Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Betraying Workers

Donald Trump came to power claiming he would be the working people's president. Paul Krugman writes:

By now, it’s almost a commonplace to say that Trump has systematically betrayed the white working class voters who put him over the top. He ran as a populist; he’s governed as an orthodox Republican, with the only difference being the way he replaced racial dog-whistles with raw, upfront racism.
Many people have made this point with respect to the Trump tax cut, which is so useless to ordinary workers that Republican candidates are trying to avoid talking about it. The same can be said about health care, where Democrats are making Trump’s assault on the Affordable Care Act a major issue while Republicans try to change the subject.

But, if you really want to know Trump's opinion of the working man, you should examine the opinions of  the man he has nominated to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat on the Supreme Court:

The most spectacular example is his opinion that Sea World owed no liability for a killer whale attack that killed one of its workers, because she should have known the risks. He has declared the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which helps control the financial fraud against working families that played a major role in the 2008 crisis, unconstitutional. He’s taken an extremely expansive view of the rights of business to suppress union organizing.

It's true that globalization and technology have hit the working man hard. However,

there’s growing evidence that wage stagnation in America – the very stagnation that angers Trump voters — isn’t being driven by impersonal forces like technological change; to an important extent it’s the result of political changes that have weakened workers’ bargaining power. If Trump manages to install Kavanaugh, he’ll help institutionalize these anti-worker policies for decades to come.

Trump claimed he was the working stiff's saviour -- while dedicating himself to his or her annihilation.

But you knew that. Didn't you?

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Monday, July 30, 2018

Populism Doesn't Come Cheap

These days, populists run against government. They claim it's a luxury we can't afford. But, Alan Freeman writes, it's populism itself that's expensive. Need proof? Consider what is happening in the United States and the province of Ontario:

This week, Trump announced that his administration was going to spend $12 billion US to compensate farmers for the repercussions from the Washington-stoked trade wars against a multitude of trading partners, especially China. After being slapped with tariffs, the Chinese have hit back, particularly at soybeans and other commodities, which they’ve decided to buy elsewhere.
U.S. farmers, losing lucrative markets, have screamed bloody murder and since they tend to vote Republican, Trump has been forced to pay them off. Hard to think of a more wasteful and useless expenditure of public funds.
Then again, the Trump administration clearly doesn’t care much about the state of the U.S. government’s finances. It recently announced that the annual budget deficit will rise by nearly US$100-billion annually going forward above previous estimates, despite stronger than expected growth.
The U.S. deficit in the 2018-19 fiscal year will be a staggering US$1.1-trillion, or 5.1 per cent of American GDP. That’s getting up there, not quite Greece in the bad old days, but worse than most self-respecting first-world countries. But for Trump and the so-called conservative right, not all dollars are created equal. Spending on Medicaid for the poor or on food stamps may be evil but spending on the Pentagon, tax cuts for the rich or GOP-voting farmers, that’s fine.

And, in Ontario, there's Trump's Canadian Cousin, Doug Ford:

Then there’s the cancellation of the renewable energy projects. Energy Minister Greg Rickford claimed it will save taxpayers $790-million, but when asked how much the cancellations will cost, he couldn’t say.
Legislation introduced in the Ontario legislation is aimed at strictly limiting compensation for cap and trade and the energy project cancellation — shades of banana-republic strong-arming of investors – but don’t underestimate the abilities of phalanxes of smart lawyers to find constitutional and trade reasons to go after Ontario for compensation.
A classic example of this kind of wasteful spending is the cancellation of the White Pines Wind Project in Prince Edward County after 10 years of work by its German owner and just as the project was coming online. The German company says it’s looking at a potential loss of $100-million. The province is attempting to limit compensation legislatively but will still have to pay to dismantle the whole thing, terminate employees and decommission the site.
Tens of millions of dollars wasted and Ontario will end up with – zip. A smaller version of the cancellation of the gas-fired gas plants by the Liberal government back in 2011, which cost taxpayers $1-billion and forever undermined the credibility of the Liberals as responsible protectors of the public purse.
And so it goes with other Ford policies. What’s the ultimate cost of playing around with the governance and leadership of Hydro One? Great to have saved the CEO salary of the axed Mayo Schmidt but that cost pales compared to the big loss taken by the government with the decline in Hydro One’s stock price since those announcements.

Ontarians still own 47% of Ontario Hydro. But Ford will blame it all on Kathleen Wynne, just as Trump blames it all on Barack Obama.

Yep. Populism doesn't come cheap.

Image: Tigrai Online

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sound Familiar?

The most important take away from Doug Ford's decision to downsize Toronto's city council is what it says about Mr. Ford. Adam Radwanski writes:

With Friday’s announcement that he intends to dramatically change some of the province’s municipal elections already under way and outright cancel others, Mr. Ford demonstrated that unwritten rules for how premiers are supposed to act do not apply.
If not the what, it’s the how that should alarm Ontarians.

Every system of government has written and unwritten rules. Ford has sent a clear signal that he doesn't give a damn about the unwritten rules -- and that his government will be about settling old scores:

What was so urgent about Mr. Ford’s changes that they couldn’t wait until the next municipal votes in 2022 to be fairly implemented? The generous explanation is that he’s really eager to act on his impression from his single term on Toronto council that too many elected politicians are bad for government. A less charitable one is that he’s being vindictive toward old foes, thwarting former PC leader Patrick Brown’s plan to run for Peel regional chair and messing with John Tory, who bested Mr. Ford in Toronto’s past mayoral race.

Whatever his motives, Ford has chosen chaos before change:

That kind of chaos could grow wearying after a while. But in a political culture in which it’s increasingly possible for politicians like Mr. Ford to exploit cynicism around public institutions and other members of the political class, it could also become the new normal in a hurry − no squinting required.

 It's government by thugs -- and Ford is the Thug-in-Chief.

Sound familiar?

Image: Torontoist

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Welcome To Chaos

On Friday Doug Ford threw a bomb into Toronto's City Hall. He announced that he was reducing the size of the city council from 44 members to 25  -- during a municipal election. And he has the legal authority to do it. Royson James writes:

He doesn’t need to consult with the city to determine how the country’s largest city will manage the changes.
This is what we mean when we say the city is the creature of the province. Or, the premier can abolish the mayor and dissolve the City of Toronto with the stroke of a pen. No questions asked. No matter what the residents think or say. Just proclaim it!

Ford and his brother Rob tried to do exactly that when they were on the council. But they were voted down. Now Ford has achieved by fiat what he couldn't achieve by vote.

