Friday, August 31, 2018

Not A Good Day

Yesterday was not a good day for the Trudeau government. The Federal Court of Appeal shut down the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project. And word out of Washington is that the Trumpian Trade Talks are souring. On the subject of Trans Mountain, Tim Harper writes:

In a stunning confluence of events, the court overturned the National Energy Board and cabinet approval of the Trudeau pipeline expansion on the same day that shareholders with Kinder Morgan, no doubt with huge grins on their face, washed their hands of the project and gave it — lock, stock and legal headache — to the prime minister and Canadian taxpayers.
Even if it only delays the project, the court decision will mean a bigger price tag for the taxpayer, and raise another red flag to foreign investors looking at Canada as a place to do business.
[Rachel] Notley remains landlocked, and that figure in her rearview mirror is the anti-carbon-tax Jason Kenney.
It also must pain a government that has hung so much of its credibility on Indigenous reconciliation to be told by a court that its consultation with Indigenous communities concerned about this expansion amounted to little more than note-taking.
“The government of Canada was required to engage in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue,’’ the court said in its decision. “However, for the most part, Canada’s representatives limited their mandate to listening to and recording the concerns of the Indigenous applicants and then transmitting those concerns to the decision-makers.”

Trudeau's rhetoric has met the road. In fairness, Canadian Federalism has several moving parts, and getting them to all move in the same direction is no mean feat.

Besides Trans Mountain, Trudeau has been trying to do business with the Orange Ignoramus south of the border, who former Canadian trade negotiator Gordon Ritchie has called "an appallingly ignorant man."

Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland may leave Washington without a deal. And without a pipeline, Justin will face a storm of criticism -- from all sides.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Under The Banner Of Populism

Doug Ford claims he's a populist. But, Linda McQuaig writes, he spouting hogwash:

While the word “populist” is bandied about to describe plain-talkin’, right-wing politicians, that description tarnishes the reputation of real 19th-century populists in the U.S. (and Canada) who actually championed the interests of ordinary folk over the wealthy elite. Pressure from populist ranks helped put in place the U.S. income tax in 1913, as a way to tax the rich.
Doug Ford is no more a populist than my grandmother was a stage-coach. Like Donald Trump, Ford got his start by inheriting wealth, and his policies favour the rich, not the poor.

In fact, Ford is walking in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mike Harris -- who waged class warfare:

The new premier has already signalled he’s gearing up to revive the nasty class war against the poor waged by former Conservative premier Mike Harris.
What makes this revival particularly insidious is that Ford didn’t campaign on it; he refused to reveal where he’d wield the knife to produce $6 billion in spending cuts, and specifically denied he would end the Basic Income Pilot Project.
But one of his first acts was to cut off that pilot project, ignoring promises of extra income that had been made to 4,000 poor people, many of whom went back to school excited by the dream of improving their difficult lives.
Another clear signal of the Ford government’s class-war intentions was its decision last month to cut in half the scheduled increase in benefits for social assistance recipients, including those with disabilities.

The people who are in Ford's sites are an army of a million poor people. But they are voiceless and powerless:

Their powerlessness is illustrated by the fact that, after Mike Harris slashed their benefits by a whopping 21.6 per cent in 1995, they never managed to recover. Twenty-three years later, their benefits are actually slightly lower today, having been whittled away further through inflation.
Just before the June election, the Liberals pledged to increase those welfare benefits by 3 per cent, which would have raised them roughly to the level where Harris had left them.
But Ford quickly jumped in, quashing any budding hopes among the deprived that there might be a tiny bit of progress — for the first time in 23 years! Instead, the Ford government cut the planned increase from 3 to 1.5 per cent, thereby snatching $150 million from the poorest citizens in the province — and then having the impudence to call its action “compassionate.”
This is likely just a foretaste of the assault on the poor that’s coming. The Ford administration is conducting a 100-day review of social assistance, which will probably lead, among other things, to a clampdown on welfare fraud, even though the province could collect far more revenue by clamping down on the tax fraud routinely committed by lawyers and businesspeople deducting sports tickets as “business entertainment.”

Ford's brother Rob used to show up drunk at Leafs games, make an ass of himself, and claim he was never there. It's clear Doug has as much acquaintance with the truth as his dead brother.

Things are going to get rough -- under the banner of populism.

Image: CBC

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Actions And Rhetoric

Donald Trump has given Canada an ultimatum: Sign the new trade deal by Friday, or you're out in the cold. Tom Walkom writes:

Canada has been had. The Mexicans and Americans have agreed behind Canada’s back to cut a bilateral deal that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has been told it can join in, but only if it capitulates to all of Donald Trump’s demands.

Some of what's in the new deal is good for Canada:

Not everything in the Mexico-U.S. deal would be bad for Canada. Indeed, some parts would be positive.
The original NAFTA allowed companies, particularly big auto manufacturers, to relocate their operations from Canada and the U.S. to low-wage Mexico.
To his credit, Trump recognized that this was a job killer for his country. The new Mexico-U.S. deal specifies that at least 40 to 45 per cent of automotive content must come from factories where workers make at least $16 (U.S.) per hour.
The new pact would also tighten so-called rules of origin to ensure that at least 75 per cent of the content in autos sold duty-free under the deal comes from a country that is signatory to the agreement.
That too would benefit Canadian auto workers if Ottawa signed on.
As well, Mexico agreed to another useful Trump demand — the weakening of a NAFTA provision allowing foreign investors to overturn government laws and regulations that interfere with their profitability.
This so-called Chapter 11 provision has been used mainly against Canada. Yet for reasons that it has never fully explained, Ottawa resisted Trump’s efforts to eliminate it.
The Mexico-U.S. deal doesn’t get rid of Chapter 11. But it would limit its scope to firms operating in specific areas such as energy.

But there are some big poison pills:

In particular, the agreement reached by the Mexicans and Americans appears not to include an independent dispute-resolution system for sorting out trade conflicts among the signatories.
Canada has long insisted that this is a must. NAFTA’s precursor, the original 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, was almost scuppered by Ottawa over U.S. resistance to this demand.
The Mexico-U.S. deal also includes a so-called sunset clause, a date by which the agreement, unless specifically extended, will automatically expire. According to Trudeau, that too is an absolute no-no for Canada.
True, the time frame has been extended from the original American proposal of five years to 16. But the essential problem with the sunset clause — that placing an arbitrary deadline on a trade deal leads to investment uncertainty — remains.

So it's crunch time. Five of Trump's associates have either pled guilty or been found guilty of crimes. There will be more convictions. It's clear that doing business with Trump is bad business.

