Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The World Has Changed

Paul Koring writes that Canadians got a rude awakening last week:

Their beloved country doesn’t matter much, or at least not as much as they like to think.
Mexico and the United States are hammering out a new trade deal. Canada isn’t at the table.
While Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland twiddles her thumbs (no more impulsive tweets slamming the Saudis, please) and waits to be summoned to Washington, it behooves Canadians to reflect on why Canada is the odd man out in the new NAFTA.

John Kennedy once sang the praises of Canada. But he was, first and foremost, looking out for his own country's interests:

Kennedy spoke in May 1961, months before the standoff at the Berlin Wall nearly turned the Cold War thermonuclear hot and a year before the even-more dangerous Cuban missile crisis. In 1961, Canada’s vast  geography was vital airspace defending the United States from the waves of manned Soviet bombers threatening nuclear Armageddon. Canada’s very existence was essential to United States’ interests. Canadian fighter-bombers based in Europe were capable of dropping U.S. nuclear bombs to turn Russian cities into smoking and radioactive graves for millions. Canadian warships (including an aircraft carrier) were hunting Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic during the blockade of Cuba.  It didn’t matter that Kennedy, an elitist, and Diefenbaker, an anti-establishment populist, hated and insulted each other. 

During the Cold War, Canada was admired and punched above its weight:

By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Canada was the world’s pre-eminent peacekeeper. It had never missed a UN-mandated mission, and by the early 1990s had more blue helmets in more places on the planet than any other country. The country was a regular on the Security Council. In the Commonwealth and the Francophonie – both of which have since faded in importance – Canada, unhampered by the colonial-power burden, played a major role in development and human rights, including leading the international fight against the racist South African apartheid.

But the world has changed. Trump desperately wants to be Russia's ally. And Mexico matters more to Americans than Canada:

What is now starkly evident — and should have dawned on Canadians years ago — is that the U.S.-Mexico relationship has already eclipsed the Canadian-American romance and it will continue to become even more important in the decades ahead.
In economic terms, although Canada-U.S. trade remains larger, it will soon be overtaken by U.S.-Mexican trade, perhaps within five years. With 130-million people and a fast-growing middle class, Mexican offers far more than Canada in terms of America’s future economic growth and and market opportunities.
In the political space, Mexico already matters far more than Canada. Political races in the United States are won and lost on immigration, the border wall, and Mexican-related issues. More than 36-million Mexican-Americans live in the United States. Most are citizens who can vote. They care deeply about the millions more who can’t vote. And all of them matter in the intense political debate, unlike the fewer-than-1-million Canadians resident in the United States who have little to no political clout.

It's time to face a new reality. The United States is no longer a reliable ally:

The grim reality is that Canadians spent the last 25 years binding their well-being to an increasingly lopsided economic relationship with the United States. At the same time Canada was becoming less consequential on the world stage and thus less important to U.S. geopolitical interests. Canada’s Cold War roles have gone and it hadn’t created new ones to replace them.
Canada’s economy is at risk of collapsing without (mostly) free trade with the United States. The converse simply isn’t true. Canada’s economy is roughly the size New York state’s or Illinois and Michigan combined. Losing the Canadian market (actually losing a tariff-free Canadian market) would badly hurt some U.S. businesses but poses no dire threat to the overall U.S. economy.

We have to forge new relationships. The oldest -- and most basic one -- no longer serves our interests.

Image: Quotefancy

Monday, August 13, 2018

From The Top Down

Lots of Americans believe that, ultimately, their institutions will save them from the black hole that is Donald Trump. But Anne Applebaum writes that those institutions are failing -- and, in fact, they have been failing for a long time:

Some of that institutional failure is on display at the trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman. Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”

The careers of Manafort and Stone echo Donald Trump's career:

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.
Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him. As Adam Davidson of the New Yorker has written, “So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence.” But shoddy due diligence usually brings legal consequences. Why wasn’t the company shut down years ago?

That's a really good question. But, long ago, Trump's, Manafort's and Stone's behaviour became standard operating procedure. It seems pretty clear that when the "best people" are given free reign, the country rots -- from the top down.

Image: twitter

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Like Sleeping With The Dead

Doug Ford was in our neck of the woods last week, celebrating "a buck a beer." He was also greeted by protesters with signs decrying his decision to shut down our local wind farm and the Basic Income Program. For Ford and his supporters, there used to be a Golden Age. It was when I graduated from university -- fifty years ago.

Back then, when we'd walk into a drinking establishment in Montreal or the Eastern Townships and order "Un Cinquante," the bottle would cost something like a buck. Frankly, I can't recall precisely what the price was. But that was fifty years ago.

And that's the point. Ford wants to turn back the clock fifty years. Nathalie Des Rosiers writes:

Populist politicians use sentimental yearnings for times past to strike a chord with people who are unsure about how to confront today’s intricate problems. Voters are discouraged by complexities and fearful about the future. The past seems like a safer place to be.
Ford’s summer has been about cancelling contracts he did not like (wind turbines), cancelling elections he did not like (Toronto’s municipal election and some regional election), cancelling a curriculum he did not like (sex-ed), cancelling programs he did not like (cap-and-trade and basic income). On the positive side, all he has produced is cheap beer on Labour Day.
Maybe after Labour Day we will learn how he plans to tackle important issues like economic development, poverty reduction and climate change. But don’t count on it.

We live in a time of massive change. The Digital Revolution -- like the Industrial Revolution -- has turned the world upside down. But, ultimately, we'll have to adjust to the New World -- whether we like it or not.

William Faulkner wrote a little short story with the title "A Rose For Emily." It's about a southern belle who is jilted by a man who promised to marry her. At the end of the story, the reader discovers that she killed her lover and has slept with his remains for decades. The ending both shocks and turns your stomach. Rob Ford generates the same reactions among many of us.

Living in Ford's world is like sleeping with the dead.

Image: Book That Grow

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Manafort Mysteries

Ruth Marcus writes that Paul Manafort is, indeed, a man of mystery:

The mystery — a mystery to me at least — is comprehending the magnitude of Manafort’s greed. Assuming the allegations are true — and even if Manafort’s former partner, Rick Gates, is an admitted liar, bank accounts don’t lie — why would someone who vacuumed up so many millions of dollars take the risk of not paying the taxes due on that income?
The Manafort indictments detail a gusher of cash flowing to the lobbyist, $60 million from the Russian-backed political party in the Ukraine alone, according to a filing by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Even if you paid half of that in tax, which would mean you had a pretty bad set of tax accountants, you would have enough left for all the ostrich jackets a man might want. In this case, greed isn’t good — it’s stupid. The temptation to do the dirty work of autocrats and oligarchs and rake in millions in return is understandable, if not laudable; it is a bipartisan failing of human nature.

 With all that cash flowing in, why risk tax fraud? And why the desperation to keep himself financially afloat?

