Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Real Doug Ford

During the federal election, Doug Ford kept his head down and his mouth shut. But, if you really want to know what's going on inside Ford's head, Martin Regg Cohn writes that you should pay attention to what he said on his visit to Washington:

In the rarefied air of Washington this month, Ford forgot himself. Or more precisely, he allowed himself to be himself.
How else to explain his passionate homage to Donald Trump?
“I loved listening to the president’s State of the Union address the other night,” Ford gushed to a hushed Canadian American Business Council. “We hope the election is going to turn out the right way. Literally the right way.”

And he expressed his disdain for Bernie Sanders:

Ford went on to badmouth Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner in the party’s primaries, for daring to call himself a social democrat: “That’s actually scary. It is. It really is.”
Never mind that Sanders is merely an echo of the New Democratic Party that came second among Ontario voters in the election, and that now serves faithfully as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the legislature. Scary for Americans, which translates as shame on you Ontarians, in Ford’s book.

There is an old Canadian norm: when you visit a foreign country, you don't meddle in its politics. Occasionally that norm has been broken -- as when Lester Pearson publicly disagreed with LBJ on the Vietnam War. But Pearson was a diplomat at his core. And he knew how to express a difference of opinion diplomatically. Ford's comments on Sanders undercore the fact that Ford possesses no diplomatic talent.

Moreover, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Ford possesses no talent all all.

Image: Pinterest

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dying In Plain Sight

Democracy is dying in the United States. And its death is very much a public death. Max Boot quotes Montesquieu: “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”

Certainly, Congress is -- at least partially -- to blame. But much of the public appears to not give a damn:

I don’t see massive marches in the streets. I don’t see people flooding their members of Congress with calls and emails. I don’t see the outrage that is warranted — and necessary. I see passivity, resignation and acquiescence from a distracted electorate that has come to accept Trump’s aberrant behavior as the norm.
A recent Gallup poll found that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans — the supposed law-and-order party — is at a record-high 94 percent. His support in the country as a whole is only 43.4 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, but he is still well positioned to win reelection, because most people seem to care a lot more about the strength of the stock market than about the strength of our democracy. This is how democracies die — not in darkness but in full view of a public that couldn’t care less.

What is happening in the United States is a reminder to all of us that democracy does not come free. People will argue about the source of the quote. Some say Edmund Burke. Others John Stuart Mill. Regardless of who gave it to us, the line remains true: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil [or the death of democracy] is that good men should do nothing.”

Image: Psychology Today

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Let The Young Vote

It is the young who have the greatest stake in the world we are creating -- or destroying. It is they who will live with the consequences we are setting in motion. Robin Sears writes:

There was much editorial teeth gnashing when our voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1968. Teeth are grinding again about broadening the electorate once more.
The champions of the status quo ante always argue that younger citizens do not “have the judgment that can only come with age.” In reality, today’s 16-year-old probably has the policy sophistication of an 18-year-old half a century ago.
What the advocates of no change ignore is the unintended consequences of denying a nation’s youth a role in policy and governing. First, in comfortable places like Canada, they may sit out elections for years, if the habits formed in early adolescence did not include the most basic form of civic engagement, voting. In Australia’s compulsory voting system, many families go — parents, kids and all — to the polling stations.

They -- and we -- cannot afford their apathy. And their decisions are not always revolutionary:

Austria and Greece have lowered their voting ages to 16 and 17 and have elected progressive and very conservative governments in the past decade. Scotland’s voting age is 16, they just clobbered the Labour party. Pressure is rising in the U.K. to establish 16 as the threshold for all elections.

We confer the duties of citizenship on sixteen year olds:

Sixteen-year-olds can join the military reserves, drive a car, sign an employment contract, pay taxes — but not vote. They have a deeper understanding of the technology challenges they will face in the job market. In increasing numbers they are struggling to acquire the tools to survive in an era of robotic job-killing — but they have little policy voice, and no vote.
A 16-year-old surely knows more than their parents and grandparents about the accelerating power of technology. Equally, the post-internet generation knows what can never work, and what has a better chance of success. They know that a tax system that does not require tech giants to pay back to the nations that nurtured them and that now pay them enormous sums for their services, is absurd.

When you're old enough to drive a car, you're old enough to vote.

Image: Vox

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Mr. Ford Went To Washington

Last week, Doug Ford went to Washington, where he proclaimed that economics is simple. Emma Teitel writes:

Last week, Ford sat down for an interview with the Canadian American Business Council in Washington (a non-profit business organization), where he regaled that organization’s CEO, Maryscott Greenwood, with tales of a booming Ontario open for business.
“Economics is very simple,” he told Greenwood. “You cut red tape, you cut regulations, you lower business taxes and taxes for the people, and new revenue will come up to the coffers, as we say. And with that you can reinvest it into other areas, into health care, into education. Our economy right now is absolutely on fire.”

The trouble is that back home things are not as good as Ford says they are:

What the Premier didn’t tell his foreign hosts is that those “other areas” are not reaping the reward of his “simple” economic proposal; they are hurting as a result of it. Teachers are protesting major cuts to education, and the provincial government and the unions are at an impasse. Kids are missing school and their parents are not putting the blame squarely on teachers, as Education Minister Stephen Lecce might have hoped. According to a new internal poll commissioned by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, a little more than half of residents polled in PC ridings strongly disagree with the government’s championing of larger class sizes.
As for that other “other area” (health care) — it’s hard to believe Ontarians are comforted by the notion that trickle-down economics will fill the holes carved out by cuts made to their health care system, when the world is frantically trying to stall coronavirus.

And, while he was there, Ford also waded into the upcoming Amercan election:

“I loved listening to the president on the State of the Union address the other night,” he told Greenwood. “I was disappointed when I saw Nancy Pelosi get up there and start tearing the speech up. That’s uncalled for. But let’s move forward. Let’s see what happens in the (U.S.) election. The economy is booming (in the States), it’s booming in Ontario. We hope the (U.S.) election is going to turn out the right way, literally the right way.”

One can only conclude that Mr. Ford's ego is bigger than his brain.

Image: Twitter

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Law Of Holes

A big decision awaits the Trudeau government. Will it approve the Teck Mine? Andrew Nikiforuk believes Trudeau should green light the project -- with stipulations. He writes:

Given Alberta’s belligerent confidence in holes, let’s agree. Canada’s federal cabinet should rubber stamp the permit for Teck’s oilsands mine.
At the same time, it must also declare that Canada will quantify and phase out $43 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies as identified by the International Monetary Fund.
That means if the Teck mine fails, Canadian taxpayers will not support the boondoggle in any shape or form.
Alberta says it doesn’t want any federal handouts, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Now give the province what it wants. Let Nixon and Kenney defy the reality of low global oil prices and the commodity’s increasing volatility, and dig themselves a deeper hole to hell, unemployment and debt.
Every petrostate should have the freedom to build its own financial scaffold, knot its own fiscal noose and hang itself economically. It is what they do best.

