Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kenny's War

If you want a look into the near future, look at Alberta, where Jason Kenny is in the process of setting up a "war room." Gillian Stewart writes:

Yes, a war room. He’s mentioned it several times over the past few months so apparently it’s not just a passing whim. He even envisions satellite war rooms that could reach around the world.
And what would be the purpose of such bunkers no doubt stacked with maps, computers, weaponized social media, and trigger happy troops? To attack environmental campaigners every time they utter something about Alberta oil, pipelines, carbon emissions, or oil pollution.
Because, as Kenney sees it, environmentalists have brought Alberta to its knees and he’s just not going to take it anymore.

You may believe that Justin Trudeau's carbon tax is not substantial enough to curb our reliance on fossil fuels. But Kenny is dedicated to the proposition that addiction to those fuels is in Alberta's best interest:

His war room, which would be paid for with taxpayers’ money “would respond in real time through paid and social media to all the lies told about Canada’s energy industry,” Kenney told a conference organized by Monte Solberg, one of his fellow cabinet members in the Harper government and partly sponsored by a grassroots group that is closely associated with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Kenney’s intended targets include the David Suzuki Foundation, The Pembina Institute, Greenpeace, the U.S-based Tides Foundation, and even the Rockefeller Foundation. As far as he is concerned they are enemies of Canada’s energy industry and need to be subdued even if it takes taxpayers’ money to do it.
And that’s not all.
If he becomes premier, Kenney plans to encourage a prominent oil company to sue Greenpeace as Resolute Forest Products has in the U.S. to the tune of $300 million.

For Kenny environmentalists are the enemy:

As Kenney sees it, environmentalists have brought Alberta to its knees and he’s just not going to take it anymore.
According to Kenney, “with a highly successful, deliberate, well-organized and hugely well-funded campaign of defamation” environmentalists have managed to “land lock Canadian energy” and thereby cost Alberta and the rest of Canada billions of dollars.
This is, of course, a reference to the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline and nixed pipeline projects Northern Gateway and Energy East. All three would have shipped diluted bitumen from Alberta to coastal ports.

We're heading for our own civil war in Canada. You can see it just over the horizon.

Image: Huffington Post

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Unless The Republicans Are Removed . . .

There is a myth going around these days in the United States. In the midst of the violence, some are claiming that both sides are equally responsible. Paul Krugman writes:

False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.
You might have thought that the horrifying events of recent days would finally break through that norm. But you would have been wrong. Bothsidesism is, it turns out, a fanatical cult impervious to evidence. Trump famously boasted that his supporters would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue; what he didn’t point out was that pundits would piously attribute the shooting to “incivility,” and that Sunday talk shows would feature Fifth-Avenue-shooting advocates and give them a respectful hearing.
This needs to stop, and those who keep practicing bothsidesism need to be shamed. At this point, pretending that both sides are equally to blame, or attributing political violence to spreading hatred without identifying who’s responsible for that spread, is a form of deep cowardice.
The fact is that one side of the political spectrum is peddling hatred, while the other isn’t. And refusing to point that out for fear of sounding partisan is, in effect, lending aid and comfort to the people poisoning our politics. Yes, hate is on the ballot next week.

Under Trump, the Republican Party has become a beacon of hate. It's not just the people at his rallies who have taken to making Hitlerian salutes. It's his enablers in Congress who refuse to criticise Trump's rhetoric. And unless and until the Republicans are removed from power, the horror show will continue.

Image: The New York Times

Monday, October 29, 2018

God Help Us

Quebecers have always feared the other. That fear is understandable. As an island of French culture, Quebers have always feared being subsumed in an Anglo North America. But at times that fear has expressed itself as pure xenophobia. And xenophobia is at the heart of the province's newly elected governments ban on religious symbols. David Olive writes:

Its proposed edict prohibiting Québec government employees from wearing the chador, niqab or burqa and other religious symbols in the workplace is unconstitutional, unenforceable and inadvertently calculated to diminish the future prosperity of Quebecers.
The attack is on Muslims, despite a noncommittal inclusion of crucifixes in the ban, a transparent whitewash of the policy’s true intent. While directed only at the Québec civil service, the policy of course strengthens the hand of any xenophobe Québec employer in the private-sector seeking to impose the same edict on its workers.

And, seen from a purely economic perspective, the policy is an example of how people form a circular firing squad:

Québec’s population has grown by a mere 3.3 per cent between 2011 and 2016, lowest in the country outside of Atlantic Canada and less than a third of Alberta’s growth rate of 11.6 per cent.
Likewise, the Québec economy has grown by just 13.2 per cent over the past decade ending 2017, compared with an average of 20.3 per cent GDP growth for the four Western provinces, and 17 per cent for Ontario.

The revenge of the cradle has long ceased to be part of Quebec culture. There are no longer families like Jean Chretien's. Chretien was one of 19 children -- 10 of whom did not survive infancy.

The new Quebec government is echoing the insanity now taking place south of the border. God help us if it should take root here.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Our Civic Health Is In Danger

Howard Fineman has been around for a long time. He has reported and commented on American politics for decades. He grew up in Pittsburgh, in the very synagogue which was the site yesterday of  yet another mass shooting. He writes in today's New York Times:

I was taught in Squirrel Hill that we were in the one country that was an exception to the history of the human race in general and the Jews in particular. Founded on Enlightenment principles of individuality, freedom, tolerance and justice, the United States was the only place besides Israel where Jews could live at one with their nation, unburdened by fear or confusion about identity.
Now I must wonder: If Pittsburgh isn’t safe for Jews, if Squirrel Hill isn’t safe, if the Tree of Life isn’t safe, what place is? Without diminishing anyone else’s suffering and death, it’s a sad fact that the Jews often are the canaries in the coal mine of social and political collapse. So, what does the bloodshed in the Tree of Life mean?

Hatred is spreading like small pox -- in the United States and around the world. And Donald Trump revels in the fact that he's hosting the virus:

President Trump’s remorselessly cynical, jungle-style vision of how to conduct business and politics is ripping apart a society already under the stress of generational, demographic, technological, economic and social change.
In physics, the arc of a swinging pendulum diminishes over time. That has been my perhaps too-comfortable view of American history: that the swing of our political pendulum would always slow and find an equilibrium closer to a more perfect union.
In pursuit of that theory, as a reporter in Kentucky for six years and later across the country for decades, I chronicled the rise of the populist right as just another swing of the pendulum.
I covered Ku Klux Klan rallies, court-ordered busing, “dirty tricksters” of the right from Richard Nixon to Paul Manafort, and Trump rallies across the country. None of that shook my belief that the country could somehow harvest the energy of protest against “elites” for some eventual good.
Now I am not so sure. The pendulum seems to be swinging more wildly and widely every day. The whole machinery feels in danger of racing out of control.

We've seen what happens when the virus takes hold -- in the Middle East, in Bosnia. Now it's getting closer and closer to home. Everyone's civic health is in danger.