My colleague Catherine Rampell has noted the dwindling number of prosecutions for white-collar crime, and maybe, absent Manafort’s seemingly reckless decision to go to work for the Trump campaign, he might have gotten away with it. Criminal prosecutions referred by the IRS to the Justice Department have fallen by half since 2013. Still, Manafort should not have been sleeping soundly, in any of his many multimillion-dollar homes — he was being interviewed by FBI agents about his “offshore consulting activities” even as he was allegedly failing to report his income.
The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson summarized Manafort’s precarious situation and frantic behavior: “By early 2016, the man who previously had been sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to the U.S. each month seemed to be in a self-destructive frenzy, making the desperate moves of a man who needed some cash, right away, and had run out of options.”

 This man was Donald Trump's campaign manager? The stink is becoming overpowering.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, August 10, 2018

Keeping Our Distance

It's safe to assume that Canada will not receive any "wish you were here" cards from the Kingdom of Saud. But, Tom Walkom writes, Canadians need not get exorcised about the situation:

For the truth is that Saudi Arabia isn’t very important to Canada. And vice versa. Figures compiled by the Library of Parliament show that Saudi Arabia was Canada’s 25th largest trading partner in 2015.
Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia (mainly military vehicles and parts) comprised only 0.2 per cent of this country’s exports overall. Similarly, Canadian imports from Saudi Arabia (mainly oil) comprised only 0.4 per cent of imports overall.
The Saudis have quietly announced that the dispute won’t affect that country’s sale of oil to Canada. Nor is there any indication that it will affect Canada’s lucrative sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia — including a controversial $15 billion deal to build light armoured vehicles for the desert kingdom.
The wheat and barley boycott might matter if we sold a lot of those grains to Saudi Arabia. But we don’t. Only 7 per cent of Canadian barley exports are destined for Saudi Arabia. The figure for wheat exports is a staggeringly low 0.4 per cent.
As for Saudi financial penalties, the Globe and Mail reports that the country’s central bank holds less than one per cent of Canadian securities domiciled abroad.

The decision to pull Saudi medical students from Canadian universities will hurt. But they arrived because of funding cuts. It's time to restore what was cut.

There's a lot of smoke and not much fire:

Instead, we have this largely phoney war. The Saudi autocracy is using Canada to show the kingdom’s internal critics that it has no patience for Western meddlers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the Saudis to show his critics than he can’t be pushed around.

And it's wise policy to keep one's distance from a country which still crucifies people.

Image: Pinterest

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It Doesn't End Well

Sylvia Bashevkin, who teaches political science at the University of Toronto, predicts that the Ford government will be a hurricane that will leave a lot of damage in its wake. Ford's government was spawned by Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution. Consider Harris' platform and its results:

Let’s consider Mike Harris’s track record as leader of two consecutive PC majority governments. Elected in 1995, Harris-era Conservatives endorsed lower taxes and cost-cutting in their calls for “less government,” “fewer politicians,” and “less overlap and duplication.” The Tory platform known as the Common Sense Revolution promised to “spend more efficiently” because, in Harris’s words, the party would trim “a lot of fat, a lot of waste.”

And, like Ford, the first target of Harris' "common sense" was the city of Toronto:

Arguably the most consequential decision of the Harris years for Canada’s largest city was sharp, rushed and unexpected. The move announced in December 1996 to eliminate borough and metropolitan government in Toronto rejected the recommendations of at least two expert reports, including one produced by a panel the PCs themselves commissioned. Harris’s government also ignored the results of a local referendum on amalgamation in 1997 in which 76 per cent of Toronto voters opposed plans for a megacity.

The damage was far reaching:

Not only did the Harris PCs dramatically reduce welfare benefits, weaken rent controls and chop education funding in the name of cutting costs, but also they downloaded to fiscally strapped municipalities responsibility for child care, social housing and transit.
By empowering conservative suburban voices (like those of Mel Lastman and the Fords) at city hall under the megacity scheme, Harris’ strategy flattened the hose that carried funds for social programs at the same time as it limited chances for competing perspectives to challenge the Tory maelstrom.

And, for women particularly, the results were catastrophic:

From holding two of the six mayoral posts on the old Metro Council, women disappeared as executive decision-makers in Canada’s largest city. From about a quarter of borough council and a third of Metro Council seats in 1996, proportions of elected women tended to stagnate or decline.\
As of 2018, the representation of women on Toronto City Council is lower than in the last Metro Council of 22 years ago. The spatial plan governing amalgamated Toronto stresses nodes for highrise development and fails to consider how working women, new arrivals to the city or any other group of citizens might experience an increasingly dense and tense urban landscape.

More generally, Harris and Ford sought to squelch opposition:

Similar to the situation in the late 1990s, progressive critics of the Ford government will find fighting back is difficult when the game of musical chairs is stacked in such a way as to silence their voices.
It is already hard for local candidates — notably women from diverse ethnocultural and sexual orientation backgrounds — to win elections when we have an orderly, predictable system in place. Imagine trying to mount a campaign when chaos is intentionally created by a provincial government with nearly carte-blanche constitutional powers.

We've seen this movie before. And it doesn't end well.

Image: twitter

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

How Are We Doing?

This is the summer climate change got real for lots of people. Simon Lewis writes in The Guardian:

This is the summer when, for many, climate change got real. The future looks fiery and dangerous. Hot on the heels of Trump, fake news and the parlous state of the Brexit negotiations, despair is in the air. Now a new scientific report makes the case that even fairly modest future carbon dioxide emissions could set off a cascade of catastrophe, with melting permafrost releasing methane to ratchet up global temperatures enough to drive much of the Amazon to die off, and so on in a chain reaction around the world that pushes Earth into a terrifying new hothouse state from which there is no return. Civilisation as we know it would surely not survive. How do we deal with such news?

There are three ways to deal with the news:

We face the same three choices in response to climate change as we did before this scorching summer: reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), make changes to reduce the adverse impacts of the new conditions we create (adaptation), or suffer the consequences of what we fail to mitigate or adapt to. It is useful to come back to these three options, and settle on the formula that serious mitigation and wise adaptation means little suffering.

As Lewis sees it, "we are heading for some mitigation, very little adaptation, and a lot of suffering:

This is because while the diagnosis of climate change being a problem is a scientific issue, the response to it is not. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is, for example, a question of regulation, while investing in renewable energy is a policy choice, and modernising our housing stock to make it energy efficient is about overcoming the lobbying power of the building industry. Solving climate change is about power, money, and political will.

Science provides the diagnosis. But politics -- only politics -- can provide the solution:

Thinking about climate change as a practical political problem helps avoid despair because we know that huge political changes have happened in the past and continue to do so. The future is up to us if we act collectively and engage in politics. To quote Antonio Gramsci: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” Looked at this way, we can see the politics as a battle between a future shaped by fear versus a future shaped by hope.
That hope is built on a better story of the future and routes to enact it. The outline of this story is that given the colossal wealth and the scientific knowledge available today, we can solve many of the world’s pressing problems and all live well. Given that our environmental impacts are so long-lasting, the future is the politics we make today.

It's all about the politics we make today. How are we doing?

