Sunday, October 31, 2021

Running On Empty

In September, inflation hit 4.4%. The Conservatives are blaming Justin Trudeau. They say it's the 1970's all over again. But Paul Krugman sees things through a much wider lens:

It’s been a troubled few months on the economic front. Inflation has soared to a 28-year high. Supermarket shelves are bare, and gas stations closed. Good luck if you’re having problems with your home heating system: Replacing your boiler, which normally takes 48 hours, now takes two or three months. President Biden really is messing up, isn’t he?

Oh, wait. That inflation record was set not in America but in Germany. Stories about food and gasoline shortages are coming from Britain. The boiler replacement crisis seems to be hitting France especially hard.

If there's a parallel, it's probably the 1950s:

Probably the best parallel is not with 1974 or 1979 but with the Korean War, when inflation spiked, hitting almost 10 percent at an annual rate, because supply couldn’t keep up with surging demand.

Is demand really all that high? Real final sales (purchases for consumption or investment) in the United States hit a record high but are roughly back to the prepandemic trend. However, the composition of demand has changed. During the worst of the pandemic, people were unable or unwilling to consume services like restaurant meals, and they compensated by buying more stuff — consumer durables like cars, household appliances and electronics. At their peak, purchases of durable goods were an astonishing 34 percent above prepandemic levels; they’ve come down some but are still very high. Something similar seems to have happened around the world.

Meanwhile, supply has been constrained not just by clogged ports and chip shortages but also by the Great Resignation, the apparent reluctance of many workers to return to their old jobs. Like inflation and shortages of goods, this is an international phenomenon. Reports from Britain, in particular, sound remarkably like those from the United States: Large numbers of workers, especially older workers, appear to have chosen to stay at home and perhaps retire early after having been forced off their jobs by Covid-19.

While the problems may be global, the political fallout is local: Shortages and inflation are clearly hurting Biden’s approval rating. 

What can be done?

As I’ve already suggested, energy prices are largely out of U.S. control.

Should current shortages inspire caution about Democratic spending plans? No. At this point, the Build Back Better agenda, if it happens at all, will amount to only about 0.6 percent of G.D.P. over the next decade, largely paid for by tax increases. It won’t be a significant inflationary force; if anything, more spending on infrastructure would help alleviate inflationary pressures over time.

Other things might help. I’ve argued in the past that vaccine mandates, by making Americans feel safer about going to work and buying services rather than goods, could play a role in unclogging supply chains.

What’s left? If inflation really starts to look as if it’s getting embedded in the economy, the Federal Reserve should head it off by tightening policy, eventually by raising interest rates. It’s important to realize, however, that raising rates too soon could turn out to be a big mistake, since the Fed won’t have much room to cut rates if demand weakens.

The most important point, however, may be not to overreact to current events. The fact that shortages and inflation are happening around the world is actually an indication that national policies aren’t the main cause of the problems. They are, instead, largely inevitable as economies try to restart after the epic disruptions caused by Covid-19.

It will take time to work things out. The world may be running on empty. But now is not the time to panic.

Image: ING Bank

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Natives Are Restless

There are grumblings inside the federal Liberal caucus. Altea Raj writes that Justin Trudeau "is governing like a leader who views the MPs who helped elect him prime minister as a nuisance, and not as voices that deserve respect and consideration. Though, perhaps, MPs have done themselves few favours."

On Friday . . . the prime minister’s team finally called a formal caucus meeting. It has been scheduled for Nov. 8. The Conservatives have already met twice, so have the NDP. The Bloc Québécois held a caucus meeting one week after the election, and so far, have had three meetings.

Many Liberal MPs have grumbled about the delay, to themselves, and to reporters under the cover of anonymity. Though Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith was willing to be quoted saying what’s on everyone’s mind, that it has been “an unacceptably long time.”

Many MPs suggested Trudeau would get an earful from caucus members about the last campaign, though some suggested that without the parliamentary secretary announcements or committee appointments, there may be fewer MPs willing to slam the prime minister’s entourage for calling an election they were ill prepared to fight.

Perhaps the prime minister believes, like his father, that MPs are nobodies once they get off Parliament Hill. But he or she who leads a minority government has to make sure -- above all else -- that the natives are not restless.

Image: Famous Quotes And Sayings

Friday, October 29, 2021

Truth and Courage

The Republican Party has its crazies. But, Paul Krugman writes, the party's real problem is that the cowards call the shots:

The crazies wouldn’t be driving the Republican agenda so completely if it weren’t for the cowards, Republicans who clearly know better but reliably swallow their misgivings and go along with the party line. And at this point crazies and cowards essentially make up the party’s entire elected wing. 

Consider, for example, the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. In 1980 George H.W. Bush, running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination, called that assertion “voodoo economic policy.” Everything we’ve seen since then says that he was right. But Bush soon climbed down, and by 2017 even supposed “moderates” like Susan Collins accepted claims that the Trump tax cut would reduce, not increase, the budget deficit. (It increased the deficit.)

Republicans have simply failed to stand up for the truth -- even the blatantly obvious truth:

Consider climate change. As recently as 2008 John McCain campaigned for president in part on a proposal to put a cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But at this point Republicans in Congress are united in their opposition to any substantive action to limit global warming, with 30 G.O.P. senators outright denying the overwhelming scientific evidence that human activities are causing climate change.

The falsehoods that are poisoning America’s politics tend to share similar life histories. They begin in cynicism, spread through disinformation and culminate in capitulation, as Republicans who know the truth decide to acquiesce in lies.

Take the claim of a stolen election. Donald Trump never had any evidence on his side, but he didn’t care — he just wanted to hold on to power or, failing that, promulgate a lie that would help him retain his hold on the G.O.P. Despite the lack of evidence and the failure of every attempt to produce or create a case, however, a steady drumbeat of propaganda has persuaded an overwhelming majority of Republicans that Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate.

The party's power brokers see that the road to power is paved with lies. 

Truth and courage be damned.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

His True Colours

No matter what Doug Ford says, if you listen carefully, you can hear his true colours. Bruce Arthur writes:

It’s hard to imagine how many more ways Ontario can say it. The provincial government encourages you to get vaccinated. You should really do it. It’s individually beneficial, societally beneficial, and there is very little evidence of risk. Vaccines are an incredible thing.

But are they going to force a choice on that? No, they are not. Are they going to try? Not much. Are they going to give up and let the health system deal with a bigger unvaccinated population than Ontario should have had? That’s the plan, apparently. Let the virus take its course.

It amounts to a lean towards the minority of Ontarians who are unvaccinated, rather than siding with the vast majority who are. In the past week, it has become clear.

We have vaccine passports. But Ford has already given a date for when they will no longer be necessary:

Minister of Health Christine Elliott admitted that an expiration date for the COVID-19 vaccine passport system was indeed an issue that could undermine vaccination, but she said they couldn’t move anti-vaxxers anyway. Education Minister Stephen Lecce defended no province-wide education mandate by saying up to 50,000 education staff could be fired under such a mandate, without explaining how many of those staff were in which category, and how many had had first shots. Does he really think all 50,000 are unvaccinated?

