Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Adieu, Warren

That didn't last long. The Green Party has severed its ties to Warren Kinsella. Susan Delacourt reports that:

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has wound down a controversial working relationship with former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella, saying, “He’s finished whatever work he was doing with us.”
The limited-run arrangement, which seems to have involved Kinsella setting up a quick-response unit for the Greens, had drawn huge criticism inside and outside Green Party ranks.
At issue was whether May could be serious about elevating the tone of politics while simultaneously throwing in her lot with a pundit/strategist more famous for burning bridges than building them — or, as Kinsella himself boasts in the biography on his blog, who “can be useful in a stick-swinging, bench-clearing brawl.”

May has a reputation as a truth teller. Kinsella is known as a bridge  burner. The two reputations were at odds:

Is that the end of it then? Perhaps, with regard to that particular campaign operative, but May is going to be asked again and again in the coming election how much she is willing to compromise her principles for practical politics. That’s really what this controversy was about.
It’s an age-old story in politics, in Canada and beyond: the closer you get to power or influence, the more you have to play the game, no matter how much you insist you won’t. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he of the sunny ways and promises of sweeping electoral reform in 2015, is going to face a lot of similar questions as he campaigns for re-election.
She said to me this week that she remains sure she won’t be drawn into the dark side, that she won’t run attack ads or even fall back into the rote habit of repeating talking points.
She reminded me that to “tell the truth all the time” was her first promise on taking up the Green leadership 13 years ago.
“That’s still my goal. I’ve not changed,” she said. But she admits that telling the truth can sometimes make things awkward for her team, especially when listeners or her rivals add their own spin to her replies. It’s happening a lot more now in 2019 than it did in any of the previous three elections in which she’s run as leader.

So there you have it. Will Elizabeth be corrupted by our political system? Stay tuned.

Image: The Hill Times

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Votes Of The Desperate

It's been obvious ever since Donald Trump descended his escalator, that he lives in the past. Paul Krugman writes that's he's stuck in 1989:

Why 1989? That was the year he demanded bringing back the death penalty in response to the case of the Central Park Five, black and Latino teenagers convicted of raping a white jogger in Central Park. They were, in fact, innocent; their convictions were vacated in 2002. Trump, nevertheless, has refused to apologize or admit that he was wrong.
His behavior then and later was vicious, and it is no excuse to acknowledge that at the time America was suffering from a crime wave. Still, there was indeed such a wave, and it was fairly common to talk about social collapse in inner-city urban communities.

Some argued that inner city collapse was connected to the fact that black people tended to live there. But the sociologist, William Julius Wilson, argued that the chaos in inner cities had nothing to do with race:

What Wilson argued, however, was that social dysfunction was an effect, not a cause. His work, culminating in the justly celebrated book “When Work Disappears,” made the case that declining job opportunities for urban workers, rather than some underlying cultural or racial disposition, explained the decline in prime-age employment, the decline of the traditional family, and more.

Was he right? Well, just look at small town and rural America, where jobs have been disappearing for decades:

Sure enough, that’s exactly what has happened to parts of nonmetropolitan America effectively stranded by a changing economy.
I’m not saying that there’s something wrong or inferior about the inhabitants of, say, eastern Kentucky (and no American politician would dare suggest such a thing). On the contrary: What the changing face of American social problems shows is that people are pretty much the same, whatever the color of their skin. Give them reasonable opportunities for economic and personal advancement, and they will thrive; deprive them of those opportunities, and they won’t.

These are the very people who voted for Trump. And, as he lashes out at urban blacks, he does nothing for those who support him. I'm sure he's never read Wilson's book. He wouldn't understand it if he tried.

The point is he doesn't understand anything -- except that hate buys him the votes of the desperate.


Monday, July 29, 2019

Doug's Shadow

Poor Andrew Scheer. He had hoped that Doug Ford would take the summer off and keep his mouth shut. But Doug likes the limelight. Antonia Zerbesias writes:

Ford, whose popularity, as measured by poll after poll, is tanking. That, despite making appearances "for the people" all over Ontario in his attempts to be likeable again.
He may still be smiling -- a barely upturned grimace -- but his eyes show fear and uncertainty.

Ontarians are not just exorcised by Ford's face:

This is the Ford who got loudly booed at Toronto's celebration of the Raptors basketball victory. The Ford who disconnected his "dial-a-premier" mobile phone because of "special interest groups" calling him at all hours. The Ford whose promise to "end hallway medicine" within a year will actually take many, many more years to fulfill, as Health Minister Christine Elliott just had to announce. The Ford who now requires high school students to take four online courses in order to graduate, even if their families can't afford computers. The Ford caught in a patronage scandal that just keeps on a'giving and a'giving, with a bodycount (so far) of seven dumped from their high-paying positions. The Ford who keeps trending on Twitter, with hashtags like "#CorruptAF." The Ford who missed his own deadline for a new Toronto transit strategy after, once again, ripping up years of research and a shovel-ready route.

Mr. Scheer has discovered that the big man casts a big shadow:

Whatever plans the federal Conservatives had for their Ontario election campaign while the provincial PCs would presumably be flipping burgers at legion halls in the hinterland, they overlooked one important factor. The news beast must be fed non-stop in the digital age and, if Queen's Park journalists don't have question period to cover, they'll find something else to investigate and report on.
Which they have. The Toronto Star has been relentless in its coverage, picking up where it left off with former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Doug's younger brother. The paper has broken damaging stories on transit, cronyism and mental health care. The Globe and Mail let rip a powerful feature on Ford's friends and influences in the lobbying business. Even the usually Ford-friendly Toronto Sun has taken a few swipes.
Scheer is trapped in Ford's enormous shadow. He's trailing a year of the premier's cuts to health care, education, universities, libraries, emergency services and transit, plus his $30-million fight against the federal carbon tax and his billion-dollar effort to privatize alcohol sales. All this while giving free rein to developers to build condos just about anywhere, without regard for infrastructure, wildlife and environmental concerns.
To many voters, Ford looks like the trailer for a Scheer horror show. Which is why we don't see them anymore in the same photo op, like at the Calgary Stampede where both turned up at the flapjack grill. 
And to think that just last fall, they enthusiastically shook hands for the cameras, agreeing that they would take down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals together.

Andrew Scheer has problems of his own. But, in Ontario, his biggest problem is Doug Ford.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Great Reckoning

Andrew Bacevich writes that there's a Great Reckoning coming. The device he uses for his argument is "a remnant of a manuscript, discovered in a vault near the coastal town of Walpole, Massachusetts, [which] appears to have been part of a larger project, probably envisioned as an interpretive history of the United States since the year 2000. Only a single chapter, probably written near the midpoint of the twenty-first century, has survived."

