Sunday, December 08, 2019

No Rosy Future


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

Waging War On Education


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

Gaming The System


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

Of Course They Laugh At Him



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

Guilty. It Couldn't Be Clearer


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

So What Was That All About?


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

Monday, December 02, 2019

Trudeau's Future


Chantal Hebert writes that the future of the Trudeau government  may well rest on what it decides to do about climate change:

The makeup of this Parliament should translate into impetus for more decisive environmental action. But on that score, the message from the realignment of the cabinet was muddled — presumably as a result of Trudeau’s determination to not ruffle more feathers in the Prairies.
Thursday’s throne speech will provide more insights as to whether the Liberals will embrace the opportunity to raise their climate change game or resist it.
It is a sign of the times that Trudeau’s minority government may be the first whose actions — or inaction — on climate change could determine its longevity.

Jason Kenney and Scott Moe want to build pipelines to both the West and East -- something Andrew Scheer committed his party to. He and they lost the election.

Trudeau wants to put the next election as far off as possible.

Stay tuned.

Image: Vox

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Klein Redux


If you want to know where Alberta is headed, take a look at the speech Jason Kenney delivered to the United Conservative Party faithful in Calgary. Sarah Rieger reports:

Alberta is taking a gradual approach to balancing its budget while protecting programs that matter most, Premier Jason Kenney told delegates at the United Conservative Party's annual general meeting in Calgary on Saturday.
"Some of this will be controversial, some of it will invite protests, saw one today," Kenney told the hundreds of members assembled in Calgary. "But I'm reminded of what premier Ralph Klein used to say. 'If a day goes by and there's not a protest, I'm wondering what I'm doing wrong.'"
Outside the Westin Calgary Airport hotel hosting the convention, between 700 and 1,000 people marched, protesting cuts to public services and the looming loss of thousands of public sector jobs.
Klein, Alberta's late premier known for deep cuts of more than 20 per cent to public spending in the 1990s, was not just top of mind for Kenney but for protestors as well — with one sign reading "Ralph Klein, But Less Fun: UCP."

The party that wants to turn back the clock wants to return to the 1990's:

He outlined actions like repealing the province's carbon tax, appointing a red tape reduction minister and proclaiming the education act, with the audience chanting "promise made, promise kept" after every stated accomplishment.

None of this is surprising. But none of it is wise, either. And there he was -- introduced by Laureen Harper. If you thought Stephen Harper had disappeared, think again.

On Friday, Andrew Scheer addressed the faithful -- a sure sign that he still has not figured out why he lost the election.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Follow The Money


Paul Krugman writes that the Republican Party, officially known as the GOP -- The Grand Old Party -- is actually the COP -- The Corrupt Old Party:

The G.O.P. is now a thoroughly corrupt party. Trump is a symptom, not the disease, and our democracy will remain under dire threat even if and when he’s gone.
The usual explanation you hear for G.O.P. acquiescence in Trumpian malfeasance is that elected Republicans fear being defeated in a primary if they show any hint of wavering. And that’s certainly an important part of the story.
Republicans haven’t forgotten what happened in 2014, when David Brat, a Tea Party insurgent, ousted Eric Cantor, at the time the House majority leader. Cantor was a hard-line conservative, but mild-mannered in affect, and perceived as soft on immigration. The lesson was that the G.O.P. base demands red meat, and these days that means supporting Trump no matter what.

But, if you really want to know what's going on, you have to follow the money. What happens when Republicans retire?

What, after all, do retired officials do for a living? Many become lobbyists, and in an era of extreme polarization that means lobbying their own party. Being honest about why you quit would be bad for future business.
What, after all, do retired officials do for a living? Many become lobbyists, and in an era of extreme polarization that means lobbying their own party. Being honest about why you quit would be bad for future business.
Earlier I mentioned David Brat, who ousted Eric Cantor. As it happens, Brat himself was defeated in last year’s Democratic landslide. So what’s he doing now? He’s dean of the business school at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University.
So financial incentives keep even retiring Republicans in line. And the exceptions prove the rule.
As far as I can tell, Gordon Sondland, who is ambassador to the European Union — but surely not for long — was the first political appointee, as opposed to professional civil servant, to attest to the Trump administration’s abuse of power in Ukraine. A key point about Sondland, however, is that he’s a rich man who doesn’t need wing-nut welfare.

Money has saturated politics these days. And there are mountains of money in the Republican coffers.

A word to the wise.

Image: the Globe and Mail


Friday, November 29, 2019

The Kiss Of Death


The knives are out for Andrew Scheer. When you lose an election, the people who worked for or with you get snitty. And there's lots of snit coming Scheer's way these days. Robin Urback writes:

Moderate conservatives are publicly urging him to get it together. Social conservatives are publicly urging him to get lost. Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais recently quit his party’s caucus explicitly because of Mr. Scheer’s views. And now two former Harper advisers have teamed up with the creator of Ontario Proud and Canada Proud to start a non-profit, called Conservative Victory, with the goal of putting pressure on Mr. Scheer to resign ahead of the party’s scheduled leadership review in April. Some friends, eh?
Indeed, despite years in the spotlight and weeks on the campaign trail, Mr. Scheer has managed to communicate very little in terms of a comprehensive world view or personal approach to governance.
On social issues, he’s clumsy and vague. Social conservatives interpret this as him lacking the temerity to see to social change. Progressive conservatives detect a cowardice of a different kind, and many recognize that Mr. Scheer’s waffling is fatal with voters in areas of support the Conservatives desperately need.
During the election, Mr. Scheer’s fiscal policy promises were a mixed bag of lower taxes and tightened government expenses, combined with big spending promises and boutique tax credits. His foreign policy outlook was virtually non-existent (other than a vow to roll back foreign aid) and his guiding principles as a policy maker were, and remain, tough to decipher.
That ambiguity and incoherence has saddled Mr. Scheer with the image of an advocate of nothing – a muddled collection of kind-of conservative ideas, with no real direction or identity and all of the zest and gusto of a plate of boiled celery. And it’s very hard to get excited about, or defend, a plate of boiled celery.

