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.

Image: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

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 T├ętrault.”

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

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Old Divisions


John Crosbie was laid to rest yesterday. And, Susan Delacourt writes, the old and ugly divisions in the Conservative Party were on full display at the funeral:

While one former prime minister, Brian Mulroney, was eulogizing Crosbie this week with a funny, touching speech, another former PM, Stephen Harper, was suddenly popping up everywhere too — except at the funeral in St. John’s.
Harper has appeared multiple times in the news this week: lecturing about Iran at a conservative conference in India; quitting his role on a Conservative financing board. Macleans’ columnist Paul Wells even reported that Harper was planning to get more active in the leadership contest, to ensure that Charest doesn’t take over the party.

History makes clear that -- whether the leader's is named Trudeau, Mulroney or Layton -- there are distinct advantages to choosing one of Quebec's native sons as leader. But Harper is strange piece of work. Certainly John Crosbie didn't like him: "“He is cold. He doesn’t have human warmth. He’s not able to even work a room. He doesn’t want to meet people.” Crosbie knew his man.

And Harper was no friend of Crosbie's son, Ches:

Ches Crosbie . . .was blocked by Harper from running as a Conservative in the 2015 election.
[He] was reportedly turned away because he’d committed the sin of making fun of Harper on stage in a satirical play. John Crosbie was not at all amused by the summary justice from the then-PM, telling a reporter that his son should run as an independent. “I feel like running myself and beating the piss out of them,” the elder Crosbie said.

The Conservative Party is in bad shape these days. And, as long as Stephen Harper haunts its back rooms, it will remain in bad shape.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Cornerstone



Sean Illing writes that we live in an age of "manufactured nihilism:"

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.
I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

Bannon and others have been extraordinarily successful in achieving that goal:

As he explained in a 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference talk, he sees Trump as a stick of dynamite with which to blow up the status quo. So “flooding the zone” is a means to that end. But more generally, creating widespread cynicism about the truth and the institutions charged with unearthing it erodes the very foundation of liberal democracy. And the strategy is working.

Bannon's strategy turns traditional propaganda on its head:

For most of recent history, the goal of propaganda was to reinforce a consistent narrative. But zone-flooding takes a different approach: It seeks to disorient audiences with an avalanche of competing stories.
And it produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. The fact that 60 percent of Americans say they encounter conflicting reports about the same event is an example of what I mean. In the face of such confusion, it’s not surprising that less than half the country trusts what they read in the press.

He didn't invent the strategy. That honour falls to Vladimir Putin:

Bannon articulated the zone-flooding philosophy well, but he did not invent it. In our time, it was pioneered by Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.
Back in October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”
One major reason for the strategy’s success, both in the US and Russia, is that it coincided with a moment when the technological and political conditions were in place for it to thrive. Media fragmentation, the explosion of the internet, political polarization, curated timelines, and echo chambers — all of this allows a “flood the zone with shit” strategy to work.
The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.
Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment. The preference for objectivity in political coverage, in particular, is a problem.
As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon’s lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That’s exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign — a story that Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that’s what mainstream media news organizations do.
In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.

The mainstream press covered the story to present both sides -- which used to be the cornerstone of objectivity. But objectivity is no longer the cornerstone of good journalism. It's truth -- plain and simple.

Image: CAS

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Populism Breaks Things Up


Susan Delacourt writes that Harry and Meghan's breaking away from the royal family is part and parcel of the populism that is sweeping the United Kingdom and the United States:

Here’s where we are, then, in Britain’s several, concurrently running independence sagas over these past few years: referendums (Brexit, Scottish independence) last forever; centuries-old royal obligations, not so much.
The logic linking these contradictory decisions revolves around populism, which is proving to be a stronger force than rules, duties or obligations — in Britain, yes, but also in the United States, where Donald Trump’s impeachment drama is a daily tug-of-war between populism and the law.
As anyone who has watched all three Netflix seasons so far of The Crown can tell you, the story of the royals over the 20th century was the tension between popular will and age-old tradition. The Queen, who has presided over this rich history, knows better than most how tradition has crumbled and adapted in the face of what the public wants or expects.
Harry and Meghan’s decision to live part of their lives in Canada, as part-time royalty, follows that evolution in the monarchy. Refusing them independence would have cost the monarchy dearly in popular currency.