Bacevich looks at the world from the perspective of the future. In the early part of the 21st century, the evidence of the coming planetary collapse was everywhere:

Item: The reality of climate change was now indisputable. All that remained in question was how rapidly it would occur and the extent (and again rapidity) of the devastation that it would ultimately inflict.
Item: Despite everything that was then known about the dangers of further carbon emissions, the major atmospheric contributor to global warming, they only continued to increase, despite the myriad conferences and agreements intended to curb them. (U.S. carbon emissions, in particular, were still rising then, and global emissions were expected to rise by record or near-record amounts as 2019 began.)
Item: The polar icecap was disappearing, with scientists reporting that it had melted more in just 20 years than in the previous 10,000. This, in turn, meant that sea levels would continue to rise at record rates, posing an increasing threat to coastal cities.
Item: Deforestation and desertification were occurring at an alarming rate.
Item: Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic were seeping into the world’s oceans each year, from the ingestion of which vast numbers of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals were dying annually. Payback would come in the form of microplastics contained in seafood consumed by humans.
Item: With China and other Asian countries increasingly refusing to accept American recyclables, municipalities in the United States found themselves overwhelmed by accumulations of discarded glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, and paper. That year, the complete breakdown of the global recycling system already loomed as a possibility.
Item: Worldwide bird and insect populations were plummeting. In other words, the Sixth Mass Extinction had begun.

Yet in the face of all this evidence, countries -- particularly the United States -- refused to do anything about the looming catastrophe:

To say that Americans were oblivious to such matters would be inaccurate. Some were, for instance, considering a ban on plastic straws. Yet taken as a whole, the many indications of systemic and even planetary dysfunction received infinitely less popular attention than the pregnancies of British royals, the antics of the justifiably forgotten Kardashian clan, or fantasy football, a briefly popular early twenty-first century fad.
Of course, decades later, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the implications of these various trends and data points seem painfully clear: the dominant ideological abstraction of late postmodernity — liberal democratic capitalism — was rapidly failing or had simply become irrelevant to the challenges facing the United States and the human species as a whole. To employ another then-popular phrase, liberal democratic capitalism had become an expression of “fake news,” a scam sold to the many for the benefit of the privileged few.
“Toward the end of an age,” historian John Lukacs (1924-2019) once observed, “more and more people lose faith in their institutions and finally they abandon their belief that these institutions might still be reformed from within.” Lukacs wrote those words in 1970, but they aptly described the situation that had come to exist in that turning-point year of 2019. Basic American institutions — the overworked U.S. military being a singular exception — no longer commanded popular respect.
In essence, the postmodern age was ending, though few seemed to know it — with elites, in particular, largely oblivious to what was occurring. What would replace postmodernity in a planet heading for ruin remained to be seen.

We are, indeed, at the end of an age. Something to think about.

Image: Steam

Saturday, July 27, 2019

It's Almost Shakespearean

It could be that history is repeating itself -- or at least rhyming. Susan Delacourt writes:

Forty years before Justin Trudeau has been forced to contend with Trump and Johnson, there was Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — also transformative conservative politicians — and another Trudeau serving as Canadian prime minister.
Pierre Trudeau, like his son today, didn’t have much in common with the leaders chosen to head Britain and the United States, or with the brand of conservative politics that swept Reagan and Thatcher to office at the dawn of the 1980s.

There are differences, as Tom Axworthy -- who was a key advisor to Trudeau the Elder  -- points out:

Axworthy is cautious about seeing today’s U.S. and U.K. leaders as direct descendants of their 1980s counterparts. “Thatcher was extremely intelligent and articulate and Reagan was the greatest communicator I ever met in politics.”

But the parallels are unmistakable:

Pierre Trudeau clashed often with Reagan and Thatcher at international meetings — perhaps not as explosively as the Trump-Trudeau spat that burst into the open last year, but it was a constant tension in the early 1980s. Then, as now, when it came to global summitry, Canada found more congenial, progressive alliances with the leaders of Germany and France.
And with the U.S. and Britain acting as international conservative hawks in the 1980s, Pierre Trudeau spent some of his final term in office on an international peace crusade, after he’d finished patriating the Constitution and bringing a Charter of Rights to Canada.
By 1984, though, Trudeau, his peace crusade and much of his liberal resistance were swept aside. Canadians had gone from scoffing at Reagan and Thatcher to electing a prime minister who would be cosy with them — Brian Mulroney.

Who can say how it will all work out? But there's almost something Shakespearean about the irony.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, July 26, 2019

Republican Fascists

The Republican Party, Arthur Haberman writes, is a fascist institution:

Fascism is first characterized by a virulent nationalism, which is often either ethnic or racist. In the case of Trump, other leaders of the federal party, and many other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, racist tropes are used all the time, most recently against several women of colour in the Democratic Party. Republicans are nationalist, whether it is “America First,” the insistence on the United States as the world’s greatest country, or in a belief in American Exceptionalism, something that sounds as though it is coming out of middle Europe a century ago.
Fascists attempt to neutralize the courts and take away the independence of the judiciary. Republicans have politicized the Supreme Court and the Republican-controlled Senate in the last few years has approved right-wing judges. who do whatever is bidden by the party, many of them found not competent to serve by bar associations.

Fascist governments have elections. But the elections are rigged. The Republican Party has worked very hard to rig elections in their favour:

Fascists like to have elections, which give the illusion of democracy. Some weeks ago the Supreme Court approved the idea that gerrymandering was constitutional. The decision was 5-4, with the two most recent appointees, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in favour. Both appointments are suspect — Gorsuch because the Senate refused to fulfil its constitutional duty under Obama; Kavanaugh because he was a clear political appointee who politicized his Senate hearing.

 They glorify the military:

Fascists like military might and power, especially its display. The July 4 parade in Washington this year was a Fascist happening.

 They subjugate women:

Fascists don’t like women who are politically active or aggressive. Fascism, as Virginia Woolf noted in the late 1920s, is a masculine doctrine. Women are supposed to be submissive and obedient. One of the ways Fascists display this belief is their attempt to control women’s bodies — males who pass laws to attack birth control and abortion.

 They vilify and scapegoat minorities:

Unlike some Fascist parties, the Republicans need not invent the devil. It is the Democratic Party, Blacks and Hispanics, immigrants and refugees, much of the media. The federal Republican Party is a party of white racists.

All of the signs are there. And they're hiding in plain sight.

Image: MEME

Thursday, July 25, 2019

It's Up To The Democrats

Robert Mueller has had his time before the House of Representatives. And E.J. Dionne doesn't mince any words:

President Trump and his Republican apologists — including his defense lawyer who moonlights as the nation’s attorney general — do not believe a single word they have said about former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. The GOP has claimed that it shows “no collusion, no obstruction.” But Republicans’ behavior at Wednesday’s hearings, not to mention Mueller’s own words, prove they have been lying.

The Republicans tried to muddy the waters by attacking Mueller. But, as the day went on, Muller's answers became blunt and unambiguous:

With the passing of the hours, Mueller got increasingly steely. “It is not a witch hunt,” he snapped when asked about Trump’s favorite locution. Asked whether Trump’s answers to him weren’t always truthful, Mueller replied, devastatingly, “generally.” About Trump’s encouragement of WikiLeaks, he said: “Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
His steadiness in the face of repeated Republican provocations and his unwavering confirmations of his report’s genuinely scandalous findings about Trump sent a message: Only a country that doesn’t care about the rule of law, has given up on holding presidents accountable and is too cowardly to stand up to foreign interference in our elections would simply let all of this go. Wednesday provided a mandate for pressing on.
And Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) got an answer from Mueller proving the old lawyer’s rule that you should not ask a question if you are not sure you will like the answer. “You could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?” Buck asked. The laconic Mueller replied very simply: “Yes.”