Scheer's going to have a hard time staying in the driver's seat. In politics, losing is the kiss of death.

Image: The Hill Times


Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Pandemic Of Political Lying


Lying among world leaders has become pandemic. Michael Harris writes:

Having spent a lifetime digging out facts to reveal the truth, I have to acknowledge it — the compulsive liars running countries are winning the communications war.
The only issue now is whether the liars can be stopped. If Canada wants to side with truth, it should start by regulating political advertisements. We know Facebook won’t do it. And that the nation to our south has become a laboratory for mad scientists of propaganda.
This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freshly indicted on criminal counts of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, accused police and prosecutors of staging a “coup” against him. U.S. President Donald Trump used the same word to describe his confrontation with the constitution and the law. Like Trump, Netanyahu is accusing his accusers — without evidence — and whipping his followers into a frenzy against the justice system. The key prosecutors on the case now have bodyguards.

 Then, of course, there's Donald Trump:

Everyone knows Trump’s pants have been on fire since the day he lied about his “landslide” victory in the electoral college after the 2016 election. He boasted on Twitter that it was the “biggest since Reagan.”
Actually, it was the biggest since Barack Obama. Obama won 332 electoral college votes in his last presidential win in 2012 — 28 more than Trump ultimately received in 2016. According to the New York Times, 45 of 57 winners in previous presidential elections got more electoral college votes than Trump.
Since that inauspicious day when the new commander-in-chief ushered in the Bullshit Presidency with a lie, Trump has told thousands of them.
How many thousands depends on which gatekeeper you cite. Daniel Dale, formerly of the Toronto Star and now with CNN, put the number at 5,276 this summer; Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post says the lies and misleading statements stand at 13,435; and the New York Times reports that there are 1,700 tweets using “conspiratorial language” on Trump’s Twitter feed.

And Boris Johnson appears to be in a competition with Trump:

Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who now says he regrets not standing up to all the disinformation, adds that Johnson was one of the biggest of the Brexit liars.
Johnson’s most infamous whopper was that the U.K. would have an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend after leaving the EU, money that would have gone to Brussels. That windfall would have been great news for the U.K.’s beleaguered National Health Service — had it been true. But the real number was at least 100 million pounds a week lower, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Others put the savings at less than half the amount Johnson claimed.
Johnson lied. He left out money the U.K. received back from the European Union, and his claim was grossly deceitful and grossly calculating. It was also effective, just like other lies told by Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage that Turkey was about to join the EU and Britain would soon be overrun with Muslims.

The liars are everywhere. And democracy is under siege.

Image: Manchester Bars


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Missing The Alarm Bells


Yesterday, the United Nations issued yet another dire warning. Tom Walkom writes:

The report makes for grim reading. Scientists reckon that if Earth is to avoid global catastrophe, the temperature increase from pre-industrial times to the end of this century must be held to between 1.5 and 2 C. That in turn requires a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil.
But as the UN report points out, global carbon emissions are not declining. They are rising.
Over the last decade, they have risen by 1.5 per cent a year. If this rate keeps up, by the end of the century global temperatures will be 3.2 C higher than they were in pre-industrial times, leading to even more catastrophic floods, wildfires and violent storms.
To avoid this, the report says, global carbon emissions must decline by 7.6 per cent a year for the next 10 years.
This is not an easy target to meet. Under the terms of the 2015 Paris Accord, signatory nations agreed only to set and meet their own carbon reduction targets, most of which were far less rigorous.
The report notes that unless Canada does something quite different, it will fail to meet its self-imposed target of reducing carbon emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. In fact, says the report, Canada’s emission levels will be 15 per cent above that target.

But, on the prairies, Jason Kenney and Scott Moe are complaining about the equalization formula and insisting that the federal government drop its carbon tax. And  Mr. Trudeau's government is trying to accommodate them. We live in a world of alternate narratives -- and we're missing the alarm bells.

Image: The Toronto Star


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Learning On The Job


Doug Ford has made a big U Turn. Tom Walkom writes that Ford began his term in office by going to war with Ottawa:

He launched an all-out war against Trudeau’s federal carbon tax. He even brought in a law requiring gas stations to post stickers that blamed Ottawa for the high price of fuel.
He cut back provincial funding for refugee claimants, saying they were the federal government’s responsibility. He chose not to follow federal requirements for infrastructure funding and then blamed Ottawa when the money didn’t flow.
All in all, he had a fine time bashing the federal government. And he seemed to believe that this populist campaign against the powers that be would work for him politically.
In this, he was badly mistaken — just as he was mistaken when he assumed that the scattershot of spending cuts announced in his first budget would earn him political points.

Ford simply didn't understand his fellow citizens:

Most Ontarians don’t view the national government as an external entity imposed upon them. They view it as their government. They expect it to reflect Ontario’s interests and are usually proven correct.
That’s why the politics of regional grievance rarely works here.

So, instead of bashing the federal government, he is now saying he can work with Ottawa:

Ford has not dropped his opposition to the federal carbon tax. But he is no longer fixated on it. A few months ago, he was at daggers drawn with Trudeau on virtually every file. Now he says his relations with the prime minister are “great.”

