Sunday, April 30, 2023


Cracks are showing in the Conservative Party of Canada. Stephanie Levitz and Rob Benzie report that:

A hint of a triumphal smirk crept across Justin Trudeau’s face as he launched a partisan salvo at his fiercest rival.

“Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada — no relation to the Progressive Conservatives of Ontario, sorry, that was a joke, you can chuckle — came out and said that this project was a waste of money,” Trudeau said April 21 as he touted massive federal and provincial subsidies for the Volkswagen “gigafactory” near London, Ont.

Just steps away, Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford chortled at the prime minister’s quip, and returned the favour when he took the stage at the St. Thomas railway museum, noting “who cares about the political stripes, this is about people.”

But the cosy encounter did expose the schism between the federal and provincial Conservatives that’s been exacerbated by Poilievre’s election last year.

It’s the realist versus the idealist; the pragmatist versus the ideologue.

Ontario's PCs are not enamored of Poilievre:

“Pierre’s never been in business, he has no experience negotiating a deal so he doesn’t understand that this is the way it works,” noted one provincial Tory, who like some others interviewed for this story, spoke confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The premier, a successful businessman who every day calls and texts dozens of people from all walks of life, has privately wondered why Poilievre is “so right wing” and uncompromising on issues ranging from the pandemic response to economic development.

The federal Conservatives are now a Western party:

Among the reasons Poilievre is so beloved by so many within the federal party is that he’s seen as true to their roots; he comes directly from the Reform/Alliance wing of the party.

Both before, during and after his successful run for leadership, he’s focused on the need to shrink government’s involvement in people’s lives, and indeed shrink the size of government overall. His current theme is around the need to remove so-called “gatekeepers,” who he argues stand in the way of economic prosperity for citizens.

Some federal Conservatives say while Ford may lead a “conservative” party, they view him as a political opportunist content to bask in the celebrity aura of the Trudeau Liberals without caring about the foundational political principles of their ideology.

Poilievre, they argue, would never do as Ford has done — boost program spending and run up massive budget deficits that eclipse those under his Liberal predecessor. Time will tell what happens between Poilievre and Ford. 

But, before Poilievre goes full tilt against Trudeau, he should tend to his own house.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Tough Guys?

Some of us admire people for being "tough guys" -- who see life as a series of hard, stark choices. When it comes to economics, Paul Krugman argues, that admiration can be misplaced:

Some economics textbooks used to define their subject as the “science of scarcity.” Maybe some still do. That’s actually quite wrong: Some of the most useful economics involves telling people that they need not settle for less — for example, that we don’t simply have to accept recessions as a fact of life, that we can and should fight them with expansionary monetary and fiscal policy. Still, a fair bit of economics does involve explaining limits and constraints — for example, that you can’t sustain a Denmark-style system of social benefits without something like Denmark-style tax rates.

But accepting the need for hard choices can turn into a kind of trap itself. You might think that everyone is always looking for easy answers, but that’s not actually how it works: In some professional contexts you get reputational points for sounding realistic and tough-minded. (I can’t help thinking about the foreign policy “realists” who assured us that Ukraine had no chance of fighting off a Russian invasion.) As a result, some economists and economic commentators seem to positively exult in prescribing harsh economic medicine (for other people, of course); after the 2008 crisis, the U.S. economy suffered badly at the hands of Very Serious People who moralized about debt in the face of persistently high unemployment.

There are those who are given to Manichean Analysis. There are only two choices. One is good and one is bad:

Which brings me to the furor created by some tone-deaf remarks by Huw Pill, the Bank of England’s chief economist (what is it with the B.O.E., anyway?), to the effect that British inflation — which has been running higher than inflation here — reflects a general unwillingness on the part of workers and others to “accept the fact that they’re worse off.”

What Pill got right was describing inflation as a game of “pass the parcel”: Everyone is trying to get ahead by raising prices, but because everyone else is doing the same thing, on average, any gains people get from higher prices for the things they sell are offset by higher prices for the things they buy. So the overall effect of efforts by individual players to make gains at others’ expense is inflation, which hurts everyone. A few months ago I wrote about the football game theory of inflation, in which everyone stands up to get a better view, with the result that nobody’s view is improved but everyone is less comfortable. That still seems right.

