Monday, October 31, 2016

We Know How To Do Immigration

There is a lot of anti-immigration talk these days -- notably from The Orange One south of the border. So some people in Canada raised their eyebrows when, last week, the Century Initiative proposed that the population of Canada should be 100 million people by the end of this century. At first glance that might seem like a radical number. But Andrew Coyne puts it in perspective:

Canada’s population has grown at an average of 1.1 per cent per year. Were we merely to stay on our current growth trajectory, by 2100 the population would have risen to more than 90 million. So we are mostly talking about maintaining the status quo, higher immigration compensating for declining fertility.

Arguments raised to date against the proposal amount to objecting that 100 million is more than we have now. The reader is invited to believe that the present population of Canada is, by a remarkable coincidence, precisely the ideal number, such that any additions could only make things worse. And yet the same objections could have been used to argue against current population levels in 1945, when our population was a third of what it is today. “Are you ready for a Toronto of 20 million and a Vancouver of 10 million?” asks one particularly overheated correspondent. Gosh, I don’t know: you mean like New York and Paris?

The last time Canada opened its doors so widely was under Wilfred Laurier -- and there was a backlash from "old stock" Canadians. What would happen when those Ukrainians filled up the empty prairies? The answer was and is obvious. They became good Canadians. And the Laurier precedent suggests that there are three good reasons to welcome new immigrants to Canada:

One reason goes back to Laurier and Leacock, and the optimism and self-confidence of their era. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this was also a time of high immigration. Ambitious countries want to grow, but growth also makes countries ambitious. The constant injections of energy from new arrivals has always made this a different place than non-immigrant societies. We could use a little more of that.

Second, it would add to our clout in the world. We would be growing at a time when our peers are shrinking. At 100 million, current United Nations projections suggest we would be second only to the United States (it is forecast to grow to 450 million) among the G-7, vaulting past Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

A final point. Countries with larger populations enable people to live larger lives. They open possibilities to talented, ambitious people that are not possible elsewhere — and talented, ambitious people will always seek them out. To be a Canadian historically has been to watch many of our best and brightest leave in pursuit of their dreams. Nearly three million Canadians now live outside our borders, a third of them in the United States.

It is fashionable these days to be myopic about immigration. But the world is awash in refugees. And most of us were refugees from some place. We know how to do immigration.

Image: The Telegraph

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Getting Played

Donald Trump knows how to play people for suckers. That talent -- if you can call it that -- has been on display throughout his presidential campaign. The latest example is FBI Director James Comey. Frank Bruni writes in the New York Times:
How strange but how fitting. This entire election is being conducted in the key of hysteria, and Comey just found a way to amplify that ugly music.

Listen, Clinton made an awful decision in setting up a private email server, then compounded that error by dragging her feet through defensive non-apologies that gave the story such legs. Now she limps to the finish line when she should be hitting full stride.

But Trump is as much of a part and player in this latest chapter of the email saga, because of the one-syllable grenade that he keeps lobbing at the body politic, his furious mantra over these final weeks.

“Rigged,” “rigged,” “rigged.” Many Americans have come to believe that. Many others are rightly determined to prove to that group how wrong they are, or at least not to add accelerant to the wildfire.
And so all of us, including Comey, operate in a befouled atmosphere, tailoring our actions to it.

There are established rules for FBI investigations -- rules which Comey has ignored:
Indeed, he broke with the longstanding F.B.I. policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. He also defied the wishes of senior officials in the Department of Justice, according to various news reports early Saturday afternoon. And he frustrated everyone — conservatives, liberals, Trump, Clinton — because his disclosure was all questions, no answers.

Regardless, the media went nuts, declaring that the development could bend the shape of the race and assuming damage to Clinton without any polling or other evidence to back that up.

 However the investigation turns out, things will not end well:
How is this supposed to play out? If, a few days from now, the F.B.I. determines and announces that none of the emails contain classified information or anything else of concern, will Trump and Clinton’s other enemies conceivably believe that? Hah! They’ll be shouting “rigged” all over again. They’ll be shouting it louder than ever.

Well played, Mr. Comey. You're getting played. 

Image: WCCftech 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Keeping Score

Justin Trudeau ran on the slogan, "Real Change." Lately, the change appears to have been to the slogan -- which now reads, "More Of The Same." To make sure that we won't be getting More of the Same, a conference is being held this weekend at Carleton University. Susan Delacout writes:
This weekend, Carleton University’s School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies is holding a conference about this whole business of criticizing the government. It’s called “After the Deluge: Reframing/Sustaining Critique in Post-Harper Canada.”

Conservatives might well see this conference as evidence that they did indeed have lots of enemies in the ivory tower over the past decade. Or at least many of them saw it that way.

Canada now has an activist government, determined to make itself relevant in people’s lives again. The ways in which it is inserting itself into the economy (slowing down the housing markets, for instance) need scrutiny to see whether results match the intent.

It’s also a government that has invited criticism and measurement, and for the first time in history, publicly releasing the marching orders for every cabinet minister.

Now we don’t have to guess or opine on whether a minister is doing his or her job — we have a published to-do list for every one of them. Those lists could well be stamped with the same words politicians put on their prepared texts for speeches: “Check against delivery.”
One of the most extensive such efforts is an online initiative called, a running progress report on 219 promises of the Liberal government. When I checked it this week, it was reporting 34 promises kept, 64 in progress, 26 broken and 95 not yet started.

It's clear that we're going to have to check against delivery because what was promised may not be delivered as promised.

We all should be keeping score.

Image:  NASA

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Faces Change. But The Agenda Is Still The Same

The Trudeau Government is considering selling the nation's airports to private corporations. Linda McQuaig writes:
Turning our airports into profit-making business ventures will almost certainly drive up the costs for air travellers, and the government insists that it has not yet made the controversial decision to proceed.