Justin has proclaimed that Canada will not be pushed around. Will his actions match his rhetoric?

Image: The Cut

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

No One Should Believe Him

Yesterday, Donald Trump announced that he had reached a trade deal with Mexico. Like so much that comes from Trump's mouth these days, that simply wasn't true. Lawrence Herman writes:

Telling the Mexican President that the United States might want to pursue a separate trade deal with them seems to have taken the Mexicans aback, Mexico never contemplating having to go up alone against the United States. It’s clear by now that Mr. Trump and his team don’t like dealing with Canada. That’s reflected in Canada being sidelined for weeks while the other two governments held high-level meetings behind closed doors – a disgracefully bad-faith tactic on the part of the Americans. Regardless of claims that the auto issues in the North American free-trade agreement were exclusively a U.S.-Mexico concern, Canadian companies have invested heavily in Mexican operations, and Canada had every right to be at the table while the other two governments hammered things out.

Trump wants to name his "achievement" the U.S.- Mexican Trade Deal. But NAFTA is still in effect:

As to talk of a fully revised NAFTA being concluded in the next few weeks, there seems little possibility of that. At last count, 10 of the 30 chapters of this enormously complex agreement, containing some of the most contentious issues, remain unresolved.
Added to these timing difficulties is that U.S. law requires the President to give Congress 90 days advance notice of his intention to sign the agreement, meaning a final treaty, not just an understanding or statement of principles. And after being signed by the President, Congress has a further 90 sitting days to consider it. It can be approved or rejected during that period.
With U.S. mid-term elections in November, it’s impossible for the current Congress, even under the so-called lame-duck period before year-end, to be presented with a new NAFTA and to examine it within 90 sitting days as mandated by statute.

In his telephone call, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto kept repeating the mantra "NAFTA," making it clear that he was involved in a three way negotiation. But Trump lives in his own world. He thinks he has a bilateral trade deal with Mexico. In reality, all he has is a shiny object which he can use after the legal pommelling he took last week, and after he was upstaged by John McCain's death.

One only needs to remember that Trump claims to have reached an agreement with Kim Jong Un to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons. But North Korea doesn't see things that way.

Will there be a deal? Who knows? But when Trump says he's negotiated such a deal, no one should believe him.

Image: The Independent

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Pecker In The Woodshed

Canadians would probably be surprised to learn that David Pecker is on the board of Postmedia. The owner of The National Enquirer -- which pumped up Donald Trump's campaign and buried stories which could have sunk that campaign -- has profited from the arrangement. Alan Freeman writes:

While not negotiating hush-money deals with porn stars, Pecker has found the time to be an assiduous member of the Postmedia board, attending nine board meetings in 2017 and being paid C$117,500 for his trouble. He also advised the board on executive compensation, for which I’m sure Godfrey remains eternally grateful.

And, while Postmedia is shutting down newspapers, its executives -- particularly Paul Godfrey -- are doing very well:

You have to give it to Godfrey. He’s got plenty of chutzpah. Asked to justify his $1.7-million compensation package in 2017, as the company continued its record of repeated losses and disappearing revenues, he told Toronto Life, “The board knew my track record and my asking price. Plus, there are not many people in Canada who can run a newspaper chain. . . . The job is hard and full of heartache.”
For that heartache, he took a $900,000 bonus, ostensibly for finding Chatham Asset Management, the New Jersey hedge fund as a last-ditch investor in Postmedia. It’s Chatham, which also owns a majority of American Media, that put Pecker on Postmedia’s board.
And Godfrey, clearly aiming to emulate a third-world dictator, has convinced Pecker and other members of the board to keep him on as Postmedia’s CEO until the end of 2020 at a base salary of $1.2 million a year, when Godfrey will be a sprightly 81. While Godfrey will likely still be around, Postmedia may not.

A look at The Enquirer's headlines makes it clear that Pecker is the real purveyor of fake news. So what does his presence say about Postmedia?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Update: (August 28th) The Canadian Press reports that Pecker has resigned from the board of Postmedia. In this country, Trumpian associations are toxic.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Conservatives On Immigration

Doug Ford showed up at the Conservative convention last week and didn't say anything about immigration. But, Martin Regg Cohn writes, that doesn't mean he hasn't made himself known on the subject:

While Ford had the decency to avoid diversity on this occasion, our premier still makes no apologies for stirring things up. On the same day Justin Trudeau made his first courtesy call at Queen’s Park last month, Ford issued a statement blaming and berating Ottawa for a “crisis” of “illegal border crossers.”
“This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government,” according to the premier’s office — a crisis triggered by a Trudeau tweet, the Tories claimed. Notwithstanding Ford’s troll-like taunts, I’m not aware of anyone encouraging anyone to make unauthorized crossings anywhere. While Ford recites his lines, and incites his followers, he ignores the facts.

And the facts are more complicated than what we're told:

After an accidental encounter with a Colombian family of refugee claimants this month along the Vermont border, I learned from Canadian and U.S. officials that the current surge isn’t about tweets, but timing. In fact, the flow of migrants is a two-way traffic jam: The Americans told me their border patrols regularly intercept Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. via Canada, after first flying here (visa-free tourism was restored in 2016), then circling back south. Meanwhile, the patrols regularly intercept Latin Americans going in the opposite direction, having already made it into the U.S. from the Mexican border — before heading for Canada (they often tip off their Canadian counterparts, allowing the RCMP to intercept asylum claimants across the border for legal processing).
The point is that despite the president’s Twitter-trashing, Mexicans still sneak into America via Canada. U.S. border guards tell me it was American media coverage of Trump’s tweets that had spooked Latin Americans into heading for Canada, not an unnoticed Trudeau tweet about Canadian values.

Facts, however, don't matter to the Conservatives. They like to stir the pot -- and they're good at dog whistle politics:

In truth, we can’t generalize about the motivations of any individual migrant. The only certainty is that by pressing people’s buttons, resorting to dog whistles, or blaring into political megaphones, our premier is giving people ammunition and permission to think the worst of migrants.
It doesn’t take much to stir things up. Ford knows, and Lord knows, that Canadians and Ontarians are no better than anyone else. Polling data consistently shows we are perfectly capable of prejudice and hostility against refugees and recent immigrants when prodded.

By now we should know who these people are. They're Stephen Harper's people. And they haven't changed.