But there is much more involved in Britain's inflationary problems than just workers' demands for higher wages:

Now, Britain, which relies a lot on imported natural gas, has taken a much bigger real income hit from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than the United States, which is a gas exporter. So the British story may be different. But my guess is that for the most part the overall picture is similar: Inflation mainly reflecting the combination of various disruptions and an overheated economy, rather than the obstinate unwillingness of ordinary workers to face reality.

In economics, there are always more than two choices. The problem is not what is the right answer. It's what is the best answer.


Friday, April 28, 2023

Election Preview

If you want to know what the next federal election will look like, take a look at Question Period in the House of Commons. Susan Delacourt writes:

The Conservative leader acknowledged his lack of vocal prowess in the Commons this week after attempting to sing a few bars of “New York, New York.”

“I cannot sing very well, but at least I pay for my hotel rooms,” Poilievre said, asking whether Justin Trudeau would be footing the bill for his own foray to New York City this week.

Trudeau did not have a musical rejoinder, which was also fine. First of all, as the Commons Speaker reminded the House, singing is not permitted in question period. As well, Trudeau has received mixed reviews in the past for his own singing — notably his version of Bohemian Rhapsody, belted out at a hotel piano while he was in London last year for the Queen’s funeral.

Trudeau and Poilievre will likely not be facing off against each other in any future musical duels. As things now stand, however, they will be going up against each other in a future election.

In the past few months, they’ve been turning Wednesdays in the Commons into a little preview of that battle, with the prime minister fielding all the questions (as has been his practice once a week since he came to office) and Poilievre doing his own solo act, asking most of the questions in the time allotted to Conservatives.

It's obvious that Trudeau and Poilievre despise each other:

Poilievre is gleefully, unabashedly personal in his attacks on Trudeau, going farther than any opposition leader I can remember in trashing the leader of government. Daily, he presents Trudeau as a corrupt elitist — even memorably accusing the PM earlier this year of disloyalty to Canada and allowing the Chinese to rig elections in the Liberals’ favour. Once upon a time, this line of attack was more the stuff of anonymous commenters on the internet — now it’s part of the daily script for Conservatives in question period.

Trudeau seizes every opportunity to frame Poilievre as the candidate of rage and anger, in what seems to be a bid to position the next election as a choice between hope and despair.

No one really knows when the next election will arrive, but the Wednesday faceoffs in the Commons are giving us a good sense of how nasty the battle will be if it is a match between Trudeau and Poilievre. It will be intensely personal. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it won’t be a musical.

Disharmony will be the order of the day.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, April 27, 2023

It May Make The Difference

Danielle Smith has received Stephen Harper's imprimatur -- backhanded though it may be. Michael Harris writes:

First it was Jason Kenney, then Pierre Poilievre, and now Danielle Smith.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper has once again elbowed his way back into active politics in Canada, this time with an “endorsement” for Alberta’s embattled premier.

According to the most recent polls, Alberta’s May 29 election could be headed for a photo finish. In some polls, Smith and the not-so-United Conservative Party trail Rachel Notley’s NDP by five points, a finding still within the margin of error.

But Harper, who is currently an advocate for electing right-wing governments around the world through his work as chairman of the International Democrat Union, isn’t taking any chances. He has once again put his prestige on the line in what looks like an increasingly desperate attempt to keep the wobbly UCP in power.

Harper’s endorsement came in the form of a video message which was posted on social media. It was then texted to conservative voters by the UCP.

It was a  strange endorsement:

Smith seemed not to notice that Harper didn’t mention her name in the “endorsement.” That didn’t stop her from mentioning his. She called Harper an “exceptional leader” with an unwavering commitment to the economy, employment and the energy sector. No mention that the “exceptional leader” was skunked in the 2015 election, and that his ongoing legacy has led the Conservative Party of Canada to three straight federal election losses.

So what did Harper actually offer up to aid Smith’s cause? Stuff so staid, so stale that it was clear he wasn’t exactly trying out for the Danielle Smith cheerleading squad. As Alberta Politics commentator David Climenhaga noted last week, Harper came across looking more like a weary actuary than a hyped-up advocate. “Vote for Alberta, vote Conservative.” His delivery of those words had all the verve of a clerk reading out the particulars of a ticket in traffic court.