The premier says that the council is dysfunctional. But its problems go back to the last PC premier -- Mike Harris:

Premier Mike Harris was the villain then. And he touched off the most tumultuous, sustained protest for local democracy that our local municipal government has seen in anyone’s memory. Kathleen Wynne, before she was a politician, was one of the principals in planning the protests.
Back then we had six mayors, six fire chiefs, six city councils and more than 100 city councillors in Metro Toronto. Harris argued that cutting the six to one would save wads of cash and create unimaginable efficiencies.

There's that magic word -- efficiencies. That's what Ford said he would find. But he never said how he would find them. Consider what happened when Harris found his "efficiencies:"
The last 20 years has been the most challenging period for Toronto — precisely because of the way the Harris government implemented the amalgamation. Toronto has barely recovered. What it needs now is stability and support — not another chaotic period buttressed by uncertainty.
City council can’t end transit gridlock, fix the $1 billion public housing backlog, and build infrastructure because the large number of councillors are stumbling over themselves, arguing and unable to decide. Bunkum.
The housing backlog was created when the Harris government downloaded the cost of social housing on Toronto, one of the most outrageous political decisions. Ford, barely elected premier, has not relieved the burden. In fact, he has announced further cuts on this file.
Transit? Harris again reduced provincial funding, truncated the Sheppard subway, filled in the Eglinton West subway and set the TTC off on a downward spiral.
The Fords aggravated the situation. Doug’s late brother, Rob, created the delays by insisting, as mayor, that “subways, subways, subways” replace the approved and paid for LRT plan, proposed by Rob’s predecessor David Miller. That kicked off several rounds of debate and studies and redebate and delays.
Doug Ford’s transit pronouncements are adding to the delays and confusion — independent of the size of city council.
For example, Ford has announced he will amend Toronto’s current transit plans — a move that will lengthen, not shorten the approval process. It’s a red herring to suggest that the size of city council has anything to do with the number of times council must vote on the Scarborough subway extension. A new, 25-member council will have to vote on the Scarborough subway extension another three or four times — just like a 100-member council would. It’s the approval process, stupid.
The reason the Scarborough subway decision is taking long is because provincial governments keep changing the rules — for political reasons, and because they can.

When Conservatives are in power these days, they throw bombs and break things.

Welcome to Chaos.

Image: Press Reader

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Moment Of Supreme Crisis

Richard Wolfe writes that journalism is facing an existential crisis:

It’s long past time to wake up to the existential threat facing the media on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s time to ask the tough questions of our politicians – and the tough questions of ourselves.

Those politicians are making it harder for journalists to ask questions:

Back at today’s White House, CNN’s White House reporter Kaitlan Collins found herself barred from a press event for having the temerity to ask a question at all. As the reporter for the collective White House media, known as the “pool”, she lobbed a question at Donald Trump and the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker, just like hundreds of reporters before her.
The officials managing communications for Trump’s White House deemed the questions “inappropriate” and excluded her from a Rose Garden statement the same day.
The decision was made by Bill Shine, the new White House communications director and former Fox News executive, whose career rose with the man who is quite probably the most dumb and offensive anchor on television: Sean Hannity.

When the official political institutions of a country have been corrupted, there are only two checks left  -- the courts and the press. In the United States, the Supreme Court has almost been captured. That leaves the press:

In the UK, there is a more aggressive culture of media questioning in part because of the parliamentary tradition of prime minister’s questions – the live and televised weekly grilling of the leader of the government.
In the US, without any equivalent of prime minister’s questions, there are only the informal and irregular opportunities the media finds to pop off questions to a president. Thus the importance of that rare event in the Trump presidency: a full press conference. Of course, Congress could and should ask questions of the executive branch, but that kind of oversight – and balance of power – has shriveled under this Republican leadership with this president.

If the press can be neutered, the game is over. Consider what has happened in Turkey:

There are the courts and there are independent news organizations. Anyone who has watched the systematic crushing of Turkey’s vibrant media knows that today’s wannabe dictators have wised up to the power of the press to shatter their deceitful hold over their people.

This is a moment of supreme crisis. Make no mistake.

Image: Montgomery County PA

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump Likes To Break Things

Yesterday, the president of the European Commission met with Donald Trump. Jean-Claude Juncker had an unenviable task -- trying to convince Trump that the European Union is a good idea. Andrew Hammond writes:

At the heart of this diplomatic discord is Mr. Trump’s disdain for the European Union, which goes significantly beyond that of any president since the bloc’s establishment. While he has concerns with Europe’s low levels of defence spending vis-a-vis Washington, it is on the economic front that the Brussels-based club is the deepest source of frustration for him with its large goods surplus with the United States.

For Trump, everything is about the money. He recently tweeted:

“Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking. Remember, we are the ‘piggy bank’ that’s being robbed.”

His objective is clear:

This latest tweet builds on remarks last week from Mr. Trump when he remarkably declared, “I think the EU is a foe, what they do to us [the United States] in trade.” While some have dismissed this remark as just another spur-of-the-moment presidential outburst, Anthony Gardner – who served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union under Barack Obama – has warned that, “Europe wake-up; the U.S. wants to break-up the EU. Remember Belgium’s motto L’Union Fait la Force (Unity creates strength).”

Trump is on the side of the side of the Brexiteers, claiming -- while visiting Theresa May -- that Boris Johnson would make a "great" prime minister. A friend of mine calls Trump a weapon of mass destruction.

Children break things. Adults build them. Mr. Trump likes to break things.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Not His Strong Suites

Lawrence Martin writes that, if sanity prevails, Donald Trump will not impose tariffs on automobiles manufactured in Canada. Recently, there has been a strong chorus in favour of sanity and against Trump's claim that the tariffs would strengthen American national security:

Vehement voices came together Thursday at Commerce Department hearings on the tariff proposals. It was an onslaught. More than 40 parties testified. With the exception of labour unions, representatives from most every component of the U.S. automotive value chain raised alarm bells.
But if it sounds like a no-brainer that the Trump tariff plan is headed for the dustbin, there are some who believe the President’s mind is already made up, that the hearings are just to show that consultation was undertaken, and that he will move ahead with the measures that promise to be far more punishing than his steel and aluminum tariffs.
The governments of Mexico, Canada and Ontario joined in with similar appraisals. “Rather than potentially strengthening U.S. national security,” Canada’s deputy ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman said in a strong presentation, “tariffs on automotive imports from Canada would undermine U.S. security and would have a devastating impact on U.S. competitiveness in the auto sector.”
She made the point that given the degree of integrated cross-border production, “Canadian cars are U.S. cars,” explaining that assembled vehicles exported from Canada to the United States contain more than 50 per cent U.S. content.

All quite reasonable arguments. But reason -- and sanity -- are not Donald Trump's strong suites.