Image: Haas Institute UC Berkeley

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Like Quicksand

Donald Trump's world is falling apart. Now that David Pecker has turned on him, more nasty stuff is emerging. CNN reports:

A former Trump World Tower doorman who says he has knowledge of an alleged affair President Donald Trump had with an ex-housekeeper, which resulted in a child, is now able to talk about a contract he entered with American Media Inc. that had prohibited him from discussing the matter with anyone, according to his attorney.
On Friday, Marc Held -- the attorney for Dino Sajudin, the former doorman -- said his client had been released from his contract with AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, "recently" after back-and-forth discussions with AMI.
CNN has exclusively obtained a copy of the "source agreement" between Sajudin and AMI, which is owned by David Pecker.
The contract appears to have been signed on Nov. 15, 2015, and states that AMI has exclusive rights to Sajudin's story but does not mention the details of the story itself beyond saying, "Source shall provide AMI with information regarding Donald Trump's illegitimate child..."
The contract states that "AMI will not owe Source any compensation if AMI does not publish the Exclusive..." and the top of the agreement shows that Sajudin could receive a sum of $30,000 "payable upon publication as set forth below."
But the third page of the agreement shows that about a month later, the parties signed an amendment that states that Sajudin would be paid $30,000 within five days of receiving the amendment. It says the "exclusivity period" laid out in the agreement "is extended in perpetuity and shall not expire."
The amendment also establishes a $1 million payment that Sajudin would be responsible for making to AMI "in the event Source breaches this provision."

No other sources have confirmed Sajudin's story. But one thing is clear. Trump never drained the swamp. He just dumped more crud into it. And, like quicksand, it's dragging him under.

Image: Epic Wildlife

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Same Malcontents

The Conservatives are probably feeling pretty good this morning. A thorn has been removed from their side. Maxime Bernier was a sore loser. Gary Mason writes:

The reality is, Mr. Bernier never ever accepted Mr. Scheer’s razor-thin victory over him in last year’s leadership vote, one in which the ballots were immediately destroyed, denying anyone the chance of reviewing them for irregularities. There is also the fact that for all Mr. Scheer’s good points – including an amiable, open disposition that is the exact opposite of his predecessor, Stephen Harper – he does not enjoy unfettered loyalty. He certainly never received it from Mr. Bernier.

And it would appear that, for the time being, no other members of the caucus are following Bernier to the exits. But that doesn't mean that the party's troubles are over:

This is the first true crisis of Mr. Scheer’s leadership and how he handles it will be revealing. The hope inside Tory circles is that it will toughen him up, help gird him for what’s expected to be a nasty campaign against a formidable, battle-tested foe in Justin Trudeau. What Mr. Bernier has done is give Mr. Scheer a very public shove. Now, people are waiting to see the manner in which Mr. Scheer shoves back.

The Conservatives seemed to be making hay on immigration:

A new poll by Angus Reid shows that for the first time in decades, a majority would like to see immigration levels decreased, not raised. Whether this marks a trend, or moment-in-time phenomenon driven by recent debate is hard to say. But it’s clearly an issue there to be exploited by a political party.

Bernier gave that message a racist undertone. And there are plenty of racist undertones left over from the Harper years:

Given the Conservatives’ unhappy relationship with identity politics (see: public backlash over barbaric cultural practices initiative, call to ban hijabs, former Tory MP Kellie Leitch’s Canadian values test) fronting a policy that could call for less immigration might seem like an enormous gamble. 

Bernier's message is that -- despite the change in faces -- the Conservatives are still the nasty malcontents they were under Harper.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ford's Mafia

Doug Ford has already made Toronto City Council an offer it can't refuse. His bill to reduce the council from 47 to 25 seats was passed without any middle step -- committee discussion. Now Ford is making Ontario's teachers the same offer. Isabelle Teotonio reports in The Toronto Star:

The Ontario government is creating what critics are calling a “snitch line” for parents to report teachers who refuse to stop using the repealed 2015 sexual education curriculum.
And Doug Ford warned that educators caught breaking the rules will face consequences.
We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games,” the premier said Wednesday. “Make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”
The warning was issued during Ford’s announcement that public consultations on a new sexual education curriculum, and other key issues, will start next month. Elementary school teachers are to abandon the curriculum introduced in 2015, which has been largely supported by educators and health groups, and revert back to old lesson plans.

Ford's plan was met with noisy pushback:

NDP leader Andrea Horwath tweeted, “Our schools need real investments — not Doug Ford’s ‘snitch line.’”
Also on Twitter, Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents 83,000 public school teachers, wrote, “Doug Ford & the Minister of Ed calling on parents to file complaints against Teachers. Unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful! This is a blatant attack on the professionalism ... of teachers.”
Teachers, education professionals and principals have regular communication and relationships with parents and students that have worked well,” he said. “Having a Ministry of Education ‘snitch line’ that bypasses the systems already in place to deal with issues at the school level will prohibit parents and educators from addressing classroom concerns constructively. As we’ve seen from social media, anonymous portals and comment threads are toxic and counter-productive to improving any situation, in this case school culture.”
His comments were echoed, in part, by Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and Beverley Eckensweiler, president of Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. Both say there is already a good process in place for parents to make complaints. First they speak with the teacher, then the school principal and then a school board official. And if the issue hasn’t been addressed, then complaints go to the college.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which represents 60,000 public high school teachers and support staff from junior kindergarten to university, said it’s “unprecedented” to release a curriculum with an “overt threat of disciplinary action if the curriculum isn’t followed.”
“It isn’t a very productive way of moving forward,” he told the Star, noting the creation of a “snitch line” is also “absolutely unprecedented.”

Not exactly unprecedented. The move smacks of the Harper government's snitch line on "barbaric practices." It's clear that, when Ford hired Stephen Harper's former advisor Jenni Byrnne, she brought some of his baggage with her.

The Fords have always been part of a Mafia culture. The will make offers they believe can't be refused because they know the people. And they'll give the people what they need  -- whether they want it or not.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Rudi, Rudi, Rudi . . .

The story of Rudi Giuliani's evolution -- devolution is a better word -- reflects the madness of today's politics. Lawrence Martin writes:

Rudy Giuliani’s hero was once Bobby Kennedy. The Giuliani of back then, a young man who got three Vietnam War draft deferments, voted for lefty George McGovern in 1972.
As a lawyer, he became a big-time corruption fighter, taking on the likes of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. He moved cautiously to the right in the Ronald Reagan years, but still held moderate views. His home was New York, after all, one of the great liberal bastions in the country.