After the hearing,Trump responded that he couldn't be indicted because, "I've done nothing wrong." This from the man who, the day before claimed that Article II of the Constitution allowed him to do, "Whatever I want."

It's clear that Republicans will back him in whatever he wants to do. The future is clear. It's up to the Democrats to make it happen.

Image: Vox

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

They've Multiplied

It's official. Boris Johnson is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And a lot of Britons know who they're getting. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

Everyone knows — even those who have had no direct experience of him — that the real Johnson is a good deal less attractive than the bumbling, politically incorrect, but ebullient and encouraging image he presents.
Johnson’s entire personal and political history as a journalist, MP, mayor of London, and foreign minister is of total self-obsession, crude ambition, deceit and betrayal. He is one of those people who has mastered the art of failing upwards.

 He arrives without being elected to the position:

He got just over 66 per cent of votes from the nearly 90 per cent of the eligible 160,000 Conservative Party members.
Thus just 92,000 people from among the United Kingdom’s 65 million people have made Johnson prime minister.
So Johnson comes to the leadership with almost no national political legitimacy. Therefore, it is likely that he will either choose or be forced to call a general election ahead of the UK leaving the EU.

Besides  Brexit, Johnson has a nasty situation brewing with Iran.

The fools have gone forth and multiplied and democracy is failing.

Image: AP News

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Distributing The Pork

Doug Ford came to power proclaiming that he would slash unnecessary spending. Martin Regg Cohn writes that he has done the opposite -- he's building an empire:

Quite apart from the patronage angle, why are we dispatching new envoys — to the U.S. and U.K., of all places — to hold the hands of entrepreneurs and investors? After all, Americans and Britons speak our language — not just English, but economic openness.

After all, Canada has ambassadors in both capitals. But there was a time when provinces had missions to major countries:

Ontario once bankrolled a network of 17 international offices around the world, including Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Frankfurt and Milan. In the 1980s, one could stroll in London’s high-rent district past Ontario House, Maison du Quebec, Nova Scotia House and offices from the Prairie provinces — all competing for attention and, allegedly, business. There were six rival provincial offices in Hong Kong, and five separate posts in Tokyo.
Isn’t that why we have federal embassies and high commissions abroad?
Our last premier, Kathleen Wynne, appointed ex-Liberal minister Monique Smith to be Ontario’s representative in Washington, at the very time that our federal government had sent David MacNaughton — a former principal secretary to Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty — to be our ambassador to the U.S. Surely MacNaughton could simultaneously safeguard Canadian and Ontario’s interests?
Not to be outdone, Ford personally appointed PC loyalist Ian Todd last year to be Ontario’s own man in Washington at $350,000 a year — $75,000 more than Smith under the Liberals, and a fair bit more than MacNaughton (whose ambassadorial pay band is $248,000 to $292,000).
Back in 1993, the NDP government of the day did the right thing — the very thing Ford should be doing today: It closed all 17 of Ontario’s international posts, saving $17 million from the annual budget (worth about $27 million in today’s dollars).

That's a move you'd expect from a Conservative government, not an NDP government:

Our then-minister of economic and trade development, Frances Lankin, argued that Ontario no longer needed “an outdated network of offices” in the era of the fax machine and something new called “electronic mail.”
That’s the kind of language one might have expected from Ford’s Tories today, not just the New Democrats of a quarter-century ago. Instead, the premier who promised to cut waste is building a bigger empire, at greater expense, with worse patronage than his predecessors.

The Ford government is all about distributing the pork -- more than ever before.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Reaping The Whirlwind

It might be comforting to think that Canada has avoided the kind of populism which is now the mother's milk of American and British politics. But don't get too comfortable. Beatrice Paez writes at The Hill Times:

Canada’s upcoming federal election could expose deepening societal rifts that will test the country’s immunity from Trumpian-style populism, says one leading pollster, but other politicians and political observers say while there are worrying signs, it has limited appeal. 
Thanks to economic stagnation, the hyper-concentration of wealth, and a brewing cultural backlash, Canada’s political climate is ripe for populist forces that mirror the experiences of the U.S. and the U.K. to gain traction, said Frank Graves of EKOS Research. He said the polling he’s conducted over the years has suggested there’s a widening gap between the attitudes that left- and right-leaning voters share towards issues such as immigration and climate change. 

This is something we've never seen before; and, therefore, it's tempting to deny its existence:

“This particular phenomenon has never expressed itself in Canada [until now]. The differences across the people who are attracted to ordered or authoritarian populism and everybody else are on a scale that we haven’t seen in the past,” said Mr. Graves of his research.
Under the Harper government in 2011, for example, 43 per cent of respondents who identified as Liberal thought the country was heading in the wrong direction. In contrast, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) in 2019, 87 per cent of Conservative respondents said the country isn’t headed in the right direction. When such sentiment is widespread, it’s often cited as an indication of an openness to embracing ordered populism, or populism that seeks to revert to the status quo of a bygone era in response to perceived chaos or disorder, Mr. Graves said. 
Whereas in years past, Mr. Graves’ research indicated, working-class and less-educated voters’ support was more evenly distributed across parties, the Conservatives have started to gnaw away at the Liberals’ hold. In 2015, for example, the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ share of high school and college graduates was in the range of 30 per cent. But in 2019, the Liberals’ support dipped to around 20 per cent among both groups, increasing the Conservatives’ share to 40 per cent or more.  “The gaps that have opened up are dramatic. The Conservative base was [once] evenly distributed. Now, there’s a 20-point gap.” 

The simple truth is that we have not been able to avoid the consequences of the digital revolution -- and the neo-liberal political philosophy which has supported it:

“Although, authoritarian (or what I prefer to call ordered populism is moving very rapidly in the West, its roots are long simmering forces. Economic stagnation, hyperconcentration of wealth, cultural backlash from the previously privileged, a magnified sense of external risk,” Mr. Graves tweeted earlier this month. “I could go on but what is happening is a pattern mimicking the patterns in the U.S. and other advanced Western democracies. Authoritarian populism is rooted in widening polarization and sneering and denial aren’t going to solve this problem.”

If Frank Graves is right, we are about to reap the whirlwind.

Image: goalpostgroup

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Enter Boris

Boris Johnson is about to enter 10 Downing Street. After he takes up residence there, the adventure will begin. Andrew Rawnsley writes:

He will have to learn how to be prime minister. The schoolboy who wanted to be “world king” has spent many years lusting after the job, but that is entirely different to doing it. Many previous tenants of Number 10 will testify that no other role is an adequate preparation for the demands of the premiership. Tony Blair, a highly accomplished leader of the opposition before he moved into Downing Street, once told me that he didn’t really get the hang of it until he had been doing it for four years and he had the shock absorber of a landslide majority while he was learning on the job. Gordon Brown arrived with a decade as chancellor under his belt, but floundered desperately as prime minister. Boris Johnson has never been in charge of a public service department and was an embarrassment in the one cabinet position that he has held.