It appears that the lessons of history are beginning to sink in. Only Oliver Mowat -- in the 19th century -- and Mitchell Hepburn -- in the 20th century -- have successfully gone to war with Ottawa:

Like Ontario premiers before him, ranging from Progressive Conservatives John Robarts and Bill Davis to Liberal David Peterson to New Democrat Bob Rae, Ford says national unity is his focus.
He used to style himself as part of the opposition to federal Liberal infamy, aligning himself with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
Now he is adopting the traditional Ontario role of conciliator — a kind of marriage counsellor devoted to smoothing out differences between disaffected provinces and Ottawa.

Ford appears to be learning on the job.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, November 25, 2019

The British Morass


If you think our election was a horror show, Robin Sears writes that you should pay attention to what's happening in Britain these days:

This week the Conservatives were threatened with being banned by Twitter for changing their party’s account name from “Conservative Party” to “FactCheck.org,” to blast out lies. FactCheck is the name of an organization devoted to … well, fact checking, not conservative propaganda.
More seriously, the level of hate speech and death threats circulating in the digital demimonde, especially directed at women and candidates of colour, is stunning. Several women MPs have stood down citing their fears for their families. There are some candidates dumped for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism, many more who should have been.
The two main parties are each led by the most polarizing figures in national politics — even for many in their own base. The two most important challengers — the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats — are led by tough and capable women. The existential threat to a united Britain, Brexit, divides families, parties, and communities, but interestingly many voters are not willing to make it the ballot issue.

What they are interested in is past performance:

Massive floods, and the government’s lacklustre response to them; a National Health Service with the worst performance stats in decades; and a deep housing crisis all claim more attention than squabbles over Europe.

And, as in Canada, the First Past The Post System is making things worse:

[This election] is also a showcase of the foolishness of the “first past the post” electoral system in a divided nation with 10 parties (sic 10!) potentially electing MPs. As one British wag put it, “It’s an absolutely brilliant system — if you’re racing horses. Not so much if you’re choosing governments.”

How will it all shake out? Sears reports that:

The Conservatives seem on the way to winning a small majority. It may turn out to be a bittersweet victory, however. Their campaign slogan is “Getting Brexit Done.” Veteran trade negotiators say that the withdrawal process, and new agreements will take a minimum of five to seven years to complete. Setting Boris Johnson up for a very different slogan next time, “Sorry. We couldn’t get it done …”

And the morass Britons have mired themselves in will get deeper.

Sound familiar?

Image: Daily Kos

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Better Metrics


Joe Stiglitz writes that we are facing three crises:

The world is facing three existential crises: a climate crisis, an inequality crisis and a crisis in democracy. Will we be able to prosper within our planetary boundaries? Can a modern economy deliver shared prosperity? And can democracies thrive if our economies fail to deliver shared prosperity? These are critical questions, yet the accepted ways by which we measure economic performance give absolutely no hint that we might be facing a problem. Each of these crises has reinforced the fact that we need better tools to assess economic performance and social progress.

Yet we seem paralysed when it comes to dealing with them. One reason for this paralysis is that we use the wrong metric to gauge our progress:

The standard measure of economic performance is gross domestic product (GDP), which is the sum of the value of goods and services produced within a country over a given period. GDP was humming along nicely, rising year after year, until the 2008 global financial crisis hit. The global financial crisis was the ultimate illustration of the deficiencies in commonly used metrics. None of those metrics gave policymakers or markets adequate warning that something was amiss. Though a few astute economists had sounded the alarm, the standard measures seemed to suggest everything was fine.

But everything is obviously not fine:

We see this in the political discontent rippling through so many advanced countries; we see it in the widespread support of demagogues, whose successes depend on exploiting economic discontent; and we see it in the environment around us, where fires rage and floods and droughts occur at ever-increasing intervals.

Economists have been working on establishing better metrics and they've been making progress:

Fortunately, a variety of advances in methodology and technology have provided us with better measurement tools, and the international community has begun to embrace them. What we have accomplished so far has convinced me and many other economists of two things: first, that it is possible to construct much better measures of an economy’s health. Governments can and should go well beyond GDP. Second, that there is far more work to be done.

It's time, Stiglitz writes, to ditch GDP as a measure of progress. The future of the planet -- and of humankind -- depends on better metrics than GDP.

Image: Money Crashers

Saturday, November 23, 2019

He Used To Be A Fed


Jason Kenney has been railing against the federal government's equalization program. He claims that Alberta has been short changed and that Quebec is a provincial welfare bum. But he neglects a few facts. Alan Freeman writes:

As Trevor Tombe, a University of Calgary economist points out, even with the fall in oil revenues, Alberta remains the richest province in the country by far. “Quebec gets equalization because they’re poorer across a number of metrics.” And that’s what equalization is there for, to try and equalize the ability of provinces to provide services to their population depending on their fiscal capacity.
Quebec’s finances are healthier because its economy has strengthened, it’s got its spending under control and taxes are much higher than in Alberta. But to deal with its budget crisis, Kenney actually cut corporate taxes, digging the province deeper into the hole. The idea that Albertans should actually pay for the services they receive remains an alien idea to the United Conservative Party.
In fact, Tombe says that if Alberta imposed Quebec tax rates, the province would have an extra $21-billion in revenues and a surplus of $14-billion, rather an $8.7-billion deficit.
“A province’s budget balance has nothing to do with equalization,” says Tombe.

So, rather than rejigging the system, what should be done? After all, betting the farm on the oil sands has hurt Albertans. And there's a lot of hurt. Freeman suggests one time payments to help Albertans through this mess, while they -- hopefully -- rejig their economy and their tax system:

There may be small changes to equalization, but there’s no way the Trudeau government is going to scrap the program or make huge cuts that would undermine fiscal planning in the five recipient provinces. What’s more likely is that Ottawa tries to find a way to transfer some cash to Alberta and Saskatchewan by giving them one-off grants to compensate for their tough times.