But the fact it’s seeking advice from Credit Suisse, a giant investment bank with fingers deep into the privatization business, suggests Ottawa has already moved well down that road.
The corporations, of course, are encouraging the move. However, those who run the airports are raising red flags:
In a joint article published this week, Mark Laroche, CEO of Ottawa International Airport Authority, and Craig Richmond, CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority, dismissed the notion that privately owned airports would manage to make profits simply by, for instance, “selling more lattes.”

Instead, Laroche and Richmond insisted passengers could expect higher parking costs, airport improvement fees, cuts in cleaning staff and the end of services such as free Wi-Fi.

Privatization would also mean our major airports would be run by corporate boards, whereas they’re currently run by non-profit airport authority boards that include local community representatives, who are focused on more than profit-making.
It's the same direction the Wynne government has taken in Ontario. It is selling Ontario Hydro into private hands in order to get the money to pay for infrastructure.  Wynne's predecessor, Mike Harris, followed the same path when he sold Highway 407 into private hands.

The basic tenet of neo-liberalism is that all taxes are bad.The way to find the money is to sell off  public assets. The faces change. But the agenda is still the same.

Image: Fight Back Canada

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Great Divide

Thomas Edsall has an interesting column in this  morning's New York Times. This election, he writes, has turned the two parties on their heads:
According to the Oct. 20 Reuters-IPSOS tracking survey, Hillary Clinton now leads Donald Trump by 5.6 points among all whites earning $75,000 or more. This is a substantial improvement on the previous Democratic record of support among upscale white voters, set in 2008 when Barack Obama lost to John McCain among such voters by 11 points.

According to an Oct. 23 ABC News poll, Clinton also leads among all white college graduates, 52-36. She has an unprecedented gender gap among these voters, leading 62-30 among college-educated white women and tying among college educated white men, 42-42.

What these figures suggest is that the 2016 election will represent a complete inversion of the New Deal order among white voters. From the 1930s into the 1980s and early 1990s, majorities of downscale whites voted Democratic and upscale whites voted Republican. Now, looking at combined male and female vote totals, the opposite is true.
Donald Trump's supporters -- downscale whites -- used to be a Democratic constituency. But now:
Nearly half say they feel alienated from contemporary America (“a stranger in their own land”), that they have little or no power to change the course of events — 84.4 percent believe public officials do not care “what people like me think.” 83.5 percent agreed that “in general, Americans lived more moral and ethical lives 50 year ago.”

These voters are convinced (72.6 percent) that they can no longer get ahead in America through hard work, and that the government in Washington threatens the freedom of “ordinary Americans” (75.3 percent). In a nation where same-sex marriage has gained public acceptance and gays routinely appear in television and movies, 54.9 percent of these voters say their own “beliefs and values” are different from those of gays and lesbians, and 66.2 percent oppose requiring every state to permit same-sex marriages.
If the United States doesn't resemble the country we used to know, it's because education and wealth have become the great dividers. Those who have an education and money feel they have a future. Those who don't have those advantages see a country where everything looks dark.

Image: When You're Ready

Monday, October 24, 2016

Keeping His Word

Justin Trudeau came to office, claiming he would put an end to the cynicism of the Harper years. Michael Harris writes:

When Justin Trudeau was running to become prime minister, he said that cynicism — about the future, the fate of our kids, and most especially the political establishment — was a serious problem. Somehow, someone just had to win back the public’s faith in the system. Otherwise, we would become a society of malcontents, nay-sayers, and self-seekers divorced from any meaningful sense of community. The national myth for those people would be that the whole shooting match was rigged against them for the benefit of the few.

On two critical files -- electoral reform  and the environment -- Trudeau has been backing away from his promises:

The prime minister found himself in a firestorm of criticism when he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that he was backing away from his commitment to ending Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The implication of his words was that his election had somehow fixed the problem, or made it far less urgent at very least. That sparked one commentator on social media to ask for a retraction of Trudeau’s words or his recall.

Trudeau was supposed to be the antidote to years of Conservative mismanagement on the environment. At best, his record has been spotty, at worst, a betrayal of environmentalists who saw him as their champion.

While it is true Trudeau has finally put a price on carbon emissions, it is also true that he supported the Site C dam project in British Columbia, despite the opposition of environmentalists, First Nations leaders, Amnesty International, and the Royal Society of Canada.

The Trudeau government has also failed to legislate its own moratorium on oil-tanker traffic on the North Coast of the province. Instead, it has given conditional approval to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s massive $39-billion project that will also create five million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually should it ever be built. Not exactly what the summiteers in Paris had in mind — nor a lot of voters in British Columbia who went Liberal. 

South of the border, we are presently witnessing a lesson about the wages of cynicism:

Part of what everyone is witnessing in the U.S. Presidential election is the extent to which “every day Americans” hate the political establishment with a passion once reserved for the country’s foreign enemies. So desperate have these people become, so overwhelming has been the avalanche of lies and betrayals visited on them by politicians of all stripes, that 50 million Americans are about to vote for a man whose preferred form of greeting women is a hearty grope.  

If Justin is wise, he'll keep his word.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's Over

Andrew Nikiforuk has been writing for sometime that bitumen's heyday is over. There are four reasons that account for the decline and fall of black goo:

1. There is no way to clean up bitumen spills.

Basic science shows that neither industry nor government has developed an effective spill response for conventional oil on the high seas. As a consequence, marine oil spill response remains a public relations sham that does not remove spilled oil or fully restore damaged marine ecosystems.

Because the low-grade heavy oil must be diluted with a gasoline-like product to move through a pipeline, it presents an even graver logistical challenge than a conventional spill. 

2. The economic case for pipelines has totally collapsed.

Bitumen will always require higher transportation costs and more upgrading and processing due to its appalling quality. As a consequence, it has always sold at a price differential of around $6 to $7 dollars to conventional oil.