Image: Mediaite

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Trump's Influence Creeps North

If you thought that Donald Trump's war on the media couldn't happen here, think again. Alex Boutilier writes in The Toronto Star:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office has revamped its communications team to provide a more rapid response, war room-style operation. And they have not been shy about calling out reporting they don’t like.
At a rally in downtown Ottawa last Sunday, Scheer said he would stand up to “the media” and accused journalists of siding with the Liberals in the carbon tax debate.
“We don’t always get the same kind of coverage that (Trudeau) gets in the mainstream media. Have you noticed that?” Scheer asked supporters.
“(Trudeau has) got the media on his side, he’s got the pundits, he’s got the academics and think-tanks, everyone who wants to lecture you on how to spend your own money and how to live your own life.”
Members of Scheer’s caucus, too, have joined in. On Thursday, finance critic Pierre Poilievre called a journalist for the Bloomberg business wire a “Liberal reporter.” The same day, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos accused Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells of being a “liberal” masquerading as an independent journalist. Earlier this year Michelle Rempel, the party’s immigration critic, suggested the Canadian Press newswire took marching orders from the Prime Minister’s Office.

I suppose it was bound to happen. We seem to ape everything that gets its start south of the border. That means, of course, that journalists are going to be attacked. And the wingnuts of the right will be vociferous:

Andrew MacDougall, who served as director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper and who now writes columns for Canadian newspapers, said these attacks on the media are a deliberate strategy to energize the Conservative base.
“(The 2019 election) really will be an elite, or an establishment, or an opinion-forming establishment against the Conservatives (and that’s) what they’re trying to gin up,” MacDougall told the Star.
The relationship between Harper and the national press was notoriously chilly. And Scheer appears to be taking the feud a step further as he approaches his first election as Conservative leader.

The issue which is driving all of this is the carbon tax:

“The carbon tax being the ultimate issue, where this is kind of a policy that’s almost universally supported by academics, economists, pundits … the Conservatives are betting that there’s more of a common-sense crowd who still have to gas up their car, who will be open to a message that this is elitism ignoring your concerns,” MacDougall said.
Former Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer also referenced the carbon tax debate, saying it’s a sore point for Conservatives that most of the reporting on the issue puts the Liberals’ plan in a positive light.

But the Conservatives have no plan. Given that fact, their strategy is simply the best defence is a strong offence. It's yet another sign that the Conservative Party of Canada is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Lies He Peddles

Doug Ford keeps repeating that phrase "for the people."  But this week he again made the phrase a laughing stock. He quickly cancelled Kathleen Wynne's labour legislation which was "updated last year after a two year review with extensive consultations." Linda McQuaig writes:

Gone is the minimum wage hike to $15 an hour. So, just like that, faster than you can say "for the people," Ford has cancelled what amounted to a $2,000 annual pay increase that was headed for the pockets of the lowest-paid people.
He's also cancelling the two paid sick days a year, even though 145 countries (most of the world's nations) already offer some form of paid sick leave. Think how competitive we'll be without it! That should give us a leg-up on Guatemala and Botswana!

Ford believes in a tired old theory -- neoliberalism -- the economic equivalent of the flat earth theory:

Despite the persistence of this theory, there's little evidence to support it: most low-wage countries remain that way, while the high-wage nations of Europe and Scandinavia continue to excel in global competitiveness.
Business commentators argued that the higher minimum wage would drive businesses elsewhere, presumably leaving Canadian customers happily ordering their coffee-to-go from far-away places. Commentators made the same argument last year, when the minimum wage was raised to $14 an hour. However, Ontario's unemployment rate fell to 5.4 per cent, its lowest level in 18 years.

Ford isn't a tribune of the people. He's there to serve the interest of business -- pure and simple. It's the big lie in the quiver full of lies he peddles.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Much More At Stake

Yesterday, Alexander Soros, George's son, published an op-ed in the New York Times, titled "The Hate Among Us." He wrote:

My family is no stranger to the hostilities of those who reject our philosophy, our politics and our very identity. My father grew up in the shadow of the Nazi regime in Hungary. My grandfather secured papers with false names so that they could survive the onslaught against Budapest’s Jews; he helped many others do the same. After the war, as the Communists took power, my father escaped to London, where he studied at the London School of Economics before embarking on what ultimately became a hugely successful career in finance.
My father acknowledges that his philanthropic work, while nonpartisan, is “political” in a broad sense: It seeks to support those who promote societies where everyone has a voice.

Soros has been branded, by some, as an enemy of democracy. The irony is -- of course -- that those who see him as an enemy of democracy are working hard to tear it down. The younger Soros admits that those people have always been there. But, in 2016, something changed:

With Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, things got worse. White supremacists and anti-Semites like David Duke endorsed his campaign. Mr. Trump’s final TV ad famously featured my father; Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve; and Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs — all of them Jewish — amid dog-whistle language about “special interests” and “global special interests.” A genie was let out of the bottle, which may take generations to put back in, and it wasn’t confined to the United States.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán launched an anti-Semitic poster campaign falsely accusing my father of wanting to flood Hungary with migrants. This included plastering my father’s face onto the floor of trams in Budapest so that people would walk on it, all to serve Mr. Orbán’s political agenda.
Now we have attempted bomb attacks. While the responsibility lies with the individual or individuals who sent these lethal devices to my family home and Mr. Obama’s and Ms. Clinton’s offices, I cannot see it divorced from the new normal of political demonization that plagues us today.

Yesterday,  a line was crossed in the United States. Bombers are nothing new. But bombers who threaten to imprison and kill political opponents is new. And those attacks have been praised and encouraged by Trump.

Trump may hold the title of president. But, by now, it should be clear to everyone. Trump is a public menace: a clear and present danger. There is much more at stake than his presidency.

Image: The Wire

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tyranny Or Revolution

When Chris Hedges was 10 years old, he was sent to a private boarding school for the uber rich. He was not of them. But he learned who they were. He writes:

It was impossible to build a friendship with most of the sons of the uber-rich. Friendship for them was defined by “what’s in it for me?” They were surrounded from the moment they came out of the womb by people catering to their desires and needs. They were incapable of reaching out to others in distress—whatever petty whim or problem they had at the moment dominated their universe and took precedence over the suffering of others, even those within their own families. They knew only how to take. They could not give. They were deformed and deeply unhappy people in the grip of an unquenchable narcissism.

And as adults, they live by their own rules, paying no attention to the axioms that govern the rest of us:

The uber-rich live in an artificial bubble, a land called Richistan, a place of Frankenmansions and private jets, cut off from our reality. Wealth, I saw, not only perpetuates itself but is used to monopolize the new opportunities for wealth creation. Social mobility for the poor and the working class is largely a myth. The uber-rich practice the ultimate form of affirmative action, catapulting white, male mediocrities like Trump, Kushner and George W. Bush into elite schools that groom the plutocracy for positions of power. The uber-rich are never forced to grow up. They are often infantilized for life, squalling for what they want and almost always getting it. And this makes them very, very dangerous.

