Tuesday, December 31, 2019
"Now is the winter of our discontent." The line which Shakespeare gave to Richard III seemed to be on everyone's lips last year. Everywhere people were in the streets. But it was also the year when climate change seemed to arrive at some kind of critical mass. Whether it will be enough to mitigate the consequences of global warming -- or whether it will be too little too late -- remains to be seen.
It looks like 2020 will be another year that will roil the planet. Let's hope that, as Tennyson's Ulysses opined, it's "not too late to seek a newer world."
Happy New Year.
Image: You Tube
Monday, December 30, 2019
Doug Ford is trying to present a new face to his province. But, Mark Winfield writes, when it comes to the environment, Ford has not changed at all:
This month’s release of the auditor-general’s damming report on the Ford government’s Made-in-Ontario environmental plan left Environment Minister Jeff Yurek calling for “help” in dealing with climate change. But the reality is that on environmental and energy issues, the government remains on the same path of disruption and destruction that defined its first piece of legislation that dismantled the previous government’s climate change strategy.
Rather than changing direction in response to the auditor’s report, the government’s assault on the environment seems to be continuing. Its most recent iteration is Bill 132, a massive omnibus bill ostensibly aimed at reducing “red tape” adopted last week. Buried in its details is an attempt to undo the previous Liberal government’s moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides, widely identified as posing serious risks to pollinators.
On the environment, Ford wants to turn back the clock:
The province is proposing to move away from the MISA [Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement] program’s province-wide pollution limits for each major industrial sector and return to the pre-MISA model of negotiating pollution limits on a facility-by-facility basis. The underlying goal seems to be to make it easier to authorize increased discharges of both conventional and toxic water pollutants.
He appears to be saying that he understands the results of the last federal election. However, when it comes to the environment, it's clear that he slept through the exercise.
Image: Trillium Party
Sunday, December 29, 2019
Paul Waldman writes that Donald Trump is the Whiner in Chief:
Trump weaves a narrative of constant victimhood, telling his supporters not only that they are besieged and brutalized, but also that no one is more a victim than him. There has surely never been a president who spent so much time complaining — the media aren’t good enough to me, I’m not getting the credit I deserve, the Democrats don’t give me due process, my toilet isn’t powerful enough, it’s unfair, it’s unfair, it’s unfair.
The latest -- and most absurd -- example of Trump's whining occurred this week when he complained that the CBC had cut out his seven second cameo in Home Alone 2:
The president’s favorite TV show, the festival of nincompoopery that is “Fox & Friends,” ran a segment Thursday expressing outrage over the fact that the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. cut out Trump’s seven-second cameo in the 1992 film “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” for broadcast, a crime plainly worthy of extended discussion on national television. The inevitable response came in condemning tweets from both the president and his firstborn son to their millions of followers, delivering the day’s instruction on what to be angry about.
CNN’s Daniel Dale, who is both an indefatigable fact-checker and openly Canadian, explained that the real story is that starting in 2014, the CBC cut eight minutes out of the two-hour movie to make room for commercials, including many other scenes besides Trump’s cameo. But no matter: It’s just one more example of how snooty, elitist poutine-sucking foreigners treat Trump so terribly unfairly. His ability to take offense, and his devotees’ ability to be offended on his behalf, is without limit.
But, as absurd as the whole affair was, it illustrated why such a significant number of Americans support Trump. He tells them they have been wronged -- just like him:
To be clear, many of those people have genuine reason to feel aggrieved (not the billionaires, of course). The system has indeed failed people whose communities were devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the decline of labor unions. When conservative Christians lament that modern society is hostile to many of their values, they’re right.
If you’re puzzled about why the former continue to support Trump despite the fact that he seeks to make their economic lives worse by enhancing the power of economic elites, or why the latter continue to support him despite his personal and policy immorality, this is part of the answer. Trump might spin ludicrous fantasies for them of how he’ll turn their world into a paradise, but he also encourages them to cultivate their sense of victimhood.
The lie behind it all, of course, is that Trump is no victim:
Though he may have been privileged from the moment of his birth, Trump understands that sense of loss well, and organized his presidential bid around it. When he said he’d build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, he was writing a story of the white man’s dignity regained through humiliation and domination of the foreign Other.
His failure to deliver on that promise (and many others) makes the task of keeping his supporters angry and aggrieved all the more urgent. So make no mistake: Amidst what is sure to be a campaign of uncommon, perhaps unprecedented brutality directed at his Democratic opponent, Trump will never stop whining, all the way to next November.
It's a Con For The Ages.
Image: Clean Technica
Saturday, December 28, 2019
In the wake of the last election, Canadians feel more divided than unified. So, in the new year, national unity will be a theme we're going to hear a lot about. Susan Delacourt writes that, traditionally, there are three threads which bind Canadians together -- symbols, values and policies:
Of the three, values are the most knotted thread. Take, for instance, this idea that Canada is a country open to newcomers. Quebec’s new secularism law, banning outward displays of religion in public places, is a case in point. While Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada didn’t do all that well in last year’s election, there is still a considerable audience for any anti-immigration talk in Canada, [David] Coletto says. According to Abacus’s research, a full 40 per cent of Canadians have a not-quite-open view of immigration, seeing it as a drain on Canada.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 with a throne speech laden with outward-looking talk of Canada’s place in the world and welcoming messages for Syrian refugees. Liberals simply assumed four years ago that these were baseline values for Canadians. In 2019, Trudeau’s second throne speech talked more of protecting Canada from negative forces outside its borders. In 2020, Canada is not currently expected to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
When it comes to building national unity from the outside in, the United States — and the current president in particular — has re-emerged as a uniting force for Canada. If Canadians have historically had a hard time figuring out who they are, they have had less trouble uniting around what they’re not: Americans. So Donald Trump’s impeachment drama and his bid for re-election in 2020 could knit the country together, even as the U.S. is more deeply polarizing around those big political events.
Trump can go a long way to unify Canadians. But antipathy to Donald Trump has its limits:
Anti-Americanism, even anti-Trumpism, is not really an option for a country so economically tied to the United States and ratification of the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico free trade deal will be high on Trudeau’s agenda in the new.
In the end, we're bound together -- or divided -- by policies:
If there’s a preoccupation with health care, that’s not an accident. Coletto says that people still point to this policy as quintessentially Canadian: something that distinguishes us from Americans and makes us feel lucky to live here. It’s actually a value, a policy and a symbol all wrapped in one.
Pharmacare, now dangling as a promise from the Liberals and a deal-breaking demand from the New Democrats in Parliament, could be a route to building national unity on a policy plane. But that terrain is fraught and there’s no guarantee, as Chantal Hébert has pointed out in a recent Star column, that provinces will opt into a new program.
Policies on healthcare, pharmacare and climate change can serve as unifiers -- a long with something else:
Canada’s wealthy people won’t be happy to hear this, but Coletto says that taxing the rich is definitely a unifying policy in Canada in 2020, one of those rare policies capable of drawing support from the left and the right of the political spectrum. It is true: on any given day in question period over the past couple of years, it often seemed that all the parties were in competition to denounce millionaires and corporate giants.