Kenney has a really severe case of tunnel vision. And there's only one cure for it -- financial disaster:

Oil makes blind its dependents, regardless of their political hue. It encourages governments to overspend and undersave. It centralizes political power. It widens inequality. It replaces domestic taxes with hydrocarbon revenues, thereby breaking the bonds of representation. It erodes statecraft and rewards profligate government. The commodity’s busts and booms produce a vicious circle of bad policies that cement the state’s addiction to oil. It discourages diversification. In the end, it aggressively puts the needs of the oil and gas industry above everything else.
If Albertans wanted to regain their self-determination, they would not make digging the Teck mine their litmus test. But Kenney and company, despite the punishing downturn in prices, still don’t understand the Law of Holes.
The Law of Holes is elegant, proverbial and nearly a century old. It goes like this: If you find yourself in a moral and fiscal hole, you should stop digging.

And Alberta refuses to stop digging.

Image: Mindat.org

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Increasing Chaos

The chaos surrounding the natural gas pipeline in British Columbia is spreading across the country. And Linda McQuaig is struck by the difference between how the Trudeau government treats Jason Kenney and Canada's native people:

I admit to being against further oilsands development, making me a person of interest to the sleuths in Kenney’s $30-million “war-room” who are tasked with vilifying oilsands critics. Of course, they’re really hoping to unmask “foreign-funded special interests,” and I don’t have a single dollar of foreign backing. Still I do what I can!
The war room is just one of the Alberta premier’s bullying tactics, along with threatening Western separation, as he tries to intimidate critics and pressure the Trudeau government into approving the proposed Teck mine, a vast 293-square-kilometre open pit mine, which would be the biggest tarsands mine yet.
Meanwhile, there’s a willingness to play hardball when opposition is coming from Indigenous people and powerful business interests are against them.
These hardball tactics have been on display in northwestern B.C. in recent weeks as Wet’suwet’en Indigenous protestors, trying to block a pipeline from crossing their land, have been confronted with highly militarized RCMP officers dressed in combat fatigues, bearing assault rifles and police dogs.
Chainsawing though a gate marked “Reconciliation,” the RCMP have forcibly removed the occupiers — that is, people occupying their own land — amid prayers for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, sparking nationwide protests. Most of the media attention has focused on how disruptive the protests have been to southern train travel.

We are faced -- in stark terms -- with the central question of our times: Will money triumph over the planet? That may sound melodramatic. But I believe that, in the end, that's the question we must answer.

At the moment, money seems to have the upper hand.

Image: CBC

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Tenuous Thread

Donald Trump's Justice Department has told Judge Amy Berman Jackson to treat Roger Stone nice. That announcement has caused the four federal prosecutors to resign from the case. One has resigned from the department all together. Jennifer Rubin writes:

Just as Trump tried to engage a foreign government to announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and ordered up a probe of Hillary Clinton (which came to nothing), this is an egregious perversion of the rule of law. The president, like a tin-pot dictator, now uses the Justice Department to shield his criminal cronies, putting his finger on the scale in a way no other president has done in the modern era.
As he did in spinning the Mueller report and refusing to consider seriously the criminal implications of the whistleblower’s report, Attorney General William P. Barr has refused to defy the president or defend the reputation of his department. Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance tweeted:
As he did in spinning the Mueller report and refusing to consider seriously the criminal implications of the whistleblower’s report, Attorney General William P. Barr has refused to defy the president or defend the reputation of his department. Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance tweeted:

There are a few things that could be done:

First, the judge in the Stone case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, could reject the revised recommendation, implicitly or explicitly rebuking the Justice Department. Second, while unlikely to be productive, the House can subpoena Barr to testify and explain the reversal. (He previously refused to respond to a House subpoena and was held in contempt.) Third, the House could open impeachment hearings on Barr, something I suggested previously when he refused to comply with a lawful subpoena and allowed his lawyers to misrepresent the facts in the Census case (only to be rebuked by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.). Finally, a wave of resignations of Justice Department officials might alert the country to the dangers of Trump erasing the line between partisan politics and the administration of the law (though Trump and his supporters may be delighted to fill their spots with more political cronies).

I have written before that the republic hangs by a thread. That thread is getting more and more tenuous.

Image: reddit.com

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Best That Money Can Buy

Mike Bloomberg may be able to buy the presidency. And, Robert Reich writes, that possibility should really bother Americans:

Bloomberg has a chance of winning the presidency because his net worth is more than $60bn.
The yearly return on $60bn is at least $2bn – which is what Bloomberg says he’ll pour into buying the highest office in the land. It’s hardly a sacrifice for him, but it’s a huge sacrifice for American democracy.
Encouraged by the murky outcome from the Iowa caucuses and the notable lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden, Bloomberg has decided to double his spending on TV commercials in every market where he is currently advertising, and expand his campaign field staff to more than 2,000.
He’s not competing in the first four states with caucuses and primaries but focusing instead on 3 March. So-called Super Tuesday will be more super than ever because it now includes California, Texas, Virginia, Minnesota, North Carolina and Massachusetts – a third of all delegates to the Democratic convention.
It’s much more efficient to go to the big states, to go to the swing states,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “The others chose to compete in the first four. And nobody makes them do it, they wanted to do it. I think part of it is because the conventional wisdom is, ‘Oh you can’t possibly win without them.’”
Later, he added: “Those are old rules.”

That's precisely the point. These days, it's not about the best legislature. It's about the best legislature that money can buy.

Image: Amazon.com

Monday, February 10, 2020

Technology Can Be The Problem

Technology, we're told, can and will make lives easier. That's true -- but only partially true. When it comes to elections, what happened in Iowa proves that our faith in technology has been misplaced. Robin Sears writes:

The debacle in Iowa, like the one that struck Democrats and Republicans there before, and most infamously the one that denied Al Gore the presidency in 2000, have one feature in common. The increasing reliance of American elections on electronics, not paper. Bytes not bits, as it were.
Yes, sometimes they have “hanging chads” debates where human eyes try to second guess a computer’s count. Sometimes they have an informal paper record of local votes by precinct captains. But rarely do they have the almost religious ritual and security procedures that protect the integrity of Canadian paper-based balloting.
Ballots can be stolen, stuffed, burned, and forged, yes. Even that’s hard to do in a system where they are protected by a praetorian guard of election officials. But they can never, in their thousands, be made to disappear at a key stroke. Or worse, be made to generate a different outcome and victor than voters intended — as malfunctioning technology or malign interference can do in a microsecond.

Technology can be useful.  However, in elections, Canada has developed a middle ground:

A paper ballot remains the foundation, but it is often electronically counted. That count, however, is backed by a paper ballot and a paper tally sheet generated by the computer. Let’s experiment with online voting, but build it so there is a full reconstruction possible on paper.