Will that satisfy Kenney? Probably not. Bashing the feds has got him a long way. And Albertans seem to forget that he used to be a fed -- who, back in 2009, helped establish the present equalization formula.

Image: The Toronto Star


Friday, November 22, 2019

A New Scenario?


A month is a long time in politics. And, Susan Delacout writes, the past month has made a difference in Ontario's politics:

Trudeau and Ford will be having what’s widely expected to be a cordial meeting in Ottawa, to talk over what they can do together to help the province.
Officials for the prime minister were saying on Thursday evening that they were cautiously optimistic about both the tone and potential for progress at the meeting, especially on issues related to infrastructure and transit.
For his part, Ford doesn’t seem to be holding any post-campaign grudges.
“Politics is politics and I have a pretty thick skin and I understand what he was doing,” the premier said when asked about how he’ll work with a leader who cast him as an enemy for 40 days running. “When I had a conversation with him, I told him politics are done and let’s roll up our sleeves and start working together.”

And there is no talk of alienation:

All the talk of Western alienation in the wake of the federal election has almost erased the memories of the running antagonism between Ford and Trudeau during the campaign. It raised very real questions about how Ottawa and Ontario could possibly work together.
But note, as Ford surely has, that no one is talking about “Ontario alienation” in the aftermath of the election and the national fissures it has exposed. More than half of Trudeau’s new cabinet members are from Ontario, and the Toronto contingent is placed in some of the most senior roles: Chrystia Freeland as deputy prime minister, Bill Morneau in finance, Bill Blair at public safety.
Trudeau is reportedly going to urge Ford to cultivate deeper relationships with all of these ministers, especially Freeland, who is also going to be serving as minister of intergovernmental affairs.
Indeed, the Freeland-Ford relationship may be the one to watch in the coming months.

Freeland proved during trade negotiations in Washington that she knows how to deal with difficult people. Politics should not be about obliterating your opponents. It should be about creating win-win scenarios. Who knows? Perhaps such a scenario can happen in Ontario.

Image: The Toronto Star



Thursday, November 21, 2019

Smoking Guns


Yesterday, there were all kinds of smoking guns in Gordon Sondland's testimony. He exploded all the Republican defences of Donald Trump. Max Boot writes:

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland said under oath. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” The sound you hear is Republican denials of a quid pro quo exploding. Sondland went on to say he was acting on “the president’s orders” in demanding that Ukraine announce an investigation of the company that employed Hunter Biden — although not to actually carry out the investigation. The distinction is significant because it undercuts the Republican conceit that Trump was genuinely interested in fighting corruption. In fact, he was only interested in damaging a potential political foe.
Sondland also destroyed the Republican cover story that he, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry (the so-called three amigos), were acting on their own to blackmail Ukraine. “Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said, and he made clear that by “everyone” he meant not only the president but also Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.
If this were a movie, the next scene would be Trump resigning the presidency in disgrace. But real life doesn’t work like reel life. There was no sign of Republicans abandoning the president after Sondland’s blockbuster revelations.

Trump won't resign. And the Republicans will continue to deny the facts that are before their eyes:

The Republicans took great comfort in Sondland’s admission that “Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on meetings,” even though he also said “it was abundantly clear there was a link” and no other credible explanation for the aid holdup has ever emerged. Republicans also continued to pretend that Trump did nothing wrong because, after the whistleblower came forward, Trump said, “I want nothing” and the aid to Ukraine — though not a White House meeting — was finally delivered. Republicans are convinced that 2+2=22.

A country which was founded on the ideals of The Enlightenment is on the edge of a new Dark Age:

In a sane world, Sondland’s testimony would have ended the Trump presidency. But Republicans have made clear that their devotion to Trump is irrational and, like other religious faiths, not subject to rational refutation. Without an actual tape of Trump ordering a shakedown of Ukraine — and maybe even with one — Republicans will not be shaken in their cultlike devotion to the president.

Their Darker Angels could well carry it all away.

Image: Pinterest


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Kenney's Independence


Jason Kenney has been talking Alberta's independence. He's been suggesting Alberta take Quebec's approach to federalism. But that approach has evolved. Chantal Hebert writes:

Quebec has operated its own system since the Canada Pension Plan was introduced in 1966.
At the time of the inception of the CPP every province had the option of going it alone. The main rationale behind Quebec’s choice of a separate route was to give its government the ability to use the pension fund to play a leadership role in the shaping of the province’s economic fabric.
That may be a goal worth pursuing in Alberta, but it does come with the need to set up a bureaucracy to administer a system that ultimately — for reasons of labour mobility — would offer relatively identical benefits to those on offer under the CPP.
Ditto in the case of having the province run its own police force — something, for the record, that Quebec was doing decades before the RCMP as we know it was created in 1920 — or taking over the collection of all income tax from the federal government.

The problem with setting up these individual entities is that administrative costs cut deeply into provincial revenues:

The reason Quebec is currently pursuing the latter option [having the federal government assume income tax administrative costs] has more to do with saving money and freeing the province’s taxpayers from the long-standing burden of filing two income tax reports every April, than provincial autonomy.
A few years ago, a commission costed the duplication at almost half a billion dollars a year and recommended Quebec join the other provinces in having Ottawa collect the taxes on its behalf.
That turned out to be a federalist bridge too far even for the then-Liberal Quebec government, hence the demand that the federal government hand over its collection responsibilities to the province instead.
It is hard to see how any of the above options adds up to more leverage for Alberta rather than to a series of solutions in search of a problem. If anything, by focusing on federal-provincial arrangements at a time when the climate-change issue is playing out globally the province risks missing the forest for the trees.