This is the temper of the uncertain economic times, it seems: if you want to marshal the support of 99 per cent of Canadians, rail against the one per cent. Class warfare is not normally a unity-building exercise, but in an era of deep income inequality, anything that looks like “making the rich pay” could be a policy winner.
Of course, declaring war on the rich could backfire. In fact, missteps on healthcare, pharmacare or climate change could wind up causing Canadians to go to war with each other. Weaving this country together -- since the days of Charlottetown -- has never been easy.
Once again, our work is cut out for us.
Friday, December 27, 2019
We live in an age of demagogues. The political landscape looks pretty bleak. George Monbiot writes:
People you wouldn’t trust to post a letter for you have been elected to the highest office. There, as widely predicted, they behave like a gang of vandals given the keys to an art gallery, “improving” the great works in their care with spray cans, box cutters and lump hammers. In the midst of global emergencies, they rip down environmental protections and climate agreements, and trash the regulations that constrain capital and defend the poor. They wage war on the institutions that are supposed to restrain their powers while, in some cases, committing extravagant and deliberate outrages against the rule of law. They use impunity as a political weapon, revelling in their ability to survive daily scandals, any one of which would destroy a normal politician.
But there are exceptions:
In Finland, on the day of our general election, Boris Johnson’s antithesis became prime minister: the 34-year-old Sanna Marin, who is strong, humble and collaborative. Finland’s politics, emerging from its peculiar history, cannot be replicated here. But there is one crucial lesson. In 2014, the country started a programme to counter fake news, teaching people how to recognise and confront it. The result is that Finns have been ranked, in a recent study of 35 nations, the people most resistant to post-truth politics.
Finland exemplifies a change -- a change that needs to spread around the world:
The much bigger change is this: to stop seeking to control people from the centre. At the moment, the political model for almost all parties is to drive change from the top down. They write a manifesto, that they hope to turn into government policy, which may then be subject to a narrow and feeble consultation, which then leads to legislation, which then leads to change. I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.
Instead of trying to organize societies from the top down, Monbiot writes, we need to take a lesson from nature:
When you try to control nature from the top down, you find yourself in a constant battle with it. Conservation groups in this country often seek to treat complex living systems as if they were simple ones. Through intensive management – cutting, grazing and burning – they strive to beat nature into submission until it meets their idea of how it should behave. But ecologies, like all complex systems, are highly dynamic and adaptive, evolving (when allowed) in emergent and unpredictable ways.
Eventually, and inevitably, these attempts at control fail. Nature reserves managed this way tend to lose abundance and diversity, and require ever more extreme intervention to meet the irrational demands of their stewards. They also become vulnerable. In all systems, complexity tends to be resilient, while simplicity tends to be fragile. Keeping nature in a state of arrested development in which most of its natural processes and its keystone species (the animals that drive these processes) are missing makes it highly susceptible to climate breakdown and invasive species. But rewilding – allowing dynamic, spontaneous organisation to reassert itself – can result in a sudden flourishing, often in completely unexpected ways, with a great improvement in resilience.
The same applies to politics. Mainstream politics, controlled by party machines, has sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of human society into a simple, linear model that can be controlled from the centre. The political and economic systems it creates are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in dynamism; susceptible to collapse, as many northern towns can testify, while unable to regenerate themselves. They become vulnerable to the toxic, invasive forces of ethno-nationalism and supremacism.
Monbiot calls this process rewilding. Nature works from the bottom up, spreading seeds everywhere. And, in the midst of what appears to be disorganization, new and stronger species emerge -- species that can survive the threats they face.
It's time to rewild.
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Over the holidays, Paul Krugman wrote that some people are comparing Donald Trump to Scrooge. But they're wrong. By Trump era standards, Scrooge was a nice guy:
While Dickens portrays Scrooge as a miser, he’s notably lacking in malice. True, he’s heartless until he’s visited by various ghosts. But his heartlessness consists merely of unwillingness to help those in need. He’s never shown taking pleasure in others’ suffering, or spending money to make the lives of the poor worse.
These are things you can’t say about the modern American right. In fact, many conservative politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they’re actually much worse — not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What’s new about the Trump era is that the cruelty is more open, not just on Trump’s part, but throughout his party.
The Republicans are, indeed, full of humbug:
After all, the explosion of the budget deficit under Trump shows that Republican claims to care about fiscal responsibility were always humbug, that they’re perfectly willing to slash taxes on the rich without offsetting spending cuts. Furthermore, because America spends relatively little money helping the poor, even harsh cuts — like the Trump administration’s new rules on food stamps, which will hurt hundreds of thousands — will at best save only tiny amounts compared with the cost of tax cuts.
And in important cases, the right is so eager to hurt low-income Americans that it’s willing to do so even if there are no budget savings at all.
Consider the case of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which a 2012 Supreme Court decision made optional: States could choose not to participate.
Why would any state make that choice? After all, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost, and experience shows that expanding Medicaid produces indirect cost savings — for example, by letting states reduce aid to hospitals for uncompensated costs.
Furthermore, the federal funds brought in by Medicaid expansion boost a state’s economy, which raises tax revenues. So expansion is, from a state fiscal point of view, neutral or even net positive. Why would any state turn it down?
Yet 14 Republican-controlled states, many among the nation’s poorest, are still refusing to expand Medicaid.
At the same time, a number of states are trying to limit access to Medicaid by imposing stringent work requirements. This may sound like a cost-saving measure, but it isn’t — trying to enforce work requirements, it turns out, costs a lot of money.
The point is that these state governments are only pretending to be penny pinchers. In reality, they’re actively trying to make peoples’ lives worse, and they’re willing to lose money to accomplish that goal. But why?
The answer is painfully clear. In the end, it's all about cruelty:
In 2018, The Atlantic published a memorable essay by Adam Serwer titled “The Cruelty Is the Point,” about the political importance of shared pleasure from other people’s suffering. Serwer was inspired to write that essay by photos of lynchings, which show groups of white men obviously enjoying the show. Indeed, in America, gratuitous cruelty has often been directed at people of color.
But as Serwer also noted, it’s not just about race. There are more people than we like to imagine who rejoice in the suffering of anyone they see as unlike themselves, especially anyone they perceive as weak.
The ugly truth is that today's Republicans are sadists -- led by the Sadist-in-Chief:
What Trump has brought to his party is a new willingness to be openly vicious.
Their attempts to justify cruelty as being somehow in the national interest are low energy, especially compared with the enthusiastic nastiness Trump exhibits at political rallies. Trump has celebrated and reportedly wants to campaign with servicemen he pardoned after our own military convicted them of or charged them with war crimes, clearly because he likes the idea of indiscriminate killing — and so do some of his supporters.
Ebenezer Scrooge was a mean, sad, old man. Donald Trump -- and the party he leads -- are much worse than Scrooge.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
We live in a time and place where grievance fills the air. We're constantly reminded of how we've been short changed and what we don't have. But, every year at this time, we're reminded of our possibilities -- of what we might achieve if we practised a simple principle -- good will to all.