Image: Autofocus.ca

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Real Thing

E. J. Dionne writes that the Helsinki press conference showed us the real Donald Trump -- unadorned:

The truth is that Trump really does have what you might call a special relationship with Putin and Russia, for reasons still not fully known. He views foreign policy not as a way of protecting the nation but as an extension of his own narrow, personal interests.
He has no respect for our basic liberties, which is why he entertained turning over our country’s former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and other Putin critics to the Russian dictator’s mercies until widespread revulsion required Trump to back off.
The focus and discipline necessary to run a government are so alien to him that most of his top lieutenants were left in the dark about what Vlad and Don were cooking up.

During the election campaign, there were all kinds of apologists stepping up for Trump:

In 2016 and for much of 2017, those warning that Trump was exactly the dangerous scoundrel he appeared to be were accused of missing his fundamental genius and his deep connection with discounted Americans. Trump’s detractors were said to be “out of touch” and “elitist,” as if only those with exquisitely elevated tastes in society’s upper reaches could possibly worry about his indifference to truth, his contempt for women and immigrants, his disdain for a free press, and his flouting of the expectations we have of those on whom we confer power.
Was it only an elite thing to be concerned that Trump might be hiding something in those tax returns that he refuses to release? Was it out of touch to wonder why he praised Putin again and again, at one point saying that Putin was far more of “a leader” than President Obama?

And at Helsinki -- despite all the subterfuge -- there was one moment of truth from Putin:

At the Helsinki news conference that will live in infamy, Jeff Mason of Reuters asked Putin: “Did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
Putin replied: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

The apologists and Trump are still piling it on thick. But let's be clear: In Helsinki, the world got to see the real thing.  Only fools would drink that stuff.

Image: thehill.com

Monday, July 23, 2018

Harris 2.0

Doug Ford has established a special commission -- headed by former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell -- to look into Ontario's finances. The auditor general took a look at those finances four months ago. And, Alan Freeman writes, Bonnie Lysyk is no patsy:

Lysyk issued a report alleging that the projected deficit for 2018-19 of $6.7-billion was seriously understated, and was in fact closer to double that figure, at $11.7-billion. She blamed the discrepancy on the government’s accounting of pension plan assets and the costs of the Fair Hydro plan, which essentially gave a big cut in power rates now, only to be paid back well into the future.
Lysyk went beyond the usual role of provincial bean-counter. In fact, her approach was so aggressive that it caused considerable discomfort within the Ontario public service and made working with her office difficult for many. For one thing, government accounting is a pretty esoteric business, and there were expert voices who disagreed with Lysyk’s views. And she had a habit of going beyond her mandate as an agent of the legislature—as when she reported on how she would have analyzed partisan-inclined ad spending under an old law that the legislature had already superseded.
Be that as it may, her repeated criticisms and lengthy reports — her 2017 AG report was a mere 1,107 pages — did more than anything to undermine the fiscal credibility of the Liberals and allow the Doug Ford Conservatives to use Ontario’s rising debt as a cudgel to ultimately beat their adversaries.

So why does Doug Ford want to re-do Lysyk's work? It's not about the numbers. It's about the politics:

The reason why Ford is naming his own commission is that this process is not about accounting or even the long-term structure of government finances. It’s about politics and the Ford government’s need to prepare the public for swingeing cuts in spending, even though he promised just the opposite. Remember the Tory election campaign. Lower taxes, Lower deficits. And improved services. All through the magic of painless “efficiencies.” Electioneering is easy. Governing a lot less so.
So far, Ford’s “efficiencies” have only added substantial red numbers to the budget. The cancellation of cap-and-trade and the elimination of 758 renewable energy projects are supposed to be about savings but will probably end up costing billions to the treasury as lawyers go after the province for breach of contract.
The abrupt cancellation of the energy projects shows how politics is already trumping sound financial management in the Ford government. While the energy programme was probably ill-conceived, wouldn’t it make more sense to do a line-by-line analysis of every project and decide which ones can be renegotiated or delayed at less cost to the treasury than simply a blanket cancellation of every project? But that would take time and make for a less sexy headline.
What Ford is looking to do is lay the groundwork for a revised 2018-19 budget deficit that’s will be closer to $15-billion than the original $6.7-billion predicted in the spring, followed by a series of cuts. An inflated budget number this year will also make it easier to show progress in the future.
The most telling quote of the week came from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who said after the announcement of the dual inquiries, “We are prepared for the likelihood that we might not like what we see.” Translation: We’re bracing for a humongous deficit and we’re going to do everything possible to stick it on the Liberals now and forever.

So who's going to be hit first? Hospitals? Doctors and Nurses?

My bet is that Ford will go for cuts to education before health. The Conservatives generally don’t have much time for universities or for teachers and slashing health care won’t be appreciated by his most loyal supporters, who skew towards an older demographic.

Ford had no use for education in his past life. There is no reason for him to change his perspective. Ontario's teachers, those who work in its schools -- and the students who attend them -- should get ready for Mike Harris 2.0

Image: CTV News

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Many Are There?

The United States has entered a strange new world. Americans have never been here before because they have never had a president like this before. Michael Harris writes:

In the wake of the Surrender Summit, the president was variously called: a bumbling ingenue; a psychiatric study; a preposterous liar; a useful idiot; a national disgrace; a Putin groupie; a Russian intelligence asset; and a presidential traitor.
Some of these epithets were hurled at him by members of his own party.

It was a real life play -- a  21st Century version of The Comedy of Errors:

Standing beside Vladimir Putin this week, Trump once again chose Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 election over the documented conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
Although Trump had been briefed in detail on the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers who hacked into the election, he spoke of Putin’s “strong” and “powerful” denial. He even said that he couldn’t think of any reason Russia “would” do such a thing, a deadly ad lib that clearly threw American intelligence under the bus.
Both Republican congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, rebuked their leader. Dan Coats, Trump’s national intelligence director, flatly contradicted the president in a statement not vetted by the White House: without doubt, and despite Putin’s lies, Russia had hacked the 2016 U.S. election. American intelligence, Coats said, was dead right in its assessment and would continue to burrow into Russia’s continuing attacks on the United States.
Thus was born the “double-negative” defence. Faced with wildfires raging in Congress and a curtain of smoke rising from his hitherto non-flammable base, Trump’s team made him read what they hilariously billed as a “clarification.”
Here’s how it worked. Where Trump had in reality said the word “would” in his Helsinki comments, the president now said he had actually meant to say he couldn’t think of any reason why Russia “wouldn’t” have done the hacking.
It was the full whiplash for Trumpland.

And the Republicans bought it. Conservative foreign affairs analyst Max Boot wrote in The Washington Post that the Republicans had gone from "criticising useful idiots to being useful idiots."