Donald Trump belongs among them. So does Brett Kavanaugh. And so does Mohammed Bin Salman. They are the corporate capitlists who have captured democracies around the world. And that is why we face a dark future:

Corporate capitalism, which has destroyed our democracy, has given unchecked power to the uber-rich. And once we understand the pathologies of these oligarchic elites, it is easy to chart our future. The state apparatus the uber-rich controls now exclusively serves their interests. They are deaf to the cries of the dispossessed. They empower those institutions that keep us oppressed—the security and surveillance systems of domestic control, militarized police, Homeland Security and the military—and gut or degrade those institutions or programs that blunt social, economic and political inequality, among them public education, health care, welfare, Social Security, an equitable tax system, food stamps, public transportation and infrastructure, and the courts. The uber-rich extract greater and greater sums of money from those they steadily impoverish. And when citizens object or resist, they crush or kill them.

We face, Hedges writes, a stark choice -- either tyranny or revolution -- and the dangers incumbent in both.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Tory-Ford Feud

Last night, John Tory was elected mayor of Toronto for the second time. His real opponent was never Jennifer Keesmaat. It was Doug Ford. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Monday’s mayoral contest was never really between Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat, who finished a distant second. His real nemesis has been, and will be, Ford — that shape-shifting mirage who long aspired to replace him as mayor, but has now one-upped him as premier.
That Tory so handily won re-election is mostly thanks to Ford abruptly opting out of their looming confrontation last January, when he seized upon the easier path that opened up in provincial politics. Until then, the mayoral campaign was shaping up as a revenge rematch between the two old antagonists.

The balance of power is not equal:

At city hall, Tory’s purported weakness may be his strength, for his consensual style of politics will be vital in rallying councillors toward unified — and coherent — positions in the coming months. In our municipality, the mayor has but one vote — which is why it is called a “weak mayor” system, where the leader’s word is not law, mere words.
The province, by contrast, overpowers the city but is also governed by what we could call a “strong premier” system — where Ford wields supreme control over his Progressive Conservative caucus. In his majority government, the premier’s word is not only law, it can override the law courts (as when he threatened to invoke the “notwithstanding” clause to suspend charter rights after an “appointed judge” rendered a verdict he disliked.)

But Tory is no political neophyte:

Tory well knows that imbalance of power. And understands our premier’s penchant for unbalanced decision-making.
He can also count on his top political strategist, Nick Kouvalis, to keep watch over Ford’s modus operandi. Often cited as the tactical wizard (or evil genius) who plotted Rob Ford’s mayoral victory in the 2010 election, Kouvalis soon had to fend off Doug, the overbearing big brother who believed the victory was his.
Kouvalis knows the premier better than most, which is why he was hired to help Tory defeat him in 2014, and again for the 2018 mayoral showdown that never was. He will be relied upon to help Tory fend off Ford in future conflicts — whether the province uploads TTC subway operations, downloads social service costs, or whips up Torontonians with yet more wedge issues (such as the phony “crisis” over so-called “illegal border crossers” that Ford fomented over the summer, and that Tory fended off with political acumen and generosity of spirit).

Tory has come up against Ford before. And he used to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. That gamut did not turn out well. Tory is a Bill Davis conservative. His caucus had taken a hard right turn.They and Tory soon parted ways.

There will be tense times at Queen's Park in the next four years. But you can bet that Doug Ford and Toronto's city council will also be butting heads.


Monday, October 22, 2018

The Myth of Irrelevance

Andray Domise writes in The Globe and Mail, "To Kill A Mockingbird Shouldn't Be Taught in 2018." It's an old argument. Some erstwhile critics claim that some works of literature become irrelevant. That's essentially the argument being made against Mockingbird:

To be clear, To Kill a Mockingbird is a well-written book. As a teaching narrative on the reality of race, however, it is helplessly facile and ill-suited. It is a story told through the voice of a white child, Scout Finch, centred on the toils of her white father, Atticus Finch, and whose conflict rests on the judicial fate of a black man, Tom Robinson.
To Kill a Mockingbird was not only written in an immature voice, but poured out of a mind immaturely attuned to racialized people as human beings who continue to exist when white people aren’t thinking about them. The story’s cast of white characters – Scout’s family, her neighbours, even the malevolent Ewells – are actualized and living people, each with their own motivations and desires. They, and the social realities of the 1930s South, are the novel’s subject.
Tom Robinson, on the other hand, is a cipher. A formless void into which the white imagination can project itself. We know hardly anything of his family’s grief, or their rage at the unjust society into which they were violently displaced at birth. We read nothing of the nights his mother must have wrapped her hands around her empty womb and cried out to God to save her child. What we do know is his pitiful fate at the hands of a justice system engineered to destroy him.

This argument rests on the essential premise that the child at the centre of the story -- Scout -- is an unreliable narrator because she knows nothing of the lives of black people. The same argument can be made about many child narrators who look back on their childhoods. But it's precisely because Scout is a child that she can see injustice so clearly, That same clarity of vision is at the heart of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What Twain called Huck's "sound heart and deformed conscience" make Twain's indictment of  his racist society so powerful.

Domise suggests that Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes is a much more relevant choice. It's an excellent book. But it is not necessarily more relevant. The fallacy at work here is that age leads to irrelevancy. It may lead to distinct visions -- but not to irrelevancy.

Image: The Globe And Mail

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Trump's Advantage

Donald Trump is an awful president. But, Frank Bruni writes, in these perverse times, his sheer awfulness works to his advantage:

That’s Trump’s edge over everybody. That’s his gift. He can do no wrong because he’s all wrong. He never really shocks because he’s a perpetual shock.
When someone frolics at the nadir for as long as he has, there’s nowhere to go but sideways.

Trump has always been an habitual bottom feeder, establishing his brand at the nadir of human experience:

It was clear that he had amassed his fortune through convenient bankruptcies, unsavoury alliances and stiffed creditors.
His racial demagogy had been well established in his insistence that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president born outside the United States.
And his misogyny? Megyn Kelly was able to ask that famous question at the first 2016 Republican primary debate — the one with a litany of his gross physical put-downs of women — because they had all been chronicled, recorded, transcribed. There was no running from his boorishness. Boorishness was his brand.

And that boorishness appeals to cynical voters. There is only one way to deal with him  -- stop concentrating on the boorishness and focus on the corruption:

The way out isn’t clear, but a few necessary adjustments are. We in the media should do less “horseface” and more ballooning deficits, dysfunctional federal agencies, disgraceful cabinet members and reckless judicial appointments. Too often the substantial sinks beneath the saucier stuff, yet another factor that favors the president and lets him off the hook.

The real issue is what Trump is doing to his country -- and to the rest of the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

For The People?