Image: cbsnews.com

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Sometimes It Rhymes

William Ruckelshaus  knows something about desperate presidents. He was Elliot Richardson's deputy during the Saturday Night Massacre. He writes in The Washington Post:

In October 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. As deputy attorney general and next in line, I was ordered by the president to fire Cox; I also refused and resigned. Cox was finally fired by Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. The result is what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Neither Richardson nor I saw any justifiable reason for Cox’s dismissal. When it became clear that Cox would not give up his pursuit of the Oval Office tapes, Nixon took the only action he could to protect himself: He tried to get rid of the man charged with investigating him.

Like Trump, Nixon was a desperate man:

Nixon was desperate. His goal was to shut down the Watergate investigation by ridding himself of Cox. Instead, Nixon got Leon Jaworski, the highly respected former president of the American Bar Association. Nine months later, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision forcing Nixon to release the tapes that proved his guilt. Shortly thereafter, the president resigned.
Trump might attempt to shut down the Mueller investigation, but if he fires the special counsel, he could face the same result Nixon faced. He would look like a president with something to hide. He would unleash forces bigger than one man, because Americans believe no one is above the law, not even the president.
Nixon was brought down by his disrespect for the rule of law. The hundreds of letters I received after my refusal to fire Cox enshrined this thought in my head for the rest of my life.
It’s hard to believe that, 45 years later, we may be in store for another damaging attack on the foundations of our democracy. Yet the cynical conduct of this president, his lawyers and a handful of congressional Republicans is frightening to me and should be to every citizen of this country. We are not playing just another Washington political game; there is much more at stake.

History doesn't repeat itself. But, Mark Twain wrote, "sometimes it rhymes."

Image: World Resources Institute

Monday, August 06, 2018

There Will Be A Reckoning

Michael Harris writes that there is a volcano set to explode in the United States. And journalists are in the path of the lava flow. The latest warning of what is about to come came last week:

Watching CNN reporter Jim Acosta the other day was a harbinger of what might lie ahead. The usually suave chief White House correspondent for the cable news channel lost his cool in a public exchange with President Trump’s press secretary.
Acosta reached the end of his rope when Sarah Sanders refused to say in an open press conference that the media was not the “enemy of the people” — the coinage and dangerous refrain of her boss, President Donald Trump.
“I’m tired of it, I’m tired of it,” Acosta said later when reporting on his showdown with Sanders for the evening news.

Acosta asked the question based on personal experience:

This past week, the CNN reporter was verbally assaulted by supporters of the president at a campaign-style rally he was covering in Tampa, Florida. As Acosta reported, he was called a “liar” and told that “CNN sucks.” The abuse came from  Trumpers who know all about the Second Amendment, but haven’t got the foggiest clue about the First.

Humorist Bill Maher calls these events Trump's "Nuremberg Hillbilly Rallies."  On several occasions, Trump has incited his crowds to violence:

Candidate Trump was the one who incited violence at his own rallies, expressing nostalgia for the days when protesters like the ones who occasionally heckled him were carried out on stretchers.
Trump is the president who told police to rough up suspects they arrest.
It was Trump who separated children from their families at the border, locked them up and neglected to keep tabs on who and where their parents were.
Trump is the commander-in-chief who bragged about the size of his nuclear button, twice threatening to vaporize other countries.

When the crowds eventually crack reporters' heads, Trump will be responsible.

And there will be a reckoning.

Image: Huffington Post

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Fire Next Time

We may not be far away from our next financial crisis. There are, Larry Elliott writes, a number of things that could trigger it:

It is not the likeliest of outcomes but not all that far-fetched either. China’s debt; Brexit; a global trade conflict: any of them could blow up into something serious. These sort of events form the basis of the war games that policy makers play from time to time.

But if there is a next time  --  and there always is a next time -- we have far less flexibility to deal with the crisis:

There are at least four ways in which policy is more constrained than it was a decade ago. First, and most obviously, there is monetary policy; the options available to central banks. At its August meeting in 2008, the Bank of England left interest rates unchanged at 5%, which meant it had plenty of scope to cut when it finally woke up to the seriousness of the situation. Even after last Thursday’s rate rise, official borrowing costs are only 0.75%, providing much less room for manoeuvre.

Then there is fiscal policy:

In Britain, the budget deficit – the gap between what the government spends and what it receives in taxes – expanded rapidly during the crisis from 2% of gross domestic product to a peacetime record of 10% of GDP. It has taken 10 years to bring the deficit back to where it started and meanwhile national debt as a share of the economy has more than doubled to over 80% of GDP. Despite a prolonged austerity drive, set to continue well into the next decade, the public finances are in worse shape than they were when Lehmans went bust.

Third, the international cooperation which saw us through the last crisis has all but disappeared:

One of the small comforts from the crisis of 2008-09 was that it generated a sense of international solidarity because the world’s biggest economies quickly realised they need to help each other. There was a collective commitment to shore up banks; the creation of a new body, the G20, to bring together developed and emerging market economies; as well as an agreement to refrain from protectionism. As Adam Tooze notes in his new book about the crisis, Crashed, the US Federal Reserve quietly acted as the lender of last resort to Europe’s troubled banks.

Now the world has changed:

Europe and the US went their separate ways over austerity; the G20 failed to live up to its early promise and even before the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, countries had quietly been finding ways to defend the interests of domestic producers. Trump has, of course, taken isolationism to a whole new level by picking trade fights not only with China but with the EU, Canada and Mexico as well. In the current beggar-my-neighbour environment, the chances of the world coming together in the event of a new crisis appear slim.

And, fourth and finally, the political climate has changed:

The last crisis came at the end of a prolonged upswing, in which wages and living standards rose steadily. Britain went 16 years without a single quarter of falling output and in the latter part of this period, when Labour was in power, there was bountiful investment in the public sector.
Feast has been replaced by famine. Wage rises have turned into pay freezes; living standards have stagnated and the public sector bears the scars of a decade of cuts. Austerity fatigue has set in, making it nigh on impossible for governments to insist that voters endure a new round of sacrifices. The public mood is already sour.

So, when the crisis hits, it really will be -- to echo James Baldwin -- "The Fire Next Time."

Image: Matt Lynn Digital

Saturday, August 04, 2018

A Dangerous Combination

As part of its march to a brave new world for Ontario, the Ford government cancelled the Basic Income Pilot Project. Catherine Mah, of Dalhousie University, writes:

The Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s decision is ignorant of the considerable thought and analysis on basic income as a promising policy solution for improving lives and strengthening the economy, ideas that come from the right and the left.
One of the best proxies that we have for understanding the effects of a basic income policy from an economic perspective in Canada is the guaranteed income received by seniors.
As part of the PROOF program of research led by Valerie Tarasuk at the University of Toronto, we have been studying the effect of policies and public programs to address food insecurity and its detrimental effects on health.
At the University of Calgary, Herb Emery and Lynn McIntyre studied the effect of a basic income guarantee on seniors’ food insecurity and health. Remarkably, they found that food insecurity rates drop by half at people’s 65th birthday as a result of seniors’ income supports.
The research team also compared seniors’ guaranteed income with conditional income assistance programs. They found that the income guarantee is beneficial to both physical and mental health, functioning in a way similar to wages.