Which raises the question: "How many useful idiots are there in the United States?"

Image: National Review

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven . . .

Hugh MacKenzie writes that we should have had an adult conversation about taxes and public services long ago. But that conversation has never happened, despite the obvious connection between the two:

Tax cuts reduce fiscal capacity, driving reductions in public services and that if you want better public services, you need to increase the government’s fiscal capacity to generate revenue.
The alternative, from a 4-year-old’s perspective: if you go to the corner store with less money, you are going to come home with less candy.

In Ontario, the Wynne government began such a conversation -- then quickly gave up:

The closest we came in Ontario was the debate fostered by former premier Kathleen Wynne over how to pay for the massive investments in public transit infrastructure required in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
That got as far as a backgrounder prepared by Toronto’s city manager in 2012, followed by a formal options paper released by the transit agency Metrolinx in May 2013, which analyzed the revenue potential and impacts of a short list of options to raise money for transit funding.
It did not go well right out of the gate. Everybody wanted better transit. But everybody wanted someone else to pay for it.
And then the provincial government threw in the towel. The provincial government called a byelection in Scarborough and, all of a sudden, transit planning went out the window: the promise was promising Scarborough a three-stop subway instead of light rail at double the cost. And all of it for free.

Our other politicians have refused to go there:

Massive tax cuts were introduced by Paul Martin’s Liberals in the early-2000s coupled with a retreat by the federal government from public services in areas of jurisdiction shared with the provinces.
A cut in the GST rate by the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives led directly to the current federal deficit.

And we're living with the consequences:

The aggregate impact has been stunning. In 1992, the five-year average of total government expenditures as a share of GDP was 48.6 per cent. In 2016, the five-year average was 40.1 per cent — in the context of today’s $2 trillion economy, that’s worth $170 billion in lost spending on public services.
We see clear crisis indicators of decline everywhere we look:
Crumbling public infrastructure.
An elementary and secondary education system whose funding cannot meet the needs of today’s students.
Post-secondary tuition that is now more than triple what it was 25 years ago.
The lack affordable housing and the rise in homelessness.
A public health insurance system that excludes the fastest growing component of health care costs (pharmaceutical drugs) and that is straining to meet the needs of an aging population.

It's the age old conundrum: Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die. We have to pay for what we want.

Image: Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives

Friday, July 20, 2018

What Brilliance!

Capitalism is alive and well, Gerry Caplan writes, thanks to kids:

I've been stressed worrying that all those little kids stolen by Donald Trump's goons from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border were throwing a wrench into American capitalism. Don't be silly. Capitalism abides, Dude.
Government payments for shelters and other child welfare services for those children cost $958 million last year, and counting. "The recipients of the money run the gamut from nonprofits, religious organizations and for-profit entities," says the article. But even a non-profit like Southwest Key Programs owns another company that is itself a for-profit holding company "made up of several businesses," according to its annual report. These separated infants and toddlers may be traumatized for life, but they're great for business.
It's somehow reassuring in a tumultuous world to learn that capitalism is still alive and well. With so many despicable villains abounding everywhere, some wondered where simple, cruel, exploitative capitalism might have slithered to. In fact, thanks to kids everywhere, it's thriving.

Want another example.? Look at Big Tobacco:

True, the tobacco companies need help figuring out how to sell more cigarettes. In the western world, smoking has finally become the thing not to do, after generations of gullible kids were persuaded they were cool by lighting up. I was once one of them, and my ancient throat and lungs still pay the price every day.
Luckily, the underdeveloped world has once again come to the rescue of western capitalists, this time the tobacco titans. There they are, blasting young people  with massive advertising campaigns to make smoking hip, like the ones that worked their deadly wiles on the west for so long. These canny entrepreneurs are making sure that millions of poor people around the world will dramatically increase their chance of getting extremely sick and dying early in excruciating pain.
According to sources such as the U.S. Department of Labour and Human Rights Watch, somewhere around 20 countries have children as young as 13 working in their tobacco fields. Naturally, those who made their living denying that tobacco is addictive and deadly have no trouble denying the proved existence of child labour.

And then there is the case of Nestle, which is trying to stamp out breastfeeding:

Nestle is the world's largest food and beverage company in an industry worth a cool $70 billion, and as its very own website reassures us, it's "Committed to enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future."

The facts tell a different story: "smoking causes 6 million deaths a year, while 800,000 children's deaths could be prevented annually with breastfeeding."

Each time capitalism comes under attack, it seeks out and finds a new population of vulnerables.

What brilliance!

Image: Nascent Solutions

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What's Around The Corner

Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet yesterday. He's getting ready for the next election and for more immediate battles. And the most pressing battle will be with Doug Ford. Susan Delacourt writes:

The more you look at this so-called pre-election shuffle, the more you see Doug Ford’s victory rippling through the some of the biggest changes to the federal Liberal ministry. If shuffles had ad slogans, this one would be: Built Ford Tough.

It's of considerable interest that Trudeau has raised former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's profile:

There’s Bill Blair, an old enemy of the Ford brothers, in a job that will inevitably put him soon on a collision course with the new premier. Or as the Conservatives’ deputy leader Lisa Raitt predicted at her post-shuffle news conference, a relationship bound to be “fraught” with difficulties.

But Donald Trump is also not far from Trudeau's musings. Jim Carr is now the Minister of Trade Diversification. And, by establishing a new ministry for seniors, Trudeau will be making a pitch for those of us over 65 who can be reliably counted on to vote Blue. Still,

Blair’s promotion may actually be one of the most interesting features of a shuffle that was altogether fascinating for what it says about the Trudeau government a little more than a year away from seeking re-election. Eighteen months ago, the deck was shuffled to deal with Trump. That’s still a big concern — witness Jim Carr’s transfer to minister of international trade diversification, which you could call Plan B for potentially faltering NAFTA talks. But Ford has clearly joined Trump on the list of shuffle-worthy worries for the Trudeau team. How do you deal with the Fords? Call the cops.

The battle will move to the courts first. By breaking a contract to build a wind farm in Prince Edward County, by breaking another contract with Brewers Retail and by challenging the Trudeau government's carbon tax, lawyers for the Ontario government will be kept very busy.

But, in the next election, Ontario will be Ground Zero. The cabinet shuffle is a signal that Trudeau knows what's around the corner.

Image: Huffington Post Canada

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Is At Stake

Mark Kingwell writes in The Globe And Mail that now is the time to impeach Donald Trump:

Historian Simon Schama, articulating the thoughts of many, called it “Trump’s Neville Chamberlain moment,” referring to the hapless British prime minister who claimed “peace in our time” by appeasing Adolf Hitler. Mr. Schama went on: “America sold out by its President. A violation of his oath of office. If this isn’t impeachable what is?”