The civil service is not waiting eagerly for Johnson's arrival:

The civil service is paid to help and will usually look forward to an exhausted premiership being replaced by a fresh one. Contrary to some popular tropes, civil servants respond well to purposeful political leadership. In this case, though, Whitehall is preparing for the Johnson premiership by adopting the brace position. Is this because he is infamously cavalier about detail, bored by complexity, known to react peevishly and sometimes with a ferocious temper when frustrated or contradicted, and has a notoriously casual relationship with the truth? All that and more. The core fear about a Johnson premiership is that officials will not feel confident that they can speak truth to power.

The members of the European Union will try to be diplomatic -- but they fear the worst:

They want an orderly resolution to Brexit, but there is no reservoir of trust for a man who rose to journalistic fame by confecting fabrications that toxified British attitudes towards the EU and who then fronted the mendacities of the Leave campaign. The chances of striking a bargain have been made slighter by the way in which he has campaigned for the leadership. He might have used his dominant position in the contest to introduce some realism into Tory minds about what can be achieved and give himself some scope for manoeuvre. He has instead upped the ante on himself by declaring that Britain will be out on 31 October, “come what may”, “do or die”, deal or no deal. In the closing stages of the campaign, he made reaching an agreement even harder by saying that he wants the Irish backstop ripped out of the agreement altogether.

Sometimes you can see a trainwreck coming. And you can do nothing to stop it.

Image: Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Long Before Now

Republicans largely remained silent after Donald Trump's racist attack on four congresswomen of colour. But privately, Greg Sargent writes, they're scared:

What is it about “send her back” that suddenly crossed a line? Consider the timeline:
Trump tweets that the lawmakers should “go back” to their countries, characterizing them as corrupt hellholes (echoing his “s----hole countries” comment), even though three were born here. That elicits only a bit of discomfort from Republicans.
Trump then says, “if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave.” Trump repeats this: "YOU CAN LEAVE!” Republicans defend this framing, piously pretending it has no racial dimension, even though it was directed at only minority lawmakers.
Trump presides over the “send her back” chant. After criticism erupts, including among some Republicans, Trump pretends to “disagree” with it.
Why did the last open the floodgates? The Times tells us Republicans fear telling lawmakers to get out will “backfire” because it appears “personal.” Yet Trump had repeatedly said to “go back” and “leave.”
What changed? Well, the Times also reports that Trump advisers privately warned against letting these sentiments get out of control at his rally.
So I submit to you that the key difference is twofold: Trump’s naked hatred and cruelty was captured on live television, and along with it, so was the seething anger of the hard-core Trump base.

Television exposed Trump's white hot hatred. And it exposed his supporters in all of their ugly ignorance. The whole thing looked disturbingly like a Nuremberg rally.

Republican silence speaks volumes about their own fear and cowardice. But, then, that fear and cowardice was on display long before now.

Image: The Washington Post

Friday, July 19, 2019

Corrupt And Incompetent

It's been a tough year for Doug Ford. He used to rail about Kathleen Wynne's government. Bob Hepburn writes:

Ford called the former premier’s handling of Ontario’s finances “the biggest government scandal in a generation,” accused her of “shady tricks” and suggested she and others in her government should be jailed for how they had run the province, which led to chants by his supporters during the election to “Lock Her Up.”

Now Ontarians are railing against Ford:

Now, barely a year into power, it’s Ford and his team who are at the centre of a major scandal and whose mishandling of day-to-day governing is so profound that it raises serious doubts about their competence.
Are Ford and his team corrupt or just incredibly incompetent? Or worse, are they a bit of both?

Clearly, the answer appears to be "both:"

The blame for much of the charges of patronage and incompetence lies at Ford’s feet.
To date, seven people have been dumped from their jobs in the current cronyism scandal, including Ford’s chief of staff Dean French. More to come? Stay tuned.
On the incompetence side, embarrassing examples emerge almost daily. This week alone Health Minister Christine Elliott was forced to set the record straight on Ford’s pledge last week that hallway medicine would be over within a year. Not so fast, Elliott said on Monday, it will take many more years than just one.
And a spokesperson in Ford’s own office on Tuesday had to “clarify” Ford’s comments last week that the Treasury Board will now review new political appointments. Not so fast, the spokesperson suggested, the premier’s office will still review the appointments while the Treasury Board will only look at whether the process can be improved.

And, Hepburn reports, Caroline Mulroney hasn't been getting along well with her boss and his minions:

One minister high on Ford’s inner circle’s “bad list” is Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, who they apparently feel is no longer playing ball with them. Mulroney reportedly had some difficult interactions with French before he resigned, which Ford ignored when they were brought to his attention.

Some have suggested that there will be a mutiny in the caucus. Stay tuned.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, July 18, 2019

He Doesn't Know What He's Talking About

Doug Ford continues to rail at the carbon tax. But the truth is that gas today is still cheaper than it was a year ago. Josh Rubin reports in The Toronto Star:

It is now more than three months since carbon pricing came into effect in Ontario — but prices are lower today than they were one year ago.
In fact, the sharp drop in gas prices has been widely cited as one of the key reasons that Canada’s national inflation rate has slowed, according to new figures from Statistics Canada.
According to a fuel price analyst with pump-watching firm, the average price of gas at Ontario pumps did indeed rise when the new carbon pricing came into effect. Prices rose from 114.3 cents per litre on March 31 to 117.9 cents on April 1, the first day of the new tax.
And since then, prices have continued to rise to 125.3 cents. However, that subsequent increase has nothing to do with the tax, according to Patrick DeHaan.
“New taxes generally have a one-day impact on change, so the increase since April 1 is more fundamental stuff. Supply and demand, really. So it looks like the impact of the carbon tax is three cents and a bit per litre,” said DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
However, despite the recent rise, gas prices in Ontario are still lower than they were one year ago.
On July 17, 2018, the average price at Ontario pumps was 130.1, DeHaan said. Since then, prices have dropped across the country.

The reason for the price drop is outside Ontario's borders:

DeHaan suggested one of the biggest factors in the national decline in the price of gasoline has nothing to do with carbon pricing. Instead, he thinks it’s likely due to the U.S. trade war with China. That trade war has slowed the growth of the Chinese economy, and caused a global slump in demand for oil.
The effect of the oil price slump has shown up at the pumps. Barring a sudden resolution, the relatively low prices won’t go away, DeHaan said. In fact, he expects the price of gasoline to drop back down to $1.20 a litre by the end of the summer.

When Ford came to office, he publicized his cell phone number, saying that if they had concerns, Ontarians could call him personally. Yesterday, he deactivated that number. It appears he didn't like the calls he was getting. Obviously, he has been getting a lot of calls with the same message: Whether it's the carbon tax -- or a myriad of other issues  -- Doug Ford doesn't know what he's talking about.