Not only that, a basic income serves as an economic stabiliizer:

As Emery and McIntyre stated in their policy paper:
What is often not well understood is the efficiency case for addressing the root causes of poverty, and that poverty itself is a symptom of market failure. Symptoms of poverty, such as homelessness or household food insecurity, in this context, are not solely the product of an inadequate income level, but instead a lack of consumption insurance to address budget shocks — unexpected decreases in income or purchasing power of income. The ability to buffer against budget shocks, to maintain consumption levels when the budget is unexpectedly constrained, is a product of a surplus in the budget or the adjustable discretionary expenditure, and access to credit or assets.
In other words, people with more income don’t just have more money to spend. They can also maintain their purchasing power through hard times. They can stay their course as consumers —and keep spending, in the economy —even when unexpected household expenses arise, as they always do.

The Fordians are a number of things. But they're not bright. The economy has changed; however, their economic thinking hasn't.  “We want to get people back on track and be productive members of society where that’s possible," Minister of Children, Community and Social Services said after cancelling the project. 

It's the same kind of thinking that motivated the government to cancel Ontario's sex ed curriculum and return to the 1998 document.

There are two things that are painfully obvious: The Fordians are committed and dumb. That's a dangerous combination.

Image: Kawartha 411

Friday, August 03, 2018

Something To Cheer About

Michael Harris reflects over at ipolitics on why throwing in the towel is never the right choice. And, rather than preach, he tells a story rooted in recent history:

This week in Canada there was a remarkable example of how a few people with a head for glory, a plucky band of scientists, changed history in this country.
Kenora MP Bob Nault announced on behalf of the Trudeau government an investment of $4 million in the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario.
It was a very good move — and the second batch of funding for the ELA from Ottawa since 2016. This 58-lake natural laboratory has contributed some of the most stunning scientific discoveries in the world over the 50 years of its existence.

The work the ELA has done has had world wide consequences:

It was the ELA, for example, that came up with irrefutable evidence that acid rain — industrial pollutants from U.S. coal plants — was killing Canadian lakes. That research led directly to the landmark Acid Rain Treaty between Canada and the United States.
Before ELA scientists presented their evidence, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was fond of claiming that trees caused more pollution than cars.
The ELA also did landmark freshwater research on oil spills, phosphorous in detergents, silver nanoparticles, and the deadly effects of atmospheric mercury on fish, and therefore on human beings.

But, despite its record of accomplishment, Stephen Harper shut down the ELA as part of his war on science. It's only been a few years, but I suspect many Canadians have forgotten  just how dedicated Harper was to burying science and scientists:

In Harper’s March 2012 budget, 3,000 environmental assessments were eliminated, including many dealing with fossil fuels and pipelines;
The Harper government closed seven of nine world famous DFO libraries, with some priceless collections ending up in landfills, like the 50 volumes produced by the HMS Challenger expedition from 1872-1876;
The Conservatives killed the long-form census, cut funding to science, closed several research facilities and reduced atmospheric studies to just 70 per cent of what they had been in 2006;
Harper dropped his scientific advisor and elevated a creationist to the post of minister of science and technology;
Harper’s fisheries minister made drastic changes to the Fisheries Act without consulting his own scientists;
Harper suppressed significant studies by federal scientists like Kristina Miller and David Tarasick.
Miller produced a study that showed a virus from fish farming might have decimated wild sockeye runs in British Columbia. Even though her study was published in the journal Nature, she was forbidden to talk bout it.
In Tarasick’s case, his discovery of a large hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic made the government’s do-nothing approach to climate change even more embarrassing. He too was muzzled.

But science and young scientists -- who had not yet finished their PhD's -- fought back. Their refusal to knuckle under has paid off.

I have been increasingly disappointed by the Trudeau government. But I cheer their decision to revive the ELA. There are still somethings to cheer about.

Image: The Manitoban

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Ontario News Now

There's a new news channel on the block. It's called Ontario News Now. It is owned and operated by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party -- and funded by Ontario taxpayers. Amara McLaughlin writes:

The Progressive Conservative government's production of a TV-news-style video under the banner of "Ontario News Now" is a "pure example of fake news" that aims to undercut the pillars of democracy and muzzle media, political policy experts say.
"Having a separate news channel kind of corrodes the function of the democratic media, because it assumes that the media isn't able to fulfil the function that is assigned to them," said Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen's University.
The partisan channel launched on Monday via social media with a minute-long video that served as a highlight reel of Ontario Premier Doug Ford's photo ops during his first month in power and chronicled his alleged campaign successes.

It's an extension of one of Ford's chief campaign tools, Ford Nation Live, which featured Lyndsey Vanstone -- Ford's former executive assistant -- posing as a reporter:

McLaughlin reports that, "in just three days, the sole Ontario News Now video racked up thousands of views and generated considerable engagement online — something which shocked news and policy experts."

Chris Waddell -- a professor of journalism at Carleton -- says, "The underlying message in doing this is clearly that the Conservatives think the public is stupid. The Conservatives are relying on the assumption that the public is too stupid to differentiate between information, advertising and propaganda."

It's a sign of our times that those who yell and scream loudest about fake news are the biggest purveyors of it.

Image: Vox

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Out Of The Past

The Ontario Legislature descended into the maelstrom yesterday. The Ford government accused the opposition of mocking the dialect of one of its East Asian members. It then promptly refused to answer questions until it got an apology. The opposition claimed its house leader had not mocked anyone. "That's disgusting," quoth Doug Ford.

Opposition leader Andrea Horwath fired back, "So are you." Welcome to the Ford Years.

Michael Harris writes that there will be no turning back from Fordian abuse:

Clearly, Ontario’s Tiny Trump is determined to give Canada another one-man band on the political stage — despite Stephen Harper’s ringing failure on that score. And notwithstanding Donald Trump’s disastrous impersonation of Il Duce south of the border.
No one should be surprised though. The signs were everywhere that Ford would rush to join the spate of “strongman” leaders tainting “democracies” around the world, including the U.S., Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary and Italy. And yes, that’s Boris Johnson sneaking up behind Theresa May, ready to join the club. People are afraid, and they want Big Daddy, if not Big Brother. Note: Timorous citizens usually do not end up living in democracies.
One early hint about the kind of leader Ford would be, besides his disgraceful performance as a city councillor?
During the campaign that made him premier, he showed what he thought of the free press. He had his own people reporting on his campaign, using social media to post phoney news clips.
The fake reporter for most of the “news” videos was his own executive assistant, Lyndsey Vanstone. Voters seem not to have noticed the impersonation — or if they did, not cared about it.
It was Harper and “24 Seven” all over again. Fake news and press restrictions were the hallmark of the Harper years. Ominously, Ford spoke during the election about doing something about media “attacks.”

And one should not forget that, in his earlier life, Ford called Trump, "a man of moral fibre."