The answer, writes Kingwell is obvious. And the way is clear:

Grounds for impeachment, as set out in the U.S. Constitution, include “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours,” as Mr. Brennan indicated. More specifically, Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 says that treason “shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
Adhering to or giving aid and comfort to an enemy – check. More than two witnesses – check, by a very large factor.
Immediate responses to calls for a Trump impeachment are usually twofold: 1) There is no way Congress will even consider impeachment proceedings against a reckless leader who has nevertheless benefited them materially; 2) Impeachment of Mr. Trump will prove so divisive that it is impractical, especially given the spin the President and his supporters would likely adopt, namely that it is a take-out orchestrated by elite interests.

But those objections no longer carry any weight. The issue is whether the Congress has the constitutional fortitude to to the job.

If indeed Congress lacks the moral fortitude to pursue impeachment, they deserve to be judged as harshly as he. And if the country as a whole cannot weather the fallout from some disgruntled Trump hardliners, it scarcely merits status as a liberal democracy. Robust nations are not held hostage by their own extremists.

What's at stake is American democracy.

Image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

American Stupidity

America is a very stupid country. That statement must be true, Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post, because Donald Trump keeps repeating it:

He offered this opinion on at least nine occasions since he launched his campaign for the presidency — and he should know.
It is furthermore the president’s highly intelligent opinion we have been led by “stupid people” and “our laws are so corrupt and stupid.” We have been stupid about trade. We have been stupid in dealing with Iraq, Iran, China, Mexico, Canada, Europe and Muslims. We have the “dumbest” immigration laws. Among the many stupid things Trump has identified: White House staffers, the FBI, the National Football League, Democrats, the filibuster and journalists.

But Exhibit A for Trump is his country's relationship with Russia:

We are at our most imbecilic when dealing with Russia. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity,” he tweeted before meeting Monday in Helsinki with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs retweeted Trump’s assessment of his own country’s stupidity, tacking on the words “We agree.”

And, at home, Trump is besieged by morons:

The CIA’s ignorance is as nothing compared with the ignoramus Robert S. Mueller III and his special counsel investigation (“we have this stupidity going on — pure stupidity,” Trump said in Britain), which on Friday indicted 12 Russians in the hack of the Democratic National Committee. The dunces of the DNC “should be ashamed of themselves” for being hacked, Trump said.

By way of contrast, Trump claims that he is "a very stable genius." However, with each passing day, he validates Mark Twain's observation that, "it's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt."

Image: Imgflip

Monday, July 16, 2018

Less Than Honourable Men

Four British Foreign Secretaries have resigned since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Three of them, William Keegan writes, were honourable men:

[Lord] Carrington resigned over the way the Foreign Office had mishandled the prelude to the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina in 1982 by sending misleading signals about our attitude towards retention of those remote islands in the south Atlantic.
Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in 1989 on the not unreasonable grounds that Thatcher’s attitude to – guess what – Europe had rendered his job impossible. Entering into negotiations was, he declared in a scintillating resignation speech, “like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”.
Robin Howe  resigned over British participation in the invasion of Iraq. He had the odd misadventure while foreign secretary, and in fact had moved on to become leader of the house when he resigned. His was an honourable resignation on an extremely important issue.
He died young, but his resignation speech still reads like one of the great political speeches of the postwar years, and he goes down in history with his reputation intact. By contrast, Tony Blair’s reputation looks as though it will never recover from his having misled the nation with the “dodgy dossier”. This is a tragedy on several levels, the most recent manifestation being that few people take his pronouncements on Brexit seriously, although he talks perfect sense when saying that the best Brexit deal is to remain where we are, and forget the whole idea.

Not so with Boris Johnson. He wreaks of ambition, not principle:

Johnson put his crazed ambition to be leader of the Conservative party and prime minister above the national interest. Taking advantage of his charismatic appeal to the nation – which has always amazed me: he is basically what we used to call a twerp – he opted, against what we are told was his better judgment (always assuming he has any), to be the most prominent leader of the Leave campaign, during which, characteristically, he lied continually.

We are cursed these days with more than our share of men like Johnson. Something to think about as Trump meets Putin.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Getting Closer To The Fire

On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 members of the Russian GRU for attempting to sabotage the American election. Donald Trump knew the indictments were coming. But, when they were announced, he was unimpressed. Andrew Coyne writes:

“I think I would have a very good relationship with President Putin if we spent time together,” Trump mused the next morning at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. He would, that is, were it not for “the rigged witch hunt.” By which he meant the investigation, under special counsel Robert Mueller, of possible collusion between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign to throw the 2016 election to the Republicans.

All along the way, Trump has been monumentally incurious about Russian involvement in the election:

A thought experiment. Let us suppose the Trump administration were entirely blameless. How would an entirely blameless government ordinarily be expected to react at even the first whiff of suspicion that a foreign power, let alone an acknowledged adversary, had tampered with U.S. elections? It would be leading the charge. It would have ordered its own inquiry. It would have demanded answers from the Russian government. And the more evidence it had that its suspicions were true — long before the laying of actual criminal charges — the more ready it would be to impose penalties of some kind.
Yet at every turn the Trump administration and its supporters have done the opposite. They have not just been stunningly incurious about the worst American intelligence debacle since the Rosenbergs — they have been actively hostile to any attempt to get to the bottom of it.

The closer Mueller gets, the more Mr. Trump appears to have something to hide. So far, there has been lots of smoke. But it's clear that Mueller is getting closer to the fire.

Image: The Nation

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ignorance And Cold Hearts

Yesterday, Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod sparred with each other over refugees. It's getting pretty ugly. Martin Patriquin looks at the numbers:

In 2017, the Canadian Border Security Agency processed 11,400 asylum claimants at the country’s land ports of entry, a more than 170-per-cent increase over 2011, according to statistics from the federal government. The largest percentage of claimants hail from Haiti, with Nigerians a distant second.  Surprisingly, 2,550 American citizens also sought refugee status in this country in 2017—a 545-per-cent increase over 2016.

The movement of refugees is being driven by people fleeing war. And by an American president who doesn't understand the problem. Ignorance is also at the root of the Ontario government's response:

Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario government’s newly-ensconced Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, has spent much of her first two weeks in office triangulating her nativist anger against the “illegal border crossers” and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the supposed enabler of all this illegal activity. “Illegal border crossers are not following [the] rules, and the federal government is not enforcing them,” MacLeod bellowed recently.
Not to explain her job to her, but surely MacLeod is aware of Canada’s commitment to the U.N. Refugee Convention, in effect for 67 years, recognizing that anyone can make a refugee claim should they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Further, the Minister must be aware that making such claims “can require refugees to breach immigration rules,” as the Convention states.