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Beware The Bigot

The House of Representatives has condemned Donald Trump. And, in one fell swoop, he has united the Democrats. But, Jonathan Freedland writes, Democrats should be wary of Trump -- because he does have a plan:

Put simply, he wants to choose his opponent for 2020. He doesn’t want the face of the Democrats to be Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg. He wants it to be a composite of AOC, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley. That’s partly because he reckons the squad’s politics are out of step with the US mainstream – that he can easily cast them as radical socialists with terrifying views. But mainly it’s about race (with a dash of misogyny for good measure).
Trump’s calculation is that he can repeat in 2020 what he did in 2016, winning an electoral college majority by winning in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – and that he can edge a victory in those states by appealing to white voters stirred by racial resentment. Rather than trying to appeal to moderates and independents by boasting of, say, low unemployment and good economic numbers, he’d rather pull in yet more of the demographic that already favours him: white, often male, former Democratic voters without a college education. And he thinks he can do that by getting AOC’s or Omar’s face on the news every night.
It’s race-baiting, no doubt about it. But it might also be effective, as Trump’s 2016 campaign proved. The result is a dilemma for Democrats. Do they try to win back those white, low-income voters who supported Trump last time or do they use the president’s hateful behaviour, including his attacks on the squad, to drive up turnout among those appalled by it – especially black voters and young people?

Trump can drive you crazy -- because, in the end, he is crazy. But Democrats must not go off the deep end. They must think very carefully about their next steps. It's always good policy to beware of bigots.

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

He's No Populist. He's A Racist.

For nearly three years, the conventional wisdom has been that Donald Trump is a populist. His proclamations in the last three days prove that he's no such thing. Paul Krugman writes:

As everyone knows, on Sunday Donald Trump attacked four progressive members of Congress, saying that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” As it happens, three of the four were born in the U.S., and the fourth is a duly naturalized citizen. All are, however, women of color.
Sorry, there’s no way to both sides this, or claim that Trump didn’t say what he said. This is racism, plain and simple — nothing abstract about it. And Trump obviously isn’t worried that it will backfire.
This should be a moment of truth for anyone who describes Trump as a “populist” or asserts that his support is based on “economic anxiety.” He’s not a populist, he’s a white supremacist. His support rests not on economic anxiety, but on racism.

And it's not only Trump who's racist. The silence of his party proves that they are his collaborators. They, too, are racists. If you need  more proof, consider what happened last week in Tennessee:

Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.

 And there is another facet to Trump's racism. He links it to crime:

I’m not sure how many people remember Trump’s inaugural address, which was all about “American carnage” — an alleged epidemic of violent crime sweeping our nation’s cities. He didn’t explicitly say, but clearly implied, that this supposed crime wave was being perpetrated by people with dark skins. And, of course, both Trump and the Trumpist media go on all the time about immigrant criminality.
In reality, violent crime in America’s big cities is near historical lows, and all the available evidence suggests that immigrants are, if anything, less likely than the native-born to commit crimes. But the association between nonwhites and crime is a deeply held tenet among white racists, and no amount of evidence will shake their belief.

There can no longer be any defending of the indefensible. Trump is, indeed, an ugly American. More than that, he is the incarnation of a very old American disease -- racism -- in all its ugliness.

Image: Louisville Courier-Journal

Monday, July 15, 2019

Getting Nasty

If you were wondering how Doug Ford is faring, a new poll has some answers. Kristin Rushowy reports in The Toronto Star that:

The patronage scandal that continues to batter the premier’s office has hit home for voters, with almost 60 per cent believing the Ford government is corrupt and even more saying too many “cronies” have been hired, a new poll suggests.
The Corbett Communications survey also found that just 10 per cent of respondents think the departure of chief of staff Dean French — whose friends and family members received plum postings — will undo the damage.
The survey of 936 voters taken July 9 and 10 — a little over two weeks after French left as Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff — saw 63 per cent say the government has doled out appointments to too many cronies, with 57 per cent agreeing with the statement that the Ford government is corrupt. Among PC voters, 10 per cent believe that to be true, the poll found; almost 30 per cent of PC voters “agree too many cronies have been hired” and “disagree the departure of French has solved the problem.”

Ontarians now believe they have Ford's number and they're mightily displeased:

Corbett described Ford’s unpopularity — with 20 per cent of those polled approving of the job he is doing and 69 per disapproving — as “in the dumper” and “unsustainable” for him to remain as leader.
PCs support has dropped again, putting the governing party in a tie with the NDP and the Liberals, despite the Liberals’ decimation to just seven seats in the election a year ago, the poll found.
In addition, the government’s “for the people” slogan doesn’t sit well with voters, with just one in five polled agreeing with a statement that “Ford cares about people like them.”
His government’s budget has proved deeply unpopular, with almost 70 per cent saying Ontario has the money and should not be cutting back on services that help the vulnerable, the poll found. Among PC voters, about 40 per cent feel the same.
“There are enough indications to really demonstrate that his whole shtick is starting to ring hollow,” about having to rein in the deficit and cut services, Corbett added. “The public is not buying it anymore.”

When people discover they've been conned, the fallout can get very nasty.

Image: Niagara At Large

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Embracing Pessimism

The British, David Olusoga writes, are reflexively optimistic. But, as Britain hurtles to a messy Brexit, he argues that it's time to embrace pessimism:

Brexit, the rise of populism and the constitutional crisis in which we are still utterly ensnared – despite the passing distraction of the Tory leadership circus – undermines that sort of blithe optimism.
Now is not the time for upbeat endings. It is a moment to make the case for an ever unpopular and always controversial sentiment – pessimism.

But pessimism gets bad press. So Britons assume -- along with Boris Johnson -- that everything will work out:

“Why this defeatism? Why this negativity?” he blustered, in a pitiful effort to draw attention away from his demonstrable ignorance of his own Brexit “plan”. Don’t analyse, stop identifying flaws and inconsistencies, just be optimistic. Rejoice. Rejoice.
The prevailing cult of optimism reinforces the belief that Britain’s institutions – parliament, the civil service and that jumble of conventions and archaic procedures that are what passes for a constitution – will inevitably weather any future storm.
Well, it’s not been a great week for the civil service; a police investigation has been launched into a leak apparently designed to bring down our ambassador to the most powerful nation on earth, followed by his public defenestration by the PM-in-waiting. Month by month our constitution has been proved unfit for purpose and parliament’s physical decay is increasingly turning it into a vast, scaffold-covered metaphor.
A musty, chintzy kitschness lingers about the Palace of Westminster. A cabbagey, care-home smell wafts along its neo-gothic corridors. With Johnson refusing to rule out bypassing parliament (with his threatened prorogation and his opponents discussing setting up a rival assembly across the road, you have to really want to see the “mother of parliaments” cup as half full.

Other British leaders were not known for their optimism:

Winston Churchill [was] a man who suffered bouts of depression and spent a decade in the political wilderness for pessimistically predicting a global catastrophe. Hardly the ideal poster boy for the breezy optimism of Johnson and his cabal.