When it comes to elections, we need a paper trail. And we need paper trails in other parts of our lives:

There is a reason that as heavily technologically dependent a nation as Japan favours cash more heavily than any other rich country. Yes, it is probably tax “management” in some cases. But mostly it is the security that comes from giving or receiving “real money” as incontrovertible proof of payment or sale. There is a reason that Americans cling to cheque writing more than any other rich nation. You sign a piece of paper yourself, and your bank is compelled to return it or a facsimile as proof of payment.
The underlying fear is often, bits versus bytes, once more. A bank’s computers can fail or be made to. Successful fraudulent digital transactions happen a lot. Or as we saw in the Libor currency trading scandal, verbal signals between conspiring traders can be transformed into digital fraud undetectably.
Of the billions lost to credit card fraud annually, how much would be possible with an ability to create an end-to-end paper trail of every step? Some argue blockchain technology offers the same level of accountability as paper documents, but millions of bitcoins have already been fraudulently traded successfully.

As with banks, paper guarantees legitimacy. As anyone who has lived through a Canadian winter knows, when the power goes down, lots of things don't work.

Image: CDPH-CA.gov

Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Kenney-Ford Alliance

Jason Kenney and Doug Ford used to be the best of friends. But times have changed. Kieran Leaviett and Alex Boyd write:

The anti-carbon-tax rally in fall of 2018 was perhaps the peak of what, once upon a time, was dubbed the “bromance” of Ford and Kenney, when they marched arm in arm against the Liberals in defence of provincial jurisdiction and the imposition of a federal carbon tax.
Back then, the newly elected populist leader of Ontario and the former federal politician who’d gone west to champion Alberta — Kenney would become premier in April 2019 — were the vanguard of a cross-provincial conservative movement going full tilt against Justin Trudeau in Ottawa ahead of last year’s federal vote.

But Trudeau won the election. And now Kenney and Ford have to work with him:

After Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party failed to take down Trudeau, who won a minority government in October, political analysts say Ford and Kenney now must focus on the problems at home and look at working with the federal government.
The realities of running a province are creeping in, [Conservative spokesman Tim] Powers said. That means the close political alliance may be starting to take a back seat to the demands of two very different jurisdictions that have their own problems to deal with.
It may have been an unlikely match. Ford was a populist, riding a wave of anti-establishment support all the way to Queen’s Park in 2018, while some see Kenney as an establishment Conservative, who spent many years in Ottawa as an MP before swapping out suits for jeans to campaign for premier across Alberta in a dark blue pickup.
But according to one former Ontario Progressive Conservative staffer, the bromance — a term Postmedia reported that Kenney used himself at the national Conservative convention in 2018 — was more than just politically expedient for the two premiers.

Now each man faces different priorities:

Ford must try to capture moderates in the centre of the political spectrum at home and Kenney will have to deal with a separatist movement on his right, which could prove dangerous for him in the next provincial election.
“For Kenney, the real challenge in the next election is keeping from having a Wexit party that is siphoning off 20 per cent of his vote.”

Politics makes strange bedfellows. And when their priorities change, they change beds.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Big And Dumb

Doug Ford visited Washington this week. He was there to talk trade. But he also waded into U.S. politics and the upcoming election. The Canadian Press reports:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford waded into U.S. politics during a visit to the country's capital on Friday, criticizing high-profile Democratic politicians and appearing to endorse President Donald Trump's bid for re-election.
Ford took shots at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders during an event organized by the Canadian American Business Council. The Premier was in Washington D.C. along with a group of other provincial leaders to attend the winter meeting of the National Governor's Association.
Ford said he enjoyed Trump's State of the Union address this week and slammed Pelosi for ripping up a copy of the remarks on television.
"I was disappointed when I saw Nancy Pelosi get up there and start tearing the speech up," he said during the event with the Canadian American Business Council. "It's uncalled for. I think it's a shame."
Ford also took aim at Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, describing his political leanings as "actually scary."
"I always say socialism doesn't work," Ford said. "Raising taxes does not work. Show me anywhere in the world that it works, it doesn't."

Ford has previously voiced admiration for Trump -- in Ontario. Those of us who know the man are not surprised. But to voice his views in the United States -- particularly after Trump's sham trial in the Senate simply underscores the fact the Ford is remarkably obtuse.

Remember the line from Bad, Bad Leroy Brown? "He's big and dumb as a man can come." That's our Dougie.

Friday, February 07, 2020

An Ugly And Mean Party

Frank Graves and Michael Valpy have the numbers that tell what has happened to the Conservative Party. They write:

EKOS Research found that four years ago, there was a 10-percentage-point gap between Liberals and Conservatives who selected climate change as the top issue of political concern. That gap is now 46 percentage points.
More than 90 per cent of Canadians who identify with the political centre-left, which is 65 per cent of adult citizens, think that Canada now has a climate emergency (they don’t believe that it’s coming, but that it’s here now.) For people who identify as Conservative or People’s Party supporters, the figure is less than 30 per cent. Four years ago, there was a 20-percentage-point gap between Liberals and Conservatives on trust in science. That exploded to a 40 per cent gap following the last election.
Since 2012, the incidence of Conservative voters who think Canada is admitting “too many” visible minorities as immigrants has swollen from 47 per cent to 70 per cent . Meanwhile, the corresponding incidence of Liberals agreeing there are too many has dropped from 35 to 15 per cent. A modest 12 per cent gap has also expanded to a massive 55 per cent gap.

We are, to put it simply, becoming a much more tribal nation. As in the U.S. and UK, compromise is getting harder to find:

At the opening of the 21st century, almost 50 per cent of Canadian voters said they were neither small-L liberals nor small-C conservatives. Today, those saying “neither” are less than half of what they were 20 years ago—everyone is picking sides.
It means the ability to find centre terrain on the most divisive issues of the day is disappearing. The only path forward for those who win electoral power is to say, “Sorry, you’re wrong, we’re right.” When the gap is this egregious, you have to make choices, producing the predictable toxic backlash among the losers. On climate change, that’s what we see in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and among working class males of all ages with less than university education.
This is not unique to Canada. It’s a new feature of western democracy. You can hear it in post-Brexit England (“Take back control”), in Trump America (“Make America Great Again”), and now echoing in Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole’s proclamation that, with him at the party helm, the Conservatives will “take back our great country.”

So we face an ugly and mean future. One of the reasons for that tragedy is that the Conservative Party is now an ugly and mean party.

Image: Bandcamp

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Living In Infamy

In the wake of Donald Trump's acquittal, Senator Sherrod Brown has written a devastating op-ed about the fear which grips the Republican Party:

History has indeed taught us that when it comes to the instincts that drive us, fear has no rival. As the lead House impeachment manager, Representative Adam Schiff, has noted, Robert Kennedy spoke of how “moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle.”
Playing on that fear, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sought a quick impeachment trial for President Trump with as little attention to it as possible. Reporters, who usually roam the Capitol freely, have been cordoned off like cattle in select areas. Mr. McConnell ordered limited camera views in the Senate chamber so only presenters — not absent senators — could be spotted.
And barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.