This week, Doug Ford showed us how a government which has adopted the motto "for the people" operates. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

The news this week that Ford has rewarded one of his closest campaign cronies with a plum patronage posting to Washington isn’t especially surprising. What is appalling is that he has doubled down on partisan enrichment.
With curious hubris, Ford proclaimed Friday, “I am so happy to announce” that Progressive Conservative loyalist Ian Todd will be Ontario’s new trade representative in the U.S.
What Ford neglected to say is that Todd’s annual salary will be $350,000 a year — $75,000 more than the annual pay of his predecessor, Monique Smith, a former Liberal cabinet minister appointed by ex-premier Kathleen Wynne.
What Ford also failed to explain is that Todd’s salary will far exceed the salary of the Canadian ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, whose pay band is $248,000 to $292,000 annually.

Patronage appointments are nothing new. They date all the way back to Sir John A., who made shrewd use of them. The problem for Ford is his blatant hypocrisy:

There is no great shame in appointing trusted advisers to sensitive positions, but this is one of the biggest displays of patronage pigginess in recent memory, adding up to $1 million over three years.
That’s the same amount Ford quietly awarded to his health-care czar, Dr. Reuben Devlin, last summer. But Devlin, a former president of the Progressive Conservative party, is no political hack — he headed Humber River Hospital for years, and he has the premier’s confidence. (What’s harder to understand is why the retired Devlin couldn’t follow the admirable example of Wynne’s former business czar, Ed Clark, who worked as a dollar-a-year-man for the Liberals.)
Embarrassed by the publicity over his new Washington envoy, Ford’s staff rushed out a news release Thursday saying that Todd would forgo pension and severance payments.

It's just one more example of the painfully obvious. Doug's bulb does not burn very brightly.

Image: Toronto Sun

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Consequences Of Koshhoggi's Death

Jamal Khashoggi's death may be the straw that breaks the historical camel's back. Certainly, Tony Burman writes, it has put an end to three recurring myths:

First, the fantasy that Saudi Arabia is embarked on genuine reform.
Second, that its crown prince is a marvel to behold. 
And third, that Donald Trump knows how to navigate around the minefields of the Middle East.

The Saudi royal family are thugs. Donald Trump enjoys their company and their business. Saudi Arabia was the first foreign country Trump visited after he assumed office. It was a case of birds of a feather:

Trump’s kinship with the Saudi Crown Prince has as much to do with power as it does with money. They both believe that retaining power can only happen when a country’s independent institutions — such as a free press — don’t exist.

Khoshoggi hacked away at the bottom of the poisonous tree Trump and the Crown Prince claim as their own:

As if writing from his grave, Khashoggi’s last column appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Washington Post. Under the headline, “What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” it was written just before he disappeared but not published until now.
“The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011 … brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society,” he wrote, but “these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.”

Try as hard as they will to concoct a story to explain what happened, no one will believe either Trump or Mohammed bin Salman.

What the consequences of that unbelief will be is hard to say. But the Middle East may never be the same.

Image: Foreign Policy

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Show Him The Money!

Lawrence Martin understands what is at Donald Trump's core -- money, plain and simple:

While so much of Mr. Trump’s policymaking is helter-skelter, scattershot, spur of the moment, it’s not so difficult to discern a constant in what he is doing, not just on foreign policy but with everything. Money is the morality. The drive for riches underpins this man’s entire life, his grotesque vanity, Mar-a-Lago, his gold-embossed Trump towers. It’s what’s behind the scandals, his alleged Russian ties, his Saudi softness, his refusal to release his tax records. It drives his thinking to the extent that the word kleptocracy has entered into the debate to describe how his presidency seeks to enrich himself and friends and family.

Money is at the root of everything Trump does:

David Hendrickson, author of Republic in Peril, argued that [Trump] was more imperialist than isolationist. In his book he writes that Mr. Trump sees alliances “as arrangements between a superpower protector and deadbeat dependents who should pay up or shove off.” In extracting rents from allies, he says Mr. Trump is trying to create “an empire of tribute.” He’s a president who decries not so much the lives lost in Middle East wars as the trillions of dollars America has squandered in them.

His refusal to deal with climate change is all about money:

The profit mentality can be seen in his approach to climate change. I was seated beside Jim Speyer, who worked for the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, back in the early 1970s when the agency was created by Richard Nixon. Subsequent presidents, Mr. Speyer noted, at least took environmental issues seriously. But for Mr. Trump all that counts is near-term economic health. Climate-change programs get in the way of it. They need to be nixed. A carbon tax is the way to go, Mr. Speyer said, pointing to Canada as being on the right track.

And the obsession with money shows up most egregiously in Trump's tax cuts:

In the meantime, the administration must take care of its wealthy, even if the giant tax breaks that are going to them as well as the huge budget dollars for a rearming of an already overarmed military are creating such a deficit that, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned this week, social programs will have to be cut back.

Trump is no towering intellect. But he does know what he wants -- money. And he's going to squeeze it from whomever he can -- as he watches his own bank account grow.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bud Day

Today is the day that sweet smell in the air becomes legal. Truthfully, it doesn't concern me much. I was one of those people who made it through the '60's without becoming a smoker of any kind. I do not say that with pride. It just didn't make much sense to me. At one point, I wanted to cultivate an the image of an English professor. So I bought myself a meerschaum pipe. But I spilled the tobacco on my knee, and I never got the hang of the thing. It hit me that what mattered was what was between my ears, not between my teeth.

And, as a high school teacher, bud was always a problem -- out in the schoolyard or out in the street. There were always kids who smelled of the stuff. I sent more than my share of students to the principal's office. In short, I always found marijuana to be a nuisance.

Today it is no longer a nuisance. But, as Tom Walkom points out,  it is big business:

Legalization is about big business. Or, to be more accurate, it’s about shifting cannabis production and distribution from illegal big businesses to legal ones.
As the tobacco and alcohol industries have shown, mood-altering substances can be immensely profitable. They are cheap to produce (it’s easy to make wine in your basement) yet face what economists call an inelastic demand curve.
Simply put, that means people will continue to buy these mood-altering substances even as their cost rises.
Industries such as tobacco and alcohol also tend to be dominated by a few big players. That’s because they rely on advertising and product differentiation, both of which are subject to economies of scale.
For instance, it’s cheaper on a per bottle basis to advertise beer if the cost can be spread over a large production run. Think Coors.
Canada’s cannabis companies are only starting and their advertising remains rudimentary. It’s not clear who will be left after the market shakes itself out. But the most obvious beneficiaries of marijuana legalization are Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.
Big Tobacco has experience in the field of inhalants and the ability to produce high-quality marijuana cigarettes. Big Pharma has the capacity to isolate the active ingredients in cannabis and market them as either pills or edibles.

And that concerns me. I suspect that, once again, big business is calling the tune.