Those policies flies in the face of the scientific advice Ford has received:

Despite approval from the province’s volunteer independent science table, the province’s council of medical officers of health, and as of Tuesday 120 of the 141 hospitals in the province, including the biggest ones, the province is still dragging its heels on mandatory vaccinations in health care. Sources indicate the successful provincial mandate for long-term care was pushed hard by Minister for Long-Term Care Rod Phillips. Apparently, health care hasn’t received the same push, or the same reception.

Proof yet again that Conservative governments across the country are intellectually and morally bankrupt when it comes to the policies we need in these difficult times.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The New Crew Part 2

Justin Trudeau unveiled his cabinet yesterday. Althea Raj writes that he's sending two distinct messages:

First, his policy focus. Gone are the ministers of digital government and middle-class prosperity (drawing less attention to failed benchmarks), replaced instead with ministers for mental health, housing, and tourism. Former Équiterre founder Steven Guilbeault becomes the country’s environment minister, while top performers — Jonathan Wilkinson, Jean-Yves Duclos, and Marc Miller — change roles to highlight the government’s attention on climate change, health, and reconciliation.

Second, more personal signals. Trudeau wants to be recognized for elevating capable women to positions of power. Despite the prime minister’s emphatic response that he intends to lead the Liberals into the next election, he wants the race to replace him as leader of the Liberal party to be a fair fight. He’s willing to reward performance and offer a chance at redemption. At the same time, Trudeau shows he can be callous, and has chosen to surround himself with friends — even lesser performing ones — who are close to him, or his chief of staff, Katie Telford. 

And it appears that Trudeau has taken Elizabeth May's advice, appointing Steven Guilbeault to the environment portfolio -- and making Jason Kenney very unhappy. As well, "top performers — Jonathan Wilkinson, Jean-Yves Duclos, and Marc Miller — change roles to highlight the government’s attention on climate change, health, and reconciliation."

The appointment of Anita Anand to Defence sends another clear message. The culture in the military must change:

Anand oversaw billions of dollars in vaccine contracts with suppliers and the purchase of PPE. She was brought out on the campaign trail this summer to showcase the government’s handling of the pandemic. She will become the first female defence minister since Kim Campbell to lead the department — at a time when the Forces are rocked by seemingly never-ending sexual harassment and assault allegations involving the country’s top brass. Campbell was in the defence job for six months in 1993 before becoming prime minister, a feat Anand may hope to mirror (albeit on a longer timeline).

Justin is clearly considering his legacy. This cabinet will have a lot to do with that legacy.

Image: Politico

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Economic Superstition And Reality

As Democrats and Republicans fight over Joe Biden's economic agenda, Paul Krugman suggests it boils down to two things: Tax the rich and help children:

Republicans will, of course, denounce whatever Democrats come out with. But there are three things you should know about both taxing the rich and helping children: They’re very good ideas from an economic point of view. They’re extremely popular. And they’re very much in the American tradition.

About the economics: Although the modern Republican Party is utterly committed to the proposition that low taxes on corporations and the rich are the key to economic success, there is no evidence that this is true. If anything, the historical correlation runs the other way. The U.S. economy grew faster during periods when taxes at the top were relatively high than it did when they were low.

On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that helping children, in addition to being the right thing to do, has big economic payoffs. Children who benefited from safety-net programs like food stamps became healthier, more productive adults. Children who were enrolled in pre-K education were more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than those who weren’t. As I’ve argued in the past, the economic case for investing in children is even stronger than the case for investing in physical infrastructure.

Like the battle over vaccines, the present debate is about superstition and evidence:

When it comes to public opinion, what’s striking is how little impact more than 40 years of anti-tax, anti-government propaganda has had on voters’ views. Polls consistently show large majorities, including many Republicans, supporting higher taxes on corporations and the rich. Large majorities also support subsidizing child care and aiding families with children.

Yet government policy veers toward superstition. Which raises a simple question: Who controls the government?

Image: Facebook

Monday, October 25, 2021


When it comes to getting it wrong, the Conservative Party is outstanding in its field. Take the issue of the parliamentary vaccine mandate. Chantal Hebert writes:

It was not enough that the Conservatives took hits from both sides of the vaccination mandate debate by sitting on the fence during the federal election campaign.

Now O’Toole’s caucus — or at least some of its vocal elements— would engage in a losing battle over the mandatory vaccination protocol to be put in place in time for the reopening of the House of Commons next month.

The decision to bar anyone who is not fully vaccinated from entering the parliamentary precinct as of Nov. 22 was made behind closed doors by the small group of MPs who represent the main parties — including the Conservatives— on the board of internal economy.

On that basis, the Official Opposition can try — as some of its members would — to make the issue a matter of parliamentary privilege and bring it to the floor of the House at the first opportunity next month. But even on that battlefield, the ultimate outcome is not in doubt.

Then there is the matter of inflation:

Here again, the Conservative team seems bent on making Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland look like the adults in the room, for partly lost in the controversy over the Conservatives’ reluctance to comply with mandatory vaccinations was their amateurish approach to the inflation debate.

As my colleague Heather Scoffield noted in a column earlier this week, it is ridiculous for the Conservatives to pretend that Trudeau is responsible for rising inflation rates.

If that is what O’Toole and his shadow cabinet really believe, then they are out to lunch. If it is not, then they are taking voters for fools.

The Conservatives are a party of old and tired ideas. In the post-pandemic world, it is they who look like fools.

Image: Facebook

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The New Crew

Justin Trudeau will introduce his new cabinet this week. Susan Delacourt writes it will answer a big question: Did the election change Justin's perspective?

Elizabeth May was one of those leaders who met Trudeau this week by virtue of her status as the Green party’s leader in the Commons. Of all the opposition leaders in the House, she knows Trudeau the best — they sat beside each other in the back rows when the Liberals languished as the third party in the chamber.

With that in mind, I asked May this week whether she got the impression during her half-hour conversation with him that Trudeau had been changed by the election, or whether she expected him to govern differently in this third term.

“No,” she said succinctly, “I did not.” 

One of the big portfolios is going to be the environment:

Jonathan Wilkinson, the current environment minister, has generally drawn good reviews for the tone he’s struck since assuming the job after the 2019 election. But May and others believe that Trudeau could send a powerful signal by putting Steven Guilbeault on the job. Guilbeault was a prominent environmental activist before he was lured into the Liberal fold and could well be a part of the greening of cabinet if Trudeau is doing an outward-looking shuffle.

There are other big portfolios:

Any big moves on environment, health, foreign affairs and intergovernmental relations would demonstrate that Trudeau is trying to adjust his cabinet as he did after the Trump and Ford victories — to react to events not totally within his government’s control.

And then there is the matter of filling the portfolios of defeated ministers:

Other changes in the cabinet, at defence or to fill vacancies left by defeated ministers (status of women, fisheries and seniors) are more motivated by internal problems within the Trudeau government.