There are times when pessimism is the only appropriate response:

Whether we like it or not, there are moments in history when pessimism is the appropriate response. Times when, as the German philosopher Oswald Spengler said, “optimism is cowardice”. What is needed now is not a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified” form of pessimism that “paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”, to quote Franklin D Roosevelt, but a sobering and energising pessimism. It is necessary because the cult of optimism, the original source of our national complacency, is in itself a clear and present danger.
The Brexit project exploited our cultural predilection for optimism. Leave was painted as the optimistic choice. Now, when the Brexiteers are not promising us “adequate food”, they are peddling another brand of optimism. No matter what happens at the end of October, they tell us, we’ll be all right. After all, if we can make it through the Second World War we can survive Brexit. One of the many holes in this “there’ll always be an England” line of argument is, of course, that half a million British people didn’t make it through the Second World War.
The simplistic belief that the old voted Leave and the young voted Remain ignores the fact that the most elderly, the people who actually remember the Second World War, who fought and suffered in it, were “far more likely to oppose Brexit”, according to some research, than the baby boomers – a generation brought up watching war films rather than cowering in Anderson shelters.

Sometimes pessimism is simply reality. And that is the place from which solutions arise.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Iceberg

Andrew Scheer hopes -- desperately -- that Doug Ford will keep his mouth shut. But that's something Ford just can't do. Consider Ford's proclamations over the last week. Adam Radwanski writes:

First, while in Calgary, the Ontario Premier accused the Prime Minister of not co-operating with the provinces, slammed federal carbon pricing policy, and punctuated it with a “God help us if Trudeau is re-elected.”
Later, in Saskatoon, Mr. Ford proclaimed that a “powerhouse team” of premiers would fight American trade protectionism because the Prime Minister has failed to do so. In between, he got into a war of words with Mr. Trudeau’s government about who is to blame for layoffs at a Bombardier plant.

The Liberals know that it's easy to get Ford to take the bait:

He got drawn into the Bombardier blame game after federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu fired first, by blaming his government’s management of transit projects for the job losses.

They know that Ford is his own worst enemy. After a little more than a year, he's now despised by the majority of Ontarians:

Courtesy of unpopular spending cuts and a remarkable string of ethics controversies for a premier scarcely a year into office, Mr. Ford is brutally unpopular in Ontario. That seemingly helps to explain why polls have shown the federal Conservatives failing to gain momentum this year in the largest province, when they need to pick up lots of seats to form a government.
Scheer has convinced Ford not to recall the Ontario legislature until after the election. But Ford can't disguise his animus for Justin Trudeau. And Trudeau is counting on that animus to keep Ford's mouth in motion.

And Ford's mouth could be the iceberg that sinks the Conservatives in vote rich Ontario.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Most Dangerous On The Planet

Obamacare was never a simple, clean piece of legislation. Paul Krugman writes:

The Affordable Care Act was an imperfect and incomplete reform. The political compromises needed to get it through Congress created a complex system in which too many people fall through the holes. It was also underfunded, which is why deductibles are often uncomfortably high. And the law has faced sabotage both from G.O.P.-controlled state governments and, since 2017, the Trump administration.
Despite all that, however, the act has vastly improved many Americans’ lives — and in many cases, saved lives that would otherwise have been lost due to inadequate care. The progress has been most dramatic in states that have tried to make the law work. Before the A.C.A. went into effect, 24 percent of California adults too young for Medicare were uninsured. Today that number is down to 10 percent. In West Virginia, uninsurance fell from 21 percent to 9. In Kentucky, it fell from 21 to 7.

That's why Americans voted for Democrats in the midterm elections -- to protect their health care. Having been thwarted by voters, the Republican Party has turned to the courts to sink Obamacare:

Which brings me to the federal lawsuit currently before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a suit brought by 18 state attorneys general, and backed by the Trump administration. This suit claims that the whole act is unconstitutional and should be thrown out. The plaintiffs’ arguments are clearly specious and made in obvious bad faith. But one lower-court judge has already ruled in the suit’s favor, and early indications suggest that the two Republican-appointed judges on the three-judge panel hearing the appeal may agree.
But wait, haven’t we been here before? Yes. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was indeed constitutional. On one central dispute, the constitutionality of the individual mandate — the requirement that individuals be insured, or pay a penalty — Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the penalty constituted a tax, and that taxes are clearly constitutional. So the law stood.

But Republicans won't give up. They are, simply put, a mob dedicated to destruction -- the destruction of health care, the destruction of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the destruction of the post World War II Global Order. They stand for one thing only: Nihilism

Which is another way of saying that the American Republican Party is the most dangerous organization on the planet.

Image: Discerning Life

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Not So Fast

Yesterday, I wrote a post which argued that Ontarians have rejected the right wing populism of Doug Ford. Today, in The Toronto Star, Frank Graves and Michael Valpy write that conclusion is premature. Canada's institutional and media elites don't understand what's going on in the rest of the world:

They have embraced the notion that Canada is somehow immune to what’s happening in Europe and America, although the forces of populism will be a significant presence in the forthcoming federal election and, in many respects, Canada is moving in lockstep with the United States — toward a class war and a vision war.
Populism in Canada has been masked by a paucity of research and thinking. It has been belittled, dismissed, with most expert opinion falling into two categories: patronizing and sneering. It has been viewed as the problem all on its own with little thought given to what has caused it or what can be done to encourage it to go away.

I admit that I'm guilty of that perspective. But they warn that I'm dismissing what I don't understand. And there is a lot to understand:

Any kind of populism has two key ingredients: The idea that there is a corrupt, power-holding elite of which the people — the public — are deeply suspicious, and the belief that power should be removed from the domain of the elite and restored to the people (which is why Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks on television with a placard across his tummy reading “For the People”).
We label the particular variant of populism that the advanced democracies of the West are encountering as “authoritarian populism” or, preferably, “ordered populism.” The two terms are interchangeable — they capture the same constellation of outlooks — but the first has a history.
Authoritarian populism was a label created by post-Second World War German social scientists seeking to understand how one of the most civilized societies on Earth could have descended into the horrors of fascism and the Holocaust. Their conclusion was that fearful, Depression-era Germans sought order in the face of an exaggerated sense of external threat (and internal threat from “others” who were among therm, like Jews) and economic hopelessness, and embraced obedience and respect for strong authoritarian regimes to lead them into green pastures.
You’ll see that what the German social scientists uncovered 75 years ago pretty much fits with today. Ordered populism, the kind overtaking Canada and the rest of the developed world, has four key conditions:
A declining middle class, wage stagnation and hyperconcentration of wealth at the very top of the system;
Major shifts in social values which see more progressive values displacing traditional social conservative values which, in concert with the conditions listed above, produce a cultural backlash by those seeing themselves falling victim to loss of identity and privilege;
A growing sense of external threat expressed in a rise in the belief that the world has become overwhelmingly more dangerous as well as a rise in the perception that the country and its public institutions are moving in the wrong direction;
Declining trust in public institutions plus a rise in ideological polarization.
All those conditions are present in Canada. They predominate among less-educated males.
They look as if they’ve suddenly appeared by magic but in reality they have roots dating back 20, 30 and 40 years.