Image: Yahoo Finance

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Big Market For Humbug

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman takes on what he calls the "cockroach arguments" of climate change deniers. Cockroach arguments are "false claims you may think you’ve gotten rid of, but keep coming back."

Even when proved false, these arguments are recycled. Consider taking the temperature from a particularly warm year and arguing that succeeding years have been cooler:

Climate change models “have not been very successful,” declared Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser. Actually, they have: Global warming to date is well in line with past projections. “Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” asserted Donald Trump on “60 Minutes,” based upon, well, nothing.

Trump makes up all kinds of stuff. Then there's the argument that, while the planet may be warming, man is not responsible for the rise in temperatures:

 “I don’t know that it’s man-made,” said Trump. And while he has sort-of-kind-of backed down on his earlier claims that climate change is a hoax concocted by the Chinese, he’s still seeing vast conspiracies on the part of climate scientists, who he says “have a very big political agenda.”
Think about that. Decades ago experts predicted, based on fundamental science, that emissions would raise global temperatures. People like Trump scoffed. Now the experts’ prediction has come true. And the deniers insist that emissions aren’t the culprit, that something else must be driving the change, and it’s all a conspiracy.

Trump is all about conspiracies. Then there's the argument that the economy can't withstand efforts to fight global warming:

Apocalyptic claims about the cost of reducing emissions are especially strange given tremendous technological progress in renewable energy: The costs of wind and solar power have plummeted. Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants have become so uncompetitive that the Trump administration wants to subsidize them at the expense of cleaner energy.

It's all humbug. But, these days, there's a big market for humbug.

Image: LeadGenius

Monday, October 15, 2018

Morally Vapid

The West's reaction to the apparent death of Jamal Kashoggi  has been appalling. Micheal Harris writes:

For sheer, cold-blooded monstrosity, you would have to review the handiwork of Jeffrey Dahmer to find an equivalent to Khashoggi’s end — assuming the Turks have, as they claim, the audio and video evidence to document the moment of his gruesome murder.
The Washington Post columnist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a whole person. He apparently left as a collection of pieces in the possession of the 15-person hit squad the Turks believe was dispatched from Riyadh to take his life.
Most of the 15 people who arrived and departed on chartered jets from Riyadh have been identified as having connections to Saudi Arabia’s state security apparatus.

Donald Trump was unfazed:

Trump emphasized that even if the allegations against the Saudis prove true, there wouldn’t be sanctions. Nor would he reconsider the $110 billion arms deal the U.S. recently inked in the wake of the president’s sword dance with Saudi royalty on his visit to Riyadh.
That, he explained, would cost “U.S. jobs.”

Likewise for Justin Trudeau:

Justin Trudeau has been uninspiring in his reaction as well, befitting a politician who signed off on a Harper-era sale of $15 billion worth of Canadian made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The same Saudis who brutally invaded Bahrain in 2011 and are now conducting a genocidal war against the Houthi in Yemen.
A telling statistic: Although the Trudeau government has deplored the war in Yemen, it has sold $284 million worth of military equipment to the countries that are bombing the Houthis, primarily Saudi Arabia. By comparison, Canada has given the war torn country $65 million in aid. As with climate change, the Liberals say we can have it both ways.

The West is morally vapid. Meanwhile, authoritarians around the world are wrecking havoc:

Police in Dubai concluded that a team from Mossad carried out the assassination of Palestinian Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in a city hotel in 2010.
The British concluded that Putin assassinated former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko with polonium, and suspect that members of a Russian spy unit poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England with novichok, a deadly nerve agent.

As Yeats wrote, The worst are full of passionate intensity while the best lack all conviction."

Image: Scoopnest

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fordian Folly

The United Nations has told all of us that we have little time to mitigate the effects of climate change. Doug Ford, however, is on a national roadshow, railing against a carbon tax. How does one explain that cognitive dissonance? Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Climate change has become climate disruption at the precise time that political disruption is upon us. Unless we limit global warming by a further half-a-degree Celsius beyond current targets, we face incalculable human dislocation to homes, livelihoods and lives.
Responding to the future peril by establishing a high price on carbon requires the kind of economic mettle and political will that has “no documented historic precedent,” the UN report notes dryly. Don’t we know it.
The fight against climate change was the first casualty of Ontario’s “change” election on June 7, when Ford proudly announced the demise of the cap-and-trade system that put a price on carbon to “cap” and discourage greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Ford’s government has budgeted more than $30 million for a court battle against a future federal carbon tax (from which we would have been exempted with cap and trade).
It is a truism of our political times that it is easier to tear something down than to build it up. It’s also more profitable to campaign as a tax-fighter than a climate-saver.

Ford, unfortunately, was not gifted with much cognitive ability. The obvious sign of that is his tunnel vision. He's sees a tax and he wants to tear it down -- even if it was beginning to move things in the right direction:

The UN study — released last Sunday while Ford’s anti-carbon road show was in full swing with stops in Regina, Calgary, and Etobicoke — was preceded by an equally alarming report by Ontario’s own non-partisan environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, last month. It is a depressing account of how the province made steady progress with cap and trade before Ford pulled the plug after winning power.
“Despite flaws, these were good policies that worked,” she notes. Now, they have been “swept away, with nothing in their place” because the Ford government’s suggested replacement “lacks most of the features of a good climate law.”

When historians write about our times, surely they will be taxed to explain how and why we turned over the reigns of government to the Monumentally Stupid.

Image: The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Trump And State Sanctioned Ignorance

Under Donald Trump, Henry Giroux writes, the United States is becoming a full blown fascist state:

The threads of a general political and ideological crisis run deep in American history, and with each tweet and policy decision Donald Trump pushes the United States closer to a full-fledged fascist state. His words sting, but his policies can kill people. Trump’s endless racist taunts, dehumanizing expressions of misogyny, relentless attacks on all provisions of the social state and ongoing contempt for the rule of law serve to normalize a creeping fascist politics.

Trump moves ever closer to his goal by encouraging state sanctioned ignorance:

State-sanctioned ignorance is more than fodder for late night comedy shows, it also provides the psychological conditions for certain individuals and groups to associate “pollution” and disposability with what Richard A. Etlin calls “a biologically racialist worldview, which divides the human race according to the dichotomy of the pure and impure, the life-enhancing and the life-polluting.” This is a language mobilized by the energies of the ethically dead, and echoes strongly with the anti-Semitism that was at the center of the genocidal policies of the Third Reich.

And, taking his cue from the Third Reich, Trump is entrenching a "culture of death:"

The smell of death is everywhere under this administration. The erosion of public values and the rule of law is now accompanied by a developing state of emergency with regards to a looming global environmental catastrophe. An ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change has accelerated under the Trump administration and appears imminent.Trump’s ongoing attempt to pollute the planet through his rollback of environmental protections will result in the deaths of thousands of children who suffer from asthma and other lung problems. Moreover, his privatized and punitive approach to health care will shorten the lives of millions of poor people, uninsured youth, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed and the elderly. His get-tough “law and order” policies will result in more police violence against blacks while his support for the arms industry, military budget and gun laws will accelerate the death of the marginalized both at home and abroad. Under the Trump regime all bets are off regarding the sustainability of democracy.