Yesterday, the Fordians announced that, instead of increasing social assistance payments by 3%, they were limiting the increase to 1.5%. Like the Harrisites, they are coming for those on social assistance first. And they cancelled the Guaranteed Income Pilot Project in three Ontario cities -- something Ford specifically pledged during the campaign he would not do.

The future is beginning to look a lot like the Ugly Past.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Betraying Workers

Donald Trump came to power claiming he would be the working people's president. Paul Krugman writes:

By now, it’s almost a commonplace to say that Trump has systematically betrayed the white working class voters who put him over the top. He ran as a populist; he’s governed as an orthodox Republican, with the only difference being the way he replaced racial dog-whistles with raw, upfront racism.
Many people have made this point with respect to the Trump tax cut, which is so useless to ordinary workers that Republican candidates are trying to avoid talking about it. The same can be said about health care, where Democrats are making Trump’s assault on the Affordable Care Act a major issue while Republicans try to change the subject.

But, if you really want to know Trump's opinion of the working man, you should examine the opinions of  the man he has nominated to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat on the Supreme Court:

The most spectacular example is his opinion that Sea World owed no liability for a killer whale attack that killed one of its workers, because she should have known the risks. He has declared the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which helps control the financial fraud against working families that played a major role in the 2008 crisis, unconstitutional. He’s taken an extremely expansive view of the rights of business to suppress union organizing.

It's true that globalization and technology have hit the working man hard. However,

there’s growing evidence that wage stagnation in America – the very stagnation that angers Trump voters — isn’t being driven by impersonal forces like technological change; to an important extent it’s the result of political changes that have weakened workers’ bargaining power. If Trump manages to install Kavanaugh, he’ll help institutionalize these anti-worker policies for decades to come.

Trump claimed he was the working stiff's saviour -- while dedicating himself to his or her annihilation.

But you knew that. Didn't you?

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Monday, July 30, 2018

Populism Doesn't Come Cheap

These days, populists run against government. They claim it's a luxury we can't afford. But, Alan Freeman writes, it's populism itself that's expensive. Need proof? Consider what is happening in the United States and the province of Ontario:

This week, Trump announced that his administration was going to spend $12 billion US to compensate farmers for the repercussions from the Washington-stoked trade wars against a multitude of trading partners, especially China. After being slapped with tariffs, the Chinese have hit back, particularly at soybeans and other commodities, which they’ve decided to buy elsewhere.
U.S. farmers, losing lucrative markets, have screamed bloody murder and since they tend to vote Republican, Trump has been forced to pay them off. Hard to think of a more wasteful and useless expenditure of public funds.
Then again, the Trump administration clearly doesn’t care much about the state of the U.S. government’s finances. It recently announced that the annual budget deficit will rise by nearly US$100-billion annually going forward above previous estimates, despite stronger than expected growth.
The U.S. deficit in the 2018-19 fiscal year will be a staggering US$1.1-trillion, or 5.1 per cent of American GDP. That’s getting up there, not quite Greece in the bad old days, but worse than most self-respecting first-world countries. But for Trump and the so-called conservative right, not all dollars are created equal. Spending on Medicaid for the poor or on food stamps may be evil but spending on the Pentagon, tax cuts for the rich or GOP-voting farmers, that’s fine.

And, in Ontario, there's Trump's Canadian Cousin, Doug Ford:

Then there’s the cancellation of the renewable energy projects. Energy Minister Greg Rickford claimed it will save taxpayers $790-million, but when asked how much the cancellations will cost, he couldn’t say.
Legislation introduced in the Ontario legislation is aimed at strictly limiting compensation for cap and trade and the energy project cancellation — shades of banana-republic strong-arming of investors – but don’t underestimate the abilities of phalanxes of smart lawyers to find constitutional and trade reasons to go after Ontario for compensation.
A classic example of this kind of wasteful spending is the cancellation of the White Pines Wind Project in Prince Edward County after 10 years of work by its German owner and just as the project was coming online. The German company says it’s looking at a potential loss of $100-million. The province is attempting to limit compensation legislatively but will still have to pay to dismantle the whole thing, terminate employees and decommission the site.
Tens of millions of dollars wasted and Ontario will end up with – zip. A smaller version of the cancellation of the gas-fired gas plants by the Liberal government back in 2011, which cost taxpayers $1-billion and forever undermined the credibility of the Liberals as responsible protectors of the public purse.
And so it goes with other Ford policies. What’s the ultimate cost of playing around with the governance and leadership of Hydro One? Great to have saved the CEO salary of the axed Mayo Schmidt but that cost pales compared to the big loss taken by the government with the decline in Hydro One’s stock price since those announcements.

Ontarians still own 47% of Ontario Hydro. But Ford will blame it all on Kathleen Wynne, just as Trump blames it all on Barack Obama.

Yep. Populism doesn't come cheap.

Image: Tigrai Online

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sound Familiar?

The most important take away from Doug Ford's decision to downsize Toronto's city council is what it says about Mr. Ford. Adam Radwanski writes:

With Friday’s announcement that he intends to dramatically change some of the province’s municipal elections already under way and outright cancel others, Mr. Ford demonstrated that unwritten rules for how premiers are supposed to act do not apply.
If not the what, it’s the how that should alarm Ontarians.

Every system of government has written and unwritten rules. Ford has sent a clear signal that he doesn't give a damn about the unwritten rules -- and that his government will be about settling old scores:

What was so urgent about Mr. Ford’s changes that they couldn’t wait until the next municipal votes in 2022 to be fairly implemented? The generous explanation is that he’s really eager to act on his impression from his single term on Toronto council that too many elected politicians are bad for government. A less charitable one is that he’s being vindictive toward old foes, thwarting former PC leader Patrick Brown’s plan to run for Peel regional chair and messing with John Tory, who bested Mr. Ford in Toronto’s past mayoral race.

Whatever his motives, Ford has chosen chaos before change:

That kind of chaos could grow wearying after a while. But in a political culture in which it’s increasingly possible for politicians like Mr. Ford to exploit cynicism around public institutions and other members of the political class, it could also become the new normal in a hurry − no squinting required.

 It's government by thugs -- and Ford is the Thug-in-Chief.

Sound familiar?

Image: Torontoist

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Welcome To Chaos

On Friday Doug Ford threw a bomb into Toronto's City Hall. He announced that he was reducing the size of the city council from 44 members to 25  -- during a municipal election. And he has the legal authority to do it. Royson James writes:

He doesn’t need to consult with the city to determine how the country’s largest city will manage the changes.
This is what we mean when we say the city is the creature of the province. Or, the premier can abolish the mayor and dissolve the City of Toronto with the stroke of a pen. No questions asked. No matter what the residents think or say. Just proclaim it!

Ford and his brother Rob tried to do exactly that when they were on the council. But they were voted down. Now Ford has achieved by fiat what he couldn't achieve by vote.