We need more good will and less grievance. May all of you find more good will during this season.
Image: The Toronto Star
Monday, December 23, 2019
Nouriel Roubini -- a man who has a pretty good record when it comes to predicting the future -- writes that Donald Trump is making China great again, even as he touts "phase one" of a trade agreement with China:
The good news for investors is that the deal averted a new round of tariffs that could have tipped the US and the global economy into recession and crashed global stock markets. The bad news is that it represents just another temporary truce amid a much larger strategic rivalry encompassing trade, technology, investment, currency and geopolitical issues. Large-scale tariffs will remain in place and escalation may well resume if either side shirks its commitments.
But rather than working as allies, the United States and China are decoupling:
The US regards China’s quest to achieve autonomy and then supremacy in cutting-edge technologies – including artificial intelligence, 5G, robotics, automation, biotech and autonomous vehicles – as a threat to its economic and national security. Following its blacklisting of Huawei (a 5G leader) and other Chinese tech firms, the US will continue to try to contain the growth of China’s tech
Cross-border flows of data and information will also be restricted, raising concerns about a “splinternet” between the US and China. And owing to increased US scrutiny, Chinese foreign direct investment in America has already collapsed by 80% from its 2017 level. Now, new legislative proposals threaten to bar US public pension funds from investing in Chinese firms, restrict Chinese venture capital investments in the US, and force some Chinese firms to delist from US stock exchanges altogether.
The 2017 White House National Security Strategy and the 2018 US National Defense Strategy regard China as a “strategic competitor” that must be contained. Security tensions between the two are brewing all over Asia, from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the East and South China seas. The US fears that Chinese president Xi Jinping, having abandoned his predecessor Deng Xiaoping’s advice to “hide your strength and bide your time”, has embarked on a strategy of aggressive expansionism. China, meanwhile, fears that the US is trying to contain its rise and deny its legitimate security concerns in Asia.
It remains to be seen how the rivalry will evolve. Unfettered strategic competition would almost certainly lead eventually from an escalating cold war to a hot war, with disastrous implications for the world. What is clear is the hollowness of the old western consensus, according to which admitting China into the World Trade Organization and accommodating its rise would compel it to become a more open society with a freer and fairer economy. But, under Xi, China has created an Orwellian surveillance state and doubled down on a form of state capitalism that is inconsistent with the principles of free and fair trade. And it is now using its growing wealth to flex its military muscles and exercise influence across Asia and around the world.
The way to deal with China's rise is to form strategic alliances. But Trump trashes alliances. He's a lone wolf who trusts no one:
The problem, of course, is US president Donald Trump, who does not seem to understand that “managed strategic competition” with China requires good-faith engagement and cooperation with other countries. To succeed, the US needs to work closely with its allies and partners to bring its open-society, open-economy model into the 21st century. The west may not like China’s authoritarian state capitalism, but it must get its own house in order. Western countries need to enact economic reforms to reduce inequality and prevent damaging financial crises, as well as political reforms to contain the populist backlash against globalisation, while still upholding the rule of law.
Unfortunately, the current US administration lacks any such strategic vision. The protectionist, unilateralist, illiberal Trump apparently prefers to antagonise US friends and allies, leaving the west divided and ill-equipped to defend and reform the liberal world order that it created. The Chinese probably prefer that Trump be re-elected in 2020. He may be a nuisance in the short run, but, given enough time in office, he will destroy the strategic alliances that form the foundation of American soft and hard power. Like a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” Trump will “make China great again.”
As the House of Representatives warned last week, Trump is a clear and present danger -- not just to his own country, but to the world.
Image: Bloomsbury Publishing
Sunday, December 22, 2019
Banking is a profitable business, which pays well -- if you're an executive. Linda McQuaig writes:
The country's six largest banks are dishing out $15 billion in bonuses this year. But, in the eyes of some, this isn't enough.
Certainly, the notion of bankers suffering as they gorge on $15 billion in bonuses highlights the cavernous gap between the world enjoyed by those at the top and the one occupied by the struggling masses, including bodies we step over on sidewalks surrounding our bank towers.
It also reveals how misleading media reports can be, particularly about high finance, with insiders allowed to peddle their self-serving agendas unchallenged.
Bill Vlaad, president of Vlaad & Co., which monitors bank compensation trends, described the $15-billion payout to bank executives as bleak, while noticing that it could have been worse: "'It could very well have been a bloodbath."
Vlaad's complaint, McQuaig writes, is absurd -- particularly given the protected status of banks:
Banks enjoy a protected position at the top of the Canadian economy. With roots stretching back to before Confederation, the big banks represent the very heart of the Canadian establishment. Over the years, they've developed deeply entrenched connections to Ottawa's governing parties, making it difficult for newcomers to break in.
No matter how enterprising or innovative a Canadian citizen might be, she can't just go out and open a bank. She needs a charter from the federal government, and these aren't easy to obtain.
Yet, despite their privileged perch, Canada's big six banks have gotten away with paying extremely low taxes -- the lowest in the G7. Partly by using tax havens, our wildly profitable banks have managed to reduce their taxes to a rate that is about one-third of the rate paid by other Canadian businesses, according to a 2017 Toronto Star investigation.
And, because they claim the pickings are slim, the banks have been cutting services:
In recent years, they've shut down branches across the country, leaving hundreds of rural and remote communities without a local branch. They've also declined to offer banking services to many low-income people, obliging almost two million Canadians a year to pay the hair-raising interest rates charged by payday loan operators.
Yet, proposals that Canada Post offer banking services at its 6,200 outlets across the country have been opposed by the big banks, which insist that they serve Canadians well.
Clearly, it's more profitable to take the money in than it is to redistribute it.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Jean Charest is pondering a bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Winning the leadership wouldn't be easy. Chantal Hebert writes:
Over the past few days, Charest has not so much looked for advice as to the wisdom of throwing his hat in the ring as started to make a case for why he is the leader Conservatives need to win.
Someone else with the same high-profile track record would not leave what has been a successful transition to the private sector without a reasonably certain prospect of victory.
His big problem is that the party has changed since the time he spent on its benches:
There would be no coronation and the campaign would not be a bed of roses.
At this juncture, Charest has a surplus of have-been fans and a deficit of up-and-comers streetwise as to the current lay of the Conservative land.
It speaks to that transformation that the former premier needs Scheer’s Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes in his corner more than he needs Brian Mulroney.
As premier, Charest advocated both for carbon pricing which he introduced in Quebec and for vigorous gun control. Neither stance would be an asset with the Conservative base. But even in a Liberal capacity he never renounced the central Conservative creed of provincial autonomy.
Few expect Stephen Harper’s clan to hand the Conservative party to a former Tory leader such as Charest on a silver platter.
The thinking until this week was that many Harperites were looking to [Rona] Ambrose as their lead choice to take the reins.
The latest developments may increase pressure on her to jump in.
A duel between Charest and Ambrose could deepen some of the existing fault lines within the Conservative movement.
It could turn the campaign into a showdown between former Tories and former Reformers and between Quebec and the party’s Prairie base.