The bottom line is that Mr. Kenney's proposed solutions to Alberta's problems -- like Mr. Kenney himself -- is firmly rooted in the past. They were proposed solutions to past problems, not the ones Alberta faces today. And, therefore, things will get worse for Albertans.

Image: poletical


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Trudeau's Opportunity


Some commentators claim that Justin Trudeau is in a precarious position. Tom Walkom isn't among them. Trudeau, he writes, has an extraordinary opportunity: "In a strange way, the makeup of the Commons in this hung Parliament also gives the Liberals both an incentive and an opportunity to be unusually bold."

There are precedents:

In 1972, Pierre Trudeau’s cumbersome and overly bureaucratic Liberal government was reduced to minority status. But the elder Trudeau used this setback as an opportunity to recalibrate his government and seize the issue of the day, economic nationalism.
With the backing of the NDP and in an effort to reduce U.S. control over the Canadian economy, he established the Foreign Investment Review Agency. Under NDP pressure, he also set up a national oil company, Petro-Canada, to confront the major, foreign-owned energy giants.

And Lester Pearson's minority government gave Canadians medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and a flag:

In the mid-1960s, a minority Liberal government under Lester Pearson and backed by the NDP seized the moment to create the architecture of the modern Canadian welfare state, including medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and federal funding for social assistance.
This history provides two lessons for Justin Trudeau. First, boldness works. Trudeau may not be able to get all provinces to agree to, say, a universal pharmacare program. But that doesn’t preclude him from establishing the legislative framework for one.
When the federal law governing medicare came into effect in 1968, only two provinces — Saskatchewan and British Columbia — signed on. The rest joined later. New Brunswick, the last to adopt medicare, didn’t do so until 1971.

So change didn't come in one fell swoop. But, if Trudeau knows how to deal with the other parties in the House, significant change -- and progress -- can happen.

Image: CBC.ca

Monday, November 18, 2019

Its Achilles Heel


Doug Ford is setting himself up for failure. He's looking at province wide teachers' strikes because he has failed to learn the lessons of recent history. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Like Harris before him — and without learning the lessons of McGuinty after that — our current premier has set the stage for confrontation.
With a difference. In their defence, the Liberals in 2012, like the PCs and NDP in the 1990s, were facing undeniable constraints — a recession, a runaway budget, and an economic crisis.
Today’s Tories, not so much. To be sure, there is a debt overhang, but the deficit figures are dramatically overstated — literally and figuratively speaking:

Ford's wildly overstated deficit makes his claim that the province faces a fiscal emergency a fiction. However, the Tories just passed legislation limiting pay increases in the public sector to 1%. That tactic has been tried before:

Joining hands with the opposition Tories, [Dalton] McGuinty’s minority government pre-emptively legislated restrictions on [teachers] collective bargaining rights. The Liberals won the day only to lose years later when the courts reinforced Charter rights for free collective bargaining unimpeded by political meddling.

Governments of all stripes have difficulty with collective bargaining -- because it requires creative solutions, not blanket proclamations. The Ford government likes to trumpet blanket proclamations. But creative solutions are its Achilles Heel.

Image: Silver Strand Rope Works

Sunday, November 17, 2019

We're In Deep


UBC economist William Rees argues that we are -- in George Bush Sr.'s memorable phrase -- "in deep do do:"

We can probably agree that techno-industrial societies are utterly dependent on abundant cheap energy just to maintain themselves — and even more energy to grow. The simple fact is that 84 per cent of the world’s primary energy today is derived from fossil fuels.
It should be no surprise, then, that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the greatest metabolic waste by weight produced by industrial economies. Climate change is a waste management problem!
Cheap fossil energy enabled the world to urbanize, and this process is continuing. The UN expects the urban population to rise to 6.7 billion — 68 per cent of humanity — by 2050. There will be 43 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants each as early as 2030, mostly in China and other Asian countries.
By 2018, the combustion of fossil fuel alone was pumping 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Add to this the net carbon emissions from land clearing (soil oxidation) and more vigorous forest fires, and we can see why atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached an all-time high of 415 parts per million in early 2019.* This is 48 per cent above pre-industrial levels and concentrations are rising exponentially.

We'd like to think that green energy will save the day. But Rees claims that's a pipe dream:

There is plenty of superficial support for the notion that green tech is our saviour. We are told repeatedly that the costs of providing renewable energy have fallen so low that it will soon be practically free. Australian professors Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks say “Solar photovoltaic and wind power are rapidly getting cheaper and more abundant — so much so that they are on track to entirely supplant fossil fuels worldwide within two decades.” Luckily, the transition won’t even take up much space: UC Berkeley professor Mehran Moalem argues that “an area of the Earth 335 kilometres by 335 kilometres with solar panels... will provide more than 17.4 TW power.... That means 1.2 per cent of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy.” (Someone should remind Prof. Moalem that, even if such an engineering feat were possible, a single sandstorm would bury the world’s entire energy supply.)
The growth in demand exceeds additions to supply from renewables, the latter cannot displace fossil fuels even in electricity generation — and remember, electricity is still less than 20 per cent of total energy consumption, with the rest being supplied mostly by fossil fuels.
Nor is any green transition likely to be cheap. The cost of land is substantial and, while the price of solar panels and wind turbines have declined dramatically, this is independent of the high costs associated with transmission, grid stabilization and systems maintenance. Consistently reliable wind and solar electricity requires integrating these sources into the grid using battery or pumped hydro storage, back-up generation sources (e.g., gas turbines, cruise-ship scale internal combustion engines, etc.) and meeting other challenges that make it more expensive.
Also problematic is the fact that wind/solar energy is not really renewable. In practice, the life expectancy of a wind turbine may be less than 15 years. Solar panels may last a few years longer but with declining efficiency, so both turbines and panels have to be replaced regularly at great financial, energy and environmental cost. Consider that building a typical wind turbine requires 817 energy-intensive tonnes of steel, 2,270 tonnes of concrete and 41 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic. Solar power also requires large quantities of cement, steel and glass as well as various rare earth metals.