The next people to break away, Delacourt predicts, will be the Scots. Boris Johnson has told them that there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence. But Johnson -- and Britain -- could well be victims of the forces they have unleashed:

We’ll see about that. I grew up with a Glasgow-born dad, and learned early that it’s not a great idea to tell a Scot what they cannot do. There’s a whole wing in Scotland’s national museum devoted to what the Scots invented when thwarted by the odds against them. (Basically, Western civilization.) While it’s been a few years since I covered the last Scots referendum in 2014, I predict that Johnson telling them they can’t have another vote may galvanize the desire to have one.

Populism breaks things up. And it's hard to predict what will happen to the pieces that it leaves behind.

Image: Travel Daily Media

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Man Behind The Curtain


Some people believe that Stephen Harper has left the building. Michael Harris writes that they're wrong:

The Conservative Party continues to be haunted by the spectre of Harper, who led them to three national victories on the improbable basis of his northern Republican policies. Even though Harper was trounced by Justin Trudeau in 2015, he has never really released his grip on the party he built.

The Conservative Party of Canada is still Harper's Party. Need proof? Consider the way people deemed troublesome are sent to the dustbin:

In the wake of his defeat, Scheer had vowed to fight to keep his job — until leaks from Conservative party sources revealed the party was subsidizing his children’s private school fees. Never mind that the party’s executive director, Dustin Van Vugt, had approved the expenditures. It was off with his head, too. The party ordered a forensic audit on the guy it was pushing for prime minister just a few short months earlier — honest, affable, trustworthy Andy.
It’s not clear who leaked the damaging information, known only to relatively few in the party.
But reports — again based on anonymous sources — quickly emerged that Harper was “furious” about the expenses.

And, of course. there are the sagas of Mike Duffy, Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer:

Leaks from unnamed senior Conservative party sources portrayed Senator Mike Duffy as a scoundrel living off a fat public expense account, who then took a $90,000 cheque from Harper’s chief-of-staff to put things right that were never wrong. Duffy was tossed out of caucus and faced 31 criminal charges. The Crown failed to win a single conviction.
And Duffy wasn’t the only one to feel the wrath of Steve. Information sent directly to the RCMP from Harper’s PMO in 2010 triggered a major criminal investigation into former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis and her husband Rahim Jaffer. Harper kicked Guergis out of caucus, effectively ending her political career. And, lastly, look at the people lining up to replace Scheer -- Pierre Polievre, Rona Ambrose and Peter Mackay:
The trouble with Skippy, and former colleagues like Rona Ambrose and Peter MacKay, is that they are zombie relics of the Harper past. They are all former ministers who served a government that hated the press, suffocated the flow of government information, walked away from the Kyoto Accord, stifled scientists, sucked up to the energy industry and ran up the national debt over 10 years while professing to be fiscal conservatives. They all sat around the Harper cabinet table like bobbleheads.

Harper is still the man behind the curtain.

Image:




Monday, January 13, 2020

It's All About The Money


The Toronto Star has uncovered a document which clearly elucidates the Ford government's vision of education in the province of Ontario. Rob Ferguson and Kristin Ruchowy report that:

A “confidential” government document obtained by the Star shows Premier Doug Ford’s government considered keeping online learning optional until 2024 and planned to slash school board funding while creating courses to sell to other jurisdictions at a profit.
The “implementation plan for Ontario’s transformed online learning system” comes to light amid high-stakes contract talks between the province and teacher unions fighting Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s plan for compulsory e-learning starting in Grade 9 next fall.
Marked “not for distribution,” the six-page document also envisioned allowing students to get high school diplomas “entirely online” starting in September 2024, a prospect Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof called “weird.”