Who knows what will happen? But Charest has one distinct advantage over Ambrose. He's a native son. And, in Quebec, that's a distinct advantage -- regardless of what party you represent.
Friday, December 20, 2019
Like premiers before him, Doug Ford has gone to war with Ontario's teachers. Martin Regg Cohn writes that Ford is hoping for his Mike Harris moment:
For months, the Progressive Conservative government has scorned the teachers as ungrateful and greedy. Now, they are raising the rhetoric to fever pitch, fantasizing that they can replay the Mike Harris playbook from 1995, when another PC premier took teachers on.
But Ontarians have seen this scenario one time too many. Ford is in no position — politically or fiscally — to reprise the Harris role of pretend Robin Hood, purportedly taking from rich teachers to give to poor taxpayers.
Today, Ford’s popularity is in free fall; his first education minister, Lisa Thompson, was thrown under the bus; and her successor, Stephen Lecce, is the new fall guy. Call it the domino effect.
Thompson had proudly announced that average high school class sizes were jumping from 22 to 28, and loudly proclaimed this would make students more “resilient.” No matter that thousands of teaching jobs would be cut from the system, she argued that students would be enriched by four mandatory online courses — an untried experiment.
Lecce leapt to the rescue, dialing down the teacher-student ratios from 28 to 25, and cutting the online courses from four to two. Enraptured by his rhetoric, Ford fell in love with his new “all-star” minister, hailing his persuasive powers in public.
However, Lecce soon headed for the rocks. That's because he's not the one calling the shots:
The politician pulling the strings here is the man who controls the purse strings behind the scenes on Ford’s behalf, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy. A little-known business executive who boasts of his Bay Street credentials while baying about a supposed Venezuelan or Greek-style bankruptcy crisis in Ontario, Bethlenfalvy is the driving force behind the contrived austerity emergency. Yes, the government inherited a major deficit last year, but only half as much as he first claimed ($7.4 billion, not $15 billion, and only after Bethlenfalvy ignored outside experts by pretending Ontario didn’t enjoy an $11 billion surplus in employee pension funds).
The revised deficit was close to Kathleen Wynne's projected deficit. And the difference between the two figures is roughly the same amount of revenue the government lost when Ford cancelled Ontario's cap and trade system.
Put simply, Ontarians know they've been conned. And they know their premier is not a bright guy.
Image: Niagara At Large
Thursday, December 19, 2019
Yesterday, Donald Trump was impeached. Listening to the logical fallacies the Republicans were spouting, it's clear that madness has descended upon at least one of the political parties. But, Gail Collins writes, things could get nuttier:
The scariest thing about the whole process has been the president’s absolute, total inability to handle it like a sane person, let alone a sensible politician. On the day before the impeachment vote, when reporters asked Trump if he accepted any responsibility for what was happening, he did not say, “I just wish I could have been clearer about my total dedication to the country’s welfare.” He said: “No. I don’t take any.”
The events leading up to the House’s big day were a pretty good example of how out of control the president has become. He sent a loopy six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacking her for saying “I pray for the president.” (“It is a terrible thing you are doing but you will have to live with it, not I!”)
In the impeachment vote run-up, Trump also tweeted that Pelosi’s “teeth were falling out of her mouth.” We are not going to discuss the state of the speaker’s teeth, which appear to be fine. And you cannot let him pull you into this kind of rabbit hole. It’s nasty to make fun of politicians’ personal appearance. Next thing, you’ll be talking about people’s hair and deeply artificial skin color.
Trump has been impeached. The man who loved to plaster his name on all kinds of things -- buildings, wine, a "university" -- now has a historically dirty name.
But he's still in office. And the madness will continue.
Image: The Guardian
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Boris Johnson has been elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But, Tom Walkom writes, nothing has changed:
It seems the real debate over Brexit has just begun. In fact, the plan negotiated in October between Johnson and the EU does not call for a complete divorce by Jan. 31.
Rather it calls for the two sides to enter a so-called period of transition for up to three years while a more permanent arrangement is hammered out.
During the transition period, the United Kingdom would continue to pay into the EU budget and would continue to be bound by EU rules. It would not, however, have a say in how this budget is spent or how those rules are set.
Workers and others would be allowed to move freely between the U.K. and the EU during the transition period.
The October plan also includes a scheme to deal with the fraught question of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
In effect, it means that for most trade purposes, Northern Ireland would be treated as part of the EU — at least for a while. By 2024 at the earliest, Northern Ireland’s assembly would have the right to challenge this arrangement.
So the dance continues. And getting Brexit done will take a long time:
A relatively simple agreement between Canada and the EU took seven years to negotiate and sign. Even now, three years after it was signed, that Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is not fully in force, thanks in large part to the EU’s complicated system of ratification. It’s unlikely Johnson could do any better.
And, as the dance continues, Scotland once again contemplates separation:
The pro-independence Scottish National Party took 47 of Scotland’s 59 seats — in large part because so many Scots oppose Brexit.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says this gives Scotland’s parliament the moral and constitutional authority to stage another referendum on independence, regardless of what Johnson says.
Under British law, such referendums require the approval of the national government. Johnson has said he won’t grant it. A showdown is in the making.
In short, Johnson’s sweeping victory has solved little. The U.K. remains tethered to the EU while the two sides negotiate. Britain’s future in Europe remains unclear. And a new crisis over Scotland looms.
Nothing has been solved. Nothing has been gained.
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
When Doug Ford was elected premier, he handed out his cell phone number. He wanted, he said, to stay in touch with the ordinary people of Ontario. But that policy soon changed. Martin Regg Cohn writes:
Ford soon changed his number, complaining that he grew weary of hostile questions from the public. Forget, for a moment, the public relations gimmick of pretending to humanize a premier by purporting to be at the beck and call (or text) of 13.7 million people in the country’s most-populous province.
Ford never was a call away. Now he is harder to reach and more remote than ever.
Now, even though he attends question period, Ford doesn't take questions:
He merely sits in his seat, rising only to redirect almost all opposition questions to a cabinet minister who provides cover for him.
Teachers’ strike? Transit reversals? Autism troubles? Patronage scandals?
The premier almost always refuses to answer. On rare occasions, if poked or provoked, prodded or piqued, Ford deigns to respond personally.
But it is the exception that proves the rule: stonewalling and squirming in his seat are his first line of defence.
Only when reassured that the question period rotation has reverted to friendly queries from his fellow Tories will Ford cheerfully engage. With 73 Progressive Conservatives (including the speaker) in the 124-seat legislature, 40 New Democrats, only five Liberals (now lacking official party status) and a single Green MPP, the majority Tories get to ask a disproportionate share of pretend questions of the premier.
Ford relishes a softball. As the scripted question is being asked by a well-rehearsed PC backbencher, the premier sneaks a peak at the cheat sheet prepared by his staff, refreshes his memory, and regurgitates the pre-arranged reply.
He imagines it a dialogue of the deft — two Tories talking to each other in public on the public dime. But when a New Democrat takes the floor, Ford becomes deaf to any dialogue with the opposition, for whom question period was first conceived.