It truly was a pathetic display:

One journalist remarked to me, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”
Fear has a way of bending us.
Of course, the Republican senators who have covered for Mr. Trump love what he delivers for them. But Vice President Mike Pence would give them the same judges, the same tax cuts, the same attacks on workers’ rights and the environment. So that’s not really the reason for their united chorus of “not guilty.”
For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:
“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”
“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

Under Trump, the mouthpieces on talk radio -- like Rush Limbaugh -- are given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And Republicans quiver and twist themselves into ugly and foolish arguments:

Watching the mental contortions they perform to justify their votes is painful to behold: They claim that calling witnesses would have meant a never-ending trial. They tell us they’ve made up their minds, so why would we need new evidence? They say to convict this president now would lead to the impeachment of every future president — as if every president will try to sell our national security to the highest bidder.

Only one Republican in Congress -- Mitt Romney -- showed any courage. History will remember him kindly. All the other Republicans will live in infamy.

Image: Charisma News

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Reading The Signs

Around the world, George Monbiot writes, tyranny is on the march:

We see this at work in the United States today, where the Republican party’s blatant disregard for the constitution will allow Donald Trump to escape impeachment.
In Brazil, outrages against indigenous people, opposition politicians and journalists are encouraged and celebrated at the highest levels of government. Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election with the help of a judicial coup in which due process was abandoned to secure the imprisonment of the frontrunner, Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula). Bolsonaro has been photographed embracing two of the suspects in the murder of the leftwing councillor Marielle Franco, and has sought to block corruption investigations into his son Flávio, who allegedly has close links with members of the paramilitary gang accused of killing her.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after discovering that his alleged association with the 2002 Gujarat massacres no longer appeared to tarnish his name, is laying the foundations for a vicious ethno-nationalism. His new citizenship law deliberately denies rights to Muslims and could render millions of people stateless. People protesting against this act are brutally attacked by the police. Police and armed gangs have raided two Delhi universities, randomly beating up students, to spread generalised terror. In Uttar Pradesh, political opponents are routinely imprisoned without charge and tortured.
The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has bragged of riding around the streets of Davao on his motorbike when he was mayor of the city, shooting people he suspected of being criminals. Since becoming president he has, in effect, turned the police into a giant death squad, empowering them to murder people they believe to be involved in drug crime. Unsurprisingly, this general licence has led to the murders of political opponents, and land and environmental defenders.

We are watching the march of what Monbiot calls "killer clowns:"

Like these other killer clowns, Trump may now feel he can do anything. His legal team has in the past suggested he has total immunity, boasting that he could literally get away with murder. A culture of impunity is spreading around the world. “Try to stop me” is the implicit motto in nations ranging from Hungary to Israel, Saudi Arabia to Russia, Turkey to China, Poland to Venezuela. Flaunting your disregard for the law is an expression of power.

Read the signs. They're not good.

Image: The Falling Darkness

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Canadian Culture Wars

The Conservative Party is deeply divided. But there is one thing that unites them. Alan Freeman writes:

Conservatives may be divided on all sorts of questions, like gay marriage and abortion, or the role of government and tolerance for deficits, but they all seem to agree on one thing, their intense hatred of Justin Trudeau and what he stands for. Justin hatred has been a sure-fire money-spinner for the party’s fundraising arm for years but not so good when it comes to winning elections.
You know the lines. In 2015, Trudeau was “just not ready” and “economically clueless.” This past fall, Andrew Scheer renewed the attacks, calling Trudeau a “phoney” and a “fraud.” But above all, it’s always been very personal. Justin is nothing but a part-time teacher, a snowboard instructor, a virtue signaller, a celebrity sock-wearer, a purchaser of upscale donuts.
In contrast, Tory leaders and would-be leaders like Harper, Scheer and MacKay are hockey players or big hockey fans, regular dads who love to drive gas-guzzling pickups, order hotdogs on the Sparks Street Mall and patronize Tim Hortons drive-throughs. “I’m a guy who likes to stay active,” says MacKay. “Trudeau does yoga. I play hockey.”

It's reminiscent of the battle between George W. Bush and John Kerry fifteen years ago:

I recall the U.S. 2004 presidential election campaign where the Republicans managed to destroy John Kerry’s Democratic candidacy by characterizing him as an effete, wine-sipping Eastern liberal as opposed to that down-home regular-guy Texan, George W. Bush. 
In fact, both men shared very similar, privileged backgrounds. Both attended New England prep schools (Kerry went to St. Paul’s while Bush was sent to Phillips Academy). Both graduated to Yale. Kerry was an accomplished athlete and decorated officer during the Vietnam War while Bush managed to serve far away from the action in the Texas Air National Guard.
Yet Republican operatives successfully tarnished Kerry’s war record and then portrayed Kerry’s sporting pursuits as somehow fey. They took footage of Kerry wind-surfing (he was also an accomplished cyclist and skier) and mocked him in an ad as a flip-flopper who changed his positions on issues like a sailor in the wind.
There was also Kerry’s French, which he spoke fluently but couldn’t be caught dead speaking for fear of being dubbed as an out-of-touch fancy-pants university type. 
Bush, on the other hand, made sure that Americans knew his favourite pastime was brush clearing on the his 1,600-acre Texas ranch. More manly and the hobby of choice for another would-be cowboy on his large ranch, Ronald Reagan. It worked wonders for Bush. Kerry, never the most talented retail politician, went down in flames.

This week, we have been watching where all of this leads. In Washington, opposing sides can no longer talk to each other. And one side, at least, works to sabotage the constitution. This virus is deadly. If the Conservatives are hell bent on this path, Canada is in deep trouble.

Image: Skip Prichard

Monday, February 03, 2020

The Easy Path

It's beginning to look like Peter MacKay will have an easy path to the leadership of the Conservative Party. Martin Taube writes that easy victories can lead to disasters. He points to the ill fated voyage of Kim Campbell:

In 1993, Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Kim Campbell declared her intentions to replace outgoing prime minister Brian Mulroney. She was well-liked by caucus, and more than half of them backed her. There was hope she would evolve into a Canadian version of then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Prominent Tories like Perrin Beatty, Pat Carney, Joe Clark and Michael Wilson all opted against running. They likely sensed a massive tidal wave toward a political coronation, and put their leadership ambitions on hold. In most cases, for good.
Campbell turned out to be a disaster. Her weaknesses became painfully obvious. She had barely any political experience, a poor understanding of economic policy, and no filter with the public or press. Her huge lead almost evaporated, and she was fortunate to beat Charest for the PC leadership.

Leadership races test candidates' metal. Campbell was new and untested:

During her infamous interview with Peter C. Newman for Vancouver Magazine, she called Canadians who stayed out of the political process “apathetic SOBs,” and said she became an Anglican to keep away from “the evil demons of the papacy.”
The PCs went down from 157 seats to 2, and never recovered. Campbell lost her own seat, and resigned shortly thereafter. In her concession speech, she said, “Gee, I’m glad I didn’t sell my car.” It was the only amusing comment she ever made.