This historic differential widened when the Alberta government rubber-stamped so many projects that industry flooded the North American market with bitumen between 2000 and 2008. The differential dropped again to historic norms as more and more refineries in the U.S. retrofitted to process heavy oil.

 Art Berman, a reliable Houston-based oil analyst, calculates that industry is pumping about half a million barrels a day more than what the world can burn or afford. Most of this overproduction has come from Canada, the U.S. or Iraq.

At the same time, demand is not really growing due to profound global economic stagnation — a lasting legacy of incredibly high oil prices from 2010 to 2014.

But overproduction has now depressed prices to the point that many bitumen miners and American frackers continue to pump oil solely to generate enough cash to service their increasing debt loads or keep their creditors at bay. The world economy, as Berman notes, has become a volatile casino.

“The oil industry is damaged and higher prices won’t fix it because the economy cannot bear them,” Berman adds. “It is unlikely that sustained prices will reach $70 in the next few years and possibly, ever.

3. Bitumen cannibalizes the economy.

Nearly 100 years ago, it cost but one barrel of conventional crude to find and pump another 100 barrels. Today those energy returns now average about one to 20. In the U.S., they’ve fallen to one to 10 and in the oil sands they have collapsed to one to three, or in some cases close to zero. In simple terms, bitumen doesn’t bring home the bacon.

Unfortunately, mined bitumen and fracked oil aren’t easy, cheap or carbon neutral. Companies extracting fracked oil from Texas and North Dakota typically spend four times more than what they make. Bitumen miners aren’t much better. They burn more energy and capital, and all to deliver fewer returns and surpluses to society. It’s like cycling backwards.

4. Climate disruption and carbon anarchy aren’t a distant threat... they’re here now.

 Every day the science spells out some new horror: thinner Arctic ice; acidic oceans; record hot spells; flooded cities; drought-stricken crops. And every day, the economic costs grow dearer. The Fort McMurray wildfire cost $3.5 billion and was determinedly fuelled by petroleum production. The mega-flood that submerged Louisiana cost more than $8 billion and was also primed by oil extraction.

The emissions math on climate change in Canada is now pretty simple. Environment Canada states it boldly: “Emissions of GHGs from the oil and gas sector have increased 79 per cent from 107 megatonnes (Mt) in 1990 to 192 Mt CO2 in 2014. This increase is mostly attributable to the increased production of crude oil and the expansion of the oil sands industry.”
Canada can’t meet any reasonable target to decrease its climate-disrupting emissions by digging up more bitumen.

The writing is on the wall. The Bitumen Boom is over.

Image: Youtube

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Electoral Reform Cannot Be Postponed

This week, Justin Trudeau backed away from his promise to reform Canada's electoral system by the next election. There was -- rightly -- an explosion of criticism. By the end of the week, Trudeau was saying that his government is "deeply committed" to electoral reform. Alan Freeman writes:

Trudeau was rightly attacked from all sides for appearing to duck out of his election promise to reform the first-past-the-post system in time for the next election — and for the arrogance of the claim that his election alone was enough to deal with the issue once and for all.

Dropping an election pledge is nothing new. Freeman writes that lots of leaders have backed away from promises if they thought they could get away with it. George W. Bush, for instance, tried to privatize Social Security:

Bush launched a campaign to promote a dramatic reform that would allow Americans to set aside a portion of their Social Security and invest it themselves in private accounts. The ideological right and the investment industry, which had been pushing the idea for years, were thrilled. But voters, particularly older ones, were horrified when they realized that the change would simply impoverish the already-stretched Social Security system and risk the guaranteed benefits they depended on in return for the crapshoot of the stock market.

And Stephen Harper, with the support of Jim Flaherty, tried to harmonize the GST:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was initially a big proponent of GST harmonization, throwing billions of dollars at Ontario and British Columbia when they decided to come on board with a harmonized sales tax. He embraced the view of leading economists and his own Finance Department — that a harmonized GST would lead to tax efficiency and remove the burden of provincial sales taxes from business.

But the moment grassroots opposition to harmonization started to build in British Columbia, Flaherty ran for cover. He never spoke about harmonization again. At the Finance Department, where I was working at the time, the order came down that the department was not to answer any questions about the issue — to act as if it didn’t exist. In the end, B.C.’s harmonization effort died and the province refunded the big grant it had been given to go ahead with harmonization. Flaherty and Harper had dodged a bullet and spent not a cent of political capital doing it — but an opportunity to change tax policy for the better was lost.

Electoral reform is a bullet Trudeau can't dodge. If he takes that tack, he will not make it through the next election -- even if it occurs under the First Past The Post system.

Image: CBC

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lessons Learned?

It's been a year since the Harper government was sent packing. But, Gerry Caplan writes, if those vying to replace Stephen Harper are any indication, their defeat taught the Conservatives nothing:

There’s the widespread view among people within the party that the problem was their “tone.” It’s not at all clear what they think they mean by this, but it seems to have little to do with a series of mean and bigoted policies that failed to appeal to any but the Conservative base.

The Harperites have, so far, not morphed into Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. However, they haven't morphed into anything:

For example, take Kellie Leitch, who seemed at first to be ashamed of her shabby role in the Conservative pledge to establish a tip line to report barbaric cultural practices to the RCMP, but has since doubled down on the very notion.

As a leadership candidate, she is promoting a “discussion” of Canadian values for immigrants. Yet when given an opportunity by interviewers, she refuses to discuss anything except how very, very much she wants to discuss. So she simply advances her meaningless slogan, then repeats it over and over again without any elaboration.

Chris Alexander now claims he loves immigrants. But, Caplan asks, "Who can doubt his sincerity?"

Then there's Maxime Bernier. "Quebec MP Maxime Bernier wants to turn Canada into a libertarian dystopia; he’s the Ayn Rand candidate, beloved no doubt by many impressionable first-year university students."