In this "government of the people," the premier has gone deaf.
Image: The Toronto Star
Monday, December 16, 2019
Jody Wilson-Raybould is making waves again. She's refusing to leave her minister's office, even though she is now an independent MP. Susan Delacourt writes:
Rank matters when it comes to Parliament Hill real estate — offices are allocated on the basis of which party holds the most seats and which MPs hold the most significant positions within their parties.
Wilson-Raybould, as an Independent, is now at the bottom of the pecking order for office space and is not pleased that this means a downgrade in her working conditions.
“It seems a little bit petty to me,” Wilson-Raybould told CBC News. “It makes no sense to remove me from my MP office. So I don’t understand why they’re wanting to do it.”
There are those who will argue that the white men in Parliament are picking on an indigenous woman. But there's an interesting wrinkle to this story:
The mere suggestion of an Indigenous woman being ousted from her land (in this case, six rooms of office space) makes this whole drama somewhat freighted — and polarizing, just as the SNC story was. Once again, there are going to be people eager to portray Wilson-Raybould as a victim of white privilege in the political corridors of power.
There’s a complicating wrinkle to that story though: the minister who is supposed to move into Wilson-Raybould’s space is also Indigenous: Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal, a newly elected Métis MP from Winnipeg.
Wilson-Raybould has a reputation for being stubborn -- whether on her legislation on assisted dying or her position on SNC Lavalin. Obviously, she's still the same person she was before the election. From her perspective, nothing has changed. After all, she is still in the same seat she occupied before the national vote.
Image: The National Observer
Sunday, December 15, 2019
Throughout the election campaign, Andrew Scheer accused Justin Trudeau of being a phoney. Trudeau, he said, was a child of privilege, whereas Scheer himself was just an ordinary working stiff. Alan Freeman writes:
I can still remember the start of the English-language leaders’ debate during the election campaign when the moderator began with a softball question asking each leader how they would defend Canada’s interests and values on the international stage.
When it came time for Andrew Scheer to respond, the tone suddenly changed. The Conservative leader ignored the question and launched into a vitriolic personal attack on Trudeau, calling him two-faced, singling out the disclosure that Trudeau had worn blackface at a costume party and had demoted Jody Wilson-Raybould while professing to back Indigenous rights.
“Mr. Trudeau, you are a phoney and you are a fraud and you do not deserve to govern this country,” Scheer charged.
But, as the campaign wore on, it became clear that the tagline Scheer and his party attached to Trudeau -- "not as advertised" -- applied to Scheer in spades:
His CV wasn’t transparent or truthful. It turned out that he was never really an insurance broker before entering politics. Rather, he had worked at an insurance office in Regina for six months and never got his brokerage licence.
And then there was the fact that he was a U.S. passport holder, but never bothered to tell anybody. “I’ve never been asked about it by Canadians,” he told reporters, when the news leaked out that he was a dual citizen and he said he was going to renounce his U.S. citizenship. This from a man who criticized Michaëlle Jean when she was appointed as governor-general for being a dual French and Canadian citizen.
While actively promoting the idea of low taxes and small government, Scheer owed not just his career but his whole lifestyle to the taxpayer. His first job, at age 25 and with a freshly-minted BA degree, was as an MP earning $141,000 a year. He astutely managed his political career, becoming Speaker of the House of Commons at 32 and moving into nice government-owned digs in the Gatineau Hills, north of the capital. No need for Jill to take a job, unlike the vast majority of married Canadians who can’t afford a one-income household.
By 2017, Scheer was leader of the Conservative Party, and officially became a 1 per centre with a salary of $264,000 and even posher digs at Stornoway.
All the time, Scheer and the Conservative Party kept on with this idea that he was a man of the people, because his middle-class parents didn’t own a car when he was growing up in suburban Ottawa and he had to take the bus. “I know what it’s like when families feel anxious that they cannot make to the end of the month,” he stated, not a dry eye in the house. “Someone who’s never really had to worry about that cannot possibly relate to it on a personal level.”
When Scheer as opposition leader had trouble making ends meet after opting to send four of his five kids to private Catholic school in Ottawa, he knew what to do. He turned to the Conservative Party, which secretly began paying tuition from its fundraising arm, until he got found out, helping to precipitate his much-anticipated resignation.
The party’s executive director, Dustin van Vugt, told The Globe and Mail this week that the payments were “normal practice for political parties” and that Scheer needed the money to pay for higher school fees in Ottawa. Of course, nobody else in the party seemed to know.
You see where this is going. The Conservatives lost the election because they had the wrong message. But they also had the wrong messenger.
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Two days ago, Mitch McConnell announced that he was going to violate his oath to do "impartial justice" in Donald Trump's impeachment trial. He was, he said, coordinating everything he did with Mr. Trump's defence lawyer. He went further. He did not, he said, expect any Republican senator to vote to convict Trump. It was a bald admission of the utter corruption of the modern Republican Party -- a party which is hell bent on dooming the American republic and the planet. Paul Krugman writes:
A new federal report finds that climate change in the Arctic is accelerating, matching what used to be considered worst-case scenarios. And there are indications that Arctic warming may be turning into a self-reinforcing spiral, as the thawing tundra itself releases vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
Catastrophic sea-level rise, heat waves that make major population centers uninhabitable, and more are now looking more likely than not, and sooner rather than later.
One factor stands out above all others: the fanatical opposition of America’s Republicans, who are the world’s only major climate-denialist party. Because of this opposition, the United States hasn’t just failed to provide the kind of leadership that would have been essential to global action, it has become a force against action.
As I’ve written in the past, climate denial was in many ways the crucible for Trumpism. Long before the cries of “fake news,” Republicans were refusing to accept science that contradicted their prejudices. Long before Republicans began attributing every negative development to the machinations of the “deep state,” they were insisting that global warming was a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast global cabal of corrupt scientists.
And, as always, it's instructive to follow the money:
In the current cycle Republicans have received 97 percent of political contributions from the coal industry, 88 percent from oil and gas. And this doesn’t even count the wing nut welfare offered by institutions supported by the Koch brothers and other fossil-fuel moguls.
However, I don’t believe that it’s just about the money. My sense is that right-wingers believe, probably correctly, that there’s a sort of halo effect surrounding any form of public action. Once you accept that we need policies to protect the environment, you’re more likely to accept the idea that we should have policies to ensure access to health care, child care, and more. So the government must be prevented from doing anything good, lest it legitimize a broader progressive agenda.
Still, whatever the short-term political incentives, it takes a special kind of depravity to respond to those incentives by denying facts, embracing insane conspiracy theories and putting the very future of civilization at risk.
There used to be some Republicans who believed in climate science:
There used to be at least some Republicans with principles; as recently as 2008 Senator John McCain co-sponsored serious climate-change legislation. But those people have either experienced total moral collapse (hello, Senator Graham) or left the party.
And there used to be some Republicans -- like the party's founder, Abraham Lincoln -- who believed in justice. But those people -- and those days -- have long gone.