Online education has distinct advantages. Not every student can do well in a standardized system. But what is most revealing is the advantages the Fordians saw in online courses:

The document also called for a commissioning process to create a new delivery entity to maintain and create a catalogue of “gold standard” online courses in English and French so that “maximum revenue generation may be realized.”
Under the heading “cost saving and revenue generation,” the document noted “the system does not generate any revenue for the province” and warned “costs for creation of online learning tools and resources may be duplicated across multiple delivery partners.”
The plan directed the education ministry “to develop (a) business model to make available and market Ontario’s online learning system to out-of-province and international students and examine feasible options for selling licensing rights to courses/content to other jurisdictions.”
The plan calls for $34.8 million less in the school year starting September 2020, $55.8 million in 2021, $56.7 million in 2022 and $57.4 million in the 2023-2024 school year.
After that, there would be “continued cost saving of $57.4 million annually with full catalogue of online ‘gold standard’ courses,” the plan predicted.

Put simply, the plan was to cut costs and eventually generate out-of-province profits. Forget a public education system that undergirds democracy. It's all about the money.

Image: SlideShare

Sunday, January 12, 2020

We Need Embassies In Difficult Countries


One of the complicating factors surrounding the deaths of 57 Canadians in Iran is that we have no embassy there. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

We closed our embassy in Tehran with good reason after then-ambassador Ken Taylor put himself in harm’s way by helping to “exfiltrate” American diplomats during the 1979 hostage crisis. But bear in mind that we never severed formal diplomatic relations, nor did we prevent Iranian diplomats from using their embassy in Ottawa in the years that followed.
Keeping that formal bilateral channel open helped us reopen our embassy a decade later in Tehran, which in turn opened the door to a flood of talented Iranian immigrants to Canada numbering 300,000 people today.

But, in 2012, Stephen Harper once again closed our embassy in Tehran:

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government cited a grab-bag of concerns, from human rights violations to its nuclear program and security concerns that politicized the issues.

And, even though Justin Trudeau promised to reverse that decision, he didn't:

The Harper government boxed him in with legislation that permitted potentially enormous lawsuits against Iran — a roadblock to re-establishing bilateral ties, and a delicate matter for Trudeau to reverse.

But it's precisely in times like these when we need an embassy in Iran:

Now we are more isolated than most. Germany and Sweden also suffered casualties in the crash, but their diplomats on the ground were able to move in swiftly to protect consular and humanitarian interests.
Others understand that diplomatic relations are never an endorsement of international lawlessness, merely an instrument to protect national interests and defend dual nationals. We cannot afford to cut ourselves off for years at a time, no matter how frustrated.

All of this is worth keeping in mind as we deal with China.

Image: michaelgeist.ca

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Ongoing Tragedy


Iran has admitted that the Ukrainian 737 airliner was unintentionally shot down. Tony Burman writes that the admission is just another in a series of violent acts and missed opportunities:

To an astonishing extent, the story of the past four decades of Iranian-U.S. relations is one of selective memory and missed opportunity — by each side.
An example of selective memory occurred this week in a sharp exchange between the country’s two presidents, Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani.
Trump warned Iran that the U.S. had identified 52 Iranian sites, some “important to Iran and Iranian culture” and they would be “hit very fast and hard” if Tehran carried out revenge attacks on them.
Iran’s president replied that “290” is actually the proper number to stress, referring to the Iranian passenger plane shot down accidentally by the U.S. military in 1988, killing all 290 civilians on board.
The American hostage drama of 1979 is probably the only historic Iranian event that most Americans remember, but it is rarely mentioned now in Iran. In contrast, the U.S. downing in 1988 of an Iranian passenger jet — unknown to most Americans — is etched deeply in Iranian history.

People forget that there have been several times when the Americans and Iranians could have buried the hatchet:

In 2003, as respected Iranian-American scholar Trita Parsi once reported, Iranian officials secretly offered the Bush Administration a “grand bargain” that would have limited Iran’s aggressive actions in the region and lead to the recognition of Israel — as long as the U.S. abandoned any notion of “regime change.” The offer was rejected as not serious.
And then, of course, after years of negotiation, there was the historic nuclear deal of 2016 between Iran and the world’s leading powers. It provided stability for more than a decade and was being adhered to by Iran — until Donald Trump blew it up.