He worked for the Justice Department's Southern District of New York, which yesterday convicted Michael Cohen and implied that Donald Trump was an un-indicted co-conspirator. But now he's spinning for Trump and the law has gone out the window:

Say it ain’t so, Rudy. Say as you did in an interview with Chuck Todd that “the truth isn’t truth.” For many, that batty observation, an attempt to rescue himself from a flurry of contradictions in respect to Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, spectacularly encapsulated politics in the Trump era.
The debasement and descent of Captain America, Rudy Giuliani, can be seen as a mirror on the madness. With all he had going for him, how could he devolve into becoming Nero’s lackey? Even New Yorkers have turned on him. For his 74th birthday a few months ago, he went to a Yankees’ game. They booed him lustily.
After almost every TV appearance, it seems poor Rudy has to come out to try to correct himself. One fine example was when he blatantly contradicted his boss in saying that Mr. Trump had repaid lawyer Michael Cohen US$130,000 for Mr. Cohen’s hush-money payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

What happened? The Greeks understood what it was all about:

The Greeks invented the word hubris for men like Rudy Giuliani. He’s a vivid example of the corrosive impact politics has on so many of its practitioners. It takes them, country in tow, to low places.

They knew that it was easy -- really easy -- to corrupt the incorruptible.

Image: Newsweek

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We've Been Here Before

E.J. Dionne writes that the United States is slouching toward autocracy. We like to think that autocracy arrives will a military coup.  However,

in their book, “How Democracies Die,” political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write: “How do elected authoritarians shatter the democratic institutions that are supposed to constrain them? Some do it in one fell swoop. But more often, the assault on democracy begins slowly. … The erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps.”

The baby steps began quite awhile ago:

Long before Trump ran for office, Republicans were eager to change the rules of the game when doing so served their purposes, as Michael Tomasky argued last week in the Daily Beast. Consider just their aggressive voter-suppression efforts and their willingness to block even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia.
The list of ominous signs goes on and on: Trump invoking Stalin’s phrase “enemies of the people” to describe a free press; the firing, one after another, of public servants who moved to expose potential wrongdoing, starting with former FBI director James Comey; Trump’s willingness, even eagerness, to lie; his effusive praise of foreign despots; his extravagantly abusive (and often racially charged) language against opponents; and his refusal to abide by traditional practices about disclosing his own potential conflicts of interest and those of his family.
This not business as usual. Yet our politics proceeds as if it is. Slowly, Trump has accustomed us to behavior that, at any other recent time and with just about any other politician, would in all probability have been career ending.

On the eve of the Second World War, William Butler Yeats warned of the "rough beast" which was "[slouching] toward Bethlehem to be born." And he lamented the fact that while "the best [lacked] all conviction, the worst [were] filled with passionate intensity."

We've been here before.

Image: The Irish Times

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Greening Of Canada?

Michael Harris is making predictions this morning -- and they're really quite intriguing. Last time around, he writes, the Liberals won because they ran against Stephen Harper. Harper won't be there next time. And the Conservatives and Dippers have their problems:

The CPC is no longer led by a man Canadians didn’t trust and didn’t like. Instead, Andrew Scheer is a lightweight, B-list politician who inspires neither fear nor loathing.
Scheer is like a boring relative who won’t leave. You don’t go out of your way to diss him, but you try not to sit beside him at family gatherings. Scheer is no one’s default choice, except for the Kool-Aid drinkers who went down with Harper.

Jagmeet Sing has returned to the Dippers' socialist roots. But Rachel Notley is an anchor around his neck:

She is killing the NDP brand. The premier of Alberta is NDP in name only. It is bad enough that she has abandoned her progressive roots to flog the development of dirty oil, but Notley has also stamped her foot like a petulant child and attacked others publicly who don’t agree with her on the proliferation of pipelines.
It was one thing to skip Singh’s first national convention as leader, but by personally attacking Singh, Notley has created real anxiety about what the NDP actually stands for.

So, looking into the future, what does Harris see?

Scheer losing another election for the Conservatives, but closing the gap with the ruling Liberals, and setting the table for his replacement. Defeating Trudeau has always been a two-step operation for the Tories, and Scheer is merely the placeholder. Peter MacKay is the real contender in due time.
With no Harper to tilt against, no NDP strategic votes to pick up and the increasingly heavy baggage of a term of governing, it is unlikely that Trudeau will gain seats — as some of his more enthusiastic supporters believe.
The more likely outcome is a Liberal minority government, perhaps even a razor-thin one. That is exactly what happened to Trudeau senior and the massive majority government he won in 1968. After one term in office, the Liberals lost a whopping 46 seats and were reduced to a two-seat minority in the 1972 election.

Which leaves room for the Green Party to fill the void:

After years of being a voice in the wilderness, May and the Green Party are well-positioned to make big gains relative to the party’s current parliamentary status. Remember, one extra seat represents a 100 per cent improvement.

But Harris does throw in a caveat:

The left in Canada remains divided. The hard right is making steady progress at the provincial level. And Trump may throw a spanner into Canadian politics at any moment, causing the kind of economic chaos that breeds radical change.
Without electoral reform, it is just a matter of time before the Cons waiting game pays off, and they are at the country’s throat once more.

Your thoughts?

Image: Unpublished Ottawa

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Vichy Republicans

The real story behind Donald Trump's Rise is the collapse of the Republican Party. Republicans have become venal and spineless. Paul Krugman writes:

The real news of the past few weeks isn’t that Trump is a wannabe Mussolini who can’t even make the trains run on time. It’s the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.
Make no mistake: if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.

If Trump is to fail, the Republican Party must fail with him:

The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.
So the path of least resistance is always to sign on for the next stage of degradation. “No evidence of collusion” becomes “collusion is no big deal” becomes “collusion is awesome — and let’s send John Brennan to jail.”

The collapse of the party has been a long time coming:

There are some special aspects of the modern GOP that make it especially vulnerable to this kind of slide into leader-worship. The party has long been in the habit of rejecting awkward facts and attributing them to conspiracies: it’s not a big jump from claiming that climate change is a giant hoax perpetrated by the entire scientific community to asserting that Trump is the blameless target of a vast deep state conspiracy.
And modern Republican politicians are, with few exceptions, apparatchiks: they are creatures of a monolithic movement that doesn’t allow dissent but protects the loyal from risk. Even if they should happen to lose a race in their gerrymandered districts, as long as they toed the line they can count on “wing nut welfare” — commentator slots on Fox News, appointments at think tanks, and so on.

The rot runs deep and goes far beyond Trump. And, if the Republicans win in November, American democracy will be finished.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Clear And Present Danger -- To The World

It's now painfully obvious, Jonathan Freedland writes, that Donald Trump sees himself as a mafia don:

More than 18 months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s modus operandi – and the danger it represents – is clear. His working method is that of the mafia boss and gangland chieftain, daily wielding his power to settle scores, teach lessons and crush dissent. Anyone who’s seen The Sopranos will know the routine: the casual intimidation, the obsession with loyalty, the brutal ostracism meted out to those who dare defy the man at the top.