Image: NBC News
Friday, December 13, 2019
Yesterday, Andrew Scheer resigned as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. There are, Susan Delacourt writes, interesting parallels between the fortunes of Scheer and Joe Clark:
The Joe Clark parallels have come up a lot in Scheer’s relatively short reign as Conservative leader. A largely unknown politician from the West, an unlikely competitor against a charismatic Trudeau, this very newspaper marked Scheer’s 2017 leadership victory with the headline “Andrew Who?,” just as it gave Clark the “Joe Who” nickname that endured throughout his ill-fated years as leader.
Scheer didn’t even get the short run as prime minister that Clark did, but he came tantalizingly close, and politics can be even more unforgiving for leaders who almost make it. Scheer was probably never going to be allowed to get past his inability to defeat Justin Trudeau in this year’s election, just as Clark was never quite forgiven for letting the power slip from his hands on a cold December night in 1979.
The defeat of Clark's government brought Pierre Trudeau back into the game -- and lots of things happened:
When Clark’s minority government fell, Pierre Trudeau was lured out of retirement and romped back to power in 1980 for a final, four-year mandate that put his indelible stamp on Canadian history — notably a new Constitution and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without that final four years in power, it’s been argued, Trudeau’s legacy would have been more of the footnote variety — a prime minister who blazed briefly, if meteorically, across the 1970s with a handful of small achievements and checkered controversies to his credit.
Justin Trudeau is not his father. But Scheer's resignation means that the Conservatives will be busy remaking themselves. And Trudeau the Younger may have the opportunity to do big things:
Justin Trudeau and his Liberals would be totally fine with having another four years in power, perhaps to do some nation-changing kind of things that happened in the early 1980s — new national programs (pharmacare, for instance?) or, if they’re really ambitious, a national-unity adventure like the constitutional saga of Pierre Trudeau’s last mandate. (Though presumably Justin Trudeau doesn’t want to replicate some of the disunity that also arose from those years, notably in Quebec and the West.)
History, Mark Twain wrote, doesn't repeat itself. But sometimes it rhymes.
Image: The Toronto Star
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Donald Trump has finally let it be known how he really feels about Justin Trudeau. Erin Banco and Asawin Suebsaeng report in The Daily Beast that:
The famously sensitive American president lashed out during a closed-door meeting at the White House with more than a dozen ambassadors to the United Nations present, according to three sources with knowledge of the gathering.
In doing so, he made a number of foreign officials noticeably on-edge and also upended a portion of the meeting meant to focus on world powers’ security cooperation, not personal gripes.
During this private airing of grievances, President Trump repeatedly denigrated the Canadian prime minister behind his back and called the French president a “pain in the ass” while referring to him as “short,” according to an individual who was present for the meeting. Trump also bashed the French leader for not doing enough to help in recent Iran negotiations.
Over lunch with the ambassadors, President Trump again addressed the video and went on a prolonged tangent, complaining to the diplomats about Trudeau and Macron, according to two sources briefed on the meeting. This lasted several minutes and was enough to derail the ongoing conversation about NATO countries contributing more money to security.
Another individual in the meeting told The Daily Beast that Trump’s comments made ambassadors present “visibly uncomfortable,” especially those whose leaders were involved in the hot-mic video. (The Canadian ambassador to the United Nations was not present at the meeting.)
None of this should be surprising -- just as the mockery of NATO leaders should be equally unsurprising. And how should Trudeau take all of this? After the late actor Paul Newman discovered he was on Richard Nixon's enemies list, he said he considered making the list "the highest single honour I've ever received."
Image: Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
The pattern is pretty clear. Wherever conservative governments come into power, one of their first targets is education. It has happened in Ontario. And it is happening there again. But it's also happening in Alberta. Duncan Cameron writes:
The province should be building on its recognized education system (students ranked third in the world in science and reading, seventh in mathematics) and welcoming more graduates to the most complete post-secondary system in Canada.
Alberta has two research universities rated in the top 200 in the world. As post-secondary education expert Alex Usher has pointed out, based on population size, only Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Massachusetts do better.
Created over 50 years ago, the Northern Alberta and Southern Alberta Institutes of Technology (NAIT and SAIT) give Alberta two big polytechnical schools that along with big and small universities prepare graduates to contribute to the knowledge-based economy.
In an incomprehensible attack on the foundations of an advanced society, the Kenney government has decided to slash funding for the current financial year (that ends next March) to the university sector by five per cent, with further cuts of five per cent projected for each of the following three years.
With four years of cuts coming, taking inflation into account, 21 post-secondary Alberta institutions (colleges, universities and technology institutes) will lose one-quarter to one-third of their public funding.
But Kenney has made exceptions to the cuts:
Pointedly, the Kenney government excluded the four faith-based Christian universities from its cuts, while singling out Grant MacEwan University and Bow Valley College for initial 7.9 per cent reductions.
When it comes to cuts, Kenney dishes them out to his enemies and protects his allies. And, overall, he hamstrings his province:
The consequence will be to throttle back the research activities of these world-class institutions, forcing the universities to reduce all spending on items not covered by long-term contracts and denying Alberta students access to important opportunities in the emerging sectors that drive the modern world economy.
The international success of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary was built on generous support from public funds for the research community of graduate students and their supervisors.
Crucial internal funding helped faculty members secure massive outside funding.
Kenney dropped out of university after his first year there. He didn't need a higher education to get to where he is. Perhaps he figures he's Alberta's everyman. Unfortunately, he's deluded.
Image: The National Post
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Polly Toynbee warns her readers to be afraid -- very afraid:
In erstwhile Labour-land, Brexit is the tin-opener that gives Conservatives a chance, not with dog-whistle but foghorn. That old populist template casting honest working people as being deceived by “the elite” echoes down the centuries from the far right. Already hard-pressed seats suffer from 10 years of lost public jobs, investment and services, yet Johnson urges them to blame not entitled Etonians but Jeremy Corbyn’s “great betrayal orchestrated from Islington by politicians who sneer at your values and ignore your votes”.
This old script worked for Mussolini as for Brazil’s Bolsonaro. It worked for Donald Trump, and, across Europe, for Silvio Berlusconi, Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński. Never mind if the messengers are hyper-elite metropolitans or kleptocrat billionaires: the trick works because they all use the same tin-opener – gut nativist “build the wall”, us-and-them fear of foreigners. The EU stands for that foreigner in Johnson’s refrain: “End uncontrolled and unlimited immigration from the EU, take back control from an unelected elite in Brussels.” He tells Sky News he will no longer let EU migrants “treat the UK as if it’s part of their country” – a sinister threat.
This is all old hat now. And, if Johnson is elected, no one can claim that they didn't know what they were getting:
If the UK gives him a majority, let no one pretend they didn’t know what he was about. The music is so familiar, we recognise these old Enoch Powell tunes. If some shrug it off as what politicians say to get elected, it’s not. Powell was thrown out of his party, too out of step; yet Johnson has expelled those who won’t sign up to his new Powellism.