We are, Rees argues, like Sisyphus -- rolling that stone up the hill, only to see it roll down again.

These are not pleasant thoughts for a Sunday morning. But I offer them for your consideration.

Image: google sites


Saturday, November 16, 2019

Democracy In Peril


These are momentous days in Washington. People are consumed by the fate of Donald Trump. But, Tony Burman writes, there is much more at stake than The Orange One's future:

It is not the fate of Donald Trump that really matters here. It is the future of America’s democracy — and everyone else’s democracy — that is at risk.
“American democracy is not as exceptional as we sometimes believe,” wrote Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their recent book, “How Democracies Die.” “There’s nothing in our Constitution or our culture to immunize us against democratic breakdown … But protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage.”

There are some undeniable facts:

We now know that the U.S. president committed bribery by secretly trying to get Ukraine’s president to investigate the son of Joe Biden, a political rival, ahead of the 2020 presidential election. This was in exchange for $400 million in military aid and a face-to-face meeting at the White House.
But Trump didn’t do this to benefit the nation. In fact, it was totally contrary to years of established U.S. national security policy.
Trump did this to benefit himself — and, probably as a side benefit, to please Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

It's a clear case of bribery. And, under American law, the punishment for bribery -- and impeachment -- is also clear:

Punishment for bribery under U.S. federal law is up to 15 years in prison, but it is also central to the political process of impeachment. Along with treason, it is the only impeachable offence expressly listed in the U.S. Constitution as a “high Crime and Misdemeanor” justifying removal of a president from office.

The Republican Senate, however, will not find Trump guilty -- no matter how strong the case against him:

That’s why the threat to democracy everywhere is so ominous. If Trump succeeds in getting away with it all, his behaviour is certain to become the “new normal” in 21st-century global politics.
The opening hearing revealed what the Republican strategy will be. In order to exonerate Trump, an effort will be made to promote bogus conspiracy theories that point a finger at Ukraine — not Russia — for having interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
It is the latest example of how Russian ideology now appears to drive much of Trump’s foreign policy. Whether about Ukraine, Syria or Europe and NATO, Trump’s talking points are now virtually identical to Putin’s.
In hindsight, it is perhaps not surprising that Trump himself would be so obsequious to his Russian masters. After all, a decade ago, Trump’s business empire was in virtual bankruptcy before Russian oligarchs bailed it out.

Trump laundered Russian mob money. And Vladimir Putin protected Trump from the Russian mob. In return, Putin asked Trump to "do him a favour, though." If these glaring facts are ignored, the American Republic is doomed. And democracy all over the world is in peril.

Image: The Economist


Friday, November 15, 2019

The March Continues


The United States and Britain have been involved in wars for twenty years. Simon Jenkins asks a simple question: Why? After all, the results have not been not encouraging:

The US has spent a staggering $6.4tn on almost two decades of interventions, with more than 7,000 military dead. Britain has lost 634. In addition, unknowable thousands of civilians have died, and billions of pounds’ worth of property been destroyed. Christianity has been all but wiped out in the region, and some of the finest cities in the ancient world have been bombed flat. No audit has been made of this. The opportunity cost must be unthinkable. What diseases might have been eradicated, what climate crisis relieved?
The wars of 9/11 must rank among the cruellest, most costly and senseless of the post-imperial age. Yet in Britain successive governments have parroted absurdities about “keeping our streets safe from terror”. The opposite is manifestly the case. The threat to London is said to be “substantial” and parts of Westminster look like a pastiche of Guantanamo Bay.
The assumption is that at least the public and the military establishment are “behind the troops”. That is clearly not the case. As long ago as 2004 Lord Bramall, who died this week and was once Thatcher’s favourite soldier, challenged the government to prove that the Iraq war, then just a year old, was worth the cost. It had, he said, already proved “erroneous and counter-productive” despite promises that it would bring democracy to Iraq. He added: “One can but wonder what legal – or, now, even moral – mandate the [western] coalition really has to do that.” Bramall was emphatic that he spoke for many in the military establishment opposed to Tony Blair’s mission, undertaken to please the Americans. In the 15 years since he made that speech nothing has changed.

So why do these wars continue? Jenkins suggests that it's all about not looking foolish:

Thick is the glue that keeps western troops on alien soil. Staying is now an exercise in saving face, in not being seen to cut and run. Downing Street wants any chance to play on the global stage, to keep in with America for after Brexit. None of these objectives seems plausible. Nor are they popular. We are stuck with war, and no one can explain why.

Barbara Tuchman called it The March Of Folly.