The most recent example of Trump's modus operandi is John Brennan. And Trump's treatment of Brennan has revealed that, like Richard Nixon, he has a enemies list:

To be fair, the US is not wholly a stranger to such behaviour. When Sanders named eight other former public servants now similarly threatened with losing their security clearance – all of them connected with the Russia probe, funnily enough – she evoked memories of Richard Nixon’s notorious “enemies list”, a place on which fast became a badge of honour. The parallel is not fatuous: Nixon’s great offence was abuse of power, and this is becoming Trump’s hallmark.

He has not been able to do what he has done without his enablers in Congress and a fair degree of public support:

The US system of government, cherished and nurtured over two centuries, is being eroded by a president who tramples over every convention and custom that ensures its survival – and, crucially, by his Republican enablers in Congress who could stop him but won’t. (In a chorus, they supported his act of revenge against Brennan.)
Americans need to guard against an authoritarian impulse whose existence in their body politic is now demonstrably real. A survey this month found that 43% of Republicans were willing to give Trump the power to close down media organisations, while a separate poll a year ago found 52% would support “postponing” the 2020 election if Trump proposed it. Among all Americans, support for rule by the army – as opposed to elected politicians – is unusually high, with nearly one in five in favour.

Mr. Trump is a clear and present danger to his own country. But the danger is not confined to the borders of the United States:

Every time he steps over a once taboo boundary, thereby erasing it, Trump acts to normalise autocracy in the US and beyond. Rulers in Budapest and Warsaw, as well as Ankara and Moscow, see what Trump gets away with and they take note and take heart. He is a role model for the international strongman set. Which is why all those who care about global democracy should be praying for Trump’s Republicans to take a thorough beating in November’s midterm elections. As any mafia boss will tell you, the surest way to defeat a would-be strongman is to make him look weak.

One can only hope that Americans will reduce the Republican Party to an ineffective rump. The party certainly will not change its ways until it becomes a national embarrassment.

Image: Bubble Of Delusions

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Party Of the Furious

Maxime Bernier has been erupting on Twitter lately. But he's not the only member of the Conservative caucus who has been stirring up controversy. Tim Harper writes:

To be sure, Shannon Stubbs, Blaine Calkins and Denise Batters have none of the power or cachet of Bernier, so they were more able to fly under the radar.
Last week, Stubbs criticized Justin Trudeau’s appointment of counterterrorism and constitutional law expert John Norris as a Federal Court judge because Norris defended Omar Khadr, who she called “a confessed murderer and terrorist.”
“This is an utter embarrassment for Canada and the Canadian judicial system,” the Alberta MP tweeted.
Never mind that Norris that was appointed last February and Stubbs was summoning outrage six months later; her comments also showed a complete disregard for the role of defence counsel in this country.
Batters, a Conservative senator, had to apologize to Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, after she tweeted that the birthplace of the Saudi-born Alghabra was influencing his judgment in defending his government in the Ottawa-Riyadh diplomatic spat.
Calkins went one better, sharing a screen grab of a discredited 13-year-old blog accusing Alghabra of celebrating his nomination victory in Mississauga as a win for Islamic power spreading to Canada.
Calkins also apologized, saying he had cited a “poor source” and “was unsure about what I was reading.”
For good measure, Michelle Rempel, the party’s immigration critic, used a day when newspapers across the world fought back against Donald Trump’s portrayal of media as “the enemy of the people” to launch an unsubstantiated attack on the media.

It's pretty clear why Stephen Harper kept his caucus on a short leash. All these eruptions should remind Canadians of the general nastiness of Harper's government:

A summer of social media dog whistles makes it too easy for the Liberals to tie the party back to its odious snitch-line, anti-niqab stance of the dying days of the Stephen Harper government.
Trudeau took the opportunity to do just that Thursday, declaring that this all means the Conservative party hasn’t changed since the Harper days.
If we are hearing the honest views of Conservatives who see Islamists and terrorist-backing judges in their midst, then Scheer has a deep problem on his hands.

Scheer does, indeed, have problems on his hands. Winning the leadership of the Party of the Furious was no gift.

Image: depositphotos

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Yesterday, Donald Trump revoked John Brennan's security clearance. In this morning's New York Times, Brennan fires back:

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies presents an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.

This kind of activity has been going on for a long time. But Trump threw gasoline on the fire:

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

If Trump did that kind of thing in public, Brennan wonders what he did in private:

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.
Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

We await the Mueller Report -- and the verdict in the first of Paul Manafort's trials.

Image: Bloomberg

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Dispute With Saudi Arabia

John Baird was on Saudi television yesterday, slamming the Trudeau government for its treatment of Saudi Arabia:

"For Canada to treat a friend and ally this way has been incredibly unhelpful,” Baird told the English-language arm of Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned equivalent of Al Jazeera.
Baird added that the best way to resolve the crisis would be for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fly to Riyadh to apologize in person to the Saudi royal family.

Baird was a blow-hard when he was foreign affairs minister and it's clear that he's still the same bag of wind that he used to be.

Oonagh Fitzgerald asks in today's Toronto Star, "Has Canada Mishandled It's Relationship with Saudi Arabia?"

There have been occasional flare ups between Canada and Saudi Arabia related to human rights issues in the past, and while the countries are not particularly close, diplomatic relations have not been effected — likely to allow discussions on difficult issues to continue.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland expressed concern last week that Saudi Arabia had expelled Canada’s ambassador, but emphasized that our embassy in Riyadh will continue its regular operations and specifically invited diplomatic dialogue on human rights.

It's worth remembering that, when Baird was our Foreign Affairs Minister, the Harper government closed its embassy in Iran. In doing so, Canada chose sides in the battle between the two countries. The Harper government was not interested in being an honest broker in the region. Neither is the United States under Donald Trump -- who praises Saudi Arabia but has backed out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Stephen Harper has cheered Trump's abandonment of that deal. Baird reminds us of what side the Conservatives are on.

Something to remember during the next election.

Image: twitter

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The World Has Changed

Paul Koring writes that Canadians got a rude awakening last week:

Their beloved country doesn’t matter much, or at least not as much as they like to think.
Mexico and the United States are hammering out a new trade deal. Canada isn’t at the table.
While Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland twiddles her thumbs (no more impulsive tweets slamming the Saudis, please) and waits to be summoned to Washington, it behooves Canadians to reflect on why Canada is the odd man out in the new NAFTA.