The two nations are like the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Both families come to church on Sundays -- rifles in hand -- and sit on opposite sides of the aisle. But, as they leave, they tell the preacher they were impressed by the sermon -- on brotherly love. Each side has forgotten the reason why the feud between the two families started. Nevertheless, they're certain they must uphold the family honour.

And innocent people continue to die in the ongoing tragedy.



Friday, January 10, 2020

Disruption Everywhere


After the election, Justin Trudeau  planned to focus on domestic issues. Jason Kenney, in particular, was hell bent on concentrating the prime minister's attention on Alberta. But Susan Delacourt writes that Donald Trump is making it difficult for Trudeau to do that:

From the moment that Trump entered the White House in 2016, he has been knocking Trudeau — and Canada’s foreign policy — off track, often dangerously so. Free trade negotiations with the U.S. ate up much of Trudeau’s first mandate. The ongoing extradition drama over Meng Wanzhou — linked to Trump’s own battle with China and Huawei — has blown up Canada-China relations.
Now Canada has been drawn into Trump’s new tinderbox of the Middle East, not to mention Ukraine, which has figured largely in the president’s impeachment drama.
Even before the plane crash, Trump’s foray into Iraq last weekend forced many Canadian troops to decamp from their NATO training mission in the country and seek safe haven in Kuwait. It remains an open question when Canada can resume this NATO role.

Chrystia Freeland was assigned to navigate the storms at home. And she can still do that. But Trump is the Disruptor-in Chief. He's more than a disruptor. A friend of mine calls him a weapon of mass destruction:

Trump’s penchant for surprising behaviour has been rippling across the planet since his inauguration. Trudeau — and Canada — has had to learn to manage it. If the prime minister ever does write a book about his experience in governing, he may need to put Trump in the title, or at least a subtitle about best-laid plans and the disruptor-in-chief.
A few years ago — well, even a few days ago — very few people would have predicted that a plane crash in Tehran would force us to look at Canada’s relations with the United States. But this is life in Trump’s rough neighbourhood, where Canada keeps getting caught in the crossfire: this time, as the president would say, devastatingly.

Disruption is everywhere these days. Navigating through the rubble will not be easy.

Image: Small Business Trends

Thursday, January 09, 2020

The American-Iranian Psychosis


Roger Cohen writes that the struggle between the United States and Iran is madness:

Take the most combustible, scarred, dysfunctional relationship the United States has with any country in the world and place it in the hands of an impulsive, ignorant, bullying American leader and you are likely to sleepwalk to the brink of war. That is what just happened with President Trump and Iran. It was no surprise. He has been fiddling with this grenade since he took office.
By killing Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite security forces and the iron fist of the Islamic republic’s theocratic ideology, Trump tossed that grenade at the Middle East. It was a reckless act, like the president’s scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal. It united, for now, a divided Iran. It ensured that a half-century from now Suleimani’s name will be hurled at any American visitor to Tehran as evidence of the perennial perfidy of the United States.
The Iranian response, a ballistic-missile attack on military bases housing American troops in Iraq that killed nobody and did limited damage, was typical of a regime that has survived more than 40 years through prudence. The mullahs are not the “messianic apocalyptic cult” once evoked by Benjamin Netanyahu. They are cold calculators. Their primary objective is survival.

When it comes to Iran, Trumpians -- and that includes most of the Republican Party -- refuse to be rational. And, therefore, they can't see beyond their noses:

Iran is an ancient civilization with a long memory. It is not for amateurs. Trump is an amateur. “We are playing golf while they are playing chess,” Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund who has worked on diplomatic outreach to Iran, told me. “We take one swing and they are already three moves along on the board.”
Iran will not be browbeaten into submission — certainly not by the redoubled economic sanctions Trump announced or by taunts that it is “standing down.” It is proud and will not lose face. The grasp of its psychology in the White House is nonexistent.