The premier says that the council is dysfunctional. But its problems go back to the last PC premier -- Mike Harris:

Premier Mike Harris was the villain then. And he touched off the most tumultuous, sustained protest for local democracy that our local municipal government has seen in anyone’s memory. Kathleen Wynne, before she was a politician, was one of the principals in planning the protests.
Back then we had six mayors, six fire chiefs, six city councils and more than 100 city councillors in Metro Toronto. Harris argued that cutting the six to one would save wads of cash and create unimaginable efficiencies.

There's that magic word -- efficiencies. That's what Ford said he would find. But he never said how he would find them. Consider what happened when Harris found his "efficiencies:"
The last 20 years has been the most challenging period for Toronto — precisely because of the way the Harris government implemented the amalgamation. Toronto has barely recovered. What it needs now is stability and support — not another chaotic period buttressed by uncertainty.
City council can’t end transit gridlock, fix the $1 billion public housing backlog, and build infrastructure because the large number of councillors are stumbling over themselves, arguing and unable to decide. Bunkum.
The housing backlog was created when the Harris government downloaded the cost of social housing on Toronto, one of the most outrageous political decisions. Ford, barely elected premier, has not relieved the burden. In fact, he has announced further cuts on this file.
Transit? Harris again reduced provincial funding, truncated the Sheppard subway, filled in the Eglinton West subway and set the TTC off on a downward spiral.
The Fords aggravated the situation. Doug’s late brother, Rob, created the delays by insisting, as mayor, that “subways, subways, subways” replace the approved and paid for LRT plan, proposed by Rob’s predecessor David Miller. That kicked off several rounds of debate and studies and redebate and delays.
Doug Ford’s transit pronouncements are adding to the delays and confusion — independent of the size of city council.
For example, Ford has announced he will amend Toronto’s current transit plans — a move that will lengthen, not shorten the approval process. It’s a red herring to suggest that the size of city council has anything to do with the number of times council must vote on the Scarborough subway extension. A new, 25-member council will have to vote on the Scarborough subway extension another three or four times — just like a 100-member council would. It’s the approval process, stupid.
The reason the Scarborough subway decision is taking long is because provincial governments keep changing the rules — for political reasons, and because they can.

When Conservatives are in power these days, they throw bombs and break things.

Welcome to Chaos.

Image: Press Reader

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Moment Of Supreme Crisis

Richard Wolfe writes that journalism is facing an existential crisis:

It’s long past time to wake up to the existential threat facing the media on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s time to ask the tough questions of our politicians – and the tough questions of ourselves.

Those politicians are making it harder for journalists to ask questions:

Back at today’s White House, CNN’s White House reporter Kaitlan Collins found herself barred from a press event for having the temerity to ask a question at all. As the reporter for the collective White House media, known as the “pool”, she lobbed a question at Donald Trump and the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker, just like hundreds of reporters before her.
The officials managing communications for Trump’s White House deemed the questions “inappropriate” and excluded her from a Rose Garden statement the same day.
The decision was made by Bill Shine, the new White House communications director and former Fox News executive, whose career rose with the man who is quite probably the most dumb and offensive anchor on television: Sean Hannity.

When the official political institutions of a country have been corrupted, there are only two checks left  -- the courts and the press. In the United States, the Supreme Court has almost been captured. That leaves the press:

In the UK, there is a more aggressive culture of media questioning in part because of the parliamentary tradition of prime minister’s questions – the live and televised weekly grilling of the leader of the government.
In the US, without any equivalent of prime minister’s questions, there are only the informal and irregular opportunities the media finds to pop off questions to a president. Thus the importance of that rare event in the Trump presidency: a full press conference. Of course, Congress could and should ask questions of the executive branch, but that kind of oversight – and balance of power – has shriveled under this Republican leadership with this president.

If the press can be neutered, the game is over. Consider what has happened in Turkey:

There are the courts and there are independent news organizations. Anyone who has watched the systematic crushing of Turkey’s vibrant media knows that today’s wannabe dictators have wised up to the power of the press to shatter their deceitful hold over their people.

This is a moment of supreme crisis. Make no mistake.

Image: Montgomery County PA

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump Likes To Break Things

Yesterday, the president of the European Commission met with Donald Trump. Jean-Claude Juncker had an unenviable task -- trying to convince Trump that the European Union is a good idea. Andrew Hammond writes:

At the heart of this diplomatic discord is Mr. Trump’s disdain for the European Union, which goes significantly beyond that of any president since the bloc’s establishment. While he has concerns with Europe’s low levels of defence spending vis-a-vis Washington, it is on the economic front that the Brussels-based club is the deepest source of frustration for him with its large goods surplus with the United States.

For Trump, everything is about the money. He recently tweeted:

“Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking. Remember, we are the ‘piggy bank’ that’s being robbed.”

His objective is clear:

This latest tweet builds on remarks last week from Mr. Trump when he remarkably declared, “I think the EU is a foe, what they do to us [the United States] in trade.” While some have dismissed this remark as just another spur-of-the-moment presidential outburst, Anthony Gardner – who served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union under Barack Obama – has warned that, “Europe wake-up; the U.S. wants to break-up the EU. Remember Belgium’s motto L’Union Fait la Force (Unity creates strength).”

Trump is on the side of the side of the Brexiteers, claiming -- while visiting Theresa May -- that Boris Johnson would make a "great" prime minister. A friend of mine calls Trump a weapon of mass destruction.

Children break things. Adults build them. Mr. Trump likes to break things.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Not His Strong Suites

Lawrence Martin writes that, if sanity prevails, Donald Trump will not impose tariffs on automobiles manufactured in Canada. Recently, there has been a strong chorus in favour of sanity and against Trump's claim that the tariffs would strengthen American national security:

Vehement voices came together Thursday at Commerce Department hearings on the tariff proposals. It was an onslaught. More than 40 parties testified. With the exception of labour unions, representatives from most every component of the U.S. automotive value chain raised alarm bells.
But if it sounds like a no-brainer that the Trump tariff plan is headed for the dustbin, there are some who believe the President’s mind is already made up, that the hearings are just to show that consultation was undertaken, and that he will move ahead with the measures that promise to be far more punishing than his steel and aluminum tariffs.
The governments of Mexico, Canada and Ontario joined in with similar appraisals. “Rather than potentially strengthening U.S. national security,” Canada’s deputy ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman said in a strong presentation, “tariffs on automotive imports from Canada would undermine U.S. security and would have a devastating impact on U.S. competitiveness in the auto sector.”
She made the point that given the degree of integrated cross-border production, “Canadian cars are U.S. cars,” explaining that assembled vehicles exported from Canada to the United States contain more than 50 per cent U.S. content.

All quite reasonable arguments. But reason -- and sanity -- are not Donald Trump's strong suites.

Image: Autofocus.ca

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Real Thing

E. J. Dionne writes that the Helsinki press conference showed us the real Donald Trump -- unadorned:

The truth is that Trump really does have what you might call a special relationship with Putin and Russia, for reasons still not fully known. He views foreign policy not as a way of protecting the nation but as an extension of his own narrow, personal interests.
He has no respect for our basic liberties, which is why he entertained turning over our country’s former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and other Putin critics to the Russian dictator’s mercies until widespread revulsion required Trump to back off.
The focus and discipline necessary to run a government are so alien to him that most of his top lieutenants were left in the dark about what Vlad and Don were cooking up.