And, of course, there's Brad Trost:

Someone named Brad Trost – allegedly an MP from Saskatchewan – offers to turn the clock back by repudiating both a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage.

The Conservative Party itself entered modern history only in May when its convention voted that marriage need not be defined as between a man and woman, something Canada itself had decided a decade ago. But history is moving far too fast for Mr. Trost and for that third of the convention delegates who voted against the resolution. But early indications are that they are resisting Mr. Trost’s reactionary lure.

Harper's Conservatives were always stuck in the 19th century. The only member of the party who wasn't was Michael Chong. And, for that reason, Chong will face a tough slog for the leadership of the party.

Lessons learned?  There's no evidence of that. 


Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Classic Example

Last night proved beyond a doubt that Donald Trump has his foot to the floor and is headed to the wall. He has offended women mightily. Last night's vow to repeal Roe v. Wade will add to the Access Hollywood debacle. But, along with women, he's also mobilized Latinos and African Americans against him. E.J. Dionne writes:

The states on Clinton's new target list include Arizona and, of all places, Texas. In Nevada, the polling is mixed, though Clinton seems to have gained ground. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead of Trump here by seven points. Trump was up by two points last month. But a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, which showed her in a commanding position nationally, had her still down here by four.

All these states have something important in common: They include large numbers of Latino voters, who are clearly mobilizing to defeat Trump. He is also suffering from profound weaknesses among African-Americans, college educated voters of all backgrounds, and the young.

After its second loss to Barack Obama, the Republican Party took a hard look at itself and concluded:

The nation's demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become," its authors wrote. "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity."

They went on: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States ... they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."

One wonders if Trump read the report. He's certainly not following its recommendations. There is still disagreement about whether or not Albert Einstein was the source of the classic definition of insanity.

But Donald Trump is a classic example of it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

There's The Rub

Pierre Trudeau famously quipped that Joe Clark wanted to be "headwaiter to the provinces." Susan Delacourt writes that his son will be no headwaiter:

In the years since Trudeau the elder left the scene, his successors have adopted a number of other approaches to the provinces, from the deferential to the collaborative to the virtually absent. From obsequious waiter to dumbwaiter, you might say.

But now it’s looking like we’d better get used to Ottawa coming to the federal-provincial table with some sharp and definite views about what’s on the menu. Even as the provinces grapple with Ottawa’s ultimatum on carbon pricing, delivered just weeks ago, they’re now being told that federal money for health will come with conditions attached.

Yesterday, Jane Philpott's meeting with provincial health ministers broke up without any progress on negotiating a new health accord. The provinces want more money. The Feds want to carefully track what happens to new money:

In September, Philpott declared: “It’s time to reclaim the political will, time and resources to develop and implement bold reforms in the funding and organization of front line delivery.”

It’s been a while since we’ve heard a health minister (or a prime minister, for that matter) declare that money going to the provinces for social programs would have strings attached. “Reclaiming the political will,” in that context, sounds a bit like a government that’s decided it wants to be more than a valet to the provinces.

Trudeau declared that he wanted to establish a new relationship with the provinces. The provinces want to keep the old one. Ay, there's the rub.

Image: CBC

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It Can't Happen Here?

Canadians like to think that Donald Trump could never happen here. But he's been here and left -- for the moment. His name was Rob Ford. And he had lots of editorial support. David Beers writes:

As Donald Trump burst into an orange fireball melting down the Republican Party, one pundit telling us why was the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. His analysis on Saturday echoed others: Gullible Republicans had fooled themselves into believing Trump could be tamed. They shrugged off his deep personal flaws and the divisions his bigotry would sow. Now “the Donald has come home to roost.”

If the GOP loses big “it will only have itself to blame” for siding with those who “seeded the clouds for Trump.” Blame some media, said Gee. Blame those “talk-show ranters” who cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal.

Which, by the way, is pretty much what Marcus Gee did six years ago. In February 2010 he cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal in his column headlined: “Rob Ford, Please Run. You’re the Right Guy for a Lefty Race.” 

Ford was not very bright, driven by demons and -- in the end -- doomed. But he railed against political correctness -- just as Margaret Wente does:

The country club conservative Margaret Wente, for example, drolly makes fun of Donald Trump. She also happens to regularly nurture the climate that helps Donald Trump thrive. Wente may shake her head at the “angry man yelling at me on TV.” She may marvel that “What’s stupefying is that so many people can’t see that the emperor is naked.” But Donald Trump and his supporters would resonate with much else she says, and they would appreciate her digs at his enemies: We have Trump, she argued in August, because “The Democrats have morphed into an alliance of liberal elites and minorities, with a relentless agenda of political correctness that has driven millions of people away.”

Donald Trump could happen anywhere at any time. All it takes is editorial -- and public -- support.

Image: Huffington Post

Monday, October 17, 2016

Now For The Hard Part

Justin Trudeau's decision to put a price on carbon -- over the objections of some of the provinces and territories -- is a signal that the hard part has begun. Robin Sears writes:

Justin Trudeau’s decision to devote a large chunk of his accumulated political capital imposing a clear, mandatory path on pricing carbon is the first of several big choices he faces, each of which will help determine his survival and his legacy.

He is about to discover the first of many ironies about choice in political life. Many enemies, and even some friends, will always be angry with your choice, especially big decisions on risky projects. They’re hedging their risks, betting on your failure.

Your internal opponents and your political opposition will attack every choice as dangerous, irresponsible, too late, too expensive — fill in the blank. It’s insurance for them, if you stumble. And curiously, it’s a guaranteed media hit.

There are more difficult decisions to come, like re-engaging in United Nations forces around the world and renegotiating a healthcare agreement with the provinces. There are lessons in each of these tasks; and we'll see how well the Liberals have learned them.

But there are also lessons for the opposition parties:

Justin Trudeau’s opponents need to understand their certain failure in challenging a big political choice with scary fairy tales and niggling, whining attack. To succeed in persuading Canadians to come to their vision of a national future — they need to offer one!