Then there is Doug Ford, who is as clueless as MacLeod. They claim that what has happened in Europe is an object lesson. But they haven't been paying attention:

You need look only at Europe to see the folly in this argument. 2015 was the year of the ‘migrant crisis’, in which Greece, Italy and Germany alone took in as many as 1.75 million migrants by land and sea, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. This vast movement of humanity stoked nativist pangs in these countries along with Hungary, Spain, Poland and elsewhere. It was arguably one of the driving forces behind the Brexit vote ruling the day.
And yet three years later, the flow of migrants has largely returned to pre-2015 normality. The reason is simple enough: people have less a reason to flee their homes. Stripped of the politics, it’s a reminder how people don’t generally uproot their lives unless they are fleeing bombs or persecution.

Finally, there are our own numbers. The average Canadian family is producing 1.6 children. We're not even replacing ourselves. We need immigration to keep the country from stagnating. But Ford and MacLeod don't pay attention to such things.

Our small community has welcomed Syrian refugees. Hijabs are now a common sight on our streets. We've had to make some adjustments. But we've made them. And, yes, it takes money and good will to make them.

But Ignorance and Cold Hearts won't accomplish that.

Image: The Conversation

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Simple Truth

Boris Johnson has let it be known that he admires Donald Trump. And Donald Trump has returned the compliment. William Davies writes in The New York Times:

“I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump. I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.” These comments, subsequently leaked, were made last month by Boris Johnson, who was then Britain’s foreign secretary. Never one to discount praise, Mr. Trump reportedly expressed an interest in meeting his “friend” Mr. Johnson during his visit to London this week, noting that Mr. Johnson has been “very, very nice to me, very supportive.”

Yesterday, while trashing the way Theresa May had handled the Brexit negotiations, he also let it be known that Johnson would make a "great" prime minister. What the bromance between Trump and Johnson really illustrates, Davies writes, is "the rise of radical incompetence:"

One way to understand the rise of reactionary populism today is as the revenge of sovereignty on government. This is not simply a backlash after decades of globalization, but against the form of political power that facilitated it, which is technocratic, multilateral and increasingly divorced from local identities.    
A common thread linking “hard” Brexiteers to nationalists across the globe is that they resent the very idea of governing as a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials. Soon after entering the White House as President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon expressed hope that the newly appointed cabinet would achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In Europe, the European Commission — which has copious governmental capacity, but scant sovereignty — is an obvious target for nationalists such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary.
The more extreme fringes of British conservatism have now reached the point that American conservatives first arrived at during the Clinton administration: They are seeking to undermine the very possibility of workable government. For hard-liners such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, it is an article of faith that Britain’s Treasury Department, the Bank of England and Downing Street itself are now conspiring to deny Britain its sovereignty. It is thought that Mr. Davis’s real grudge was with the unelected official, Olly Robbins, who had usurped him in his influence over the Brexit process. The problem was that Mr. Robbins is willing and able to do the laborious and intellectually demanding policy work that Brexit will require, while Mr. Davis is famously not.
What happens if sections of the news media, the political classes and the public insist that only sovereignty matters and that the complexities of governing are a lie invented by liberal elites? For one thing, it gives rise to celebrity populists, personified by Mr. Trump, whose inability to engage patiently or intelligently with policy issues makes it possible to sustain the fantasy that governing is simple. What Mr. Johnson terms the “method” in Mr. Trump’s “madness” is a refusal to listen to inconvenient evidence, of the sort provided by officials and experts.  

That disdain for evidence produces oxymoronic thinking -- some would call it simply moronic thinking. And the end result is a cascade of exits. The simple truth is, you can't govern if everyone is leaving.

Image: BT.com

Thursday, July 12, 2018

They'll Get Alot Nastier

John Ibbitson warns his readers that Ottawa and Queens Park are about to embark on a battle royal:

One of Mr. Ford’s first acts as Premier was to scrap his Liberal predecessor’s cap-and-trade carbon tax. In response, Mr. Trudeau is vowing to impose a carbon tax on Ontario and Saskatchewan (which also opposes the tax) on Jan. 1. 

Where we live, the Ford government has cancelled a wind farm, which was years in the approval process. The project has been underway for over a year now. Local people are working there and they will lose their jobs. The president of the company building the project claims the shutdown will cost the province $100 million.

No problem says, Mr. Ford, we've written a clause into the enabling legislation, declaring that the province cannot be sued. When Caroline Mulroney -- the Ford government's legal brain trust -- was asked yesterday how that would stand up in court, she refused to answer the question and walked away.

You see where this is heading. Trudeau and Ford have also fought over refugees. Ibbitson writes:

The two first ministers are also sparring over refugee claimants who have been crossing the Canada-U.S. border illegally. Before they met on Thursday, Mr. Ford said in a statement that his government will offer no co-operation in housing the asylum seekers, wrongly declaring “this mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills.” U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies surely have more to do with it.
In response, Mr. Trudeau told reporters after the meeting that the new Premier did not appear to understand Canada’s obligations under international law.
“So I spent a little time explaining how the asylum-seeking system works and how our system is supposed to operate,” he said. You don’t need the audio to hear the condescension.

So things are getting raucous in Ontario. And they'll get a lot nastier.

Image: Spencer Fernando

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Ugly Truth

The next episode of the Trump Show -- "Blowing Up NATO" -- is being broadcast today. Donald Trump has his script. But, if the members of the alliance hang together, it will not go as Trump has planned. NATO, however, isn't the climax. It's Trump's meeting with Putin. And there are at least a couple of reasons why Trump has made the summit with Putin the real show. To begin with, Trump and Putin are birds of a feather. Joseph Ingrham writes:

Let’s start with the two of them as mirror images of flawed personalities. Both display behaviors reflective of serious inferiority complexes – Trump driven by a life-long rejection by New York’s business and cultural elites (not to speak of a troubled and mediocre academic record) and Putin’s preoccupation with his diminutive physical stature, which seems to cause him to constantly feel the need to display his shirtless torso and his mediocre hockey skills.
Both are narcissists and pathological liars, using whatever means they can to attain their goals. In the case of Trump, this includes a persistent trail of questionable business practices and, more recently, no compunction about separating young immigrant children from their families. In the case of Putin, in all probability, it includes the practiced physical elimination of political foes, a la the KGB, and the invasion of sovereign countries as a means to creating a larger Russian dominated domain. Both men view protecting human rights as an inconvenient nuisance that only get in the way of their personal convictions and authoritarian instincts.