Even the standard kicks at the NDP were tired and predictable. Notley would “derail” Alberta’s economy, usher in mass layoffs, business closures and a recession. Harper forgot to add that an NDP victory would bring on earthquakes, famine and pestilence. But then he only spoke on the video for 32 seconds.

Anyone who remembers Harper’s fulsome endorsements of Kenney and Poilievre will be struck by the zestless video that the UCP seems to think will attract progressive voters in swing ridings around Calgary and Edmonton. Without that support, Smith’s lock on rural Alberta may not be enough to carry the day when Albertans go to the polls in just over a month.

In the case of Poilievre, Harper went out of his way to publicly put his thumb on the scales of the last Conservative leadership race, calling his acolyte a “strong minister” and the CPC’s most effective critic of Justin Trudeau. But it was crickets when it came to Danielle Smith’s credentials for being premier, and with good reason.

As premier, Smith has displayed remarkable ignorance:

The first bill Smith introduced into the Alberta legislature was something of an oxymoron — the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. It was so bad that former premier Kenney described it as “nuts” and warned that it would make Alberta a “laughing stock” across the country. Just an hour after the legislation was introduced, Kenney resigned his seat and retired from politics, getting as far away from Danielle Smith as possible.

Since then, Smith has demonstrated a stunning ignorance of basic facts about the country and her powers as premier.

In claiming the right to opt in and out of federal law, Smith coined this beauty: “It’s not like Ottawa is a national government.”

While seeking the top job, Smith had promised to “pardon” people who had been convicted on non-violent charges stemming from violations of pandemic restrictions. It took her awhile in office to realize that she wasn’t the president of the United States, and she didn’t have the power to pardon a hamster, let alone a felon.

So what value is there in a Harper endorsement? Not much. He's not the man he was:

He is no longer the populist boy-politician collecting donations in KFC barrels in Calgary basements. Six-and-a-half years after leaving politics, Harper is now a full blown globalist entrepreneur raking in big money with his consulting firm Harper & Associates. His job description apparently entails cozying up to human rights violator Saudi Arabia and tweeting his congratulations to authoritarian politician Viktor Orban for his latest win in Hungary.

But it may make a difference in the Alberta election.

Image: The Tyee

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Not The Man For The Job

Pierre Poilievre has taken on journalism. History suggests that's not a wise strategy. Robin Sears writes:

The first conservative to destroy his party through a hatred of journalists was, of course, Richard Nixon. The next was Donald Trump, who has delivered three defeats since his razor thin single victory, all the while ranting his denunciation of “fake news” media.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre appears to be genuine in his contempt for many Canadian journalists. Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper always appeared more theatrical in his, given how close he was to journalists before he won power. This hatred is, of course, dangerous for democracy, but it is also damaging the Canadian Conservatives’ brand.

Most Canadians understand it is the job of independent journalists to be skeptical of power: political, corporate and military. The famous cliche that journalism “afflicts the comfortable, and comforts the afflicted” contains a core truth. Journalists do not come to the profession to promote socialism let alone capitalism. They devote their increasingly precarious professional lives to unveiling corruption, demanding transparency and seeking to force the powerful to tell the truth.

Conservatives should -- but don't -- understand how the press works:

They see a media attack on one politician as proof of partisan loyalty to another. This fits with their increasingly American-style campaigning where opponents are unscrupulous traitors who must be crushed on the way to victory. When the CBC reveals, exclusively, yet another foolish brush with ethics laws by Justin Trudeau — yet another provocative luxury vacation with ‘friends’ — Conservatives deny the CBC credit. Yet by their own logic it should prove that the CBC is full of closet conservatives.

Liberals used to suffer from this same delusion during our constitutional wars, with Pierre Trudeau denouncing Radio/Canada as a “nest of separatists” who needed to be flushed out. But it was Trudeau who also declared he learned more from a good newspaper about global affairs than he did from Canadian Intelligence.

Brian Mulroney was deeply offended by the gratuitous personal attacks he suffered, sometimes calling editors and publishers to complain. Yet he would read half a dozen newspapers before breakfast — Canadian, American, French and English.