Barack Obama's nuclear deal was an attempt to take the long view. Trump, however,

took the one plank for possible conciliation — a nuclear deal that had gotten Americans and Iranians talking to each other at last — and blew it up. That deal’s other signatories — in Europe, Russia and China — are not about to follow suit, as Trump again urged them to do today. This crisis has brought home Trump’s isolation. He has shouted and lied and whined his way to a solitary perch on the world stage. So much for the leader of the free world (R.I.P.). Even Israel has kept a certain distance over the Suleimani killing.

And so, the world is on a knife's edge, put there by a man the journalist Matt Taibbi has called an "insane clown president."

Image: Patch

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Our Business


If you think that what is brewing between Iran and the United States is none our business, Hugh Segal urges you to think again:

But the tensions between Iran and the U.S. are most assuredly our problem. As a founding partner of the NATO treaty, which provides for mutual defence between the 28 member nations, an Iranian attack upon American forces, embassies, homeland or personnel would trigger an Article 5 Treaty obligation for Canada to engage, just as was the case after the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, even though no state actor claimed responsibility.
Canada’s foreign minister was quite correct in urging restraint upon all parties last week – a note that was echoed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a Monday meeting of NATO ambassadors. But restraint is usually the product of a clear understanding by all involved of the consequences of unrestrained aggression. While that meeting was right to consider the dynamics relative to the alliance mission in Iraq that is now under Canadian command – a mission that has been suspended – a broader ministerial meeting to underline the reality of Article 5 would be broadly constructive. After all, it would be a serious path to restraint to make it perfectly clear that NATO would view a clear attack on the United States, its people, forces or homeland – be it kinetic, cyber or via terrorist proxy – as an act of aggression against all NATO members.

We need to take a proactive stance in this crisis:

Canada should, in fact, be calling for immediate NATO ministerial meetings so that this common resolve can emerge. Doing so would further motivate Russia – which engaged in joint naval exercises with China and Iran in the Gulf of Oman in late December and is not without substantive interests and influence in Tehran – to urge restraint on their Iranian client-state colleagues. A Canadian call for an urgent Security Council meeting would also be of value. 
If, as our Prime Minister has stated, “Canada is back,” then this crisis requires that we engage in a mature and strategic way. There are key questions that need to be crunched: What resources can we deploy from our regular or Special Forces? How can our intelligence resources be deployed in support of our NATO ally? What special self-defence measures will be required to contain Iranian hostilities?

It's incredibly easy to be dragged or to slide into a war -- particularly if you are Donald Trump's neighbours. As Justin's father famously told Americans, "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."

Image: American Elephants WordPress.com


Tuesday, January 07, 2020

A Long Twilight Struggle Ends In Twilight


Andrew Bacevich has written an excellent piece in The Guardian. It's a coherent explanation of how we got here. The Cold War, he writes, gave Americans meaning, purpose and unity. When it ended, they -- and their country -- got lost:

Like the polar ice cap or baseball’s status as the national pastime, [The Cold War] had acquired an appearance of permanence. So its passing caught citizens unaware. Those charged with managing the cold war were, if anything, even more surprised. The enterprise to which they had devoted their professional lives had suddenly vanished. Here was a contingency that the sprawling US national security apparatus, itself a product of the anti-communist crusade, had failed to anticipate.
As the Soviet Union passed out of existence, Americans were left not just without that enemy, but without even a framework for understanding the world and their place in it. However imperfectly, the cold war had, for several decades, offered a semblance of order and coherence. The collapse of communism shattered that framework. Where there had been purposefulness and predictability, now there was neither.