The new populists claim to be champions of the middle class. But, in reality, they are members -- or tools -- of the very elites they badmouth. And they have primarily found a home in the Conservative Party of Canada:

The Conservatives, the party of the financially secure and contented under Stephen Harper, have become the party of the pessimistic and financially insecure under Andrew Scheer.
They’ve become the party mistrustful of the media, science, experts and climate change, preferring to base decisions more on moral certainty than reason. They become a party tending those who favour nativism — who support the interests of native inhabitants being promoted against those of immigrants.
They have become a party overrepresented by self-identified working class supporters (from 25 per cent to 38 per cent since 2013) and hugely overrepresented by male segments of the population (the shift in male support from Liberal to Conservative has been 25 points since the 2015 election) and nonuniversity educated.
Although there’s one important exception to all this. The Conservatives are also welcoming into their tent significant numbers of the self-defined upper class — the Tories have a huge lead with them — who are not acting out of solidarity with oppressed workers, but because they’ve observed in the policy promises and rhetoric of the federal and provincial parties pledges that serve their class interests, like cuts to social programs, tax reductions for business and keeping minimum wages low. This largely hidden alliance of the losers and the top winners in the new economy is critical to ordered populism’s success. Exactly the same thing has happened in the U.S. and Britain.

Something to think about.

Image: Twitter

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ontario's Short Honeymoon With Populism

Populism -- at least right wing populism -- is on the rise around the world. For awhile, it even rose in Ontario. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Lest we forget, Torontonians led the way by ushering in Rob Ford as mayor nine years ago. We were among the first to embrace the impulse — until we had second thoughts.
City council soon sidelined him, and big brother Doug was trounced in the next mayoral election. But having purged themselves of populism, voters returned to it in the 2018 provincial campaign.
What’s most striking about the restoration of Ford Nation in this province is that it took place against the backdrop of political disintegration across the border. People could hardly close their eyes to the perils of populism, or the known bugs in Ford 2.0, yet voters held their noses in the 2018 campaign that crowned him premier.

Now the bloom is off the rose:

Today, Ontarians have had their fill of Ford’s populist pretensions, booing him at public events while cheering his rivals. His personal popularity has plunged faster and farther than that of his predecessor as premier, Kathleen Wynne, and most pollsters doubt he can recover from the tailspin.
Political polarization is still less pronounced in Ontario than elsewhere. The biggest chasm — replicated around the planet — is the urban-rural divide that pits Toronto and other big cities against the rest of the province.
But the ethnic and racial splits found in America, Britain or France are relatively muted here, and our major political leaders tend towards tolerance (albeit with some exceptions, notably Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, and Quebec’s recurring obsession with religious garb). The immigration trickle along our undefended border is but a fraction of the challenge found along the Mexican border and the Mediterranean.

Another reason for populism's short renaissance in Canada is that we are not easily gerrymandered:

Gerrymandering is the weaponization of democracy, thwarting the natural swings of the political pendulum. Canada, by contrast, entrusts redistricting to arm’s length panels that are largely insulated from political self-interest, respecting natural boundaries and community growth.

So, we do have some safe guards that keep us from going off the rails. That said, we'll still have to live with Doug Ford for another three years. It will not be easy.

Image: CTV News Toronto

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Cruelty And Corruption

The Trump Administration stands for two things -- cruelty and corruption.  What is happening on the southern border of the United States makes this abundantly clear. Paul Krugman writes:

Privatization of public services — having them delivered by contractors rather than government employees — took off during the 1980s. It has often been justified using the rhetoric of free markets, the supposed superiority of private enterprise to government bureaucracy.
This was always, however, a case of bait-and-switch. Free markets, in which private businesses compete for customers, can accomplish great things, and are indeed the best way to organize most of the economy. But the case for free markets isn’t a case for private business where there is no market: There’s no reason to presume that private firms will do a better job when there isn’t any competition, because the government itself is the sole customer. In fact, studies of privatization often find that it ends up costing more than having government employees do the work.
Nor is that an accident. Between campaign contributions and the revolving door, plus more outright bribery than we’d like to think, private contractors can engineer overpayment on a scale beyond the wildest dreams of public-sector unions.
And what about the quality of the work? In some cases that’s easy to monitor: If a town hires a private company to provide garbage collection, voters can tell whether the trash is, in fact, being picked up. But if you hire a private company to provide services in a situation where the public can’t see what it’s doing, crony capitalism can lead to poor performance as well as high costs.

But cruelty and corruption serves Donald Trump's purposes. It scapegoats migrants and revs up his base. It may also get him re-elected.


Monday, July 08, 2019

Mean, Nasty People

If you think Donald Trump is the only leader who is hellbent on investigating his opponents, think again. It's happening here, too. An editorial in The Globe and Mail focuses on Jason Kenney's and Doug Ford's obsession with their political opponents:

It’s long been Mr. Kenney’s contention that opposition to the oil sands has gone past the bounds of free speech and morphed into “a premeditated, internationally planned and financed operation to put Alberta energy out of business,” as he said Thursday.
It’s not clear what this investigation is supposed to find that isn’t already obvious. Alberta’s struggles stem from a lack of pipeline capacity and a drop in the global price of crude oil. Perhaps the inquiry will discover the shocking truth that supply, demand and Mideast countries influence oil prices, or that environmentalists oppose pipelines. Maybe it will learn, from reading news reports, about how the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was delayed by a failure to fully consult with Indigenous groups. Or how several export pipeline plans have been hamstrung by U.S. regulators.
Mr. Kenney’s inquiry will do nothing to solve the real problem, but it plays well to frustrated Albertans who see their greatest resource struggling to get to market.

Doug Ford is also focused on revenge. He's been getting even with his enemies since he came to office:

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier, Doug Ford, played the same game when he came to power last year and immediately launched a committee hearing into what he called the “worst political cover-up in Ontario’s history."
The alleged scandal was the move by the previous Liberal government to fudge its budgetary bottom line. The issue had already been examined by the provincial auditor-general and in an independent report, but the Premier felt it needed a third going-over by a Queen’s Park committee with the power to call witnesses and subpoena evidence.
In the end, all this produced was the sight of former premier Kathleen Wynne gamely answering questions asked by the stacked government committee, and being hectored by PC MPPs demanding that she apologize to the people of Ontario. In short, a kangaroo court.

All this revenge is occurring as Ford's recently demoted minister Lisa MacLeod calls Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a "fucking loser." We've known for a long time that many conservatives lack charm. But, more importantly, they lack a basic sense of fairness.

They are simply mean, nasty people.

Image: Ontario NDP

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Fool With A Purpose

In a recent interview in Truthout, Noam Chomsky declared that Donald Trump is history repeating itself as farce. Jacob Sugerman writes:

Even for Donald Trump, the remarks were almost staggering in their density. Last month, in an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Western liberalism has “outlived its purpose,” adding that “it has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” When asked during the G20 summit in Osaka if he agreed, Trump offered this gleaming ruby: “[Putin] sees what’s going on—I guess if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
Trying to deduce any kind of grand strategy from a president who confuses the West with California and believes the moon is part of Mars can feel like a fool’s errand, if not “the purest acid satire.” But as Noam Chomsky argues in an interview with Truthout this week, “there is a strategy”—one that has empowered the far right across the globe and ultimately endangers human life on earth. If Ronald Reagan’s presidency was a tragedy, he speculates, then Trump’s is history repeating itself as farce.