Listening to Conservatives whinge about adding a quarter a litre to gas prices and then claiming “billions and billions” of revenue harm — as a strategy on climate change — will make even their own mothers sigh in quiet frustration. New Democrats who want to move votes, cannot simply say no to this pipeline and no to that pipeline, then claim there are not opposed to pipelines per se. Or that they have a plan for the safe, efficient transport of oil and gas — unless they outline what theirs is and why it is better.

As a nation, we now must face an array of tough choices about which we have hesitated and prevaricated overlong. A majority of voters endorsed that message last October. To consider other political choices Canadians will first expect New Democrats and Conservatives to offer an alternative vision on how to integrate First Nations into decisions on resource development, not to simply sneer “too little, too late!”

Both opposition parties could offer dramatically different visions than Trudeau's. But being the parties of no will lead nowhere. The Republicans have been The Party of No for twenty-five years. Look at where -- and who -- that has got them.

Image: Quotesgram

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Russian-American Relations

The War in Syria has severely damaged relations between Russia and The United States. Tony Burman writes:

Not since the darkest days of the Cold War, we are being told, are the dangers of a catastrophic conflict between Russia and the West so genuine.

Last Sunday on Russian television, Dmitry Kiselyov, an influential current affairs host, warned that U.S. military action against the Russian-backed Syrian regime could provoke a world war: “Offensive behaviour toward Russia has a nuclear dimension.”

This week, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, wrote that today’s global situation is “more dangerous” than the Cold War. And former Soviet leader and Nobel winner Mikhail Gorbachev warned that “the world has a reached a dangerous point” because of the deepening Russia-U.S. clash over Syria.

But there are differences between the standoff which followed World War II and today's standoff:

Putin may strut, may preen and may bluster — and, like the KGB operative he once was, he is skilled at manipulating the optics of a situation. But like Trump, his comrade-in-arms in the U.S., Putin is a phoney. When all is said and done, he doesn’t have the economic or military firepower to deliver on his threats. Compared with the Soviet Union, Russia’s economy is strikingly weak and integrated with the West. If tensions ever escalated to the point of actual war, Russia would be annihilated. And Putin, above all, knows that.

Russia’s sabre-rattling is unnerving the West. It is messing with the heads of American and European politicians, military leaders and opinion-makers. In response, NATO and its member states, led by the U.S., are embarking on their own military buildup, particularly in countries neighbouring Russia. They are using the Russian threat, exaggerated as it is, as a pretext for challenging Russia in its own backyard. That’s a recipe for disaster. Putin isn’t the only threat here: our leaders also need to be watched.

Even though Trump will likely crash and burn on election day, Nov. 8, the poisoned American political system will still be with us. And it’s a system increasingly corrupted by money. Regardless of who resides in the White House, there will be many Republican members, perhaps a majority, whose political success is tied to America’s war machine. This is reflected in those military bases and military jobs that reside in their districts. Even though the Pentagon itself admits that the American military is bloated and over-resourced, it is in the interests of these politicians to keep this war machine growing.

And, should Hillary win, we're told that Putin loathes her. The West is in a tight spot. It's easy to get into a war -- much easier than it is to get out. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Look In The Mirror

Donald Trump gets more reprehensible with each passing day. But he did not rise to where he is on his own initiative. Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post that there have been many people behind the ascension of Trump. And he has been a long time coming:

The Trump fiasco has been more than two decades in the making, going back to Newt Gingrich’s destruction of civility, Bill Clinton’s personal misconduct, a Supreme Court that, in Bush v. Gore, delegitimized democracy, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney squandering the warm courage of national unity after 9/11, a bipartisan cycle of revenge in Congress, angry liberals portraying Bush as a war criminal, the fury and racial animus of the tea party and the birthers, GOP leaders too timid to tamp down the excesses, and Supreme Court decisions that allowed anonymous groups to spend unlimited sums poisoning the airwaves with vicious and false political speech. 

The media have also had their role to play:

My colleagues and I in the news business deserve much of the blame. Fox News essentially created Trump as a political figure, validating his birther nonsense and giving him an unparalleled platform before he launched his campaign. The rest of the news media, most visibly CNN, gave the entertainer undiluted and uncritical coverage (at least until he secured the nomination), sacrificing journalistic integrity for viewers and readers. If you don’t report on Trump’s latest action, utterance or outrage, you won’t get the clicks or the ratings. And the combination of social media and a news industry fragmented by ideology allows an increasingly polarized public to choose only information that confirms their political views.

Trump knows how to play people for suckers. And there have been a lot of suckers. In the end, Americans will have to look in their mirrors.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, October 14, 2016

Another One Of History's Ironies

There are those who believe that engaging in "what might have been" speculation is wasted energy. But Linda McQuaig does precisely that in today's Toronto Star. Doug Peters -- the former chief economist for the TD Bank and former Liberal cabinet minister -- died last week. Peters grew up in Brandon, Manitoba during the Great Depression. That experience -- and the training he received on the way to getting a PhD in finance from the University of Pennsylvania -- made him a committed Keynesian.

But it was Peters misfortune to be at the the cabinet table when Milton Friedman was all the rage. McQuaig writes:

Despite his Bay St. pedigree and a PhD. in finance from University of Pennsylvania, Peters rejected the business world’s obsession with deficits and smaller government.

From his seat next to [Paul] Martin at top-level budget meetings, the soft-spoken, articulate Peters repeatedly challenged the deficit hysteria that gripped the Finance department and increasingly controlled government policy. To Peters, the key problem was unemployment — which hovered above 10 per cent — not the deficit.

Indeed, the way to solve the deficit problem was to reduce unemployment, Peters argued. As he once told a parliamentary committee: “Unemployed people pay less tax. That is one of the most certain laws of all economics. It should be inscribed on plaques and hung in the offices of prime ministers and premiers across the country.”