We'll have a better idea of what Justin is thinking about on Tuesday -- when he introduces the new crew.

Image: The Daily Scrum

Saturday, October 23, 2021

McNaughton Vs. Ford

This week, Ontario's Labour Minister, Monte McNaughton, announced protections for immigrant workers. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Belatedly, after long belittling labour unions, Doug Ford’s Tories have rediscovered the power of a workforce unleashed — just in time for the coming provincial election.

Leading the way is Labour Minister Monte McNaughton. This week, he unveiled a flurry of legislative protections for working people, not least for new immigrants whose professional credentials are too often ignored.

But Doug Ford -- a master of self-sabotage -- screwed things up:

Getting in the way was the premier, whose penchant for putting his foot in his mouth keeps dragging down his government. On Monday, Ford lapsed into gratuitous tropes about foreigners coveting “the dole” in Canada — generating enough negative coverage to gum up McNaughton’s carefully planned rollout.

McNaughton could really improve working conditions for many Ontarians:

McNaughton’s actions could be of lasting benefit to immigrant workers who have endured the painful humiliation of employers and regulators dismissing their foreign experience. As revealed by my Toronto Star colleague Nicholas Keung, new legislation would compel provincial regulatory bodies to recognize the credentials of the workers they oversee, from architects and teachers to plumbers and electricians.

Politicians have long bemoaned the fate of talented immigrants reduced to driving taxis or delivering pizzas. Lest anyone devalue those drivers on the front lines, they too are getting an assist from McNaughton, who will enshrine their rights to use the facilities where they do deliveries.

The problem is that -- whatever McNaughton says -- Ford has contempt for ordinary workers. And he has a record to prove it:

This is the government that rolled back the comprehensive labour reforms of the previous Liberal government — from paid sick days to a $15 minimum wage and protections for precarious workers. In fairness to McNaughton, those weren’t his decisions, and he resolved to clean up the inherited mess before it was too late.

How will this end? We'll see.

Image: Facebook

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Republican Rebrand

Catherine Rempel writes that the Republican Party is rebranding itself:

Once upon a time, Republicans portrayed themselves as the party of small government and family values. Recently, though, GOP leaders have been cobbling together a new coalition, welcoming insurrectionists, white-nationalist tiki-torchers and people who think Bill Gates is trying to microchip them.

Now they're welcoming tax cheats into their tent:

Here’s the backstory. Each year, about $600 billion in taxes legally owed are not paid. For scale, that’s roughly equal to all federal income taxes paid by the lowest-earning 90 percent of taxpayers, according to Treasury Department data.

These unpaid taxes — often called the “tax gap” — are predominantly owed by wealthy individuals. The richest 1 percent alone duck an estimated $163 billion in income taxes each year.

To be clear, rank-and-file wage-earners are not necessarily more honest or patriotic. It’s just much harder for them to shortchange Uncle Sam.

Working stiffs have taxes deducted from their biweekly or monthly cheques:

And, critically, most labor-related income — as well as income from dividends, interest and other sources — gets reported to the Internal Revenue Service through W-2s, 1099s and other common tax documents.

But the wealthy operate differently:

There are some types of income, however, for which little or no third-party reporting exists. These income categories — including partnership, proprietorship and rental income — accrue disproportionately to high earners. The government has much less ability to tell when these filers are misreporting; as a result, they can more easily get away with cheating.

This is evident from IRS data on “voluntary compliance,” or how accurately people report their income and tax liabilities without the government having to come after them. When it comes to ordinary wage and salary income, taxpayers are remarkably forthcoming, with noncompliance averaging only 1 percent; for those more “opaque” income sources, noncompliance is an estimated 55 percent.

Not all high-income people (or people with rental or partnership or other “opaque” income) are cheating, of course. A more effective response would involve more of that third-party reporting so the IRS has greater visibility into who’s likely fudging their numbers. Then the agency could better target its audit decisions.

More reporting would also deter would-be tax cheats from fudging in the first place, because they’d know they’re more likely to get caught.

This solution is exactly what Democrats have proposed as part of their big budget bill.

But guess who's opposed to that -- and who's supporting Republicans? The rich don't get rich by helping poor people.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Their True Colours

Conservatives are arguing against a vaccine mandate for members of Parliament. Susan Delacourt writes:

The federal Conservatives have picked a strange time to abandon populism.

Who would have thought that COVID-19 vaccinations would turn some members of the opposition into unapologetic elitists, claiming their elected status exempts them from a duty to public health?

This is the odd turn emerging in the debate over whether the House of Commons needs to be a mandatory-vaccination zone — an idea that keeps running into backlash from members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Like their cousins south of the border, the Conservatives claim that personal freedom trumps public health:

“I know it’s kind of quaint — archaic, maybe — to talk about parliamentary privilege during a pandemic, but it’s been upheld through many crises,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl told the Star last week. “We’d better be very, very careful that we don’t cavalierly toss it aside.”

What Strahl and other MPs are apparently arguing is that they have more rights to refuse COVID-19 vaccinations than others, even their own staffers on Parliament Hill — the perks of power, if you like.

In any other context, an MP’s refusal to comply with public orders or even guidelines would be seen by the general public as a remarkable act of nerve. Being an MP doesn’t mean you get waved through security at the airport without baggage checks, for instance. “Don’t you know who I am?” is not a reputation-enhancing phrase for any MP in the current climate.

If anything, in fact, MPs are scrutinized even more than ordinary citizens these days, to make sure they haven’t lost touch with the citizens they represent.

When are we going to finally realize that the Conservatives stand for privilege, not the people? They are showing their true colours.

Image: Cornell Daily Sun

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Not The 1970's

Inflation is on the rise. Some fear that we are about to return to the 1970s. Edward Berkowitz writes that we're not going there:

There appear to be some similarities between now and then. Jimmy Carter, who lived in the White House from 1977 to 1981, presided over a weak economy that turned him into a one-term president who faced a challenge from Edward Kennedy and the liberal wing of his party for the 1980 nomination. Joseph Biden worries that a deteriorating economy might make it impossible for him to pass his legislative agenda and win a second term.

Both presidents faced significant outside threats. Carter inherited the Opec – a very familiar acronym to people at the time – oil crisis from his discredited predecessor who was nearly impeached, and Biden inherited a pandemic from his predecessor who was impeached twice. Both of these crises led to economic problems: not enough gas to support the American lifestyle in the 70s and shortages of many goods due to supply chain problems in this decade.

But there are all kinds of differences:

One can always find parallels, but the country was different during the tenure of outsider Carter than it is in the administration of insider Biden. In the 70s, baby boomers entering the labor force found it hard to get jobs. In the 2010s help wanted signs seem to be everywhere.

Simply put, things were worse then than they are today, and it might help us to remember that in the present overwrought atmosphere in which pundits pontificate about a return to the bad old days of the 1970s.