It's true that Peter MacKay has been around for a lot longer than Kim Campbell was. But he's been out of the game for awhile and he may be rusty. He -- and the Conservative Party -- should get a run for their money.

Image: Spencer Fernando

Sunday, February 02, 2020

King Donald

The man who claimed he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it keeps getting away with it. When Republicans voted down the Democratic motion for witnesses and documents, it was clear the fix was in. Lawrence Martin writes:

“Sham” cried the Democrats over and over again as Donald Trump was assured acquittal late Friday on impeachment charges. With the formal vote to exonerate him slated for Wednesday, he’s survived another trauma, the most grave he’s faced.
Next to sham, “coverup” was the most operative word in the Congressional corridors following the vote to disallow witnesses. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that the country was headed for “the biggest coverup since Watergate.” Watergate legend Carl Bernstein echoed the sentiment. Referring to the reputation of the senate as the world’s greatest deliberative body, he said, “What a joke.”
Indeed it was. The Republican senators, at the behest of their leader, defied 75 per cent of Americans who, according to polls, wanted witnesses. Such witnesses, denied by votes from no less than 51 of the 53 Republicans, would surely have offered incriminating evidence of Mr, Trump’s plot to have the Ukraine government investigate his political rivals. The witnesses would have made it more contemptible for his Grand Old Party toadies to acquit him.

But look at the numbers. MSNBC reports that the 49 senators who voted for witnesses represent 20 million more Americans than the 51 senators who voted to suppress them. Thus, Trump's defence -- when the president does it, it's legal -- has become a precedent. When Richard Nixon used that defence, it was a joke. You see the problem.

The Republic now hangs by a thread. American voters have one last chance to save their republic -- nine months from now.

Image: MarketWatch

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Give Me A Break

This morning, the divorce is official. The UK has left the European Union. And, Ian McEwan writes, it was all done with "magic dust":

The only certainty is that we’ll be asking ourselves questions for a very long time. Set aside for a moment Vote Leave’s lies, dodgy funding, Russian involvement or the toothless Electoral Commission. Consider instead the magic dust. How did a matter of such momentous constitutional, economic and cultural consequence come to be settled by a first-past-the-post vote and not by a super-majority? A parliamentary paper (see Briefing 07212) at the time of the 2015 Referendum Act hinted at the reason: because the referendum was merely advisory. It “enables the electorate to voice an opinion”. How did “advisory” morph into “binding”? By that blinding dust thrown in our eyes from right and left by populist hands.

Advisory? That was a lie:

We endured a numbing complicity between government and opposition. The door out of Europe was held open by Corbyn for Johnson to walk through. In this case, if you travelled far enough to the left, you met and embraced the right coming the other way.
What did we learn in our blindness? That those not flourishing within the status quo had no good reason to vote for it; that our prolonged parliamentary chaos derived from an ill-posed yes-no question to which there were a score of answers; that the long-evolved ecology of the EU has profoundly shaped the flora of our nation’s landscape and to rip these plants out will be brutal; that what was once called a hard Brexit became soft by contrast with the threatened no-deal that even now persists; that any mode of departure, by the government’s own estimate, will shrink the economy; that we have a gift for multiple and bitter division – young against old, cities against the country, graduates against early school-leavers, Scotland and Northern Ireland against England and Wales; that all past, present and future international trade deals or treaties are a compromise with sovereignty, as is our signature on the Paris accords, or our membership of Nato, and that therefore “Take Back Control” was the emptiest, most cynical promise of this sorry season.

What we are witnessing around the world is a failure of political leadership. On the same day that Britain left the EU, politicians in Washington were opening the door for Donald Trump's acquittal.

Profiles in Courage? Give me a break.

Image: WBUR

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Conservatives' Big Problem

The Conservatives have a big problem: they don't know what to do about the social conservatives in their midst. Susan Delacourt writes:

Social conservatives are definitely falling out of fashion with Conservatives, who worry that they’ve become a drag on the party’s chances for winning the next election.
But, if they're pushed out of the party, there will be blow back:
It’s an age-old rule in politics: insult your opponent, if you must, but don’t insult his or her supporters. Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump was built in part, she conceded later, by her description of his supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” In the deeply divided United States of 2016 and today, being deplorable is now a badge of honour for many.
Just this week, Trump’s Republicans cranked out a new ad to capitalize on mockery from a CNN panel that labelled the president’s base as “credulous rubes.” Populism thrives on what political elites reject.

The party embraced these people. In fact, they chose one of them as their leader:

In 2005, a newly elected MP named Andrew Scheer stood up in the House of Commons and described same-sex marriage as unnatural, like trying to rename a dog tail as a dog leg. It was jarring when the Liberals released the tape of it this year, but it wasn’t in 2005, causing not a ripple nor a news story that I can recall. Opponents of same-sex marriage weren’t exactly rare 15 years ago in the Commons. They existed in every party.

But now they don't. And the Conservatives are in trouble.

Image: Amazon.ca

Thursday, January 30, 2020

No Room For Anybody Else

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed NAFTA 2. Lawrence Martin writes that Trump was full of self congratulation:

At the White House Wednesday, he was a picture of contentment owing to a trade deal he was signing with Canada and Mexico.
The band played Hail to the Chief as he triumphantly arrived at the White House South Lawn. He rarely stopped grinning throughout the hour-long ceremony. He was ending what he hyperbolically called “the NAFTA nightmare.”
It’s a “momentous” occasion, Mr. Trump beamed. The new USMCA agreement replacing NAFTA was a “colossal victory” for the United States.

Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland weren't there. And Trump didn't have much to say about Canada:

During the ceremony, while signalling out dignitaries Mr. Trump asked, “Where is the Canadian contingent?” He paused and, referring to the old NAFTA, said, "You guys did a good job on us before this deal.”
That was a compliment to Brian Mulroney’s team who negotiated that pact, though trade experts don’t believe the U.S. side got hosed the way Mr. Trump does.

Trudeau and Freeland weren't there because the deal still has to be passed by the House. And there were also no Democrats there either. But maybe their absence was a good thing. When Donald Trump is on the stage, there's no room for anybody else.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bolton's Last Laugh

John Bolton has probably planned it this way. After all, when he left Donald Trump's employ, he declared that he would eventually have his say. Frank Bruni writes:

Bolton is the impeachment star of the week, whether he winds up testifying or not, and I can’t shake the feeling that he plotted all of this out: keeping his head down during the hearings in the House; letting it be known only afterward that he’d be willing to testify in the Senate; the revelation this week — simultaneous with assertions by Trump’s defense team that there were no firsthand witnesses to the president’s wrongdoing — that his book indeed addresses Ukraine and fully backs up the charges in the articles of impeachment.

No one should be surprised that things are turning out this way:

Bolton has always been vain, brilliant and ruthless, and this is the timeline that a vain, brilliant and ruthless operator would cinch. I’m not personally acquainted with the sound of his laughter, but I’m certain I hear it.

Donald Trump is ruthless. But he's not brilliant. And Bolton is going to have his revenge.