Johnson is making dark references about changing the Constitution. The Conservative manifesto declares:
“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution,” the manifesto says, to “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government”. That “updating” means leaving the European convention on human rights, us alone with Belarus. Johnson, free from those restrictions, will unpick “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people”. Judicial review, the citizen’s guarantee against overmighty government, will be stopped from being “abused to conduct politics by another means”.
If Johnson is elected, he will "take revenge on the legal system, on remainers, on human rights and on any democratic aggravations that stand in his way. We saw how fast his people moved to threaten to “review” Channel 4’s licence when it empty-chaired him for refusing its climate debate. Ofcom backed C4: what price will it pay?"
Insanity and self destruction march on.
Monday, December 09, 2019
One of the many things that have been lost in the Trump years, E.J. Dionne writes, is the art of persuasion:
One of the most debilitating aspects of our politics is the assumption that nobody can be persuaded of anything anymore. We are said to be locked into our identities, our media bubbles, our religious beliefs (or nonbelief), our homogeneous neighborhoods and our online friend groups.
Elections are not simply census-like head counts, and political arguments are about more than marshaling talking points to solidify the views of those who are already on your side. The advantage of democratic republics is that they foster a free exchange of opinions. This makes it possible for all of us to learn things we didn’t know before, and even change our minds. This process, in turn, allows for national self-correction.
That's why Nancy Pelosi's answer to the reporter who asked her, "Do you hate the president, Madame Speaker?" was so important:
Her answer brought cheers from her admirers, especially from liberal Catholics who were buoyed by her insistence that “as a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone.” It was bracing to see Catholicism invoked as a call to Christian love and prayer — especially for Trump.
She knows that Trump’s apologists want to keep the focus on the motives of the president’s opponents and to make this battle about nothing more than partisanship. Those who would let Trump get away with anything want us to talk as little as possible about his own behavior. Their claim is that it’s all about identity — the president’s big-city, liberal, Christian-hating, elitist, immigrant-loving, politically correct enemies vs. his hardworking, religious, gun-rights-defending, taxpaying friends who live in small towns and the countryside.
Pelosi’s invocation of her faith was one way to blow up this narrative, but her care in separating out her political disagreements with Trump (on immigration, guns and climate change) from the reasons for impeachment (his abuse of power and constitutional violations) reflected an awareness that opinion about impeachment is still fluid. Yes, there is room for persuasion.
But persuasion requires an ability to make distinctions. The political pundit Mark Shields pointed out last week that Pelosi was channelling St. Augustine: hate the sin but love the sinner.
How many of us are able to do that?
Sunday, December 08, 2019
There is a way to lead a political party after a defeat. Robin Sears writes that Tommy Douglas was a master of the art:
Having lost more elections than any other contemporary political leader — 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, and his own riding twice (!) — it is a little staggering to reflect that Tommy Douglas never endured a leadership challenge until 1971. His success was grounded in an evangelical skill at persuasion, but even more importantly, his ability to rebuild confidence and conviction even on a losing election night.
His election night speeches became a cliché, but to hear him deliver it, to a room full of hardened farmers and tough factory workers, many in tears, was always a stunning moment. He would start slowly and then his voice would rise to a crescendo: “My friends. I am hurt, but I am not slain … I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile, and then … I’ll rise and fight again.” You believed him and you immediately felt better.
Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau have taken a couple of lessons from Douglas. But
then there is Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
He has broken most of the rules of tribal leadership following defeat, already.
Older Conservative clan leaders have not felt consulted or respected. Defeated and depressed former MPs and candidates have not been given a persuasive call to arms. The media — always suspect in contemporary Conservative circles — have been given no believable narrative about his path to rebirth, leaving a couple of savvy Tory operatives license to magnify and exaggerate the extent of open rebellion against him.
It did not need to be this way. It may not be too late for those who want him to survive, to mount a counterattack. But Scheer himself will have to decide and declare a change in his thinking on cultural issues and climate. Even many Conservatives who wish him no ill are gloomy about his willingness or ability to so do.
Mr.Scheer's future does not look rosy.
Image: The Toronto Star
Saturday, December 07, 2019
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation has declared another one day strike for next week. Martin Regg Cohn writes:
A one-day strike in public high schools is a declaration of warning.
A second day is a declaration of war.
With this week’s province-wide warning shot, and next week’s targeted strike planned for Toronto schools, it’s tempting to conclude that Ontario’s Tories and teachers are fighting to the finish. Right down to the last student and parent in the province.
We've been here before. Back in the Mike Harris years, the premier -- a failed elementary teacher, who spent three years in the profession before he dropped out to become a golf pro at his father's golf course -- appointed a high school dropout, John Snoblen, to the Ministry of Education. Snoblen immediately declared that he was going to revolutionize education in Ontario. And the best way to do that, he said, was to "create a crisis." He proceeded to do just that.
And now we have another education crisis:
Yes it’s about budgets, because billions of dollars are at stake. But the undeniable reality is that this time, it’s not just about money but pedagogy.
The Tories have grudgingly admitted as much — by backing down on their pre-emptive moves against teachers which seemed designed to provoke the latest strike action. Even before both sides sat down at the bargaining table, Doug Ford’s Tories set it to blow up:
Ahead of negotiations, the government announced thousands of teaching jobs were out the window, thanks to four mandatory online courses for students (an untested innovation never attempted on that scale); and major increases in class sizes (an unwanted degradation that the government falsely claimed was welcomed by employers and parents).
In the ensuing uproar, Ford replaced his first education minister, Lisa Thompson, with rookie politician Stephen Lecce, who quietly walked back the regressive and provocative moves. But it was only a tactical retreat, in which the government tried to split the difference.
Instead of pushing average class sizes up by roughly six students, the government countered with three; instead of four online courses, it recalibrated to two. This wasn’t so much a concession as an admission of contrition for failing to think things through in the first place.
Lecce now complains the unions won’t meet him halfway. But if the government cuts its cuts in half, that’s not much of an improvement, as the opposition New Democrats keep pointing out. They have a point.
Reacting to the strike action, the government is casting teachers as money-obsessed: In fact, the Tories obsessed over money before talks even began, announcing a one-per-cent wage freeze across the public service (the OSSTF wants only a cost-of-living increase).
Teachers are asking for a 2% raise. Not unreasonable, considering that "the provincial government’s own statistics bear this out, showing the average collective bargaining increase in Ontario was 1.9 per cent so far this year — and even higher in the private sector, at 2.1 per cent."
No. What this is all about is what it was all about twenty-five years ago: In Ontario, the uneducated are waging a war on education.
Image: HuffPost Canada
Friday, December 06, 2019
Ontario's auditor general is giving Doug Ford's government a hard time these days. And, in particular, she's mightily unimpressed with Ford's emissions reduction plan. Tom Walkom writes:
A new report from the auditor general suggests that on environmental matters, the numbers don’t add up unless you double count them.
Double trouble. Problem made, problem persisting.
“The plan double counts some emissions reductions that are targeted by more than one program,” according to the annual audit released Wednesday. “This resulted in an overstatement of total emissions reductions.”
Put simply, Ford is cooking the books:
Doubling up closes the gap when you’re caught short. Until you’re caught out, in which case you contract out the numbers to an industry association that tells you what you want to hear.