That's not to say that we don't face challenges. COVID hasn't gone away. And superstition and conspiracy theories are everywhere. One thing is certain: the solutions depend on evidence and reason  -- not paranoia.

Image: Idle Hearts

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Almost Heaven?

Joe Biden's climate change agenda is hanging by a thread. And Senator Joe Manchin -- the Democratic senator from West Virginia -- holds that thread. Manchin wants Biden to ditch his climate change legislation. Paul Krugman writes:

You might be tempted to view this impasse as an indictment of America’s wildly unrepresentative political system, which effectively allows the interests of a small state — West Virginia has substantially fewer residents than the borough of Brooklyn — to dominate national concerns. But it’s actually worse than that: Manchin appears ready to veto policies that would be in the interests of his own constituents.

West Virginia's economy used to be built on coal:

There was indeed a time when the West Virginia economy ran on coal. Back in 1982, when Joe Manchin began his political career as a member of the State Legislature, wages and benefits paid to coal miners accounted for 16 percent of the state’s total labor income.

But times and things have changed:

Coal is far less important to the state than it used to be, and its significance is doomed to dwindle no matter what we do about climate change.

The industry’s payroll shrank rapidly during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, falling to around 7 percent of compensation by the mid-1990s. It has declined even more since then, but basically West Virginia stopped being coal country a generation ago.

And West Virginia is vulnerable to climate change:

Climate change is bringing more severe weather in general, including more heavy rain — and West Virginia turns out to be extremely vulnerable to flooding, in part because of the damage done by past coal mining.

John Denver sang that, in West Virginia, dark and dusty were "painted on the sky." When I was very young, my family lived for a while in West Virginia. That is my memory of the place. The rivers were dark, too. Riverboats -- with paddle wheels -- used to push barges filled with coal up and down the Kanawha River.

Denver would have you believe that West Virginia is "almost heaven." The Blue Ridge mountains are beautiful. But West Virginians were poor. Life there was far from heaven. It's still that way.

Image: Politico

Monday, October 18, 2021

Their Alternative Facts

In the wake of the federal election, Michael Harris writes that the Conservatives are choosing to deny reality:

Everyone knew that the old Harper formula for winning a federal election—splitting the vote on the left and appealing to suburban voters with tax cuts, etc.,—was impossible to employ in the COVID-crisis. Harper’s Tim Hortons politics was staler than yesterday’s Timbits. But Canadians did not buy O’Toole’s adjustment—a progressive conversion on the road to the election.  

O'Toole tried to drag his party to the centre. But voters simply weren't buying his rhetoric:

Voters remembered the other Erin O’Toole, the one who sat in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, where he played the social conservative true-believer with the best of them at every vote. And at the time, they were a pretty right-wing group, with members like Pierre Poilievre, Jason Kenney, and Rob Nicholson sitting around the table.

Voters remembered the Erin O’Toole who sounded a lot like a Harper Kool-Aid drinker when he needed the support of the party’s base to become leader. It was not accidental that this Ontario dude kicked off his leadership bid in the Mecca of social conservatism, Calgary. That was CPC virtue-signalling at its best.

The party is now trying to change the face of the leader. But, after three defeats, you'd think they would cotton on to the fact the problem is the party -- not the leader.

But like their cousins south of the border, Canada's Conservatives operate on their own set of alternative facts.

Image: McClatchy Washington Bureau

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Rebuilding The Conservative Party

Tip O'Neil famously proclaimed that "all politics is local." But in Canada, Robin Sears writes, all three of the national parties are top-down organizations. They're dead at the local level. This presents particular problems for the Conservatives:

Each of the three national political parties is a hollow shell at the local level in many parts of Canada. Each party has ridings where the flag is kept flying by a handful of — usually — aging activists. This exposes them to takeover by determined outside groups.

No one is more vulnerable to this threat than Canadian conservatives. They suffer the greatest number of external groups determined to use them as their vehicle to drive changes in law on issues like abortion, guns, climate and immigration.

To remedy the problem, Conservatives must do three things:

The fight needs to start with leadership selection. The Tories have adopted a form of leadership selection that is too foolishly complex to describe briefly. The outcome it predictably delivers is, however, clear: winners who have made unwise concessions to their hardest-edge activists. The selection process that best protects a party’s values and ensures local activism is a delegated convention. Bizarrely, each party has abandoned this most successful form of choosing a new leader.

The Conservatives will not return to a delegated convention, but they do need to find ways of ensuring that a few hundred dollars sprinkled on non-existent riding associations is not rewarded with too many leadership votes. Especially egregious is the access that outsiders are given to tilt a leadership race. The party’s future will depend on it.

The second vulnerability is in candidate selection. It is not fashionable to advocate active candidate recruitment by the party leadership. Local choice uber alles, is the rallying cry. Well, no, that has never been true and should not be. Attracting and landing prominent Canadians who appeal to an important target audience has always been a key political tool. The slates of recent Conservative candidates have not looked much like Canada. The party needs to find future MPs who appeal to young urban Canadians. Some of them will need to be parachuted into chosen ridings.

The Conservatives, since the departure of Brian Mulroney, have gone backwards in attractive candidate selection. Their next slate should include, for example, prominent Asian athletes and entrepreneurs, successful businesswomen not born in Canada, and fewer white male lawyers.

The third area in need of rapid rehabilitation is policy and platform development. Erin O’Toole’s massive and glossy platform served a strategic goal for the party: it was serious, comprehensive and delivered early enough to shake the Liberals. Tactically, it contained enough hidden poison pills that it became a weapon to be used against him. It, too, was a product of this failure of mainstream Conservatives to defend their party against “entryism,” as social democrats dub similar efforts by Trotskyites and Marxists.

The party does not need to fall for the foolish Manichaean choice that many are trying to force it into. It does not need to filter policy choice between “left” (bad), or “right” (good). The more useful selection criteria should surely be: appealing to your urban Canadians or not. Today’s Conservatives are older, more male, rural or small town, and live west of Ontario. Tomorrow’s need to be the opposite: younger, urban, more female, and living in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec. Why? They make up nearly two-thirds of all Canadians.

Will the Conservatives take Sears' advice? Because he's a former NDP operative, probably not. But the pandemic has made it clear that the usual Conservative bromides are out of joint with the times.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

He Can't Do That

I wrote earlier this week about David Card, who -- along with two other economists -- was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in economics. Card was congratulated immediately by Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Opposition Leader Andrea Horvath. But there hasn't been a peep from Ontario premier Doug Ford -- which Martin Regg Cohn writes, is a little strange:

After all, Ford is quick to boast about the province’s wealth of world-beating human talent. Is not a Nobel Prize a valid proof point, or personal vindication, for a premier who tells the world that our classrooms produce world-class graduates?

Educated at Queen’s University, born and raised near Guelph (not unlike another renowned economist, the late John Kenneth Galbraith), Card has been praised in every quarter this week. Yet he remains unheralded at Queen’s Park.