We've been here before, but the ignorant -- with the blessings of the state -- fume and seek their revenge.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, October 12, 2018

Harper's Selling A Lie

Stephen Harper has written a new book in which he dons the mantle of populism. Andrew Coyne is not impressed:

Well now we have it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. The young firebrand who famously deserted Preston Manning for being too populist and not enough of a conservative now claims the mantle of populism for himself: if not as a whole-hearted adherent, then as the statesman who understands where others only condemn. His new book Right Here, Right Now, is indeed in large part an attempt to portray his own government, not as the cynical power-seeking machine it appeared to be, but as populist before its time. In defending populism, he defends himself.
And yet the mind it reveals is not that of the subtle, sometimes rueful voice of experience he clearly wishes the reader to imagine. It is, rather, all too conventional, even banal. What are presented as iconoclastic insights, in which the rise of populism is explained in terms of the failings of conservatism — former Conservative prime minister breaks with decades of conservative orthodoxy! — are a mix of received wisdom and undergraduate shibboleths, many of them long debunked.

Harper hasn't changed. He remains the same neo-liberal mouthpiece he always was, repeating the tired -- and untrue mantras -- first espoused by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He claims that Donald Trump's supporters are the economically disenfranchised. But that simply isn't true:

Rather, opinion research has shown, they are driven primarily by cultural resentments and racial fears: resentment of educated elites and their media allies, who are accused (not without justice) of looking down their noses at the people in “flyover country”; fears of losing their place in a society that is rapidly changing. That Trump was adept at tapping into those resentments is not in doubt, but it is less a matter of his superior insight or willingness to challenge conventional wisdom on matters such as trade, as Harper seems to imagine, than unprecedented, unimaginable shamelessness.
So, too, Harper misrepresents populism, certainly of the kind that Trump and his ilk practice. It is simply wrong to describe it, as he does, as “any political movement that places the wider interests of the common people ahead of the special interests of the privileged few.” Indeed, as he himself acknowledges, “every political party tends to frame its core appeal in such terms.” A definition that could describe any party or movement is without significance.
Rather, the term describes a view of “the people” as being under siege: if the populist is famously “for the people,” it invites the question of who is against — the Them that is supposedly menacing Us. The populist is never short of Thems: elites, foreigners, racial minorities, “globalists” — or in Harper’s (borrowed) formulation, the cosmopolitan “Anywheres” who owe no allegiance to nation-states, move between homes in New York, London and Singapore, and hanker after a world without borders: a description that would apply to perhaps dozens of people but whom Harper is convinced now control “all the main traditional political parties.”

It's the same witches' brew that Doug Ford is selling. It's politics of by and for the wealthy. And it's a lie. Perhaps that's why the media was uninvited to the book launch at the Canadian Club.

Image: London Free Press

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Next Recession And Climate Change

Larry Elliott writes that the next recession will be complicated by climate change. The outlook is grim. And the solutions are not as simple as they were during the Great Depression:

The threat posed by global warming means the current crisis of capitalism is more acute than that of the 1930s, because all that was really required then was a boost to growth, provided by the New Deal, cheap money, tougher controls on finance and rearmament. In today’s context, a plain vanilla go-for-growth strategy would be suicidal.

One size will no longer fit all:

There are countries that are prepared to self-immolate their economies in pursuit of growth at all costs. America is one. Australia appears to be another. At the other end of the spectrum are those who say there will be a future for the planet only if the idea of growth is ditched altogether. Politically, this has always been a hard sell, and has become even more difficult now that populations in the west have experienced an entire decade of flatlining living standards.
In the developing world, the problem has been too little growth rather than too much. Tackling global population growth is a no-brainer from a climate-change perspective, and most of the projected increase comes from low-income countries, most notably in Africa. The reason is simple: poor families have more children. Birthrates fall as countries become richer.
Between the two extremes are those who think the circle can be squared by carbon-free growth, made possible by the dramatic fall in the cost of renewable energy. Technology will ride to the rescue, they insist.

But technology alone can't save us:

This sounds like a cost-free (or at least relatively cheap) option, and that’s why almost all politicians pay lip service to green growth. But then they act in ways that make achieving global warming targets harder – by building new roads and expanding airports. And always for the same reason: because doing so will be good for growth. This is called a balanced approach, but it is nothing of the sort. If the IPCC is even close to being right about its timeline, speeding up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is vital.

So how do we speed up that transition? William Nordhaus -- one of this year's Nobel Economics laureates -- says there's a way -- "if policymakers get serious about a carbon tax set high enough to price oil, coal and gas out of the market." But, as the developing debate in Canada shows, there is increasing pushback to Nordhaus' prescription. And that pushback is worldwide:

Here, though, the breakdown in international cooperation and trust becomes really damaging. Ideally, existing global institutions – the IMF, the World Bank, the UN and the World Trade Organization – would be supplemented by a new World Environmental Organisation with the power to levy a carbon tax globally. Even in the absence of a new body, they would be working together to face down the inevitable opposition to change from the fossil fuel lobby.

What chance is there for a World Environmental Organization?


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

No Rapprochement

NAFTA 2.0  has landed. But, Lawrence Martin writes, that doesn't mean there will be a rapprochement between Canada and the United States. That's because Canadians despise so much of  what Trump stands for:

Though the trade problem has been alleviated, there is still so much more to oppose. There are his race-baiting proclivities and immigration policies which run counter to the diversity drive in Ottawa. There’s his attitude toward women – which is straight out of the 19th century. There’s the fact that he is an environmental ignoramus who is rolling back programs to address climate change.
There’s his nativist creed which threatens the international order and its institutions. There are his authoritarian impulses and his refusal to stand up to thugs like Vladimir Putin. There are his taxation policies which primarily enrich the rich, his opposition to gun control and his extreme rhetoric which divides rather than unites.
Mr. Trump doesn’t bear any animosity toward the Canadian people as such. He “loves” Canada, he says. But in terms of values, beliefs and hostile actions, no president has been more anti-Canadian. He is not about to change and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to represent his population, his post-trade-deal approach with Mr. Trump must reflect its disdain.

In what ways can Canada  show that disdain? Certainly not by reducing issues to name calling -- which is Trump's favourite mode of speech. There are much more meaningful ways to do it:

It means staking out Canadian ground in a firm clear manner. It means that even though Mr. Trump opposes the World Trade Organization, Ottawa should go ahead, as it is planning, and host a conference of 13 WTO countries later this month.
It means Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland should continue as per Canadian tradition to speak out loudly in support of multilateralism and collective security. If it rankles the U.S. State Department, good. It means, especially since Canada is a border country, registering more virulent opposition to Mr. Trump’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It means pushing harder on trade diversification. It means carving out good relations with Congress and other key players other than the President. Ambassador David MacNaughton is planning a golf game with U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. Good idea, especially if he lets the American win a couple of holes.