Image: Newsweek

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Evidence Keeps Piling Up


Yesterday was quite a day in Washington. The evidence to support Donald Trump's impeachment keeps piling up. Noah Bookbinder writes in The New York Times:

Mr. Trump used the immense powers of the American presidency to pressure an ally to open investigations that would help him personally. That much is clear just from the call memo of the July 25 conversation between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
But today’s testimony made clear that it goes much further. Two respected public servants — Ambassador William Taylor, an experienced diplomat and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department official overseeing European and Eurasian affairs — testified that the president and his personal attorney sought politically motivated investigations by the Ukrainian government into former Vice President Joseph Biden and allegations concerning the 2016 election (the latter references an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukrainians, not Russians, were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the Ukrainians framed the Russian government to make it look like that country was working with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign).
Pressuring a foreign power to investigate a political rival is, alone, a potentially impeachable offense. But Mr. Trump’s effort to condition needed military and diplomatic aid on investigations helpful to his personal political interests may also constitute bribery as contemplated by the Constitution for the purpose of impeachment. It also likely violates criminal laws, including the federal bribery statute.

And new evidence emerged during the hearing:

As important, today Mr. Taylor revealed stunning new information. He said that a staff member of his witnessed Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, call Mr. Trump the day after his call with Mr. Zelensky and that the staff member heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Sondland about the status of “the investigations” — which witnesses have testified was shorthand for inquiries into the Bidens and the origins of the investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Taylor testified that his staff member heard Mr. Sondland say Ukraine was moving forward on those investigations and that Mr. Sondland said that the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

Republicans tried to argue that all of this is second hand information. But the phone call puts the evidence in the president's mouth. If Republicans don't see what is right in front of them, they should go down with Trump. But that scenario is based upon the assumption that the vast majority of Americans can see what is right in front of them.

Image: The Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Vulnerable Fortress


Albertans are talking about The Wall. It's not a new idea. This time around, Jason Kenney is leading the charge. Tom Walkom writes:

In early 2001, six notable Alberta conservatives penned an open letter to Premier Ralph Klein, urging him to build “firewalls” around the province that would protect it “from an aggressive and hostile” Liberal government in Ottawa.
Labelled the firewall letter, it came in the aftermath of a federal election that Jean Chretien’s Liberals — in spite of being almost shut out of Alberta — had won handily.
The six, including a young Stephen Harper, argued that the Liberals had won that election by marginalizing Alberta and its needs. The answer, they said, was to withdraw into Fortress Alberta and “take greater charge of our own future.”

Kenney says he wants to collect his own income tax, have his own pension plan, and his own police force. All of these ideas are also not new. Quebec has all of these things. And the provinces have always had the ability to opt out of federal programs:

Provinces have always had the power to opt out of shared-cost programs. Like most provinces, Alberta refused to join medicare when it came into force in 1968. It signed on eventually only because universal public health insurance proved popular.

But Walkom notes that:

It’s a little weird to see the old firewall ideas resurrected. None of the measures the Manning panel is being asked to examine have much to do with the real problems facing Alberta. These centre on the oilsands.

Albertans are caught in a  classic resource trap. The oil sands are a stranded asset. Their value continues to diminish.  Albertans face the same fate as the residents of Cape Breton, Scheffreville, and Asbestos Quebec and those who earned their living from the Canadian fur trade. And they have been put in that position by decisions that were made in Edmonton, not Ottawa.

Having their own police force may make Albertans feel better. But it will do nothing to solve the problems they face.

Image: Exploring Off the Beaten Path


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Donald Capone


When it comes to impeachment, Bill Blum writes, there are lots of parallels between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. But there are other parallels between Trump and Al Capone:

As far as we know, Trump has never gone full-Capone and actually ordered one of his capos to literally take out any of his business or political opponents. But lest we forget, during the 2016 campaign, Trump boasted he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.”
And lest we think Trump was simply waxing hyperbolic, one of the president’s private attorneys told a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in October that Trump could not be investigated or prosecuted until he leaves office, even if he really did shoot someone on 5th Avenue. The astounding assertion was advanced in support of Trump’s attempt to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from obtaining Trump’s income tax returns. The circuit court ruled against Trump on Nov. 4.

And it's taxes where Trump's world and Capone's world really come together:

When Capone was finally held to account, it wasn’t for masterminding the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, in which seven of his gangland Chicago rivals were killed, or for the violent extortion and bootlegging empire he had built. The Feds never got Capone for his most heinous offenses. Instead, Capone was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison in 1931 for the mundane white-collar crime of income tax evasion.
Still, Capone’s conviction brought his career as a mafioso to a close. After serving his time in custody, Capone was paroled in 1939, suffering from syphilis and early-onset dementia. He died in Florida eight years later, with what his doctor described as the mentality of a 12-year-old child.
To be sure, it is highly doubtful that Senate Republicans will follow the example of Capone’s jury and vote to convict Trump and remove him from office in an impeachment trial conducted in the upper chamber. But if the impeachment case against the president is skillfully prosecuted in the Senate, it will severely damage Trump’s reelection prospects and hasten the demise of his political career, much as the tax-evasion prosecution of Capone brought an end to the career of the most notorious mobster in American history.

It's been clear for some time that Trump has run his business and the United States like a mob boss.

Image: Medium.com

Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day, 2019


We live in a culture which exalts in self promotion. Self sacrifice is not a popular meme. It's never been popular. But sometimes it's necessary. It's that necessity which we remember today.