It was a time to reboot and reconsider. But that didn't happen. The United States was triumphant. And Americans were full of self righteousness:

Confident that an era of unprecedented US economic, military and cultural ascendancy now beckoned, members of an intoxicated elite threw caution to the winds. They devised – and promulgated – a new consensus consisting of four elements.
The first of these was globalisation or, more precisely, globalised neoliberalism. Stripped to its essence, globalisation was all about wealth creation: unconstrained corporate capitalism operating on a planetary scale in a world open to the movement of goods, capital, ideas and people would create wealth on a hitherto unimagined scale.
The second element was global leadership, a euphemism for hegemony or, more simply still, for empire. At its core, global leadership was all about order: unchallengeable military might would enable the US to manage and police a postcolonial yet implicitly imperial order favourable to American interests and values. Through the exercise of global leadership, the US would enforce globalisation. Order and abundance would go hand in hand.
The third element of the consensus was freedom, an ancient word now drastically revised. The new conception of freedom emphasised autonomy, with traditional moral prohibitions declared obsolete and the removal of constraints maximising choice. Order and abundance together would underwrite freedom, relieving Americans of existential concerns about safety and survival to which those less privileged were still obliged to attend.
The final element of the consensus was presidential supremacy, with the occupant of the Oval Office accorded quasi-monarchical prerogatives and status. Implicit in presidential supremacy was a radical revision of the political order. While still treated as sacred writ, the constitution no longer described the nation’s existing system of governance. Effectively gone, for example, was the concept of a federal government consisting of three equal branches. Ensuring the nation’s prosperity, keeping Americans safe from harm, and interpreting the meaning of freedom, the president became the centre around which all else orbited, the subject of great hopes, and the target of equally great scorn should he fail to fulfil the expectations that he brought into office.
All these elements together constituted a sort of operating system. The purpose of this operating system, unseen but widely taken for granted, was to cement the primacy of the US in perpetuity, while enshrining the American way of life as the ultimate destiny of humankind. According to the calendar, the end of the 20th century, frequently referred to as the American century, was then drawing near. Yet with the cold war concluding on such favourable terms, the stage appeared set for a prolonged American epoch.

But, as the election of Donald Trump has made abundantly clear, the American Epoch is nothing to celebrate.  What John F. Kennedy called "a long twilight struggle" has ended in twilight.

Image: Wallpaper Flare

Monday, January 06, 2020

It Could Not Be Otherwise


Chris Hedges sees horrific consequences following Donald Trump's assassination of  Qassem Soleimani:

The assassination by the United States of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, near Baghdad’s airport will ignite widespread retaliatory attacks against U.S. targets from Shiites, who form the majority in Iraq. It will activate Iranian-backed militias and insurgents in Lebanon and Syria and throughout the Middle East. The existing mayhem, violence, failed states and war, the result of nearly two decades of U.S. blunders and miscalculations in the region, will become an even wider and more dangerous conflagration. The consequences are ominous. Not only will the U.S. swiftly find itself under siege in Iraq and perhaps driven out of the country—there is only a paltry force of 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, all U.S. citizens in Iraq have been told to leave the country “immediately” and the embassy and consular services have been closed—but the situation could also draw us into a war directly with Iran. The American Empire, it seems, will die not with a whimper but a bang.

The United States has left Iraq in ruins:

Iraq after our 2003 invasion and occupation has been destroyed as a unified country. Its once-modern infrastructure is in ruins. Electrical and water services are, at best, erratic. There is high unemployment and discontent over widespread government corruption that has led to bloody street protests. Warring militias and ethnic factions have carved out competing and antagonistic enclaves. At the same time, the war in Afghanistan is lost, as the Afghanistan Papers published by The Washington Post detail. Libya is a failed state. Yemen after five years of unrelenting Saudi airstrikes and a blockade is enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The “moderate” rebels we funded and armed in Syria at a cost of $500 million, after instigating a lawless reign of terror, have been beaten and driven out of the country. The monetary cost for this military folly, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, is between $5 trillion and $7 trillion.