More than similarly dysfunctional personalities, both men share the same vision of the world:

Then there is their shared vision of the world, and the impact of globalisation – a phenomenon they both see as an existential threat to their limited appreciation of “civilization.” Rather than any empathy for cultural and sociological diversity and the need to cultivate and manage it in ways that benefit our evolving societies more widely, they both seek to limit it by slowing immigration (especially from non-white, non-Christian countries), promoting a 19th century form of nationalism (and history shows us what that can bring), and by downplaying the role of multilateralism, its institutional components, and collective solutions to global challenges.

The G7,  the European Union and NATO are diametrically opposed to that vision. The European Union is particularly offensive to both men:

The European Union — based on the values of liberal democracy and a multilateral approach that subordinates narrow nationalism to a collective identity based on shared nationalisms and humanitarianism — is anathema to both men. Instead, they aspire to a world in which the northern hemisphere is dominated by governments led by strong, white, Judeo-Christians – mainly male and heterosexual (at least officially heterosexual) – capable of preserving what western men, such as they, have built.

When the two men get together, you can bet they will discuss how they're shared project is going. And anwyway, Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine, Trump has been a Russian operative for a long time. That's why Trump is desperate to sink the Mueller investigation -- because Mueller now knows the whole ugly story:

The first intimations that Trump might harbor a dark secret originated among America’s European allies, which, being situated closer to Russia, have had more experience fending off its nefarious encroachments. In 2015, Western European intelligence agencies began picking up evidence of communications between the Russian government and people in Donald Trump’s orbit. In April 2016, one of the Baltic states shared with then–CIA director John Brennan an audio recording of Russians discussing funneling money to the Trump campaign. In the summer of 2016, Robert Hannigan, head of the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, flew to Washington to brief Brennan on intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The contents of these communications have not been disclosed, but what Brennan learned obviously unsettled him profoundly. In congressional testimony on Russian election interference last year, Brennan hinted that some Americans might have betrayed their country. “Individuals who go along a treasonous path,” he warned, “do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.” In an interview this year, he put it more bluntly: “I think [Trump] is afraid of the president of Russia. The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”

The question is, "How much damage will Trump do before the Ugly Truth -- all of it -- comes out?"

Image: Sputnik International

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Cost Of Rising Seas

For those who don't live on a seacoast, rising oceans mean little -- unless you put the issue in dollars and cents terms. Tim Radford, who was the science editor for The Guardian  for twenty five years, does just that:

The rising seas’ cost may be $27 trillion a year in U.S. dollars for the world by 2100 if it fails to meet the UN’s 2ºC global warming limit by then, with sea level rise of, at its worst, almost six feet (nearly two meters), new research says.
A study led by the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) says the worldwide cost of flooding caused by rising sea levels, at their median level, could by 2100 be $14 trillion, if governments miss the United Nations target of keeping the rise in global temperatures, caused by unremitting fossil fuel use, to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. But the extent and cost could be much higher.

It's not just that the financial costs are staggering.  Huge segments of humanity are looking into the maw catastrophe:

Svetlana Jevrejeva of the NOC is the study’s lead author. She said: “More than 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal areas, less than 10 meters above sea level. In a warming climate, global sea level will rise due to the melting of land-based glaciers and ice sheets, and from the thermal expansion of ocean waters. So sea level rise is one of the most damaging aspects of our warming climate.”

But, more than that, the poorest among us will pay the most:

Using World Bank income groups (high, upper-middle, lower-middle and low-income countries), they then assessed the impact of sea level rise in coastal areas from a global perspective.
The researchers also found that it was upper-middle income countries such as China that would see the largest increase in flood costs, while the richest ones would suffer the least, because of the high levels of protection infrastructure they already enjoyed. The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

So we in the West blindly stumble into the future. An American president claims it's all a hoax. And, besides, wealth has its privileges.

Image: Progressive Charlestown

Monday, July 09, 2018

Useful Idiots

Jonathan Manthorpe understands Donald Trump. He understands that, where Trump goes, destruction follows:

Trump has denounced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as “obsolete” and pointedly shied away from committing to the pledge to mutual defence that is at the heart of the alliance. He has rudely dismissed all Washington’s trade alliances, especially the free-trade pact with Canada and Mexico, as means by which the U.S. is bled dry. The World Trade Organization has treated the U.S. “very badly.” In an unmatched piece of absurd ignorance, Trump even said the European Union “was put there to take advantage of the United States.”
Having abused the best friends of the U.S., Trump flew to Singapore to fawn on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, one of the world’s nastiest despots with a record of killing even his closest relatives who get out of line.
But Kim played Trump like a violin. In return for giving Trump a glossy ten-by-eight of them shaking hands and a meaningless piece of paper with vague promises about peace and plenty, Kim got recognition from Washington that North Korea is in the club of nuclear weapons powers. He also got a de facto end to economic sanctions.

Kim recognizes that Trump is a useful idiot. So does Vladimir Putin. Ex KJB types know a useful idiot when they see one:

By his character and nature Trump was pre-programmed to betray the U.S., and Putin – alert KGB man that he is – saw a pigeon ready for the plucking.
Trump is a narcissist who, lacking any creative urges or abilities, uses chaos and destruction to ensure the focus of attention is always on him. Like many weak and self-pitying people, Trump is a bully who berates all those around him to hide the fact that he has nothing sensible to say and no vision of what might be created. He strikes out because he fears more knowledgeable and insightful people may expose his unplumbed shallowness. He lies because he fears the truth.

Whether Robert Mueller can prove that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election is irrelevant. He's colluding with them now.

And a huge segment of the American population refuses to see that. There is more than one useful idiot in the United States.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

No More Parties?

As discussion in the public square gets uglier and uglier, Andrew Nikiforuk returns to a suggestion Simone Weil made over eighty-five years ago: It's time to abolish political parties:

Simone Weil, a French philosopher and mystic, concluded that political parties had become organizations dedicated to one purpose: “killing in all souls the sense of truth and justice.”
Although her radical essay calling for the abolition of political parties wasn’t published until 1950, it remains the only polished political stone on a beach now smothered in plastic.

Weil believed that political parties smothered the search for truth,  justice and democracy:

Weil measured the performance of political parties against three critical things that matter in life: truth, justice and the public interest. She found that they dishonored all three principles because a party’s essential character was anathema to such pursuits.
To Weil all political parties possess three dangerous traits: they work as machines to “generate collective passions;” they strive to exert pressure upon the minds of their members with propaganda; and they have but one goal — to promote their own growth “without limits.”
As such, every party becomes a means to an end and that end can only be totalitarian in nature.
Weil, then, regarded political parties as self-augmenting and self-serving entities primarily concerned about gaining and securing power.