There were some who sided with Peters:

He got support from an unlikely source — a Goldman Sachs report in September 1994 identifying unemployment, rather than excessive government spending, as Canada’s key problem, and noting that once full employment was achieved, “the budget gap of Canada vanishes.”

But Friedman had received the Nobel Prize. How could be be wrong?

Time has proved Friedman wrong and Peters right. Another one of history's ironies.

Image: Toronto Star

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Last Person Standing

Yesterday, Tony Clement dropped out of the Conservative leadership race and Chris Alexander dropped in. The Conservative ranks are teeming with ambition. But ambition is expensive. Brent Rathgeber writes:

Running for the leadership of a Canadian political party is no modest undertaking. Including the registration fee and a subsequent charge for access to the membership list, it costs $100,000 to play.

But that’s only the beginning. Canada is a big country. Given that the leadership contest is weighted — that is, the 338 electoral districts are each assigned an equal number of points in the final vote — it’s important that serious candidates at least show up in most ridings and regions. That’s a lot of flights, a lot of hotel rooms.

In the end, it's money that will determine who will leave and who will go. And money is tied to an MP's record. Clement's Achilles Heel was his record:

He will never be able to walk back the reputation he picked up during the 2010 G8 Summit. Clement was in charge of a $50 million infrastructure program intended to reduce border congestion; some of the money was used to build parks, walkways and gazebos in Clement’s riding in advance of the summit. To a lot of people, he’ll always be ‘Gazebo Tony’.

Although that pork barrel episode probably guaranteed his re-election as MP in Ontario Lake Country, it also destroyed his credibility with fiscal conservatives across the nation.

Clement is only the first contender to drop out. There will be others. It's impossible at this point to guess who will be the last person standing.

Image: Huffington Post

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Not A Comforting Thought

While Donald Trump huffs, puffs and sniffles -- and while the Republican Party tears itself apart -- there will be those who take solace in The Donald's Demise. However, Michael Den Tandt writes, Trump's defeat will not put Trumpism to rest:

Trumpism is bigger than the man. For evidence, juxtapose a map of the two parties’ current support, with one of regional income distribution.

The safe red (Republican) states swing from the Deep South (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina) northward in a band through the Midwest (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota), and into the upper Midwest. These are also the regions with the highest concentrations of Americans living below the poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four).

The key swing states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania), where Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders launched their respective insurgencies, are regions where traditional economies have been disrupted by globalization. Hence Trump’s repeated promises to “bring back our jobs,” resurrect heavy manufacturing and re-open shuttered steel mills. He’s giving voters in populous, influential states precisely the comfort they want to hear.

What Trump is selling is "pure fantasy." But that makes no difference:

Trump has given voice to a new constituency. That he is personally unfit to be president is a historical fluke. His losing next month will not prevent states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania from going full nativist in future, unless more people there can see the hope of a better economic future.

Trump's people are not going anywhere. And Hillary -- deplorable though they may be -- will have to deal with them:

A future President Hillary Clinton will need something like a Marshall Plan — a New Deal might be a better term — to bring hope to the Rust Belt. Or she’ll face another revolt in four years, likely led by someone more personally fit, and capable, than Trump.
Not a comforting thought.

Image: Forward Progressives

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In War, Soldiers and Sailors Get Killed

When Justin Trudeau brought Canada's CF-18's back from Iraq, Canadians might have thought that our armed forces personnel were out of harm's way. But, Tom Walkom writes:

On Thursday, a senior general acknowledged that, over the last few months, Canadian special forces operating in northern Iraq have become increasingly involved in front-line skirmishes against Daesh fighters.

“The mission has changed,” said Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe. “We are more engaged on the line … the risk has increased.”

The truth, whether the government wants to admit it or not, is that Canada's soldiers are in harm's way: 

Both the current Liberal government and the Conservative one it replaced have gone to great lengths to assure Canadians that Iraq is not another Afghanistan. So these semantic debates over the definition of word “combat” have taken on great political meaning.

The Conservatives used to say shooting in self-defence was not real combat.

Under the Liberals, the military brass is engaging in similar linguistic contortions to avoid the dreaded word.

According to one, Canadian troops have to be the “principal combatants” to engage in combat. 

According to another, combat only occurs once soldiers have crossed an imaginary line on the battlefield.

In Iraq, it's always been hard to distinguish the difference between enemy and ally:

But in the real world of war, the differences become blurred — particularly when the battle lines are fluid.

Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish forces don’t trust one another. Moreover, as the Financial Times reported last week, the fissures that have always existed within these three major groups are beginning to widen.

It’s not that long ago that rival Kurdish parties in northern Iraq were involved in a murderous shooting war with one another.
So let's stop fogging things up with semantic distinctions. Canada is at war. Our troops are in the middle of it. In war, soldiers and sailors get killed.

Image: Michelle Clelland Toronto Star

Monday, October 10, 2016

Once Again, Look At The Facts

It was an ugly night. The kind of night that -- after it's over -- leaves you with the feeling that you've got to hit the shower. This morning, The New York Times published a page which fact checked statements from the debate. Not everything that Hillary Clinton said -- particularly about her emails -- was true.

But what was disturbing was the tsunami of lies which Donald Trump unleashed in the space of ninety minutes:

Trump said Clinton wants "amnesty for everybody, come on it, come on over." -- Not True. 
He claimed,"Clinton was there for Obama's line in the sand"  -- Not True

Trump said the United States signed a "peace treaty" to bring an end to the war in Syria. It was a ceasefire.

Trump said "growth is down to 1%" and the United States and that country has the highest taxes in the world. Absolutely false.

Trump said that Clinton wants to go to a single payer health care system -- as we have here. Again, absolutely false.

Trump said Clinton has never used the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." That, too is a flat out lie.