But why declare war on Iran? The answer, he writes, is that The United States needs a scapegoat for the chaos and destruction it has released in the region:

Why go to war with Iran? Why walk away from a nuclear agreement that Iran did not violate? Why demonize a government that is the mortal enemy of the Taliban, along with other jihadist groups, including al-Qaida and Islamic State? Why shatter the de facto alliance we have with Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why further destabilize a region already dangerously volatile?
The generals and politicians who launched and prosecuted these wars are not about to take the blame for the quagmires they created. They need a scapegoat. It is Iran. The hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed, including at least 200,000 civilians, and the millions driven from their homes into displacement and refugee camps cannot, they insist, be the result of our failed and misguided policies. The proliferation of radical jihadist groups and militias, many of which we initially trained and armed, along with the continued worldwide terrorist attacks, have to be someone else’s fault. The generals, the CIA, the private contractors and weapons manufacturers who have grown rich off these conflicts, the politicians such as George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, along with all the “experts” and celebrity pundits who serve as cheerleaders for endless war, have convinced themselves, and want to convince us, that Iran is responsible for our catastrophe.
The chaos and instability we unleashed in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, left Iran as the dominant country in the region. Washington empowered its nemesis. It has no idea how to reverse its mistake other than to attack Iran.

When an Ignoramus-in-Chief sits in the White House, it could not be otherwise.

Image: eldiarioexterior.com

Sunday, January 05, 2020

He'll Get Burned


Qaseem Soleimani had lots of blood on his hands. Max Boot writes:

He has the blood of hundreds of Americans and thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Arabs on his hands. [But] Soleimani was not the leader of a stateless terrorist organization. He was one of the most powerful figures in the Iranian government. His death makes him the highest-ranking foreign military commander assassinated by the United States since the shoot-down in 1943 of an airplane carrying Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

This is precisely the kind of crisis that many feared Donald Trump would blunder his way into:

The death of Soleimani, contrary to a Pentagon news release, was a hardly a “decisive” action — and, contrary to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Friday, it will not necessarily make Americans safer. Indeed, the fact that the State Department is telling all Americans to evacuate Iraq suggests otherwise.
Charles de Gaulle supposedly said, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Soleimani was perhaps the most important man in the Middle East, but even he can be replaced. Indeed, Iran has already appointed his deputy to fill his position, although it remains to be seen if the little-known Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani will be as effective. The history of decapitation strikes — such as Israel’s 1992 killing of Hezbollah Secretary General Abbas al-Musawi or the joint U.S.-Israeli operation to kill Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyah in 2008 — suggests that they seldom debilitate the targeted organization and sometimes backfire. Musawi’s death, for example, led to the emergence of Hasan Nasrallah, an even more dangerous leader.

Israel has been assassinating its enemies for decades; but it doesn't claim responsibility for those assassinations. Trump -- who has always been a publicity hog -- is different:

By neither confirming nor denying responsibility, Israel gives itself plausible deniability and its enemies an off-ramp from further escalation. That is not Trump’s way. The Pentagon news release on Thursday night specified that Soleimani’s death was ordered “at the direction of the President.” This further increases the pressure on Iran to retaliate, as its leaders have repeatedly vowed to do.

The fat is in the fire. Somehow Donald Trump -- and his country -- will get burned.

Image: PEOPLE.com

Saturday, January 04, 2020

It's Not Scheer, It's The Party


There are many who believe that Andrew Scheer's resignation will bring renewal to the Conservative Party of Canada. But, Marc Lafrance writes, Scheer is actually in step with his party. Consider the party's MP's:

A careful inspection of the current Conservative caucus reveals that the party’s radical right-wing values run deep.
For example, Campaign Life Coalition — Canada’s biggest anti-abortion group — says that 46 out of the 121-member Conservative caucus are pro-life, which amounts to almost 40 per cent of the party’s sitting MPs.
RightNow, another anti-abortion group, goes further. It contends that 68 members of the Conservative caucus are pro-life — more than half the MPs. RightNow’s post-election analysis was emphatic: “The House of Commons is now more pro-life than before, the Conservative Party of Canada caucus is more pro-life than before, and some of the staunchest pro-abortion Conservative female (MPs) have been replaced by younger, more diverse, pro-life Conservative female (MPs).”