Image: The New Republic

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Mnuchin's Madness

Last week, at Davos, Steve Mnuchin told Greta Thunberg to go back to school and study economics. Paul Krugman writes:

One can only surmise that Mnuchin slept through his undergraduate economics classes. Otherwise he would know that every, and I mean every, major Econ 101 textbook argues for government regulation or taxation of activities that pollute the environment, because otherwise neither producers nor consumers have an incentive to take the damage inflicted by this pollution into account.
And burning fossil fuels is a huge source of environmental damage, not just from climate change but also from local air pollution, which is a major health hazard we don’t do nearly enough to limit.
The International Monetary Fund makes regular estimates of worldwide subsidies to fossil fuels — subsidies that partly take the form of tax breaks and outright cash grants, but mainly involve not holding the industry accountable for the indirect costs it imposes. In 2017 it put these subsidies at $5.2 trillion; yes, that’s trillion with a “T.” For the U.S., the subsidies amounted to $649 billion, which is about $3 million for every worker employed in the extraction of coal, oil and gas.
Without these subsidies, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would still be investing in fossil fuels.

But, even though investing in fossil fuels doesn't  make economic sense, the fossil fuel industry still calls the shots. Why? Krugman says it comes down to one word -- greed:

The bigger issue, however, is sheer greed.
Given the scale of subsidies we give to fossil fuels, the industry as a whole should be regarded as a gigantic grift. It makes money by ripping off everyone else, to some extent through direct taxpayer subsidies, to a greater extent by shunting the true costs of its operations off onto innocent bystanders.
And let’s be clear: Many of those “costs” take the form of sickness and death, because that’s what local air pollution causes. Other costs take the form of “natural” disasters like the burning of Australia, which increasingly bear the signature of climate change.
In a sane world we’d be trying to shut this grift down. But the grifters — which overwhelmingly means corporations and investors, since little of that $3-million-per-worker subsidy trickles down to the workers themselves — have bought themselves a lot of political influence.

Gordon Geckko famously claimed that greed is good. Apparently Mnuchin has drunk Gekko's Kool-Aide.

Image: birchbox.com

Monday, January 27, 2020

How Long Can He Get Away With It?

John Bolton's book is now floating around in manuscript form. Peter Baker writes in The New York Times:

In another time, in another Washington, this might be the moment that changed the trajectory of the presidency. A former national security adviser confirms that the president, despite his denials, conditioned security aid to a war-torn ally on its cooperation against his domestic rivals, the issue at the heart of his ongoing impeachment trial.
At first glance, at least, John R. Bolton’s account of President Trump’s private remarks sounds like an echo of the so-called smoking gun tape that proved that President Richard M. Nixon really had orchestrated the Watergate cover-up and ultimately forced him from office. But this is Mr. Trump’s era and Mr. Trump’s Washington, and the old rules do not always apply.
The reality show star who was elected president even after he was captured on an “Access Hollywood” tape boasting about sexual assault has gone on to survive one revelation after another in the three years since, proving more durable than any national politician in modern American history. So will this be the turning point or just one more disclosure that validates his critics without changing other minds? Will it be another smoking gun or another “Access Hollywood”?

That really is the question. Bolton's revelation should sink Trump's defence. But, in the Senate, the outcome has been pre-cooked. As Adam Schiff has suggested, moral courage is nowhere to be found in the Republican Party.

So one has to ask: How long can he get away with it?

Image: NBC News

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Can We Do It?

Robin Sears wonders if Canadians can come together to fight climate change. He writes:

Great social change rarely succeeds as a partisan project. How did we forget that lesson where the climate crisis is concerned? It is not clear when it became a partisan club wielded by progressive activists against “knuckle-dragging” conservatives. It was not true when Margaret Thatcher was an early acid rain pioneer, or when Jean Charest fought for real environmental change at the Rio Summit, or when Brian Mulroney fought hard on CFCs.
But sometime around the turn of the century many conservatives around the developed world decided that the climate crisis was an overhyped partisan attempt by the left to force bigger government, higher taxes and wealth distribution to the Third World from rich nations. The hapless Australian conservative leader brought a large chunk of coal into his parliament and slammed it defiantly on his desk. Donald Trump bragged how much “Trump Digs Coal.”
Progressives wear a lot of the blame for this increasingly adolescent war of torqued rhetoric and insult. Little deference was paid to the millions of working people around the world whose lives depended on their jobs in oil and gas, coal mining and the forests.

The divide is deep. And it will take a lot of effort to bridge it:

So now it is the task of every responsible Canadian politician to begin building rather than bombing fragile bridges across the climate divide. Federal politicians should refrain from sneering at those who disagree with their approach to pricing carbon and seek possible shared paths forward. Progressives need to get much more serious about “off-carbon” economic strategies that give some comfort to the workers who will face the brunt of such a transition — as Rachel Notley attempted.
And federal Conservatives will hopefully recall their great environmental victories of decades past — protecting the Great Lakes, acid rain, CFC’s — and drop the Harper-era climate denial childish rhetoric, and acknowledge the reality that we now see the impact of daily.
Then maybe this second man-made partisan climate crisis — the one that makes progress impossible, by holding real change hostage to partisan tribal warfare — can be over. As we did on equal marriage, on linguistic and Indigenous respect and reconciliation, and on immigration, we can then begin to build a new Canadian consensus, this time on saving the planet.

The big question still remains: Can we do it in time?

Image: US News And World Report

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Job Not Worth Having

It was interesting to see which people said no to the Conservative Party this week. Rona Ambrose, Pierre Polievre and Jean Charest all said, "No, thank you." Susan Delacourt writes:

Just as Harry and Meghan’s story shed some light on the downside of the monarchy, the non-leadership choices of Rona Ambrose, Jean Charest and Pierre Poilievre might also force us to take a look at how political leadership in Canada is not exactly a prized occupation at the dawn of the 2020s.
It’s maybe too early to give this year a theme, but the first month seems to have been dominated by stories of aversion to titles and public life.

Polievre opted for family life. Ambrose opted for private life. But the most telling explanation for not running came from Jean Charest:

“The Conservative Party of Canada has undergone deep changes since I left in 1998. My positions regarding a number of social issues are based on deep convictions,” Charest said in a written statement. “I have a happy family life as well as a very active practice at the national law firm of McCarthy Tétrault.”

There was a clear subtext to what Charest said. Stephen Harper set the template for a leader of the Conservative Party. And it boiled down to one common theme: grievance. As the Leader of the Opposition, Harper was an axe grinder. As Prime Minister, he was the Axe Grinder-in-Chief. Remember the snitch line for "barbaric practices?" Remember the Mike Duffy Affair? Remember the Atlantic Accord and Harper's take on the Maritimes culture of defeat?

Who wants to be the Axe Grinder-in-Chief? It's a job that's not worth having.