Why? No one is sure. But perhaps Ford's silence has something to do about Card's research into the minimum wage -- which concluded that raising the minimum wage did little to increase or decrease the total number of jobs. That's not the conclusion Ford reached:

Upon taking power in mid-2018, the premier promptly cancelled a scheduled increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and imposed a freeze for the next two-and-a-half years (he also cut two paid sick days). When the freeze expired, the rate increased by a paltry 25 cents to catch up with inflation last year, and another 10 cents this year.

In fact, employment increased steadily and the unemployment rate declined to record low levels after the last Liberal government jacked up the minimum wage from $11.40 to $14 an hour. That’s because higher wages can reduce turnover and increase productivity, as employers are discovering amid today’s mid-pandemic labour shortages.

Still, Ford clings to his own idiosyncratic economic compass. Detailing his vision in 2019, he resolved to “ring the warning bell that the risk of a carbon-tax recession is very real.”

Never happened — Ontario’s recession came from COVID-19, not carbon. But on Friday, Ford was back to his imaginary economy.

“The carbon tax is the single worst tax on the backs of Canadians that’s ever existed,” he told reporters. “I’m a strong believer in a different theory — put money back into people’s pockets. They’re going to be able to go out there and, you know, buy a refrigerator, do a renovation, go for dinner, so on, so forth. That’s what stimulates the economy.”

Forgetting for a moment his wilful distortion of the federal carbon levy — fully rebated to motorists, not retained by government — Ford’s musings on “what stimulates the economy” could be unintentionally instructive. Putting higher wages “back into people’s pockets” is precisely what underlies the minimum wage increases that lift all boats.

Praising Card would mean that Ford would have to ditch his economic delusions. And he can't do that.

Image: TVO

Friday, October 15, 2021

Labour's Time Has Come

We're having supply chain problems these days. Paul Krugman writes that, eventually, the bottlenecks will be broken:

Earlier in the pandemic, people compensated for the loss of many services by buying stuff instead. People who couldn’t eat out remodeled their kitchens. People who couldn’t go to gyms bought home exercise equipment.

The result was an astonishing surge in purchases of everything from household appliances to consumer electronics. Early this year real spending on durable goods was more than 30 percent above prepandemic levels, and it’s still very high.

But, when it comes to the American worker, something else is going on:

The labor situation, by contrast, looks like a genuine reduction in supply. Total employment is still five million below its prepandemic peak. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is still down more than 9 percent. Yet everything we see suggests a very tight labor market.

On one side, workers are quitting their jobs at unprecedented rates, a sign that they’re confident about finding new jobs. On the other side, employers aren’t just whining about labor shortages, they’re trying to attract workers with pay increases. Over the past six months wages of leisure and hospitality workers have risen at an annual rate of 18 percent, and they are now well above their prepandemic trend.

The sellers’ market in labor has also emboldened union members, who have been much more willing than usual to go on strike after receiving contract offers they consider inadequate.

Workers don't want to return to the status quo:

What seems to be happening instead is that the pandemic led many U.S. workers to rethink their lives and ask whether it was worth staying in the lousy jobs too many of them had.

For America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers — and nonwhite workers in particular — subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.

And it’s not just employers who treat workers harshly. A significant number of Americans seem to have contempt for the people who provide them with services. According to one recent survey, 62 percent of restaurant workers say they’ve received abusive treatment from customers.

Given these realities, it’s not surprising that many workers are either quitting or reluctant to return to their old jobs. The harder question is, why now? Many Americans hated their jobs two years ago, but they didn’t act on those feelings as much as they are now. What changed?

So what's going on?

Well, it’s only speculation, but it seems quite possible that the pandemic, by upending many Americans’ lives, also caused some of them to reconsider their life choices. Not everyone can afford to quit a hated job, but a significant number of workers seem ready to accept the risk of trying something different — retiring earlier despite the monetary cost, looking for a less unpleasant job in a different industry, and so on.

And while this new choosiness by workers who feel empowered is making consumers’ and business owners’ lives more difficult, let’s be clear: Overall, it’s a good thing. American workers are insisting on a better deal, and it’s in the nation’s interest that they get it.

This moment has been a long time coming.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Same Path?

Over the last two weeks, Ontario's airwaves have been flooded with political attack ads. Bob Hepburn writes:

At breakfast early last week I was appalled to hear a political attack ad air on a popular Toronto radio station.

No, it wasn’t a leftover ad from the federal election.

Instead, just 14 days after the federal contest, the ad was the first of what I fear will be a wave of nasty political attacks leading up to the Ontario provincial election on June 2, 2022 — more than eight months from now.

The government and the opposition are blasting their opponents:

The ad from Doug Ford’s Conservatives was aimed at convincing listeners they shouldn’t vote for Liberal leader Steven Del Duca because he had been former premier Kathleen Wynne’s “right-hand man” at Queen’s Park.

I soon came across two NDP ads, one blasting Ford as being “Here for his buddies, not for you,” and the other targeting Del Duca, a former defeated Liberal cabinet minister, as being “Back for power. Not for you.”

What's going on? Hepburn writes that there's an ill wind blowing in from the South:

Provincial politics are now following the path of our federal politics in adopting the worst of American politics, with never-ending, negative campaigns that drag politics through the mud and increase voter disgust. 

This kind of advertising isn't new:

Former prime minister Stephen Harper was the undisputed champion in using attack ads. He loved to run negative ads all the time, not just during an official election period — and he did it with remarkable success.

Just ask Michael Ignatieff.

Almost from the moment Ignatieff became Liberal leader in 2008, Harper launched a series of tough ads portraying his rival as a globe-trotting dilettante who had spend 34 years outside of the country and was “just visiting” Canada.

Ignatieff opted to ignore the ads, a disastrous decision that gave Harper the power to define him, which was tantamount to political suicide.

Clearly, Ford has adopted Harper’s tactics wholeheartedly.

The Liberals plan to release "positive ads:"

They’ll be a nice change, but don’t expect them to last long as Ontario descends into what’s shaping up as the most negative provincial election ever.

The United States has shown us where this all leads. Will we go down the same path?


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Credibility Revolution

This week, the Nobel Prize was awarded to three economists, one of whom -- David Card -- is a Canadian. All three economists are part of what Paul Krugman calls the Credibility Revolution -- which has changed the way the profession uses data. 

What is the Credibility Revolution all about?

Economists generally can’t do controlled experiments — all we can do is observe. And the trouble with trying to draw conclusions from economic observations is that at any given time and place lots of things are happening.

Before the credibility revolution, economists basically tried to isolate the effects of particular policies or other changes by using elaborate statistical methods to control for other factors. In many cases that’s still all we can do. But any such attempt is only as good as the controls, and there is typically endless room for dispute about the results.

Then economists realized that there were actually "natural experiments" happening, which controlled for many variables. One such natural experiment occurred in the 1990s when New Jersey increased the minimum wage and Pennsylvania didn't:

What they found was that the increased minimum wage had very little if any negative effect on the number of jobs, a result since confirmed by looking at many other instances. These results make the case not just for higher minimum wages, but for more aggressive attempts to reduce inequality in general.