John Kennedy once sang the praises of Canada. But he was, first and foremost, looking out for his own country's interests:

Kennedy spoke in May 1961, months before the standoff at the Berlin Wall nearly turned the Cold War thermonuclear hot and a year before the even-more dangerous Cuban missile crisis. In 1961, Canada’s vast  geography was vital airspace defending the United States from the waves of manned Soviet bombers threatening nuclear Armageddon. Canada’s very existence was essential to United States’ interests. Canadian fighter-bombers based in Europe were capable of dropping U.S. nuclear bombs to turn Russian cities into smoking and radioactive graves for millions. Canadian warships (including an aircraft carrier) were hunting Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic during the blockade of Cuba.  It didn’t matter that Kennedy, an elitist, and Diefenbaker, an anti-establishment populist, hated and insulted each other. 

During the Cold War, Canada was admired and punched above its weight:

By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Canada was the world’s pre-eminent peacekeeper. It had never missed a UN-mandated mission, and by the early 1990s had more blue helmets in more places on the planet than any other country. The country was a regular on the Security Council. In the Commonwealth and the Francophonie – both of which have since faded in importance – Canada, unhampered by the colonial-power burden, played a major role in development and human rights, including leading the international fight against the racist South African apartheid.

But the world has changed. Trump desperately wants to be Russia's ally. And Mexico matters more to Americans than Canada:

What is now starkly evident — and should have dawned on Canadians years ago — is that the U.S.-Mexico relationship has already eclipsed the Canadian-American romance and it will continue to become even more important in the decades ahead.
In economic terms, although Canada-U.S. trade remains larger, it will soon be overtaken by U.S.-Mexican trade, perhaps within five years. With 130-million people and a fast-growing middle class, Mexican offers far more than Canada in terms of America’s future economic growth and and market opportunities.
In the political space, Mexico already matters far more than Canada. Political races in the United States are won and lost on immigration, the border wall, and Mexican-related issues. More than 36-million Mexican-Americans live in the United States. Most are citizens who can vote. They care deeply about the millions more who can’t vote. And all of them matter in the intense political debate, unlike the fewer-than-1-million Canadians resident in the United States who have little to no political clout.

It's time to face a new reality. The United States is no longer a reliable ally:

The grim reality is that Canadians spent the last 25 years binding their well-being to an increasingly lopsided economic relationship with the United States. At the same time Canada was becoming less consequential on the world stage and thus less important to U.S. geopolitical interests. Canada’s Cold War roles have gone and it hadn’t created new ones to replace them.
Canada’s economy is at risk of collapsing without (mostly) free trade with the United States. The converse simply isn’t true. Canada’s economy is roughly the size New York state’s or Illinois and Michigan combined. Losing the Canadian market (actually losing a tariff-free Canadian market) would badly hurt some U.S. businesses but poses no dire threat to the overall U.S. economy.

We have to forge new relationships. The oldest -- and most basic one -- no longer serves our interests.

Image: Quotefancy

Monday, August 13, 2018

From The Top Down

Lots of Americans believe that, ultimately, their institutions will save them from the black hole that is Donald Trump. But Anne Applebaum writes that those institutions are failing -- and, in fact, they have been failing for a long time:

Some of that institutional failure is on display at the trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman. Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”

The careers of Manafort and Stone echo Donald Trump's career:

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.
Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him. As Adam Davidson of the New Yorker has written, “So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence.” But shoddy due diligence usually brings legal consequences. Why wasn’t the company shut down years ago?

That's a really good question. But, long ago, Trump's, Manafort's and Stone's behaviour became standard operating procedure. It seems pretty clear that when the "best people" are given free reign, the country rots -- from the top down.

Image: twitter

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Like Sleeping With The Dead

Doug Ford was in our neck of the woods last week, celebrating "a buck a beer." He was also greeted by protesters with signs decrying his decision to shut down our local wind farm and the Basic Income Program. For Ford and his supporters, there used to be a Golden Age. It was when I graduated from university -- fifty years ago.

Back then, when we'd walk into a drinking establishment in Montreal or the Eastern Townships and order "Un Cinquante," the bottle would cost something like a buck. Frankly, I can't recall precisely what the price was. But that was fifty years ago.

And that's the point. Ford wants to turn back the clock fifty years. Nathalie Des Rosiers writes:

Populist politicians use sentimental yearnings for times past to strike a chord with people who are unsure about how to confront today’s intricate problems. Voters are discouraged by complexities and fearful about the future. The past seems like a safer place to be.
Ford’s summer has been about cancelling contracts he did not like (wind turbines), cancelling elections he did not like (Toronto’s municipal election and some regional election), cancelling a curriculum he did not like (sex-ed), cancelling programs he did not like (cap-and-trade and basic income). On the positive side, all he has produced is cheap beer on Labour Day.
Maybe after Labour Day we will learn how he plans to tackle important issues like economic development, poverty reduction and climate change. But don’t count on it.

We live in a time of massive change. The Digital Revolution -- like the Industrial Revolution -- has turned the world upside down. But, ultimately, we'll have to adjust to the New World -- whether we like it or not.

William Faulkner wrote a little short story with the title "A Rose For Emily." It's about a southern belle who is jilted by a man who promised to marry her. At the end of the story, the reader discovers that she killed her lover and has slept with his remains for decades. The ending both shocks and turns your stomach. Rob Ford generates the same reactions among many of us.

Living in Ford's world is like sleeping with the dead.

Image: Book That Grow

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Manafort Mysteries

Ruth Marcus writes that Paul Manafort is, indeed, a man of mystery:

The mystery — a mystery to me at least — is comprehending the magnitude of Manafort’s greed. Assuming the allegations are true — and even if Manafort’s former partner, Rick Gates, is an admitted liar, bank accounts don’t lie — why would someone who vacuumed up so many millions of dollars take the risk of not paying the taxes due on that income?
The Manafort indictments detail a gusher of cash flowing to the lobbyist, $60 million from the Russian-backed political party in the Ukraine alone, according to a filing by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Even if you paid half of that in tax, which would mean you had a pretty bad set of tax accountants, you would have enough left for all the ostrich jackets a man might want. In this case, greed isn’t good — it’s stupid. The temptation to do the dirty work of autocrats and oligarchs and rake in millions in return is understandable, if not laudable; it is a bipartisan failing of human nature.

 With all that cash flowing in, why risk tax fraud? And why the desperation to keep himself financially afloat?