It's not just the party's anti-abortion views that affect party policy. Those views are part and parcel of a general outlook:

Anti-abortion voters tend to differ from pro-choice voters when it comes to their views on the status of women, according to the survey.
Only 23 per cent of anti-abortion voters believe that the lack of women in elected office affects women’s equality, compared with 70 per cent of pro-choice voters. Only 27 per cent of those who oppose abortion think access to birth control affects women’s equality, compared with 74 per cent of those who support abortion. And only 19 per cent of anti-abortion voters feel that society is systemically set up to give men more opportunities than women, compared with 66 per cent of pro-choice voters.
Anti-abortion voters also tend to differ from pro-choice voters when it comes to their views on how women think and act. Seventy-seven per cent of anti-abortion voters agree that women are too easily offended, compared with 38 per cent of pro-choice voters. Seventy-one per cent of voters who oppose abortion think that most women interpret innocent acts as being sexist, compared with 38 per cent of voters who support abortion rights. And 54 per cent of voters against abortion agree that men generally make better leaders than women, compared with 24 per cent of pro-choice voters.

And the party's views on women filter down to its stand on inequality:

A recent nationwide survey in the United States found that “anti-abortion voters are among the most likely — if not the most likely — segment to hold inegalitarian views.”
In other words, those who agree that abortion should be illegal are less likely to be egalitarian — particularly when it comes to gender — than those who agree that it should be legal.

The problem isn't Scheer. It's the Conservative Party.

Image: Vancouver Sun

Friday, January 03, 2020

Now What?


Yesterday, the American military targeted and killed Quassem Suleimani, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Quds Force. Donald Trump has been itching for a fight with Iran. Now he'll get one. The only question is how far will the repercussions go?  Daniel Byman writes:

Attacks on US forces and facilities in Iraq are particularly likely. Tehran has spent over 15 years building up extensive networks among militia groups and politicians in Iraq. Earlier this week, before Suleimani’s death, Iran was able to rapidly mobilize local proxies to violently demonstrate at the US Embassy in Baghdad, creating a grave security risk to personnel there, even as Tehran’s local allies avoided killing more Americans. Now the gloves are likely to come off.
In the strike that killed Suleimani, the United States also reportedly took out the head of the pro-Iran militia Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and several other senior pro-Iran figures in Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for numerous attacks on US and Iraqi forces, often at Iran’s behest. This, too, will not go unpunished: In addition to wanting to please Iran, pro-Iran militias in Iraq will be angered by al-Muhandis’s death and the arrests of their leaders and eager to avenge them.

The blowback will be felt in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria:

US military forces in Afghanistan and Syria are also at risk, though both are already well defended due to threats from ISIS, the Taliban, and other dangerous groups. The IRGC and its proxies may also strike at official US embassies and other government-related targets. In 1983, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah blew up the US Embassy in Beirut as well as the Marine barracks there, killing 220 Marines, and dozens of other Americans. Civilians too may be in the crosshairs. Some of Iran’s proxies lack the skill to strike at well-defended official targets, so Tehran may also seek to send a broader message in order to intimidate the United States.

The trouble, of course, is that Donald Trump doesn't think things through -- if he thinks at all:

Deliberative thinking is not a strong suit of the Trump administration, and it is easy to focus on the immediate gratification that comes from killing an archenemy responsible for many American and allied deaths than thinking through the long-term implications of the strike.

And Trump has alienated the allies he needs now:

What the United States most needs is allies. They are necessary to deter Iran, support further military operations against it if deterrence fails, help guard US facilities, and otherwise share the burden. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has spurned many traditional allies, thumbing its nose at NATO, Australia, and others.
In the Middle East, the administration refused to retaliate after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility, a traditional red line, sending a message that the Kingdom was on its own for its security. It has also stood by as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE have worked at cross-purposes in countries like Syria and Libya, rather than trying to create a common position that would increase US influence and bargaining power in conflict with Iran. It is unclear if allies will now rally to Washington’s banner, and even if they do they may not be eager to stand by the United States.

Trump is mentally ill and he's not very bright. He has -- again -- made the world a much  more dangerous place.

Image: BBC