Image: Pursuing Outdoors

Friday, January 24, 2020

Margaret 's Ghost

It's time to remember Margaret Chase Smith. Michael Harris writes:

She took on Senator Joe McCarthy, denouncing his vicious demagoguery before anyone else had the courage to confront his campaign of bigotry and hatred.
She denounced the bitterness and selfish political opportunism of McCarthy, a fellow Republican, writing that Americans were sick of seeing guilty people whitewashed. Instead of cover-ups, smears and witch hunts, Senator Chase Smith urged her fellow senators not to think of the next election but of their country; think, that is, not as politicians, U.S. senators, men or women, but as Americans.

The current Republican Senator from Maine -- Susan Collins -- does not appear to be haunted by Smith's ghost. And the rest of the Republican senators appear to have forgotten who she was:

In plain English, the Senate Majority Leader is working hand-in-glove with the defendant in this case, a state of affairs so egregiously unjust that it even bothered Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. It is a fish that stinks from the head.
That much should have been crystal clear before the impeachment process moved to the Senate. McConnell himself said on national television that he was “not impartial at all” in the case under consideration. Senator Mark Meadows said the same thing, telling CNN’s Dana Bash before the opening arguments of either side had even been heard, that what the House managers were presenting was a “false narrative.”
My question: How could either of these men take the oath administered by the Chief Justice to be impartial jurors and judges in the Trump impeachment? They both swore to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws, so help me God.”
How could Senator Lindsey Graham be sworn in with those words when he said before the process began, “I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”
It is puzzling that no Republican juror was challenged before taking the oath because of previous prejudicial statements they made about the House case against the president. Had that been done, Chief Justice Roberts would have had to make a ruling, as reported in The Hill. How could the presiding judge not have ruled to remove a juror like Senator Graham for uttering a false oath? Or the others?
Instead, no one was challenged, and the kangaroos are running wild in Trump’s impeachment trial. The sad arithmetic of injustice is 53 to 47, the size of the Republican majority in the Senate. It only takes 51 votes to acquit President Trump. That is exactly what they will do just as quickly as gall, corruption, self-interest, and Executive coaching will permit.

Americans will have one last chance to save their republic -- in the upcoming election. To do that, they'll have to take out Trump; but they'll also have to take out the Republican Party -- because there are no Margaret Chase Smiths left in that party.

Image: The Tyee

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Climate Justice Means Extremism

George Monbiot writes that, if you're going to stand for climate justice, the powers that be will label you an extremist:

The police have always protected established power against those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this country. Part of it is empire-building: if police units can convince the government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they can argue for more funding.
But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world, corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen. A recent article in the Intercept seeks to discover why the US Justice Department and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something about these rightwing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights activists.

Those who are in power have identified their enemy. And they have employed the power of the state to fight them:

Our government is helping propel us towards a catastrophe on a scale humankind has never encountered before: the collapse of our life-support systems. It does so in support of certain ideologies – consumerism, neoliberalism, capitalism – and on behalf of powerful industries. This, apparently, meets the definition of moderation. Seeking to prevent this catastrophe is extremism. If you care about other people, you go on the list. If you couldn’t give a damn about humankind and the rest of life on Earth, the police and the government will leave you alone. You might even be appointed to high office.

I read that Steve Mnuchin -- the American Secretary of the Treasury -- told Greta Tuunberg in Davos to study economics. The problem is not extremism. As Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Image: The Evening Standard

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

They've Learned Nothing

Recently, I've devoted a lot of space to the escalating confrontation between the Ford government and Ontario's teachers. My interest in this situation is obvious. But, in the end, what sticks in my craw is the fact that, over the last twenty-five years -- a generation -- Ontario's so called Progressive Conservatives have learned nothing.

The Fordians have always wanted this confrontation. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Intoxicated by their electoral victory, Doug Ford’s Tories placed themselves on a deliberate collision course with teachers last year. By declaring a legislated cap on wages, cuts to teaching jobs, bigger class sizes and mandatory online courses, the premier wasn’t just being proactive but provocative.
Instead of setting the table, the government upended it. Ford assumed he could get his way by simply proclaiming his bottom line, notwithstanding the picket line.
That’s not how labour relations works. Nor how politics plays out.

Things have gotten progressively worse. The government wants to move to arbitration. But it's not that easy:

The price you pay is that an arbitrator has the final say. As this government well knows, any arbitrator reviewing the current wage dispute would almost certainly find in favour of the teachers, who are being eminently reasonable this time.
Which is why the PCs are in no hurry to hand this one off if they could — but they can’t. In fact, it’s far too early in the process for the government to legislate teachers back to work even if they wanted to.
First, a government must show that the school year is in jeopardy, which is still a long way off after just a few days of missed classes (no matter how disruptive). Second, this government will have to defend itself against a legal challenge of its one per cent pay cap imposed on public-sector workers without any obvious economic emergency to justify it.
What’s interesting about this dispute is that the teachers aren’t asking for a big pay hike. They are asking for roughly two per cent to cover the rate of inflation, rather than accepting the de facto pay cut (falling one per cent behind the cost of living) that the government has ordered them to take. That’s below average private sector wage settlements of 2.1 per cent in Ontario.
That pay packet may sound generous — until you remember that the cost of living in Ontario’s biggest cities is among the highest in the country. Which is why our plumbers, doctors and others are also among the highest paid nationally.
To force pay restraint — or what amounts to a pay cut — on its employees, the employer must make a persuasive case that it can’t afford to pay more. For example, if revenues have tanked.
The Liberals tried that argument after the 2010 economic crisis and had the facts on their side, but still got overruled by the courts for riding roughshod over collective bargaining rights. Now in 2019, with Ford crowing over a growing economy, with revenues up and unemployment down, on what grounds does he demand that teachers make sacrifices?

Put simply, when it comes to education -- and labour relations -- the Fordians have learned nothing.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The McCarthy Presidency

Jonathan Chait writes that we now know what would have happened if Joe McCarthy had been elected president:

McCarthy is surely the closest parallel to Trump that can be found in post-war history. Those who recall the period of social terror he helped unleash would be the least surprised at another right-wing demagogue’s rise to power. Thinking about McCarthy’s era in juxtaposition to Trump’s should change the way we think about both.
Both McCarthy’s allies and his most left-wing opponents found it convenient in his time to define McCarthyism as merely intense anti-communism (the former because it justified McCarthy, and the latter because it discredited all anti-communism.) But when McCarthy arrived in Washington after World War II, both parties agreed completely on the evil of communism, and agreed generally that at least some communist spies had managed to gain access to government secrets. What split the parties was Republican efforts not only to exaggerate the scope of the security problems, but to associate the entire liberal project with communism.
McCarthy was a serial liar, often frustrating his staffers by departing from whatever text they had prepared for him. “If we give this to the senator … he will blow it up to proportions which cannot be supported,” fretted one staffer. And while erratic and uncontrollable, McCarthy managed to commandeer hyperbolic press coverage, simply because the very fact of his sinister accusations was objectively newsworthy and attracted attention from readers. Reporters were well aware that McCarthy was manipulating them, and they brooded over his ability to turn their principles of journalistic objectivity against them. One paper experimented with banning all McCarthy stories from the front page. Much like the Huffington Post’s short-lived policy of exiling Trump coverage to the entertainment section, it did not take.

