the Access Hollywood tape “disgusting,” had to embrace Trump to survive a vicious right-wing primary challenge last month. Now she will face an even trickier decision on the campaign trail after describing the charges against Kavanaugh as a “very serious allegation.”
McConnell is boxed. The more he fights for Kavanaugh, the more he risks alienating women voters in November. Already, political analyst Nate Silver gives the Democrats a 30% chance of winning back the Senate, despite a political map tilted towards the Republicans like a rigged roulette wheel. If the Republicans go too far in defaming Ford, they risk the greatest gender-based political uprising since the suffragette movement.
But the situation is equally dispiriting for McConnell if Kavanaugh withdraws or loses on the Senate floor. Trying to jam through the next name on the Federalist Society’s list in a post-election session would also arouse united opposition from the Democrats who remember that McConnell refused to grant Merrick Garland even a hearing in the election year of 2016. Waiting for a new Senate in 2019 would mean that pro-abortion-rights Republican senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are more likely to be skittish about their own 2020 reelection prospects.

But that's what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

Image: Mindful Matters

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Bother?

That's the question facing Ontarians. With Doug Ford in office, Martin Regg Cohn writes, why bother with democracy?

Why bother going through the motions of filing legal motions in court, notably his government’s appeal of the ruling that his plan was unlawful? While there is every possibility the government will win a stay of the verdict after Tuesday’s hearing before the Court of Appeal, why seek to overturn a decision if you can routinely override it by invoking the Charter of Rights’ “notwithstanding” clause?
Why bother with debates in the legislature if you can always outvote the other side? While it’s true that the opposition parties collectively won more votes than the 2.3 million Ford keeps boasting of, he won more seats — fair and square — and it’s the seat tally that counts. Why not settle another score by reducing the legislature to a human scorecard, where MPPs’ votes are tallied up but their voices tuned out?
Why bother with our parliamentary system of cabinet government in an era where the premier wields virtually total control over his obedient, obsequious ministers? Why bother with free votes if Ford makes a mockery of them — publicly daring his MPPs to vote their conscience, knowing full well they will fall into line behind him, with nary a single dissenter? Not even ex-PM Stephen Harper, a ferocious disciplinarian, cowed his Conservative caucus with such efficacy on Parliament Hill.
Why bother with the unelected media? What right have they to question the premier (notwithstanding protections in the Charter of Rights on “freedom of the press and other media of communication”)? Ford displayed his attitude by deploying paid government staffers to news conferences where, until recently, they cheered and clapped wildly to drown out annoying followup questions from reporters who dared to ask more than the maximum of five questions dictated by his handlers.

When Ford ran for office, Ontarians heard nothing about reducing the size of Toronto's city council. Ford has created chaos in Toronto. But Todd Smith -- the Government House Leader, and my local MPP -- says the bill the government is pushing through the legislature is all about restoring certainty to North America's fourth largest city.

Why bother with truth, when lies can get the job done?

Image: The Toronto Star