You get the idea. I don't know if truth matters anymore in American elections. And, as Trump paced the stage, it was clear that he has the attention span of a five year old child.



Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Forest And The Trees

When it comes to taxing carbon, the Conservatives are into self-flagellation. Foremost among them is Brad Wall. Stephen Maher writes:

Like the previous federal Conservative government, Wall seems to represent the view held by some fossil fuel companies — that climate change likely isn’t caused by carbon emissions, but even if it is we shouldn’t do anything about it, since little Canada can’t have much impact on global emissions and we’d be certain to lose revenue and jobs.

That seems to also be the view of Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, who took to Twitter to attack Telus and other companies that support Trudeau’s carbon plan.

On Friday, even the  Globe and Mail came out in support of the prime minister's plan:

Economically speaking, the Trudeau government’s approach is the right one. Environmentally speaking, too. The question is whether, over the long run, it can be sustained politically. That’s up to you, dear reader and dear voter.

Ottawa is creating a national standard and leaving it up to each province to decide how to meet it. Beginning in 2018, carbon will have to be priced at $10 a tonne, with the price rising by $10 a year until it hits $50 in 2022.

What’s all that in plain English? A $10 tax on a tonne of carbon is equivalent to a tax on gasoline of 2 cents per litre. A $50 per tonne price means a gas tax of 11 cents a litre.

And the Globe pointed out that, if Wall so chose, that money could go to tax cuts:

A conservative provincial government, like Mr. Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, could decide to take advantage of higher taxes on gasoline, diesel, natural gas and coal to lower taxes on things everyone wants more of, like income and investment. A conservative-minded premier could promise to turn every dollar of carbon levy into a dollar in tax cuts. That would make for an interesting contrast to Alberta and Ontario, which are largely planning on spending their carbon billions.

As usual, Conservatives can't see the forest for the trees. 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

It's About Sharing The Wealth

On October 1st, the minimum wage went up in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. It was Alberta's increase that caused a lot of howling. Alan Freeman writes:

Following through on an election promise, the NDP government there is raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by late 2018 on an incremental basis. This week’s raise to $12.20 amounted to a rise of $1, or more than 8 per cent over the previous level, and leaves Alberta with the highest provincial rate. (Nunavut, at $13, is higher still.)

The business lobby -- predictably -- was apoplectic:

Restaurants Canada, the industry lobby, claimed that 78 per cent of its members in the province would cut hours and 50 per cent would lay off workers, based on a survey of members.

Express Employment Professionals, a temporary help agency, said a 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage could cut national employment of minimum-wage workers by up to 20 per cent.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) claims that the $12.20 hourly wage could lead to up to 50,000 job losses in the province. That’s quite the alarming prediction, since there are only 60,000 workers currently earning minimum wage in Alberta.

And the CFIB, always looking out for the best interests of low-wage employees, also warned ominously that once the minimum wage goes up to $15 in Alberta, a full-time worker at that rate will have to pay $700 a year in additional provincial taxes.

Recent studies indicate that raising the minimum wage doesn't bring on Economic Armageddon:

In an oft-cited U.S. study, Princeton University economist Alan Krueger looked at the impact on fast-food employment of the 1992 increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey. He conducted a telephone survey of fast-food outlets in the state and in neighbouring Pennsylvania, where the minimum wage was unchanged, before and after the wage hike in New Jersey. He found no discernible difference in employment in both states.

John Schmitt, an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the U.S., sought to explain why modest increases in the minimum wage have little impact on employment. Surveying a raft of studies, he found that employers can opt for alternatives that don’t necessarily mean layoffs. They can raise prices. They can cut hours. They can reduce pay or bonuses for higher-paid employees or managers. They can also take measures to improve productivity by using labour-saving devices or insisting on better performance from employees. Or they can accept lower profits.

Schmitt adds that employers also can benefit from a minimum wage spike — because when wages go up, employee turnover declines. Better-paid employees are more loyal employees. Lower turnover leads to a reduction in training costs.

Henry Ford proved a hundred years ago that raising employee wages can be good for business. He realized that, if his business was to survive, he would have to share his wealth.

Friday, October 07, 2016

The New Cold War

We are engaged in a new Cold War. Tom Walkom writes:

In the West, the old Cold War was portrayed as a battle between Communist dictatorship and capitalist freedom. Given that Russia has now embraced capitalism, those categories are no longer quite so neat.

As a result, the new Cold War is a little vaguer. It is portrayed as a battle between thuggery and the rule of law — brutality versus niceness.

In this scenario, the U.S. and its allies are said to be the nice ones. Russia, personified in its president, Vladimir Putin, is said to represent brutality.

Calculated brutality is not a new tactic. It's as old as Sherman's March to the Sea: 

Students of the American Civil War will recall Gen. William T. Sherman’s march to the sea through Georgia in 1864, during which his Union army burned crops, slaughtered livestock and laid waste to the Confederate countryside.

As Sherman said at the time, his aim was to make “a hostile people … old and young, rich and poor feel the hard hand of war.”

As a tactic, sometimes it works. It worked for Sherman. Sometimes it doesn't. Carpet bombing Vietnam didn't work. But we miss the point unless we understand what is behind the sound and fury:

The real reason for Russia’s increasing involvement seems to be that Moscow now sees Assad as the only political figure able to keep Syria from falling into chaos.

Syria is not far from Russia’s Caucasus, a region with its own Islamic insurgencies.

More to the point, the chaos in Libya that followed Western military intervention there — as well as the civil strife in Iraq after Washington’s removal of Saddam Hussein — have served as a reminder: Getting rid of dictators can sometimes make things worse.

From time to time, the U.S. has understood this. That’s why, after a brief fling with the reformers of Egypt’s Arab Spring, President Barack Obama threw his support to the coup plotters who now run that country’s brutal military regime.

But for Obama, Assad has been a step too far. Perhaps his brutality is too blatant. Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi merely executes his political opponents. He doesn’t barrel-bomb them.