My colleague Catherine Rampell has noted the dwindling number of prosecutions for white-collar crime, and maybe, absent Manafort’s seemingly reckless decision to go to work for the Trump campaign, he might have gotten away with it. Criminal prosecutions referred by the IRS to the Justice Department have fallen by half since 2013. Still, Manafort should not have been sleeping soundly, in any of his many multimillion-dollar homes — he was being interviewed by FBI agents about his “offshore consulting activities” even as he was allegedly failing to report his income.
The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson summarized Manafort’s precarious situation and frantic behavior: “By early 2016, the man who previously had been sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to the U.S. each month seemed to be in a self-destructive frenzy, making the desperate moves of a man who needed some cash, right away, and had run out of options.”

 This man was Donald Trump's campaign manager? The stink is becoming overpowering.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, August 10, 2018

Keeping Our Distance

It's safe to assume that Canada will not receive any "wish you were here" cards from the Kingdom of Saud. But, Tom Walkom writes, Canadians need not get exorcised about the situation:

For the truth is that Saudi Arabia isn’t very important to Canada. And vice versa. Figures compiled by the Library of Parliament show that Saudi Arabia was Canada’s 25th largest trading partner in 2015.
Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia (mainly military vehicles and parts) comprised only 0.2 per cent of this country’s exports overall. Similarly, Canadian imports from Saudi Arabia (mainly oil) comprised only 0.4 per cent of imports overall.
The Saudis have quietly announced that the dispute won’t affect that country’s sale of oil to Canada. Nor is there any indication that it will affect Canada’s lucrative sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia — including a controversial $15 billion deal to build light armoured vehicles for the desert kingdom.
The wheat and barley boycott might matter if we sold a lot of those grains to Saudi Arabia. But we don’t. Only 7 per cent of Canadian barley exports are destined for Saudi Arabia. The figure for wheat exports is a staggeringly low 0.4 per cent.
As for Saudi financial penalties, the Globe and Mail reports that the country’s central bank holds less than one per cent of Canadian securities domiciled abroad.

The decision to pull Saudi medical students from Canadian universities will hurt. But they arrived because of funding cuts. It's time to restore what was cut.

There's a lot of smoke and not much fire:

Instead, we have this largely phoney war. The Saudi autocracy is using Canada to show the kingdom’s internal critics that it has no patience for Western meddlers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the Saudis to show his critics than he can’t be pushed around.

And it's wise policy to keep one's distance from a country which still crucifies people.

Image: Pinterest

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It Doesn't End Well

Sylvia Bashevkin, who teaches political science at the University of Toronto, predicts that the Ford government will be a hurricane that will leave a lot of damage in its wake. Ford's government was spawned by Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution. Consider Harris' platform and its results:

Let’s consider Mike Harris’s track record as leader of two consecutive PC majority governments. Elected in 1995, Harris-era Conservatives endorsed lower taxes and cost-cutting in their calls for “less government,” “fewer politicians,” and “less overlap and duplication.” The Tory platform known as the Common Sense Revolution promised to “spend more efficiently” because, in Harris’s words, the party would trim “a lot of fat, a lot of waste.”

And, like Ford, the first target of Harris' "common sense" was the city of Toronto:

Arguably the most consequential decision of the Harris years for Canada’s largest city was sharp, rushed and unexpected. The move announced in December 1996 to eliminate borough and metropolitan government in Toronto rejected the recommendations of at least two expert reports, including one produced by a panel the PCs themselves commissioned. Harris’s government also ignored the results of a local referendum on amalgamation in 1997 in which 76 per cent of Toronto voters opposed plans for a megacity.

The damage was far reaching:

Not only did the Harris PCs dramatically reduce welfare benefits, weaken rent controls and chop education funding in the name of cutting costs, but also they downloaded to fiscally strapped municipalities responsibility for child care, social housing and transit.
By empowering conservative suburban voices (like those of Mel Lastman and the Fords) at city hall under the megacity scheme, Harris’ strategy flattened the hose that carried funds for social programs at the same time as it limited chances for competing perspectives to challenge the Tory maelstrom.

And, for women particularly, the results were catastrophic:

From holding two of the six mayoral posts on the old Metro Council, women disappeared as executive decision-makers in Canada’s largest city. From about a quarter of borough council and a third of Metro Council seats in 1996, proportions of elected women tended to stagnate or decline.\
As of 2018, the representation of women on Toronto City Council is lower than in the last Metro Council of 22 years ago. The spatial plan governing amalgamated Toronto stresses nodes for highrise development and fails to consider how working women, new arrivals to the city or any other group of citizens might experience an increasingly dense and tense urban landscape.

More generally, Harris and Ford sought to squelch opposition:

Similar to the situation in the late 1990s, progressive critics of the Ford government will find fighting back is difficult when the game of musical chairs is stacked in such a way as to silence their voices.
It is already hard for local candidates — notably women from diverse ethnocultural and sexual orientation backgrounds — to win elections when we have an orderly, predictable system in place. Imagine trying to mount a campaign when chaos is intentionally created by a provincial government with nearly carte-blanche constitutional powers.

We've seen this movie before. And it doesn't end well.

Image: twitter

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

How Are We Doing?

This is the summer climate change got real for lots of people. Simon Lewis writes in The Guardian:

This is the summer when, for many, climate change got real. The future looks fiery and dangerous. Hot on the heels of Trump, fake news and the parlous state of the Brexit negotiations, despair is in the air. Now a new scientific report makes the case that even fairly modest future carbon dioxide emissions could set off a cascade of catastrophe, with melting permafrost releasing methane to ratchet up global temperatures enough to drive much of the Amazon to die off, and so on in a chain reaction around the world that pushes Earth into a terrifying new hothouse state from which there is no return. Civilisation as we know it would surely not survive. How do we deal with such news?

There are three ways to deal with the news:

We face the same three choices in response to climate change as we did before this scorching summer: reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), make changes to reduce the adverse impacts of the new conditions we create (adaptation), or suffer the consequences of what we fail to mitigate or adapt to. It is useful to come back to these three options, and settle on the formula that serious mitigation and wise adaptation means little suffering.

As Lewis sees it, "we are heading for some mitigation, very little adaptation, and a lot of suffering:

This is because while the diagnosis of climate change being a problem is a scientific issue, the response to it is not. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is, for example, a question of regulation, while investing in renewable energy is a policy choice, and modernising our housing stock to make it energy efficient is about overcoming the lobbying power of the building industry. Solving climate change is about power, money, and political will.