Another example: How can we assess the effects of safety net programs that aid children? Researchers have taken advantage of natural experiments created by, among other examples, the gradual rollout of food stamps in the 1960s and 1970s and several discrete jumps in Medicaid’s availability in the 1980s. These studies show that children who received aid became much healthier, more productive adults than nonrecipients.

The data suggests that progressive policies improve economies:

Overall, then, modern data-driven economics tends to support more activist economic policies: Raising wages, helping children and aiding the unemployed are all better ideas than many politicians seem to believe. But why do the facts seem to support a progressive agenda?

The main answer, I’d argue, is that in the past many influential people seized on economic arguments that could be used to justify high inequality. We can’t raise the minimum wage, because that would kill jobs; we can’t help the unemployed, because that would hurt their incentives to work; and so on. In other words, the political use of economic theory has tended to have a right-wing bias.

But now we have evidence that can be used to check these arguments, and some don’t hold up. So the empirical revolution in economics undermines the right-leaning conventional wisdom that had dominated discourse. In that sense, evidence turns out to have a liberal bias.

David Card, like John Kenneth Galbraith, grew up on a farm in Ontario. Galbraith -- like Card -- favoured progressive economic policies. Perhaps their backgrounds have something to do with their conclusions.

Image: UC Berkeley Economics

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Trump 2.0

Michael Gerson writes that a second Trump presidency is a clear and distinct possibility: 

It is increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics — unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025 — is also the likely outcome.

Why this is a nightmare should be clear enough. Every new tranche of information released about Trump’s behavior following the 2020 election — most recently an interim report from the Senate Judiciary Committee — reveals a serious and concerted attempt to overthrow America’s legitimate incoming government.

The Democrats will face significant structural problems in the next election:

American voters are increasingly polarized by education (which is really a proxy for complex issues of class and race). Whites with a college education have lurched Democratic. Whites without a college education have lurched Republican.

This presents Democrats with disadvantages. Significantly more voters lack a college education than have one. And voters with a college education tend to be located in urban areas, which centralizes and thus diminishes their influence. Both the electoral college and the constitutional method of Senate representation reward those who control wide open spaces.

What does this mean in practice? It means Democrats need to significantly outperform Republicans in national matchups to obtain even mediocre results in presidential and Senate races. It means that Democrats, to remain competitive, need to win in places they don’t currently win, draw from groups they don’t currently draw and speak in cultural dialects they don’t currently speak.

American democracy has not kept pace with the changes that have happened in the country. And the people who stood against Trump in his final days have disappeared:

If Trump returns to the presidency, many of the past constraints on his power would be purposely loosed. Many of the professionals and patriots who opposed him in his final days would have been weeded out long before. There is no reason Trump would not try to solidify personal power over military and federal law enforcement units to employ as a bully’s club in times of civil disorder. There is no reason he would refrain from using federal resources to harass political opponents, undermine freedom of the press and change the outcome of elections. These are previously stated goals.

As long as Donald Trump continues to spout his falsehoods, the Republic will be in deep trouble. Unless a stroke robs him of his voice, he'll continue to rage on.

Image: Politico

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Difference Between Last Year And This Year

A year ago, Ontarians were in a very bad spot. Bruce Arthur writes:

This time last year Ontario’s previous chief medical officer of health was worrying about how you cooked your turkey, and the premier was recommending gathering indoors and said the curve was flat. It wasn’t. It was a year ago, and a lifetime.

Since then, holidays have come and gone, and time has been stolen from people, and families and friends have often followed a grim new ritual of staying apart. The pandemic, though under control at the moment in Ontario, is still on. We’re not back to normal.

But we're getting there:

Thursday chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore delivered public health recommendations around Thanksgiving, and if you remembered you could see how much has changed in a year. Moore opened a door we all knew was there.

“When gathering indoors with a group of fully vaccinated individuals, you could consider removing your face covering if everyone is comfortable,” said Moore. “But if you gather indoors with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, or you don’t know whether they’ve been vaccinated, you should wear a face covering and physically distance.”

So we still must be cautious. Dr. Isaac Bogosh, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital says, "What’s public health going to do? [Say], ‘well if you have this many vaccinated people, and this many unvaccinated people?’ I think it’s fair to say, be cautious about a couple things: one, unvaccinated individuals; two, symptomatic individuals; and three, being around frail, elderly individuals or immunocompromised individuals. And then, is anyone at risk for infection based on what they do or where they go? And then, let common sense prevail."

I note that Maxime Bernier -- and many of his followers -- are still not vaccinated. So common sense is still having a hard time. Nonetheless, when it comes to COVID, common sense seems to be making a comeback.

Something to be thankful for.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

An Ornery Bunch

Canadian Conservatives are an ornery bunch. Robin Sears writes that it's always been hard to get them all to sing out of the same hymnal:

Since the dawn of Confederation, Canadian conservatives can point to only three periods of undisputed political success, in government.: Sir John A. Macdonald, 18 years; Brian Mulroney, nine years; and Stephen Harper nearly 10 years.

Some would want to add Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett, and Dief to the list of successes, but the first almost split the country over conscription, Bennett badly bungled the Depression, and John Diefenbaker’s shambolic governing style squandered the largest political majority ever won.

While each of the top three Tory administrations achieved great political and some policy success, they each ended in massive defeats and serious risk of party meltdown.

Say what you want about the Liberals, but when to comes to party management, they hold things together:

Liberals are the standouts in managing leadership, party and government for nearly two thirds of the years since Confederation. Why? For most of the period of Liberal success, one could argue that the values of Canadian conservatives were far closer to those of most English Canadian voters, and even to a substantial portion of Quebec.

Indeed, the Liberals were whispered about by their Tory opponents across Canada, as being in thrall to Quebec, the Catholic Church, and corrupt city bosses and business leaders both in Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver. The slurs were not entirely made up.

And so, once again, the Tories are on the verge of going to war with each other. They would do well to take a hard look at the Libs and the Dippers:

The Conservatives are the sole Canadian political family that does not seem to understand the devastating cost of being seen to be a squabbling collection of bitterly opposed factions. The NDP and the Liberals have had their internal splits, but rarely. The essentiality of public party unity can be summed up in the streeter reporters have collected for generations, “Well, if she can’t even hold her own party together, why in God’s name would we put the future of Canada in her hands…?”

The Liberals have had their bloody moments:

Curiously, having governed for much of Canada’s history by placing party unity and loyalty over principle and policy, as the iron law of Canadian Liberalism, the Liberal Party once fell into the blackhole of bloody and debilitating civil war, shortly after John Turner’s defeat by Mulroney. Their party-wrecking foolishness only died down after Paul Martin’s self-inflicted defeat a generation later.

But with the return to party unity, came the return of party arrogance. And that -- in a nutshell -- is the difference between the two parties -- Disunity and Arrogance.


