Sunday, August 19, 2018

Vichy Republicans

The real story behind Donald Trump's Rise is the collapse of the Republican Party. Republicans have become venal and spineless. Paul Krugman writes:

The real news of the past few weeks isn’t that Trump is a wannabe Mussolini who can’t even make the trains run on time. It’s the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.
Make no mistake: if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.

If Trump is to fail, the Republican Party must fail with him:

The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.
So the path of least resistance is always to sign on for the next stage of degradation. “No evidence of collusion” becomes “collusion is no big deal” becomes “collusion is awesome — and let’s send John Brennan to jail.”

The collapse of the party has been a long time coming:

There are some special aspects of the modern GOP that make it especially vulnerable to this kind of slide into leader-worship. The party has long been in the habit of rejecting awkward facts and attributing them to conspiracies: it’s not a big jump from claiming that climate change is a giant hoax perpetrated by the entire scientific community to asserting that Trump is the blameless target of a vast deep state conspiracy.
And modern Republican politicians are, with few exceptions, apparatchiks: they are creatures of a monolithic movement that doesn’t allow dissent but protects the loyal from risk. Even if they should happen to lose a race in their gerrymandered districts, as long as they toed the line they can count on “wing nut welfare” — commentator slots on Fox News, appointments at think tanks, and so on.

The rot runs deep and goes far beyond Trump. And, if the Republicans win in November, American democracy will be finished.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Clear And Present Danger -- To The World

It's now painfully obvious, Jonathan Freedland writes, that Donald Trump sees himself as a mafia don:

More than 18 months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s modus operandi – and the danger it represents – is clear. His working method is that of the mafia boss and gangland chieftain, daily wielding his power to settle scores, teach lessons and crush dissent. Anyone who’s seen The Sopranos will know the routine: the casual intimidation, the obsession with loyalty, the brutal ostracism meted out to those who dare defy the man at the top.

The most recent example of Trump's modus operandi is John Brennan. And Trump's treatment of Brennan has revealed that, like Richard Nixon, he has a enemies list:

To be fair, the US is not wholly a stranger to such behaviour. When Sanders named eight other former public servants now similarly threatened with losing their security clearance – all of them connected with the Russia probe, funnily enough – she evoked memories of Richard Nixon’s notorious “enemies list”, a place on which fast became a badge of honour. The parallel is not fatuous: Nixon’s great offence was abuse of power, and this is becoming Trump’s hallmark.

He has not been able to do what he has done without his enablers in Congress and a fair degree of public support:

The US system of government, cherished and nurtured over two centuries, is being eroded by a president who tramples over every convention and custom that ensures its survival – and, crucially, by his Republican enablers in Congress who could stop him but won’t. (In a chorus, they supported his act of revenge against Brennan.)
Americans need to guard against an authoritarian impulse whose existence in their body politic is now demonstrably real. A survey this month found that 43% of Republicans were willing to give Trump the power to close down media organisations, while a separate poll a year ago found 52% would support “postponing” the 2020 election if Trump proposed it. Among all Americans, support for rule by the army – as opposed to elected politicians – is unusually high, with nearly one in five in favour.

Mr. Trump is a clear and present danger to his own country. But the danger is not confined to the borders of the United States:

Every time he steps over a once taboo boundary, thereby erasing it, Trump acts to normalise autocracy in the US and beyond. Rulers in Budapest and Warsaw, as well as Ankara and Moscow, see what Trump gets away with and they take note and take heart. He is a role model for the international strongman set. Which is why all those who care about global democracy should be praying for Trump’s Republicans to take a thorough beating in November’s midterm elections. As any mafia boss will tell you, the surest way to defeat a would-be strongman is to make him look weak.

One can only hope that Americans will reduce the Republican Party to an ineffective rump. The party certainly will not change its ways until it becomes a national embarrassment.