Image: (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Enter Bloomberg



It looks like Michael Bloomberg will enter the presidential race. Whether or not that will be good for the Democratic Party is an open question But Maureen Dowd writes, things could certainly get interesting:

Donald Trump has turned the White House — and America — into his crib, wailing and spitting up and throwing things. Republican lawmakers have been consigned to diaper duty. So maybe it’s fitting for Mrs. Doubtfire to pop in to lay down the law in this federally funded nursery.
Still, it would be undeniably entertaining to have a stinging face-off between a couple of rich, caustic New Yorkers who have skyscrapers known by their names blocks apart.
One is a real deal maker who cares about public policy and one is a fake deal maker who only cares about himself. One self-made billionaire who’s good at business would mock the so-called billionaire and bankruptcy king who needed a constant cash flow from daddy Fred. One is in the media business and one denounces the press as degenerates, lowlifes and enemies of the people. One is a genuine philanthropist and one was just ordered to pay $2 million in damages after admitting money raised by his charitable foundation was used in part for his presidential bid and to settle business debts. One is totally controlling and one is totally out of control. One rants about trans fats and one gorges on them.
Both of these salesmen can be charming or thin-skinned and arrogant. Both have politically fluid histories. Both have their feet to thank for keeping them out of Vietnam; Bloomberg had flat feet and Trump (supposedly) had bone spurs. Both have been accused of having a sexist streak, even though they supported Hillary Clinton at times and have voiced appreciation for smart women. And both men have talked openly about their love of beautiful women.
As The Times’s Michael Grynbaum tweeted, slyly summing up the Gotham derby: “How many New York City personalities can one country handle?”

Good question. There's such a thing as too much New York.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, November 09, 2019

A Little Humility, Please


The federal election was a teachable moment. And, if our leaders are wise, they'll understand that they have all been served a heaping helping of humble pie. Susan Delacourt writes:

Two weeks after the votes were counted, the point of the 2019 election is finally coming into focus: it was ultimately a humbling exercise for Canada’s political leaders.
In just one week, three of the major party leaders have been forced to reckon with humility at their first post-election caucus meetings in Ottawa.
The Greens’ Elizabeth May self-administered her own dose of humility, stepping down as leader on Monday. A chastened Justin Trudeau met his diminished Liberal ranks on Thursday, talking about the “gratitude” he would be extending to the nearly 30 former MPs who went down to defeat on Oct. 21.
As for Andrew Scheer, his humbling remains a work in progress. The Conservative leader was still talking in triumphal terms after he met his new caucus of opposition MPs on Wednesday, but a looming leadership review in April means that Scheer will be taken down a few pegs the slow way over the next five months.
Even New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was judged to have had a good election, has been forced to acknowledge that all his campaign efforts still resulted in a sizable net loss for the NDP — from 39 MPs going into the election to just 24 now.

It's called "tall poppy syndrome:"

Canadians have their own fondness for knocking high-reachers down to size. It’s said that the legendary author Robertson Davies liked to recount what he heard at a 1957 social gathering when the news broke that future prime minister Lester Pearson had won the Nobel Peace Prize: “Who does he think he is?”

Individual MP's seem to have gotten the message:

Francois-Philippe Champagne, the infrastructure minister who was one of the lucky Liberal MPs to hold onto his Quebec seat, told reporters that he had certainly taken this “message of humility” from the 2019 campaign. "We're not here boasting. We're here humble,” Champagne said as he went into Thursday’s Liberal gathering.
There were many poignant scenes of defeat around Parliament Hill this week. The Conservatives’ former deputy leader Lisa Raitt, who lost her seat in Milton, Ont., was talking about packing up her boxes and the unemployed staff members in her midst.
Former Liberal MP Kim Rudd, who fought hard but lost her seat in Northumberland-Peterborough South, came to town to empty her office and apartment, and talked of her sadness in seeing Canadian flags disappear from offices that have been handed over to a new crop of Bloc Québécois MPs.
Winnipeg MP Jim Carr, who still holds the job of trade diversification minister in Trudeau’s cabinet, showed up on Thursday despite his recent diagnosis. He was in a reflective mood, talking of perspective both political and personal.
“I’m feeling fine, thank you,” Carr said, clutching a daisy handed to him by cabinet colleague Maryam Monsef while he talked to reporters. “I’m just in my life now, going through a moment where I think it’s bringing out that yearning for unity and for civility in politics.”

They say humility is good for the soul. At this point in our history, it would also be good for the country.

Image: dribbble.com

Friday, November 08, 2019

Ditching The Program


Andrew Scheer's leadership of the Conservative Party, Tom Walkom writes, is doomed  -- because he cannot win in Ontario:

The Conservatives did gain three more Ontario seats. However, their share of the popular vote in Ontario dropped by two percentage points.
More importantly, they were unable to unseat Liberal incumbents in huge swaths of the so-called 905 belt outside Toronto. In Toronto itself, the Conservatives were completely shut out.
The main reason is that Scheer failed to connect with Red Tories.
Red Tories represent the dominant form of Conservatism in Ontario. They are typically moderate. They are amenable to using government to achieve useful social ends. They generally value co-operation.
Premier Doug Ford has belatedly come to understand the importance of the Red Tory vote in Ontario. That’s why his Progressive Conservative government is so busy backing away — rhetorically at least — from its initial hard-line positions.

But the problem isn't just Scheer. It's the Conservative Party itself. It's still stuck in Stephen Harper mode. When it ditched the Progressive Conservative brand, it sealed its fate. And, despite the Liberal Party's brand, Justin Trudeau assumed the Progressive Conservative mantle:

Ontario’s ever so practical Red Tories know from experience that refinery shutdowns and turmoil in the Middle East have more effect on gasoline prices than Ottawa’s carbon tax.
Indeed, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s entire strategy for dealing with climate change could have come from a Red Tory playbook.
It emphasizes balance — in this case, the balance between economic and environmental needs. It suggests action without getting bogged down in the details of what this action will accomplish. It allows people to think they are doing something about the climate problem without requiring them to bear a hefty cost. And it is based not on government fiat but on market pricing.

To win, the Conservatives are going to have to do more than ditch their leader. They're going to have to ditch their program. That won't be easy.

Image: Reuters