At some point Trump will be gone -- the questions are when and how. But, eventually, he'll sink back into the slime. Until then, Canada would be wise to maintain its strategic distance.

Image: ipolitics

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The March To Oblivion

The United Nations has just told us that we have twelve years to prevent a global catastrophe. Global warning will soon have disastrous consequences. But the U.N. report isn't on Doug Ford's and Jason Kenny's radar. Geoffrey Stevens writes:

Appearing together before an overflow crowd of 1,500 true believers in Calgary, the two provincial leaders — one in power, the other in waiting — pledged their mutual, undying opposition to carbon taxes, and they took turns swatting enthusiastically at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, of course, is doubly damned among Conservatives in Alberta. Not only is he a Liberal who is friendly with NDP Premier Rachel Notley, he is the son of Pierre, the Great Satan of oilpatch That was back in 1980, but the grievance doesn't just linger. It bursts into flame whenever the issue of national carbon pricing is raised. Justin Trudeau did have the backing of both Ontario and Alberta for it, but Ford has withdrawn Ontario's support and Alberta's support, which was contingent on completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, is wavering and may be lost.
That was red meat for the Calgary "Scrap the Carbon Tax" rally last Friday. Neither Kenney nor Ford is much of an orator, but both have a bit of Donald Trump's knack for exploiting a sympathetic crowd.
The crowd roared approval when Kenney called Notley's carbon tax "the biggest lie in Alberta's history" and promised that a United Conservative Party government would repeal it. It roared again when the Ontario premier bestowed the blessing of Ford Nation: "Stay strong, your next election is one that conservatives can win, an election we will win, and an election we must win."mythology, who will never be forgotten or forgiven for his notorious National Energy Program.

The biggest lie in Canadian history? Other provincial premeirs are falling in line behind Ford and Kenny:

On his way to Calgary, Ford stopped in Saskatchewan long enough to pick up the support of Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party. Meanwhile, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative premier, Brian Pallister, announced he would no longer support a carbon tax.
If, as expected, New Brunswick joins the flock, Doug Ford, the most improbable of premiers, would find himself at the head of a block of five provinces out to do battle with a federal government that is supported — for now, at least — by two major provinces, British Columbia and Quebec.

What Ford, Kenny and the others are selling is the biggest lie in Canadian history -- that we'll be alright as long as oil is combustible and we can live in purposeful ignorance.

And they march -- cheering -- to oblivion.


Monday, October 08, 2018

A Judical Coup

E. J. Dionne doesn't mince words. He writes in this morning's Washington Post:

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in tatters. Conservative forces in the country, led by the Republican Party, have completed a judicial coup, decades in the making.

And the level of hypocrisy behind it all is stunning:

More recently, Senate Republicans kept the late Antonin Scalia’s seat open for more than a year, refusing Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee, either a hearing or a vote. Neil M. Gorsuch, a far more conservative jurist, took the seat instead.
Now comes Kavanaugh. In blocking Garland, Republicans said it was urgent to wait until after the 2016 election to let the voters speak. They rushed Kavanaugh through to get him onto the court before the voters could speak in 2018. When power is all that matters, consistency is for suckers.

What is also stunning is that all of this was achieved by the minority party:

A generations-long conservative majority on the court has been cemented in place by a political minority. Kavanaugh was named by a president who won 46 percent of the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing 44 percent of the population. When you lack a majority, controlling the branch of government not subject to the voters is vital to working your will. 

The Republicans want to control the court because they have not been able to generate majority support for their program. A photo from the 1992 Democratic convention has been making the rounds these days. The picture was taken at the end of the convention, when Al and Tipper Gore and Bill and Hilary Clinton were on the platform. The caption under the photograph read: "Three of these people won the popular vote. Only one became president."

It has, indeed, been a judicial coup. What's Dionne's remedy? Expand the court:

If Democrats take control of the House, they should hold hearings on the administration’s manipulation of the FBI investigation. These could also shed light on the extent to which Kavanaugh misled the Senate.
And there should now be no squeamishness about the urgency of enlarging the Supreme Court if Democrats have the power to do so after the 2020 elections. The current majority on the court was created through illegitimate means. Changing that majority would not constitute politicizing the court because conservatives have already done this without apology.

During the 19th Century, the court was expanded seven times. If Democrats win the House, you can bet that lots of changes will be coming down the pike.

Image: Smithsonian Magazine

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Hang A Hard Right

The party calls itself the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. That's a lie. Bob Hepburn writes that, in the 100 days since Doug Ford took office, he and his party have taken a hard turn to the right:

We’ve already seen the first stages of Ford’s agenda, with his moves to slash the size of Toronto City Council, cancel the basic income test program, axe the scheduled move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage and scrap Ontario’s participation in the federal carbon pricing program.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In the coming weeks, Ford is expected to make major changes in social support programs, and slash the senior bureaucratic ranks in the health and education ministries. Some fear the education cuts may be so deep that they spark teacher strikes in early 2019.
Fire sales may be held for the LCBO, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario Power Generation. Also on the possible chopping block are eHealth and dozens of agencies, boards and commissions. Agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario could well see funding cuts of up to 40 per cent.
This, in addition to Ford’s announcement this week that he is “getting rid” of the Wynne government’s labour reforms that increased sick day benefits, paid vacation entitlements and protection for temp. agency workers.

Taking their cue from the Republican judicial coup that has just taken place south of the border, the Fordians are moving fast, hoping that their government  -- which bills itself  "for the people" -- will get what they want before voters understand what's going on. But "the people" are quickly souring on Mr. Ford:

When Patrick Brown stepped down suddenly as leader in late January, polls showed the Tories backed by 43 per cent of voters. For much of Brown’s last year as leader, the party had a 20 percentage point lead over its nearest party rival.
As leader, Brown worked to make the party more mainstream, leading the Conservatives to support the federal climate change program, accepting same-sex rights and reducing Islamophobia within the party.
In mid-February, when the Tories had no permanent leader, they were supported by 49 per cent of voters, according to a Forum Research poll. On election day, the Ford-led Tories captured 40.5 per cent of the votes, winning enough seats to form a solid major government.
Today, three months later, Ford’s approval rating is already down to 37 per cent, according to a DART Insight survey. That surely makes Ford one of the few political leaders never to experience a traditional “honeymoon period” when their popularity rises in the months immediately after an election.

Unfortunately, it will be four years before the divorce decree becomes official.