It's clear that Trump's thinking is a junkyard mess. But Chomsky finds a purpose behind it all:

For Chomsky, Trump’s presidency poses an existential threat, and the evidence is in his embrace of the worst actors in the Middle East. He also cites adviser Jared Kushner’s “Deal of the Century,” which calls for nothing less than the complete capitulation of Palestine.
“These objectives fall within a broader strategy of forming a global reactionary alliance under the U.S. aegis, including the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Eastern Europe [Hungary’s Orb├ín, etc.] and Brazil’s grotesque Jair Bolsonaro, who among other virtues, shares with Trump the dedication to undermine prospects for a livable environment by opening up the Amazon—’the lungs of the earth’—to exploitation by his friends in mining and agribusiness,” he concludes. “That’s a natural strategy for today’s Trump-McConnell Republican party, well ensconced to the far right of the international spectrum, even beyond the European ‘populist’ parties that were not long ago considered a contemptible fringe.”

In the final analysis, Trump is a fool. Unfortunately, he's a fool with a purpose.

Image: Pinterest

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Ford The Businessman?

When Doug Ford came to power, he promised to run Ontario like a business and cut outrageous costs. As an illustration of his philosophy, he vowed to fire Mayo Schmidt -- Hydro One's CEO -- who Ford labelled "the six million dollar man." One of the first things Ford did when he assumed office was show Schmidt the door. But, Martin Regg Cohn writes, there were financial consequences that accompanied Schmidt's departure:

First, Schmidt walked away with a handsome $10.7 million in severance and stock options, despite the premier’s assurances that it would be essentially costless.
Second, Ford’s intervention caused catastrophic harm to the utility’s takeover of U.S.-based Avista Corp., because local state regulators concluded that the Ontario government was calling the shots rather than Hydro One management. When they overruled the transaction, it triggered a “kill fee” that cost Hydro One about $139 million, on top of Schmidt’s severance.
Add it all up: Ford upbraided the Six Million Dollar Man but upgraded him to the One Hundred Fifty Million Dollar Man — or a $150 million mess.
Third, Ford’s intervention paralyzed management and divided the board in the aftermath. The only way to fire the CEO was to dump Hydro One’s directors (the board instead offered to resign in a seamless transition).

Besides his promise to fire Schmidt, Ford declared that Ontario was "Open For Business." Sounds a little like the story of the businessman who became president of the United States -- and declared bankruptcy six times before he got there.

Image: TVO

Friday, July 05, 2019

A Hollow Man

Donald Trump's whole life has been all about self aggrandizement. But yesterday -- standing before that gigantic statue of Abraham Lincoln -- Trump looked like a midget. Eugene Robinson writes:

President Trump chose the wrong backdrop for his attempt to make Independence Day all about himself. Standing beneath the majestic statue of Abraham Lincoln, occupying a space where great orators have stood, Trump looked and sounded quite small.

His speech was all about American militarism, delivered by a man who received five deferments from Vietnam:

He gave a triumphalist speech, of course. “Our nation is stronger today than it ever was. It is its strongest now,” Trump claimed. He went on to give extended salutes to each of the nation’s armed services, punctuated by flyovers by Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Army aircraft and the singing of the corresponding anthems. Anyone who came to see an elaborate military pageant did not go home disappointed.
All week, reporters and citizen-journalists spotted heavy-duty Defense Department hardware being trucked into town for Trump’s martial-themed celebration of “your favorite president, me” — Bradley Fighting Vehicles, M1A2 Abrams tanks, an M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicle. The flyovers included a B-2 stealth bomber, two F-22 Raptors, two V-22 Ospreys, two F/A-18 Super Hornets, two F-35s, one of the planes used as Air Force One, the famed Blue Angels and various other military aircraft. All that was missing was a reviewing stand, like the one on Red Square where grim-faced Soviet leaders used to watch the tanks roll past.
Oh, wait, there was a reviewing stand of sorts — a closed-off VIP section near the Lincoln Memorial where Republican Party donors and bigwigs could sit up front, basking in the glow of their maximum leader. Democratic Party luminaries were not invited.

It was pure Trump -- all spectacle and no substance. His words rang hollow -- coming as they did from a hollow man. And the show got rained on. Perhaps the Almighty was making a statement.

Image: The Daily Beast

Thursday, July 04, 2019

We've Been Here Before

Tom Walkom writes that the fight over the carbon tax echoes the furor over the metrification of Canada:

Nearly five decades ago, discontented Tories targeted another Trudeau government on another issue that galvanized their resentment against global intrusions and institutions: Lest we forget, anti-metric madness gripped the country in the 1970s.
It is a faded, forgotten chapter in our history. But all these years later, the rebellion against the metric system provides a historical lesson, easily repurposed into a prologue for today’s battle against a carbon tax.
Then as now, opponents raged against perceived domination — foreign, domestic or metric — defending our way of life and fending off the march of time. If metric was heresy back then, carbon pricing is hooey today.
Opponents of metric rallied to the British imperial system as quintessentially Canadian. The polarizing debate pitted traditionalists against modernists, colonial loyalists against godless internationalists, rural folk against urban elites.
Then-PM Pierre Trudeau bore the brunt of anti-government protests and ongoing court battles, not unlike the legal spats of today. How dare any government tell defenders of the old system how they measured up?
The tabloid Toronto Sun teamed up with opposition Tories to stir up public outrage, organizing a petition. Facing defiance, Parliament imposed compliance. Ultimately, anti-metric madness petered out as Fahrenheit faded to Celsius, and pounds gravitated to kilograms.

And so, today, Doug Ford's government is spending $30 million to fight Trudeau the Younger's carbon tax:

All of us are being bled by $30 million to satisfy his vanity. That’s how much his provincial government (ours, actually) has budgeted from its treasury (using our tax dollars) to fight a carbon law enacted by the Trudeau government.
The premier is fighting, flailing and failing on two fronts:
First, his Ontario Tories are spending heavily on an advertising campaign designed to persuade the court of public opinion to oppose a carbon tax. If it’s so self-evidently unpopular, why are we citizens paying to persuade ourselves? And why must gas stations affix Ford’s anti-tax stickers on their gas pumps or face a $10,000 fine if they’re out of line?
Second, his Progressive Conservatives are also bankrolling big legal bills to overturn the federal carbon law in the country’s court rooms. Last week, Ontario’s Court of Appeal judges delivered a devastating verdict against Ford; last May, Saskatchewan’s top court reconfirmed Ottawa’s authority; yet the premier is appealing all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where almost every legal expert has predicted from the outset the constitutionality of carbon pricing will be upheld.

We've been here before.

Image: Ride Stop N Go