Image: Bubble Of Delusions

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Party Of the Furious

Maxime Bernier has been erupting on Twitter lately. But he's not the only member of the Conservative caucus who has been stirring up controversy. Tim Harper writes:

To be sure, Shannon Stubbs, Blaine Calkins and Denise Batters have none of the power or cachet of Bernier, so they were more able to fly under the radar.
Last week, Stubbs criticized Justin Trudeau’s appointment of counterterrorism and constitutional law expert John Norris as a Federal Court judge because Norris defended Omar Khadr, who she called “a confessed murderer and terrorist.”
“This is an utter embarrassment for Canada and the Canadian judicial system,” the Alberta MP tweeted.
Never mind that Norris that was appointed last February and Stubbs was summoning outrage six months later; her comments also showed a complete disregard for the role of defence counsel in this country.
Batters, a Conservative senator, had to apologize to Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, after she tweeted that the birthplace of the Saudi-born Alghabra was influencing his judgment in defending his government in the Ottawa-Riyadh diplomatic spat.
Calkins went one better, sharing a screen grab of a discredited 13-year-old blog accusing Alghabra of celebrating his nomination victory in Mississauga as a win for Islamic power spreading to Canada.
Calkins also apologized, saying he had cited a “poor source” and “was unsure about what I was reading.”
For good measure, Michelle Rempel, the party’s immigration critic, used a day when newspapers across the world fought back against Donald Trump’s portrayal of media as “the enemy of the people” to launch an unsubstantiated attack on the media.

It's pretty clear why Stephen Harper kept his caucus on a short leash. All these eruptions should remind Canadians of the general nastiness of Harper's government:

A summer of social media dog whistles makes it too easy for the Liberals to tie the party back to its odious snitch-line, anti-niqab stance of the dying days of the Stephen Harper government.
Trudeau took the opportunity to do just that Thursday, declaring that this all means the Conservative party hasn’t changed since the Harper days.
If we are hearing the honest views of Conservatives who see Islamists and terrorist-backing judges in their midst, then Scheer has a deep problem on his hands.

Scheer does, indeed, have problems on his hands. Winning the leadership of the Party of the Furious was no gift.

Image: depositphotos

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Yesterday, Donald Trump revoked John Brennan's security clearance. In this morning's New York Times, Brennan fires back:

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies presents an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.

This kind of activity has been going on for a long time. But Trump threw gasoline on the fire:

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

If Trump did that kind of thing in public, Brennan wonders what he did in private:

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.
Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

We await the Mueller Report -- and the verdict in the first of Paul Manafort's trials.

Image: Bloomberg

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Dispute With Saudi Arabia

John Baird was on Saudi television yesterday, slamming the Trudeau government for its treatment of Saudi Arabia:

"For Canada to treat a friend and ally this way has been incredibly unhelpful,” Baird told the English-language arm of Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned equivalent of Al Jazeera.
Baird added that the best way to resolve the crisis would be for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fly to Riyadh to apologize in person to the Saudi royal family.

Baird was a blow-hard when he was foreign affairs minister and it's clear that he's still the same bag of wind that he used to be.

Oonagh Fitzgerald asks in today's Toronto Star, "Has Canada Mishandled It's Relationship with Saudi Arabia?"

There have been occasional flare ups between Canada and Saudi Arabia related to human rights issues in the past, and while the countries are not particularly close, diplomatic relations have not been effected — likely to allow discussions on difficult issues to continue.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland expressed concern last week that Saudi Arabia had expelled Canada’s ambassador, but emphasized that our embassy in Riyadh will continue its regular operations and specifically invited diplomatic dialogue on human rights.

It's worth remembering that, when Baird was our Foreign Affairs Minister, the Harper government closed its embassy in Iran. In doing so, Canada chose sides in the battle between the two countries. The Harper government was not interested in being an honest broker in the region. Neither is the United States under Donald Trump -- who praises Saudi Arabia but has backed out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Stephen Harper has cheered Trump's abandonment of that deal. Baird reminds us of what side the Conservatives are on.

Something to remember during the next election.

Image: twitter

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?


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