And so here we are once again. But there are differences. It was one Republican senator from Maine -- Margaret Chase Smith -- who had the singular courage to take on McCarthy. And it was one journalist -- Edward R. Murrow -- who had the courage to challenge him on television. Now another woman senator from Maine has shown abject cowardice. And Trump has a whole television network working for him.

Chait comes to the following conclusion:

With modern eyes, we can see the opportunity McCarthy exploited has perhaps been there all along. The surprising thing about his career is not how such a dangerous liar amassed such power so quickly when his fellow partisans understood his true nature, but why it took so long for the next McCarthy to come along.
McCarthy’s career explains so much about the response by the political system to a right-wing demagogue — the fear he caused, the loyalty he inspired, the nervous submission of the center-right, and the rationalizations produced on his behalf. There is just one, very large mystery McCarthy’s career does not answer about all this. What happens if Joe McCarthy is not a senator, but instead president of the United States?

American policy holds that you can't indict a sitting president. That means -- other than an election -- the only remedy open to Americans to hold a president to account is to impeach him or her. Yesterday, Trump's lawyers delivered their response to impeachment: "Yes I did it. So what?"

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the powers that be rebelled against a king. Now they have decided it's better to have one.

Image: New York Magazine

Monday, January 20, 2020

Horatio Alger Myths

The Horatio Alger myth is still central to North American politics. Alan Freeman writes that, in the United States, candidates are falling all over themselves to present themselves as 21st century Horatio Algers:

Americans have always loved Horatio Alger stories. But as the country has grown more affluent, it’s harder for politicians to point to their own personal stories of pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. So they borrow a bit from their parents or in the case of Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who’s hoping the four frontrunners tank and give her a chance, she goes back two generations.
Klobuchar never mentions that she attended Yale and University of Chicago Law School and worked as a corporate lawyer before going into politics. But she has plenty to say about her grandfather, a Slovenian immigrant to Minnesota.
Joe Biden, not wanting to be left out of the emotional sweepstakes, chimed in that he too had once been a single parent, after his first wife and daughter were killed in a tragic car accident. Then he went on to say that he couldn’t afford child care so he commuted every day from Washington to his home in Wilmington, Del. His job at the time was U.S. Senator and he earned US $42,000 a year. The median income of Americans in 1972 was $11,120.

And, in Canada, we were recently presented with Andrew Scheer's up by his bootstraps story:

In Canada, Andrew Scheer laid it on thick about how his family didn’t own a car when he grew up, how he was just a sports-loving Dad to five kids and a stay-at-home wife etc., conveniently ignoring his generous earnings as a politician and subsidized housing, not to mention the secret party payments for his kids’ schooling. That didn’t get him far.

Donald Trump is the exception:

The most successful politician of our day, Donald Trump, loves to talk about how rich he is. He likes to say how he became a billionaire on his own but doesn’t deny he got a hand from his Dad. And he makes no excuses for being rich. He revels in it and his working class supporters love it.

So let's get real. People who are in politics these days have been given a hand up. Either they come from affluent families, or they went to very good schools -- or both. They may be very hard working  -- which is, or should be, a feather in their caps.

But they've also been lucky. Good things have happened to them. Let's acknowledge that fact -- and forget the myth.

Image: Goodreads

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why The Liberals Are On Top In Ontario

All of Ontario's teacher's unions are now prepared to strike. The teachers claim there are several issues in the mix -- class sizes, e-learning, all day kindergarten. The government claims there's only really one issue -- compensation. It has declared that all public servants will receive a 1% raise. The teachers want 2%.

And, in the midst of this confrontation, comes news of the Ford government's plans for higher education in the province. They want to tie funding for colleges and universities to what the graduates of these institutions earn. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Over the next two months, the Tories are putting the finishing touches on plans to measure not merely how many students graduate, but how fast they land jobs — and how much money they make. The less these graduates earn, the less in turn will be the cash flow from the government to their alma mater.
Once the metrics are phased in over the next few years, fully 60 per cent of $4.5 billion in provincial funding will be subject to review and punitive clawbacks on every campus. That compares to as little as 1.2 per cent today.

Where is the wisdom behind this policy? Cohn writes:

Are the Tories trying to turn the academy into an algorithm? Will the humanities and social sciences — which teach critical thinking and reward intellectual curiosity — pay the price if graduates don’t find lucrative work compared to, say, more nimble and practical commerce students?
Will we teach students for the jobs of today, not the work of tomorrow? What happens to popular STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) faculties if the booming economy goes bust and graduates can’t command the same salaries they once did? Will schools be squeezed for reasons beyond their control?

And the policy raises other questions:

What if universities start “gaming” the system by choosing only those applicants, and investing only in those faculties, with the best odds of economic success — sacrificing the pursuit of knowledge and academic inquiry? And why deliver such a rapid-fire jolt to the system, ramping up the metrics from a mere 1.2 per cent to 60 per cent of the $4.5 billion funding envelope in a mere four years?
Yes, the ivory tower can seem ossified at times, overdue for shock treatment. But a truly wise government knows what it does not know, and strives to do no harm when rolling out an untried remedy.

And that's precisely the problem. This government does not know what it does not know. And that's also why, according to the latest poll, the Liberals -- a party without official party status -- leads all of Ontario's parties.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

What Would Pierre Do?

We live in a chaotic world -- not unlike the beginning of the 1980's. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister then. And Tony Burman wonders what Trudeau the Elder would do in the present circumstances:

Last October marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pierre Trudeau. To mark this milestone, Massey College at the University of Toronto last Friday organized a conference exploring Trudeau’s approach to foreign policy while he was prime minister. It examined what enduring relevance Trudeau’s world view has for today’s chaotic world.
This is a question that comes at a critical time in the history of this century.
For his part, Pierre Trudeau was a historic figure in Canada, loved by many and loathed by others, but a towering intellect. As the third-longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history, Trudeau won elections on four occasions and retired in 1984.

Trudeau met the world he encountered by launching a "peace initiative:"

In 1983-84, during his final term as prime minister, Trudeau launched a personal “peace initiative” that saw him visit as many as 15 countries in an effort to ease East-West tensions.
Robert Fowler, Trudeau’s foreign policy adviser at the time, who spoke at last week’s Massey conference, remembers it as a period of very high tension in the world: “It was impossible to follow the news without a pervading sense of dread and helplessness. Trudeau felt he had to do whatever it took to lift that spectre of gloom.”
At a G7 summit in 1983, Trudeau lashed out at his fellow leaders, admonishing them that “we should be busting our asses for peace.”

Canadians were impressed. But Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan weren't:

Thatcher was reported as saying: “Oh Pierre, you’re such a comfort to the Kremlin.”

The faces have changed. And now Donald Trump is a comfort to the Kremlin. But peace still hangs in the balance.

Image: The Toronto Star