During the election campaign, there were all kinds of apologists stepping up for Trump:

In 2016 and for much of 2017, those warning that Trump was exactly the dangerous scoundrel he appeared to be were accused of missing his fundamental genius and his deep connection with discounted Americans. Trump’s detractors were said to be “out of touch” and “elitist,” as if only those with exquisitely elevated tastes in society’s upper reaches could possibly worry about his indifference to truth, his contempt for women and immigrants, his disdain for a free press, and his flouting of the expectations we have of those on whom we confer power.
Was it only an elite thing to be concerned that Trump might be hiding something in those tax returns that he refuses to release? Was it out of touch to wonder why he praised Putin again and again, at one point saying that Putin was far more of “a leader” than President Obama?

And at Helsinki -- despite all the subterfuge -- there was one moment of truth from Putin:

At the Helsinki news conference that will live in infamy, Jeff Mason of Reuters asked Putin: “Did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
Putin replied: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

The apologists and Trump are still piling it on thick. But let's be clear: In Helsinki, the world got to see the real thing.  Only fools would drink that stuff.

Image: thehill.com

Monday, July 23, 2018

Harris 2.0

Doug Ford has established a special commission -- headed by former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell -- to look into Ontario's finances. The auditor general took a look at those finances four months ago. And, Alan Freeman writes, Bonnie Lysyk is no patsy:

Lysyk issued a report alleging that the projected deficit for 2018-19 of $6.7-billion was seriously understated, and was in fact closer to double that figure, at $11.7-billion. She blamed the discrepancy on the government’s accounting of pension plan assets and the costs of the Fair Hydro plan, which essentially gave a big cut in power rates now, only to be paid back well into the future.
Lysyk went beyond the usual role of provincial bean-counter. In fact, her approach was so aggressive that it caused considerable discomfort within the Ontario public service and made working with her office difficult for many. For one thing, government accounting is a pretty esoteric business, and there were expert voices who disagreed with Lysyk’s views. And she had a habit of going beyond her mandate as an agent of the legislature—as when she reported on how she would have analyzed partisan-inclined ad spending under an old law that the legislature had already superseded.
Be that as it may, her repeated criticisms and lengthy reports — her 2017 AG report was a mere 1,107 pages — did more than anything to undermine the fiscal credibility of the Liberals and allow the Doug Ford Conservatives to use Ontario’s rising debt as a cudgel to ultimately beat their adversaries.

So why does Doug Ford want to re-do Lysyk's work? It's not about the numbers. It's about the politics:

The reason why Ford is naming his own commission is that this process is not about accounting or even the long-term structure of government finances. It’s about politics and the Ford government’s need to prepare the public for swingeing cuts in spending, even though he promised just the opposite. Remember the Tory election campaign. Lower taxes, Lower deficits. And improved services. All through the magic of painless “efficiencies.” Electioneering is easy. Governing a lot less so.
So far, Ford’s “efficiencies” have only added substantial red numbers to the budget. The cancellation of cap-and-trade and the elimination of 758 renewable energy projects are supposed to be about savings but will probably end up costing billions to the treasury as lawyers go after the province for breach of contract.
The abrupt cancellation of the energy projects shows how politics is already trumping sound financial management in the Ford government. While the energy programme was probably ill-conceived, wouldn’t it make more sense to do a line-by-line analysis of every project and decide which ones can be renegotiated or delayed at less cost to the treasury than simply a blanket cancellation of every project? But that would take time and make for a less sexy headline.
What Ford is looking to do is lay the groundwork for a revised 2018-19 budget deficit that’s will be closer to $15-billion than the original $6.7-billion predicted in the spring, followed by a series of cuts. An inflated budget number this year will also make it easier to show progress in the future.
The most telling quote of the week came from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who said after the announcement of the dual inquiries, “We are prepared for the likelihood that we might not like what we see.” Translation: We’re bracing for a humongous deficit and we’re going to do everything possible to stick it on the Liberals now and forever.

So who's going to be hit first? Hospitals? Doctors and Nurses?

My bet is that Ford will go for cuts to education before health. The Conservatives generally don’t have much time for universities or for teachers and slashing health care won’t be appreciated by his most loyal supporters, who skew towards an older demographic.

Ford had no use for education in his past life. There is no reason for him to change his perspective. Ontario's teachers, those who work in its schools -- and the students who attend them -- should get ready for Mike Harris 2.0

Image: CTV News

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Many Are There?

The United States has entered a strange new world. Americans have never been here before because they have never had a president like this before. Michael Harris writes:

In the wake of the Surrender Summit, the president was variously called: a bumbling ingenue; a psychiatric study; a preposterous liar; a useful idiot; a national disgrace; a Putin groupie; a Russian intelligence asset; and a presidential traitor.
Some of these epithets were hurled at him by members of his own party.

It was a real life play -- a  21st Century version of The Comedy of Errors:

Standing beside Vladimir Putin this week, Trump once again chose Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 election over the documented conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
Although Trump had been briefed in detail on the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers who hacked into the election, he spoke of Putin’s “strong” and “powerful” denial. He even said that he couldn’t think of any reason Russia “would” do such a thing, a deadly ad lib that clearly threw American intelligence under the bus.
Both Republican congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, rebuked their leader. Dan Coats, Trump’s national intelligence director, flatly contradicted the president in a statement not vetted by the White House: without doubt, and despite Putin’s lies, Russia had hacked the 2016 U.S. election. American intelligence, Coats said, was dead right in its assessment and would continue to burrow into Russia’s continuing attacks on the United States.
Thus was born the “double-negative” defence. Faced with wildfires raging in Congress and a curtain of smoke rising from his hitherto non-flammable base, Trump’s team made him read what they hilariously billed as a “clarification.”
Here’s how it worked. Where Trump had in reality said the word “would” in his Helsinki comments, the president now said he had actually meant to say he couldn’t think of any reason why Russia “wouldn’t” have done the hacking.
It was the full whiplash for Trumpland.

And the Republicans bought it. Conservative foreign affairs analyst Max Boot wrote in The Washington Post that the Republicans had gone from "criticising useful idiots to being useful idiots."

Which raises the question: "How many useful idiots are there in the United States?"

Image: National Review

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven . . .

Hugh MacKenzie writes that we should have had an adult conversation about taxes and public services long ago. But that conversation has never happened, despite the obvious connection between the two:

Tax cuts reduce fiscal capacity, driving reductions in public services and that if you want better public services, you need to increase the government’s fiscal capacity to generate revenue.
The alternative, from a 4-year-old’s perspective: if you go to the corner store with less money, you are going to come home with less candy.