Image: Global News

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Insidious, Contagious, Poisonous, Corruptive

Roger Cohen's reflections on the Kavanaugh hearings are instructive. Everything eventually makes its way back to President Trump:

Insidious is the man. Insidious is his pollution of the F.B.I., whose former director, James Comey, he fired after Comey refused to show “loyalty.” Loyalty in this instance meant willingness to shelve, at Trump’s demand, an investigation into dealings between his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.
Contagious is the man. Contagious is Trump’s view that judges should be agents of those who appoint them rather than the independent guarantors of America’s constitutional democracy. Trump wants loyalty from Kavanaugh, too, and the angry, emotional testimony that the judge provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee carried this subliminal message: “I am one of yours.” It was right out of the Trump playbook.
Poisonous is the man. Poisonous is Trump’s inability to abandon mob incitement as his mode of political operation. Meanness is how this man gets his kicks. Always was, always will be.
It has become axiomatic to regret the tribal division of the United States — the inability to build bridges or even hold conversations across ideological divides, the sharpening national fracture into algorithm-consolidated political silos — and, of course, the Kavanaugh hearings now constitute Exhibit A in this unraveling.
Corrupting is the man. Corrupting is a presidency dedicated to the blurring of the line between truth and falsehood. False or misleading statements have issued from him several times a day. It’s impossible to recall on Friday the lie that outraged you on Monday. The effect of this is to devalue truth. More and more Americans care little for the sacredness of facts. I see references, even in the nation’s best newspapers, to the “reality-based press” or “fact-based journalism.” What other kind is there?

It was all on display during the Kavanaugh hearings. Donald Trump's influence is pervasive. And it offers proof that most empires are destroyed from within.

Image: The New Daily

Friday, October 05, 2018

So Is Stupidity

As an old Quebecer, I was particularly interested in Michael Harris' take on the recent Quebec election. Harris writes:

The landslide victory of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is a boulder that sends ripples into the furthest reaches of Canada’s political pond. Which is to say, the ascension of Premier François Legault is no regional flash in the pan.
It is suddenly open season on incumbents, with three Canadian premiers recently getting the boot, and a growing animus across the country against traditional politics.

Legault is an old PQ apparatchik who has taken a referendum off the table. But his policies are recycled Parti Quebecois boilerplate. He is pushing a Quebec values test again, precipitating a clash between religion and politics. And his Trumpian focus on immigration fans the age old French Canadian fear of the other. The revenge of the cradle no longer soothes Quebecois fears that they will be overrun by outsiders.

And to enforce his policy prescriptions, Legault -- like his neighbour next door -- threatens to use the notwithstanding clause.

Harris points out that Philippe Couillard's Liberals were not defeated for the usual reasons:

Former premier Philippe Couillard was a pretty good steward of the province’s economy.
He leaves office with public finances in good shape and a record-low unemployment rate. For those who like to rant about tax-and-spend Liberals, Couillard proved to be an exception. His government even paid down the provincial debt.
So it wasn’t the economy, stupid.

Change is in the air. And so is stupidity.

Image: National Post

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Defeat Disguised As Victory

It's beginning to look like the fix is in. The truncated F.B.I. investigation of allegations against Brett Kavanaugh has arrived at the White House, which is crowing that there is "no corroboration" of those allegations. It's a dark time in the United States. The Trumpists will soon control all three branches of the American government. But Geoffrey Kabaservice writes that the Kavanaugh  confirmation may be the Republican Party's last hurrah. The Kavanaugh circus has underscored just how male dominated the Republican Party is:

Congress has long been a lopsidedly male place. There have only been 52 women senators in the entire history of the United States, and it took until 2011 for women legislators to get a restroom near the floor of the House of Representatives. Congress is still about 80% male, so gender parity is a long way off. But that figure blurs the imbalance between a Democratic caucus where one-third of the members are women and Republican caucus where women are only around one-tenth of the membership. 

The faces of the Republican and the Democratic Parties couldn't be more different:

The 3-to-1 ratio by which Democratic congresswomen outnumber Republican congresswomen may soon become even more imbalanced. According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, there are over 200 Democratic women running for Congress this year (15 in the Senate, 187 in the House) but only 60 Republican women (8 in the Senate, 52 in the House). 

The Republicans know about the difference. But they have refused to do anything about it:

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, many Republicans appeared to understand the need to narrow the gender gap, both in voting and in women’s representation in Congress. The Republican National Committee’s 2013 “autopsy” report highlighted “the party’s negative image among women” and emphasized how essential it was “to improve our brand with women throughout the country and grow the ranks of influential female voices in the Republican Party.” But the Republican leadership largely ignored these recommendations. Making matters worse, Donald Trump, both as candidate and president, has gone out of his way to make comments widely perceived as insulting toward women — most recently with his mocking of Kavanaugh’s accuser and the Me Too movement.

With Trump and Kavanaugh as the two faces of the Republican Party, American women are as mad as hell. And that anger shows up in the gender of the candidates running in the mid term elections:

While the number of Republican women running for Congress this year actually represents a modest improvement upon the party’s past standards, it’s dwarfed by the Democrats’ record-breaking totals. In fact, while the number of Republican women who filed as House candidates this year went up by 11% compared to 2016, Democratic women’s numbers soared by a whopping 87%. 

While the votes are still to be counted, this election could be a turning point. Like George Armstrong Custer, Donald Trump may have marched the Republican Party into its Little Big Horn.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Second American Civil War

Tom Friedman writes that he grew up in the 1960's when the United States was divided over Vietnam. But what's going on now is much worse than the divisions of the '60's:

There is a deep breakdown happening between us, between us and our institutions and between us and our president.
We can’t find common ground on which to respectfully disagree; the other side is “the enemy.” We shout at each other on television, unfollow each other on Facebook and fire verbal mortars at each other on Twitter — and now everyone is on the digital battlefield, not just politicians.
And nothing is sacred. Brett Kavanaugh defended himself the other day with the kind of nasty partisan attacks and ugly conspiracy theories that you’d expect only from a talk radio host — never from a would-be justice of the Supreme Court. Who can expect fairness from him now?
And this fracturing is all happening with a soaring stock market and falling unemployment. Can you imagine what it will be like when we face the next recession?

While malpractice can be found on both sides of the divide, one side is more responsible for this debacle than the other:

It would be easy to blame both sides equally for this shift, noted [Norman] Ornstein, but it is just not true. After the end of the Cold War, he said, “tribal politics were introduced by Newt Gingrich when he came to Congress 40 years ago,” and then perfected by Mitch McConnell during the Barack Obama presidency, when McConnell declared his intention to use his G.O.P. Senate caucus to make Obama fail as a strategy for getting Republicans back in power.
They did this even though that meant scuttling Obama’s health care plan, which was based on Republican ideas, and even though that meant scuttling long-held G.O.P. principles — like fiscal discipline, a strong Atlantic alliance, distrust of Russian intentions and a balanced approach to immigration — to attract Trump’s base.

It may be too late to end the cycle of self destruction. Certainly, the United States is running out of time. If the country doesn't self correct quickly, it will disappear before the warming planet destroys the place. And global warming is the crisis that faces all of us.