The government didn’t just double count, miscount and misstate, it tried to misappropriate stateside: 40 per cent of our municipal solid waste is disposed of in the U.S., where it generates greenhouse gas emissions on the American ledger; future plans to divert that waste will indeed reduce emissions, just not in Ontario, yet the government wrongly claimed credit for it.
Perhaps the most brazen overreach is on electric vehicles, which could help reduce emissions from transportation, the biggest source of greenhouse gases. The government kept clinging to ambitious estimates of 1.3 million electric vehicles by 2030 — up from 41,000 today — that were based on generous incentive programs that the Tories cut upon taking office.
There is method to their madness: They had a target, and then reverse-engineered the inputs to make it add up, thus gaming the system.
Gaming the system is an old story. So none of this should be surprising -- if you were paying attention.
Image: Science News
Thursday, December 05, 2019
Collective horror is sweeping the press. The leaders of NATO were caught laughing at Donald Trump behind his back. Susan Delacourt wonders what it's all about:
Did you hear the one about the world leader behaving badly at the NATO summit?
In what truly is a sign of just how much Donald Trump has disrupted the rules of political diplomacy in three tumultuous years in office, the punchline to that joke is not Donald Trump.
Instead, the bad diplomatic behaviour award at this week's NATO summit is being given to the world leaders — including Canada's own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who made the mistake of reacting to the perennially outrageous, unpredictable U.S. president.
That's just how things seem to work around Trump — he yells, and those who whisper about him are deemed to be the problem.
In the United States, late night comedians are having a heyday doing the same. And, in Washington, he's being impeached. Did we really think that world leaders didn't mock Trump behind his back?
There is another way to see the conversation at Buckingham Palace — as a totally sane, normal reaction to a politician who breaks all the rules of standard political behaviour, both at home and on the world stage.
The snippets of conversation overheard from that cocktail encounter were not that much different from observations being made Tuesday night on CNN (granted, Trump's least favourite media outlet) when hosts such as Chris Cuomo remarked on the president's highly unusual and undiplomatic behaviour at the summit.
Diplomacy, of course, dictates that world leaders don't laugh at each other — unless, of course, you're Trump, who thought the funniest thing about the whole incident was the name he called Trudeau after hearing about the video.
"That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced," Trump said Wednesday.
This is, we'll remember, a bit of a repeat of what happened after the G-7 summit in Quebec in 2018, when Trump got annoyed at how Trudeau talked about him after their meeting. On that occasion, the president called the prime minister "weak" and "dishonest."
What did Trudeau do to incite Trump's wrath back then? He spoke out against U.S. tariffs against Canada — which is what you would expect a Canadian prime minister to do. But that story quickly became one about Trump taking offence, rather than one about what prompted Trudeau to make the remarks in the first place. Excuse the seasonal reference, but apparently this isn't like that scene in the Christmas film "Love Actually," when the British prime minister is lauded as a national hero for calling out the bully president.
Pompous asses should be laughed at -- pompous fools even more so.
Image: NATO TV/AFP via GETTY IMAGES
Wednesday, December 04, 2019
Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released its report into Donald Trump's shenanigans in Ukraine. Senator Richard Blumenthal -- a former federal prosecutor -- writes that Trump was bribing the Ukraine. And bribery is an impeachable offence:
President Trump solicited a bribe. And the Constitution makes clear that a president who engages in bribery “shall be removed from office.” In fact, along with treason, it is one of only two crimes specifically mentioned as conduct that would necessitate impeachment and removal.
Before I joined the Senate, I spent decades in law enforcement deciding when bad conduct rises to the level of illegality. Any good lawyer starts with the legal text, and when the Constitution was drafted, bribery was defined broadly as any “undue reward” for a public action. As illustrated during the House impeachment inquiry, which moves to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a political investigation ginned up to reward Trump for providing needed military aid would certainly fit the bill.
But even under the narrower definition of bribery currently in the criminal code, Trump’s actions clearly qualify. Federal law defines bribery as the solicitation of “anything of value personally” by a public official “in return for” an official act. It also specifies that a bribe can be a reward for an act the public official would have done anyway. In short, merely soliciting a bribe is bribery.
The entire Republican Party -- in the House and Senate -- offers two defences of Trump:
First, they argue that Trump can’t be guilty of bribery because Ukraine never conducted the investigations he demanded and because the country still received military aid. Of course, the money was released only after a government whistleblower exposed the president’s plans. As a law enforcement official, I prosecuted criminals whose illegal schemes failed because they were caught red-handed. None had the gall to say they were innocent because their crimes did not achieve their goals. Ineffective criminals are still criminals.
The bribery statute makes clear: Soliciting a bribe is illegal even if the bribe is never paid.
Second, Trump’s defenders argue that no one has testified they directly heard Trump order anybody to demand a bribe. Apparently, they want us to believe that Giuliani — a private citizen — ran a shadow foreign policy to secure political benefits for Trump without Trump’s knowledge or support. The fact that Trump specifically told foreign leaders to contact Giuliani is simply an unfortunate coincidence.
That no witness heard Trump utter the words “please solicit a bribe from Ukraine” should not be shocking. Anybody who has watched a mob movie knows criminals don’t spell out their illegal plans to every subordinate. More importantly, individuals who might have heard Trump say those words may have unlawfully refused to testify, at Trump’s request. When a defendant improperly withholds evidence, courts instruct juries to assume that the evidence would not help the defendant. Americans should make the same assumption here.
But simply, Trump solicited a bribe -- an impeachable offence -- and he was caught red handed. Any other criminal would be sent to jail. But, because he's the president, Trump will probably get off.
Is this "Truth, Justice And The American Way?"
Image: Hartford Courant
Tuesday, December 03, 2019
Yesterday, Canada's premiers gathered in Mississauga. Martin Regg Cohn writes that it was a strange meeting:
For a moment in time Monday, Canada’s premiers all pledged fealty to national unity.
No more disunity, not until further notice. They put their best faces forward collectively even if, as a country, we’re not much further ahead.
How did they achieve their new-found harmony? By putting their old discord on hold.
Pharmacare? Not ready.
Pipelines? Not really.
Pricing carbon? Not in this or that province.
Preventing religious discrimination? None of your business (if Quebec bans articles of faith for some, it’s not for others to weigh in).
They did, however, agree on one thing. They all needed more money from the feds:
Ahead of a first ministers’ summit next month with Justin Trudeau, it called for more money from Ottawa for provinces in need, notably Alberta and Saskatchewan. More money from Ottawa for health care. More money for infrastructure. You get the idea.
And that, Ford says, is a sign of national unity. But Cohn is sceptical:
Never mind. “What’s good for Ontario is good for Canada, and what’s good for Canada is good for Ontario,” Ford keeps saying, revelling in the role of Captain Canada.
It’s an interesting saying. But it only means something if the premier of Ontario has something interesting to say.
Without a voice, or a vision, the premier’s musings on national unity mean everything and nothing.
As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, "There's no there there."
Image: The Toronto Star