In Ontario, the Wynne government began such a conversation -- then quickly gave up:

The closest we came in Ontario was the debate fostered by former premier Kathleen Wynne over how to pay for the massive investments in public transit infrastructure required in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
That got as far as a backgrounder prepared by Toronto’s city manager in 2012, followed by a formal options paper released by the transit agency Metrolinx in May 2013, which analyzed the revenue potential and impacts of a short list of options to raise money for transit funding.
It did not go well right out of the gate. Everybody wanted better transit. But everybody wanted someone else to pay for it.
And then the provincial government threw in the towel. The provincial government called a byelection in Scarborough and, all of a sudden, transit planning went out the window: the promise was promising Scarborough a three-stop subway instead of light rail at double the cost. And all of it for free.

Our other politicians have refused to go there:

Massive tax cuts were introduced by Paul Martin’s Liberals in the early-2000s coupled with a retreat by the federal government from public services in areas of jurisdiction shared with the provinces.
A cut in the GST rate by the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives led directly to the current federal deficit.

And we're living with the consequences:

The aggregate impact has been stunning. In 1992, the five-year average of total government expenditures as a share of GDP was 48.6 per cent. In 2016, the five-year average was 40.1 per cent — in the context of today’s $2 trillion economy, that’s worth $170 billion in lost spending on public services.
We see clear crisis indicators of decline everywhere we look:
Crumbling public infrastructure.
An elementary and secondary education system whose funding cannot meet the needs of today’s students.
Post-secondary tuition that is now more than triple what it was 25 years ago.
The lack affordable housing and the rise in homelessness.
A public health insurance system that excludes the fastest growing component of health care costs (pharmaceutical drugs) and that is straining to meet the needs of an aging population.

It's the age old conundrum: Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die. We have to pay for what we want.

Image: Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives

Friday, July 20, 2018

What Brilliance!

Capitalism is alive and well, Gerry Caplan writes, thanks to kids:

I've been stressed worrying that all those little kids stolen by Donald Trump's goons from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border were throwing a wrench into American capitalism. Don't be silly. Capitalism abides, Dude.
Government payments for shelters and other child welfare services for those children cost $958 million last year, and counting. "The recipients of the money run the gamut from nonprofits, religious organizations and for-profit entities," says the article. But even a non-profit like Southwest Key Programs owns another company that is itself a for-profit holding company "made up of several businesses," according to its annual report. These separated infants and toddlers may be traumatized for life, but they're great for business.
It's somehow reassuring in a tumultuous world to learn that capitalism is still alive and well. With so many despicable villains abounding everywhere, some wondered where simple, cruel, exploitative capitalism might have slithered to. In fact, thanks to kids everywhere, it's thriving.

Want another example.? Look at Big Tobacco:

True, the tobacco companies need help figuring out how to sell more cigarettes. In the western world, smoking has finally become the thing not to do, after generations of gullible kids were persuaded they were cool by lighting up. I was once one of them, and my ancient throat and lungs still pay the price every day.
Luckily, the underdeveloped world has once again come to the rescue of western capitalists, this time the tobacco titans. There they are, blasting young people  with massive advertising campaigns to make smoking hip, like the ones that worked their deadly wiles on the west for so long. These canny entrepreneurs are making sure that millions of poor people around the world will dramatically increase their chance of getting extremely sick and dying early in excruciating pain.
According to sources such as the U.S. Department of Labour and Human Rights Watch, somewhere around 20 countries have children as young as 13 working in their tobacco fields. Naturally, those who made their living denying that tobacco is addictive and deadly have no trouble denying the proved existence of child labour.

And then there is the case of Nestle, which is trying to stamp out breastfeeding:

Nestle is the world's largest food and beverage company in an industry worth a cool $70 billion, and as its very own website reassures us, it's "Committed to enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future."

The facts tell a different story: "smoking causes 6 million deaths a year, while 800,000 children's deaths could be prevented annually with breastfeeding."

Each time capitalism comes under attack, it seeks out and finds a new population of vulnerables.

What brilliance!

Image: Nascent Solutions

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What's Around The Corner

Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet yesterday. He's getting ready for the next election and for more immediate battles. And the most pressing battle will be with Doug Ford. Susan Delacourt writes:

The more you look at this so-called pre-election shuffle, the more you see Doug Ford’s victory rippling through the some of the biggest changes to the federal Liberal ministry. If shuffles had ad slogans, this one would be: Built Ford Tough.

It's of considerable interest that Trudeau has raised former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's profile:

There’s Bill Blair, an old enemy of the Ford brothers, in a job that will inevitably put him soon on a collision course with the new premier. Or as the Conservatives’ deputy leader Lisa Raitt predicted at her post-shuffle news conference, a relationship bound to be “fraught” with difficulties.

But Donald Trump is also not far from Trudeau's musings. Jim Carr is now the Minister of Trade Diversification. And, by establishing a new ministry for seniors, Trudeau will be making a pitch for those of us over 65 who can be reliably counted on to vote Blue. Still,

Blair’s promotion may actually be one of the most interesting features of a shuffle that was altogether fascinating for what it says about the Trudeau government a little more than a year away from seeking re-election. Eighteen months ago, the deck was shuffled to deal with Trump. That’s still a big concern — witness Jim Carr’s transfer to minister of international trade diversification, which you could call Plan B for potentially faltering NAFTA talks. But Ford has clearly joined Trump on the list of shuffle-worthy worries for the Trudeau team. How do you deal with the Fords? Call the cops.

The battle will move to the courts first. By breaking a contract to build a wind farm in Prince Edward County, by breaking another contract with Brewers Retail and by challenging the Trudeau government's carbon tax, lawyers for the Ontario government will be kept very busy.

But, in the next election, Ontario will be Ground Zero. The cabinet shuffle is a signal that Trudeau knows what's around the corner.

Image: Huffington Post Canada

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Is At Stake

Mark Kingwell writes in The Globe And Mail that now is the time to impeach Donald Trump:

Historian Simon Schama, articulating the thoughts of many, called it “Trump’s Neville Chamberlain moment,” referring to the hapless British prime minister who claimed “peace in our time” by appeasing Adolf Hitler. Mr. Schama went on: “America sold out by its President. A violation of his oath of office. If this isn’t impeachable what is?”

The answer, writes Kingwell is obvious. And the way is clear:

Grounds for impeachment, as set out in the U.S. Constitution, include “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours,” as Mr. Brennan indicated. More specifically, Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 says that treason “shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
Adhering to or giving aid and comfort to an enemy – check. More than two witnesses – check, by a very large factor.
Immediate responses to calls for a Trump impeachment are usually twofold: 1) There is no way Congress will even consider impeachment proceedings against a reckless leader who has nevertheless benefited them materially; 2) Impeachment of Mr. Trump will prove so divisive that it is impractical, especially given the spin the President and his supporters would likely adopt, namely that it is a take-out orchestrated by elite interests.

But those objections no longer carry any weight. The issue is whether the Congress has the constitutional fortitude to to the job.

If indeed Congress lacks the moral fortitude to pursue impeachment, they deserve to be judged as harshly as he. And if the country as a whole cannot weather the fallout from some disgruntled Trump hardliners, it scarcely merits status as a liberal democracy. Robust nations are not held hostage by their own extremists.

What's at stake is American democracy.

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