It's hard to predict where and when it will all end. Both sides have huge arsenals -- enough to leave Syria completely in ruins. 


Thursday, October 06, 2016

Beware Third Choices

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. All presidential candidates are. I have argued in this space that, given who Donald Trump is, voting for a third party candidate is highly dangerous. I have pointed to the history of Weimar Germany as a cautionary tale. Gerry Caplan points to recent American history to make the same case:

The most infamous case in recent history was 16 years ago, when Ralph Nader argued that Al Gore was no worse than George W. Bush. Nader got a derisory 2.74 per cent of the vote, just enough to ensure Gore’s defeat. The world got Bush and Cheney, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and a great deal of the chaos and horror in the Middle East from which we all still suffer.

But the 2000 election isn't the only example of how voting for a third party candidate brought on disaster:

In modern times, this phenomenon goes back to 1956, when Adlai Stevenson challenged Republican president Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower’s bid for re-election. Ike was a natural small “c” conservative, while Stevenson was widely considered to be a principled liberal. But in the paranoid atmosphere of Cold War America, no seriously ambitious politician, let alone the urbane Stevenson, could take liberalism too far.

He was therefore easy enough to criticize by the wonderful Democratic socialists represented by the magazine Dissent, who explained how Stevenson would sell out the left if he ever won. I was easily persuaded, but America was not. Ike was overwhelmingly re-elected, and with him came Richard Nixon as his vice-president and an unleashed CIA to continue its dirty work around the world.
Another problem for the left came [twelve] years later, when Hubert Humphrey sought the Democratic nomination to replace president Lyndon B. Johnson. Humphrey was both the best and the worst of American liberalism. He was mostly strong on civil rights, trade unions and social welfare, but as LBJ’s vice-president during the Vietnam War he made himself a despicable apologist for the war.

When Bobby Kennedy was murdered, Humphrey won the nomination at the Democratic Convention. Many progressives boycotted the election. In the end, old Tricky Dick finally won the presidency by a hair, even though it’s possible the progressive vote could have defeated him. Next stop: the continuation of the Vietnam War, the secret war against Cambodia and Laos, the first-ever “gate” and the subversion of the American Constitution.

It was George Santayana -- not me -- who wrote that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

Image: theconservativetreehouse

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

It's Never Been Easy

Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories walked out of the room  when Justin Trudeau announced a couple of days ago that he was putting a price on carbon. Chantal Hebert writes that the tax is no cash grab. What Trudeau is doing is filling a vacuum:

For this is not about replenishing the coffers of an impoverished federal government.
Trudeau’s planned introduction of a national floor price for carbon in 2018 marks the belated end of a federal vacuum that has seen successive prime ministers — from Jean Chr├ętien onward — make climate-change commitments on the international scene and then do little to ensure Canada meets them.

And most of the provinces already have schemes in place that will meet the $10 a ton threshold:

For example, B.C. started off with a carbon tax at the $10 level … almost a decade ago. That provincial tax now stands at $30. Under the plan announced by Trudeau on Monday, the federal floor would be raised by $10 a year for five years to reach $50 a tonne by 2022.

(As an aside, by the time Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. have to up their game to keep up with the national escalator clause, the 2019 federal election will be over.)

Moreover, despite the caterwauling, the the program is not a top down creation:

Provided they meet or exceed the federal floor price on carbon emissions, the provinces will also continue to be free to pursue climate-change mitigation schemes of their own choosing.
At some point, though, the onus will be on them to demonstrate that they are meeting or exceeding the federal floor price. Quebec and Ontario, for instance, have opted for a cap-and-trade system. Over the summer, the provinces and the federal government failed to reach a consensus on equivalencies between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade pricing. The two will eventually have to be reconciled. 

But "if the federal government does tax emissions in their place, it will return the proceeds to the provincial treasuries, presumably leaving them free to use the revenues to offset the cost of carbon pricing with tax breaks."

The tax on carbon is a classic Canadian conundrum. It's never been easy to make the confederation work.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Could We Have Been Had?

Tom Walkom gives the Trudeau government some credit for reversing the direction of the previous government:

The new Liberal government negotiated a deal with the provinces to expand the Canada Pension Plan, something the Harper Conservatives were dead-set against. It also replaced Harper’s universal baby bonus with one targeted to income.

It established the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women that Harper refused to set up. It reduced the eligibility age for full old-age security back down to 65.

But in many ways, the new government is very much like the one it replaced:

The country got a taste of that last week when Ottawa approved a liquefied natural gas plant on British Columbia’s Pacific coast, as well as a pipeline to that plant.

It was the same decision Harper would have made. And it angered the same critics.
Environmentalists pointed to the massive increase in carbon emissions that will result from the decision. Some First Nations said it will destroy the local fish habitat.

It was a reminder that Trudeau, like Harper, sees energy exports as crucial for the Canadian economy.

And like Harper, the new prime minister is willing to sacrifice environmental and aboriginal concerns in order to get things done.

 On terrorism and national security, it's more of the same:

The Liberals promised to roll back elements of Bill C-51, Harper’s addition to anti-terror laws. But so far they have done no such thing.

In fact, as Canada’s privacy commissioner has noted, under the Liberals, police and the security services are using some of these new powers apace.

Militarily, the Trudeau government kept its promise to remove Canada’s fighter planes from the war in Iraq. But it compensated by tripling the number of Canadian military advisers who are on the ground in that war.

The means may differ from those employed by Harper. But the aim — to militarily support the U.S. in the war against Islamic radicals — is unchanged.

 And, on healthcare, it also appears to be more of the same:

Health spending? The Harper government had unilaterally decided to cut the annual increase in health care transfers to the provinces by roughly 50 per cent next year. The Liberals seem prepared to go ahead with this, although they say they do have some additional money on hand for home care.

Could we have been had?