Saturday, October 09, 2021

They'll All Be Gone

Michael Harris believes that none of our national party leaders will be around for the next election:

The leader most likely to go quickly is Annamie Paul. The bitter feuding inside the Green Party of Canada was big news for weeks before the election was called. Paul and the party’s national council racked up crushing legal bills fighting each other. In politics as in life, it never pays to air one’s dirty laundry in public.

The Greens did just that, so a fair question emerged for voters: how could you trust the GPC to manage the climate, the pandemic, and the economy when they couldn’t manage their own party?

Then there is Jagmeet Singh, who is likable but going nowhere:

Based on the results of the election, a very basic question has to be asked by the NDP rank-and-file. Has this leader reached the ceiling of support that he can reasonably be expected to attract to the party?

After spending $25 million on the campaign, he got virtually the same result as the party achieved in 2019. The NDP remains the fourth party in Parliament. Even when the NDP crashed and burned under Thomas Mulcair, it won 44 seats.

Voters clearly didn’t buy into Singh’s strategy of taking credit for things the Liberals actually did to support Canadians during the current pandemic.

Erin O'Toole tried to resurrect the Progressive Conservative Party. But the party's base was having none of it:

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is dead man walking after this election. His calculated transformation from a social conservative into Tommy Douglas was a giant bellyflop at the box-office.

No one believed him. He not only won fewer seats than the hapless Andrew Scheer, but he damaged the party brand. Shortly after O’Toole conceded defeat, the Campaign Life Coalition gave him the first of what will be many kicks to the meat pies over this botched election.

The CLC accused O’Toole of “alienating” the party’s social conservative base “with his shameless support for abortion, LGBT ideology, oppressive lockdowns and liberty-destroying passports.... By insulting the base, O’Toole drove CPC voters into the waiting arms of Maxime Bernier.”

Given the short shrift afforded Scheer when he failed to unseat Trudeau, there is no reason to believe that O’Toole will be around long. The party’s leadership review and election postmortem will do one of two things: give O’Toole a swift career-path change; or hopelessly divide the CPC into two, mutually exclusive camps — the social conservatives and the progressives.

Then there is Justin -- who, Harris believes, will be eased out of office:

Unlike the other leaders whose tenure is dubious at best, Trudeau will be eased, not forced, out. In politics, the shelf life for rock stars is the same as it is for garden variety politicians. Around about the eight to 10-year mark, you don’t sparkle anymore. You wear out your welcome as the baggage of governing mounts, the public grows tired of you, and the usually fatal urge for change sets in.

Trudeau didn’t deliver a majority, his popularity is waning, and he just put the country through an election that cost over half a billion dollars to deliver a kind of Groundhog Day of politics.

But the difference between Trudeau’s farewell tour and the other federal leaders is that his will be managed. In other words, around about the two-year mark of his latest mandate, he will decide that he wants to spend more time with his family, etc., etc., and the Liberal party will come up with a new face to try to dazzle, divert and seduce the public.

There will be lots of new faces the next time around. The question is: Will the parties change?


Friday, October 08, 2021

Just How Dumb?

Eugene Robinson asks an important question: How dumb can a nation get and still survive? In the United States these days, dumb is everywhere:

Our elected representatives in the U.S. Senate, which laughably calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” agreed Thursday not to wreck our economy and trigger a global recession — at least for a few weeks. Republicans had refused to raise the federal debt ceiling, or even to let Democrats do so quickly by simple majority vote. They relented only after needlessly unsettling an international financial system based on the U.S. dollar.

The frequent games of chicken that Congress plays over the debt ceiling are — to use a term of art I recall from Economics 101 — droolingly stupid.

Covid-19 is a bipartisan killer. In the tribal-political sense, the safe and effective vaccines are a bipartisan miracle, developed under the Republican Trump administration and largely distributed under the Democratic Biden administration. People in most of the rest of the world realize, however, that vaccination is not political at all; it is a matter of life and death, and also a matter of how soon — if ever — we get to resume our normal lives.

Why would people not protect their own health and save their own lives? How is this anything but just plain stupid?

Conservatives in state legislatures across the country are pushing legislation to halt the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools. I put the term in quotes because genuine critical race theory, a dry and esoteric set of ideas debated in obscure academic journals, is not actually being taught in those schools at all. What’s being taught instead — and squelched — is American history, which happens to include slavery, Jim Crow repression and structural racism.

And then, of course, there’s the whole “stolen election” farce, which led to the tragedy of Jan. 6. Every recount, every court case, every verifiable fact proves that Joe Biden fairly defeated Donald Trump. Yet a sizeable portion of the American electorate either can’t do basic arithmetic or doesn’t believe that one plus one always equals two.

Shockingly, people who know better are leading the Drive Toward Dumb:

The whole charade involves Republican officials — many of them educated at the nation’s top schools — betting that their constituents are too dumb to know they’re being lied to. So far, the bet is paying off.

Lincoln warned that a nation divided against itself cannot stand. A nation in a race to prove who is more stupid than whom can't claim to be a nation at all.



Thursday, October 07, 2021

Reversal Of Fortune

As Canada, the United States and China battled over Meng Wanzhow's extradition, her company -- Huawei -- underwent a reversal of fortune. David Olive writes:

Huawei has always insisted that it is not influenced by Beijing. But in the wake of China’s hostage diplomacy, hardly anyone not on Huawei’s payroll believes that.

The company’s global image as a potential menace is dragging Huawei down. Its win-at-all-costs drive has long been described in the industry as a “culture of wolves.”

The privately-held Huawei that Meng, 54, is poised to take over, as company founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei’s daughter and heir apparent, is now a turnaround case.

During the lengthy imprisonment of the two Michaels, several of the world’s biggest economies banned Huawei equipment from their nascent fifth-generation (5G) telecom networks.

Last year, the U.S. severed Huawei from its supply of critical U.S.-designed components for its networking gear and its smartphones. Huawei was also banned from working with Google, Facebook and other U.S. suppliers of smartphone software.

Huawei was further impaired when it was cut off last year by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s biggest chipmaker, under U.S. and European pressure.

Huawei’s chief competitors in telecom networking equipment are Sweden’s Ericsson AB and Finland’s Nokia Corp. The intransigence of Beijing on the issue of the two Michaels provided a lengthy period for Ericsson and Nokia to close the gap between themselves and Huawei in quality and pricing.

With Canadian antipathy to China growing, Bell Canada and Telus Corp. last year ditched Huawei in favour of the two European firms for its nascent 5G networks. (Rogers Communications Inc. was already committed to Ericsson.)

As China and Canada battled over the fates of three people, Huawei went down the tubes.