Science provides the diagnosis. But politics -- only politics -- can provide the solution:

Thinking about climate change as a practical political problem helps avoid despair because we know that huge political changes have happened in the past and continue to do so. The future is up to us if we act collectively and engage in politics. To quote Antonio Gramsci: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” Looked at this way, we can see the politics as a battle between a future shaped by fear versus a future shaped by hope.
That hope is built on a better story of the future and routes to enact it. The outline of this story is that given the colossal wealth and the scientific knowledge available today, we can solve many of the world’s pressing problems and all live well. Given that our environmental impacts are so long-lasting, the future is the politics we make today.

It's all about the politics we make today. How are we doing?


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Sometimes It Rhymes

William Ruckelshaus  knows something about desperate presidents. He was Elliot Richardson's deputy during the Saturday Night Massacre. He writes in The Washington Post:

In October 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. As deputy attorney general and next in line, I was ordered by the president to fire Cox; I also refused and resigned. Cox was finally fired by Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. The result is what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Neither Richardson nor I saw any justifiable reason for Cox’s dismissal. When it became clear that Cox would not give up his pursuit of the Oval Office tapes, Nixon took the only action he could to protect himself: He tried to get rid of the man charged with investigating him.

Like Trump, Nixon was a desperate man:

Nixon was desperate. His goal was to shut down the Watergate investigation by ridding himself of Cox. Instead, Nixon got Leon Jaworski, the highly respected former president of the American Bar Association. Nine months later, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision forcing Nixon to release the tapes that proved his guilt. Shortly thereafter, the president resigned.
Trump might attempt to shut down the Mueller investigation, but if he fires the special counsel, he could face the same result Nixon faced. He would look like a president with something to hide. He would unleash forces bigger than one man, because Americans believe no one is above the law, not even the president.
Nixon was brought down by his disrespect for the rule of law. The hundreds of letters I received after my refusal to fire Cox enshrined this thought in my head for the rest of my life.
It’s hard to believe that, 45 years later, we may be in store for another damaging attack on the foundations of our democracy. Yet the cynical conduct of this president, his lawyers and a handful of congressional Republicans is frightening to me and should be to every citizen of this country. We are not playing just another Washington political game; there is much more at stake.

History doesn't repeat itself. But, Mark Twain wrote, "sometimes it rhymes."

Image: World Resources Institute

Monday, August 06, 2018

There Will Be A Reckoning

Michael Harris writes that there is a volcano set to explode in the United States. And journalists are in the path of the lava flow. The latest warning of what is about to come came last week:

Watching CNN reporter Jim Acosta the other day was a harbinger of what might lie ahead. The usually suave chief White House correspondent for the cable news channel lost his cool in a public exchange with President Trump’s press secretary.
Acosta reached the end of his rope when Sarah Sanders refused to say in an open press conference that the media was not the “enemy of the people” — the coinage and dangerous refrain of her boss, President Donald Trump.
“I’m tired of it, I’m tired of it,” Acosta said later when reporting on his showdown with Sanders for the evening news.

Acosta asked the question based on personal experience:

This past week, the CNN reporter was verbally assaulted by supporters of the president at a campaign-style rally he was covering in Tampa, Florida. As Acosta reported, he was called a “liar” and told that “CNN sucks.” The abuse came from  Trumpers who know all about the Second Amendment, but haven’t got the foggiest clue about the First.

Humorist Bill Maher calls these events Trump's "Nuremberg Hillbilly Rallies."  On several occasions, Trump has incited his crowds to violence:

Candidate Trump was the one who incited violence at his own rallies, expressing nostalgia for the days when protesters like the ones who occasionally heckled him were carried out on stretchers.
Trump is the president who told police to rough up suspects they arrest.
It was Trump who separated children from their families at the border, locked them up and neglected to keep tabs on who and where their parents were.
Trump is the commander-in-chief who bragged about the size of his nuclear button, twice threatening to vaporize other countries.

When the crowds eventually crack reporters' heads, Trump will be responsible.

And there will be a reckoning.

Image: Huffington Post

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Fire Next Time

We may not be far away from our next financial crisis. There are, Larry Elliott writes, a number of things that could trigger it:

It is not the likeliest of outcomes but not all that far-fetched either. China’s debt; Brexit; a global trade conflict: any of them could blow up into something serious. These sort of events form the basis of the war games that policy makers play from time to time.

But if there is a next time  --  and there always is a next time -- we have far less flexibility to deal with the crisis:

There are at least four ways in which policy is more constrained than it was a decade ago. First, and most obviously, there is monetary policy; the options available to central banks. At its August meeting in 2008, the Bank of England left interest rates unchanged at 5%, which meant it had plenty of scope to cut when it finally woke up to the seriousness of the situation. Even after last Thursday’s rate rise, official borrowing costs are only 0.75%, providing much less room for manoeuvre.

Then there is fiscal policy:

In Britain, the budget deficit – the gap between what the government spends and what it receives in taxes – expanded rapidly during the crisis from 2% of gross domestic product to a peacetime record of 10% of GDP. It has taken 10 years to bring the deficit back to where it started and meanwhile national debt as a share of the economy has more than doubled to over 80% of GDP. Despite a prolonged austerity drive, set to continue well into the next decade, the public finances are in worse shape than they were when Lehmans went bust.

Third, the international cooperation which saw us through the last crisis has all but disappeared:

One of the small comforts from the crisis of 2008-09 was that it generated a sense of international solidarity because the world’s biggest economies quickly realised they need to help each other. There was a collective commitment to shore up banks; the creation of a new body, the G20, to bring together developed and emerging market economies; as well as an agreement to refrain from protectionism. As Adam Tooze notes in his new book about the crisis, Crashed, the US Federal Reserve quietly acted as the lender of last resort to Europe’s troubled banks.

Now the world has changed:

Europe and the US went their separate ways over austerity; the G20 failed to live up to its early promise and even before the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, countries had quietly been finding ways to defend the interests of domestic producers. Trump has, of course, taken isolationism to a whole new level by picking trade fights not only with China but with the EU, Canada and Mexico as well. In the current beggar-my-neighbour environment, the chances of the world coming together in the event of a new crisis appear slim.

And, fourth and finally, the political climate has changed:

The last crisis came at the end of a prolonged upswing, in which wages and living standards rose steadily. Britain went 16 years without a single quarter of falling output and in the latter part of this period, when Labour was in power, there was bountiful investment in the public sector.
Feast has been replaced by famine. Wage rises have turned into pay freezes; living standards have stagnated and the public sector bears the scars of a decade of cuts. Austerity fatigue has set in, making it nigh on impossible for governments to insist that voters endure a new round of sacrifices. The public mood is already sour.

So, when the crisis hits, it really will be -- to echo James Baldwin -- "The Fire Next Time."

Image: Matt Lynn Digital