Weil's diagnosis appears particularly accurate these days:

Today we’d recognize many of these characteristics in the constant campaigning, the rigorous branding and the ruthless employment of techniques to engineer votes either through Facebook or data miners like Cambridge Analytica
A 2014 book, Tragedy In the Commons, shed much light on the whole totalitarian story.
Based on interviews with exiting Canadian politicians, the authors found that their subjects shared a near total disdain for the discipline, feuds and partisanship of the party system. “As power consolidates under the party leader and staff, MPs become increasingly powerless and the voters increasingly disenfranchised, making the misfortune of this behaviour all the more acute,” concluded the authors.

So perhaps it's time our politicians took Weil's suggested oath of office:

“Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.”

Pie in the sky? Perhaps. But consider the alternative.

Image: Colin Bennett

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Out In The Cold

Donald Trump has made it pretty clear that he wants to do to NATO what he did to the G7 -- blow it up. Trump has always been a bully; and he's not going to change. Michael Harris writes:

Some NATO members have already received a dunning letter from Trump demanding more defence spending as a percentage of GDP. If they don’t hop to it, the president is threatening to reconsider U.S. troop deployments abroad.
In other words, he will take his soldiers from places like Germany, where they have been stationed for decades, and go home.
Would he actually do it? You betcha and at the drop of a tweet. This is the man who has circled the wagons around America at every opportunity on the international stage. He’s shunned the Paris Climate Accord, the UN Human Rights Commission, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal. He recently said NATO was as bad as NAFTA, which of course he’s also thinking tearing up.

So, to keep the alliance together, should Trump be placated?  That response would be catastrophic. In the end, there's always only been one way to deal with a bully. And that's the way NATO should deal with Trump:

The other approach to Trump would be to treat him as the bully and psychopathic liar that he is. For those who mistake the office for the man, who confuse the presidency with Trump, this is seen as irresponsible schoolyard talk.
But the office never sanctifies the man, at least not in a democracy. Occasionally, there is wisdom in the schoolyard, and nothing but cowardice in fake displays of diplomatic normality.
For NATO to rein in Trump, it means taking a page out of Trudeau’s book in the wake of the president’s G7 shenanigans. Just as the PM said of Canadians, NATO should make clear that its members can’t be pushed around — no matter who is doing the pushing.
Have a conversation about the financial arrangements of the alliance, to be sure. But don’t bow and scrape to the bully’s demands, because with this guy, you may never get off your knees again.
Psychologists would call standing up to Trump creating new, healthy boundaries for the relationship. The message is simple enough: the U.S. is powerful, but not all-powerful. Yes it’s a great country, but there’s a limit to American exceptionalism.
The new normal can’t be one member of NATO dictating terms to all the others. The foundation of the relationship with Trump must be that no one in the room is intimidated by his belligerence or brainlessly starry-eyed over the office he holds.

Such an approach will not humble Trump. But it will leave him out in the cold -- where he belongs.

Image: JSTOR Daily

Friday, July 06, 2018

He Can Walk On The Water

Yesterday, Donald Trump fired his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. Given Pruitt's record, his dismissal should come as no surprise. What is surprising is that, just last month, Trump praised Pruitt's job performance. Richard Wolfe writes:

Just last month, he used his protective cloak to single Scott out for special treatment. “EPA is doing really, really well,” he said. “Somebody has to say that about you a little bit. You know that, Scott.”

But performance reviews change like the weather in Trumpland. Consider the other "stars" who have left the Trump Show:

First a Bannon, then a Scaramucci. You fire an Omarosa, then you lose all Hope. You reject a Rex but you can’t get your Gorka back in the bottle.
It’s almost like there’s some invisible hand steering this bizarre sequence of hirings and firings, but we can’t figure out what the hand is trying to do. Or if it’s a left or right hand. Or if either hand knows they are connected through the same torso.

That said, its Pruitt's record that really needs to be examined:

In year one, he rolled back regulations protecting clean water. He scrubbed away references to climate change and stopped collecting data on methane emissions. He blocked regulations designed to cut emissions from cars and power plants.

And the man who replaces Pruitt is no gift to the environment:

Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist . . . used to be chief of staff to James Inhofe, the Republican senator for Oklahoma, perhaps the loudest and dumbest climate denier on Capitol Hill.
Wheeler is the kind of fossil fuel guy who enjoys the Onion’s parody of him as a pulsating black sludge. Making America Great Again does not extend to the land, water and air we know as America.
Wheeler will now serve as the acting administrator, and likely successor to Saint Scott, in much the same way as a fox looks after a henhouse. As if by magic, the fossil fuel industry has taken over the agency that was supposed to protect our environment from the worst effects of that industry. But their new man is enough of a Washington insider to avoid the personal scandals that brought down his old boss.

Yep. The man who pledged to drain the swamp has now filled it with so much crud he can walk on the water.

Image: twitter

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Our Own Fool

It didn't take long. As soon as Doug Ford got into office, he sank Ontario's Green Energy Program. And, over the weekend, Heath Minister Christine Elliott nixed the OHIP+ program, which covered prescription costs for all of Ontario's children under 24. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

In future, young people will have to turn first to their parents’ workplace plan — if they have one — that covers some or all of their expenses. Only if they have no coverage, or face additional costs, will they be able to turn to the government as a last resort, months later, for reimbursement that remains indeterminate.
On the campaign trail, Ford spoke often about his plans to cut billions in government waste because “the party with taxpayers’ dollars was over.” But he vowed to protect health-care spending, and young people had every reason to believe that a program supplying essential prescription medicines would survive Ford’s axe.

If anyone is amazed, they shouldn't be. We've seen this movie before. It's part of Ford's pitch that Ontario is "open for business." But Ford's decision simply isn't good business:

You don’t have to love pharmacare, medicare, socialized medicine, or socialism to appreciate the benefits of universal health care with comprehensive coverage. It’s not necessarily a matter of empathy or ideology, but efficiency — something Tories can surely support as much as Liberals or New Democrats.
By analogy, business think tanks have come to embrace pharmacare as a cost-effective way to benefit from a single-payer system that eliminates the waste of private insurance companies duplicating overhead and services (both administrative and diagnostic), while ramping up the scale of government purchasing power to save money on bulk buying, and also selecting the most cost-effective drugs (notably generics) to treat patients. Oh, and pharmacare doesn’t force people with strep throat to first cough up the money at a pharmacy, or check their parents’ benefits plan and wait for (possibly partial) reimbursement, and then hope the government will backstop them later.

South of the border, they have their Great Orange Fool. In Ontario, we now have our own Great Fool.

Image: Huffington Post Canada