Image: Reuters

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Johnson's Sour Paradise

Yesterday, I wrote that some Republicans are playing dumb because it gives them a perceived political advantage -- until it doesn't. Britain has its own version of feckless Republicans. Currently, there are not enough truck drivers  -- many of whom come from the continent -- to drive the trucks which supply British filling stations. Rafael Behr writes:

The prime minister’s education, upbringing and professional experience afforded him lavish exposure to European cultures and global institutions. He can speak French properly if he needs to. He is a true cosmopolitan in every respect apart from the political posture he found expedient to adopt in pursuit of power. One of the skills he brought to the Brexit project was a truly globalised perspective, which he deployed to draw the most cartoonish fantasies about Britain’s place in the world.

That combination of pompous internationalism and wilful parochialism is now official government doctrine. It has been expressed in various different voices at the Tory conference in Manchester. Liz Truss, newly promoted to foreign secretary, made a speech promising to build “a network of economic, diplomatic and security partnerships” with a list of allies that included Gulf autocracies but not the EU.

The following morning, David Frost, Brexit minister, described EU membership as a “long bad dream.” Significantly, Frost includes the treaty he negotiated with Brussels as part of the nightmare, which is why he does not feel bound to honour its terms. The man whose job should be restoring functional diplomacy across the Channel is instead trumpeting the “British Renaissance” that will be stimulated by severance of continental ties.

There is a price to be paid when leaders pay allegiance to ignorance. And that price is paid when things go wrong -- as they are now doing:

Perhaps Johnson has no choice but to present economic difficulties as temporary turbulence in the transition to a brighter future. He appears still to enjoy considerable benefit of the doubt in public opinion, or at least the chunk of it that wanted Brexit and is feeling no great pang of buyer’s remorse, nor much magnetic pull to Labour. In such conditions, riding out the storm with the usual tricks of bravado and bonhomie might be as good a plan as any. It depends how long the storm lasts, and what kind of stomach the prime minister has for choppy water. He is more showman than helmsman and the dying of applause will soon make him queasy.

As the weather turns increasingly grim, it will be interesting to see how long Bojo remains on the bridge.


Tuesday, October 05, 2021

It Is Better

Lauren Boebert is a Republican star. She displays the loud and hypocritical stupidity which is the calling card of the modern Republican Party. Max Boot writes:

Is there a purer, more perfect expression of the Trumpified Republican Party than the press release that Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) sent out on Sept. 24?

It demanded that President Biden be removed from office for “colluding with the Taliban.” This was flagrantly hypocritical because in February she criticized Biden for not withdrawing from Afghanistan fast enough — and then in August she praised the Taliban for “building back better.” But what truly made the release so priceless and preposterous was the logo: “IMEACH BIDEN.” Boebert is showing her contempt not just for political norms but for spelling norms, too.

No one should be surprised that Boebert, who has expressed support for the QAnon cult as well as Biden’s impeachment, is a rising star on the right. Former president Donald Trump’s Twitter feed — back when he still had one — was rife with glaring misspellings as well as absurd lies. Some even suspected the misspellings were deliberate — intended to signal his contempt for eggheads who might care about such niceties.

Back in the 1950s, the Republican Party was called "the stupid party." It has now come full circle. Or maybe some of its members are just playing dumb:

[Elise]Stefanik is a Harvard graduate [who] may only be playing dumb to establish her populist bona fides. This is a charade perfected by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R.-La.), a graduate of Vanderbilt University, Oxford University and the University of Virginia Law School who pretends to be a country bumpkin. But it tells you something significant that even the brightest lights of the GOP feel compelled to act as if they were dim bulbs.

There are Republicans who are genuinely stupid:

Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) — please. He warns that the Green New Deal, which hasn’t actually passed, is already ushering in an avian apocalypse. Birds that aren’t killed by windmills, he said, are spontaneously combusting while flying over solar panels. He acts as if “flamers” — yes, that’s the term he uses — are actually a big thing. In fact, fossil fuel plants kill many more birds — and people — than solar arrays. Little wonder that, as Gohmert himself admitted, people think he is “the dumbest guy in Congress.”

Hold my dunce cap, says Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). She doesn’t believe in evolution but does believe in Jewish space lasers. Then there’s Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who tweets that “1984 is a great fiction novel to read.” As opposed to a great nonfiction novel?

Whether genuinely stupid or not, the Republicans proudly ignore the old proverb: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt."

Image: politicususa

Monday, October 04, 2021

Retiring Centcom

Most Americans now see the Afghan War as a mistake. But the real mistake, Andrew Bacevich writes, goes back much further than Afghanistan. It goes back to Ronald Reagan, who set up a system of centralized military commands. CENTCOM was supposed to keep the Middle East in line:

Someday, probably decades from now, an ambitious historian will publish a critical history of U.S. Central Command during this era. It will be a big book and it will tell an important tale. One thing is certain, however. Whatever that author decides to title her book, it won’t contain the phrase “Security and Stability.” That it may contain some reference to “Decline and Fall” is a distinct possibility. After all, CENTCOM is where the American empire began to come undone.

Since its creation, 14 generals and admirals have presided over CENTCOM, 10 of them since 9/11, with General McKenzie’s appointment dating to March 2019. I have no doubt whatsoever that each of these officers — intelligent, hardworking, and patriotic — did his level best to accomplish CENTCOM’s mission. With a single exception, not one of them came anywhere close.

That exception proved the rule: General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded CENTCOM during the Gulf War of 1991. As soon as the shooting in that brief campaign stopped, Schwarzkopf wasted no time in stepping down and putting in his retirement papers. The decision proved to be a shrewd one. He thereby dodged the messy aftermath that transformed Operation Desert Storm into something other than the decisive victory it initially appeared to be.

CENTCOM was intended to be the muscle behind the American Empire in the Middle East. But it all went horribly wrong:

Painful as it may be for former CENTCOM commanders to admit, the organization’s very existence has coincided with an almost staggering deterioration in regional security and stability throughout the Greater Middle East. The mortifying collapse of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan 20 years after it began has only served to emphasize the point. Whether things have gone badly due to or in spite of U.S. efforts may be debatable. Nonetheless, whatever Washington’s intentions or those of the Pentagon, the situation in the CENTCOM AOR has become radically more precarious since 1983.

Indeed, CENTCOM is to Pentagon combatant commands what Ford’s 1950s “car of the future,” the Edsel, was to automobiles. Can there be any question that if CENTCOM were a profit-oriented enterprise, it would have gone belly up long ago?

Simply put, the first “horrible mistake” was creating CENTCOM and thereby militarizing American policy in the Greater Middle East. By extension, a necessary step toward preventing further Afghan-style disasters is apparent: Washington should simply abolish that combatant command altogether.

Retire the logo and the patch. Bequeath the motto — “Persistent Excellence” — to some other federal agency (the Postal Service?) desperately in need of inspiration. Send the command’s collection of plaques, trophies, and other tchotchkes to the National Archives to be catalogued, warehoused, and forgotten. Convert CENTCOM’s headquarters complex, located in Tampa, Florida, several time zones away from the AOR, into something of more immediate use — perhaps a facility to assess worsening regional weather patterns.

The Edsel was supposed to be the car of the future. We do not miss the Edsel. The world will not mourn the death of CENTCOM.