Each leader had reason to be grumpy about their treatment by the media, but neither challenged the importance of good journalism to strong democracies. One wonders how much journalism — the original stories, not the staff digests — the always angry Leader of the Opposition reads daily.

All this suggests that, while Poilievre desperately wants to be prime minister, he's simply not the man for the job.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Carlson's Exit

A couple of days ago, I wrote that Tucker Carlson planned to air a program in which he advocated the invasion of Canada by the United States. Carlson's last program was on Friday. So we will not -- it appears -- be seeing that program. That's good news. Michelle Goldberg writes:

When Fox settled the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million, the conventional wisdom was that it would alter little about the way Fox News operates. 

Maybe the settlement didn’t change much, but it increasingly looks as if the lawsuit itself did. On Monday, news broke that Tucker Carlson, Fox News’s highest-rated and most demagogic prime time host, was out, and wouldn’t even get a final show to say goodbye. The Los Angeles Times reported that Carlson was defenestrated by Rupert Murdoch himself, and that his exit was related to the discrimination lawsuit filed by Carlson’s former head of booking Abby Grossberg. Grossberg alleges that Fox coerced her into giving misleading testimony in the Dominion case, and has said she filed the discrimination suit, as well as a separate lawsuit, after fearing that the network was going to make her a scapegoat.

Grossberg's case reveals that Carlson followed in the footsteps of previous big guns at Fox:

Grossberg describes an environment in which women of all political persuasions were constantly discussed in terms of sexual desirability. One of Carlson’s bookers, she alleges, was told that she should sleep with Elon Musk to secure an interview. She claims that Carlson’s executive producer Justin Wells, also fired on Monday, called her into his office to ask about the sex life of her previous boss, the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. In a statement, Fox said that Grossberg’s accusations were made following a critical performance review, and said that it had hired “an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns” she had raised.

But, more importantly, Carlson was one of Donald Trump's biggest megaphones:

He was the Trumpiest of Fox News hosts, even though we now know, thanks to discovery in the Dominion case, that he hated Donald Trump “passionately.” Like Trump, he and his producers mined the white nationalist internet for narratives, promiscuously spread wild conspiracy theories, and hinted at the need for violence to take back America. After Trump was indicted last month, Carlson said, “Probably not the best time to give up your AR-15.” He created, as Nick Confessore wrote in The New York Times, “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.”

Unfortunately, I suspect we haven't heard the last of Carlson. There is a huge market for the lies he peddles.

Image: Rolling Stone

Monday, April 24, 2023

One Of The Reasons

Pierre Poilievre is fluently bilingual and has a French last name. But that doesn't mean he impresses Quebecers. Chantal Hebert writes:

More than six months after his election as Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre has yet to meet Quebec Premier François Legault one on one.

That stands in stark contrast with his two immediate predecessors. Notwithstanding the pandemic, Erin O’Toole and Legault met face-to-face less than a month after the former became leader in August 2020.

Andrew Scheer showed up for a meeting with the premier two short weeks after the CAQ was first elected to government in 2018.

By the time Poilievre and Legault get around to a sit-down meeting, they will have a lot less to talk about than they would have back in September.

For by now, there is little left of the Quebec agenda that earned O’Toole the premier’s implicit endorsement in the last election.

Since Stephen Harper took over the party, the Conservatives have become a Western party and Quebec has become an annoyance. It's clear that Poilievre sees Quebec that way:

Over the course of the leadership campaign, Poilievre renounced the party’s hands-off position on Quebec’s contentious securalism law. And on health-care funding, he would stick to the terms the prime minister set out over his recent round of negotiations with the provinces.

Unlike Poilievre, Trudeau has been trying to mend fences:

The loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement has been plugged, with Roxham Road no longer being used as the main entry point for irregular migration from the United States to Canada.

In an unlikely development, the two governments have reconciled their respective language legislation, with Legault now fully behind Trudeau’s rewritten Official Languages Act.

After years of provincial lobbying, the federal government added Quebec shipyard Chantier Davie as the third shipyard in its multibillion-dollar ship procurement plan. At the same time, the federal budget and its plan for a green economy stands to translate into generous tax breaks for Hydro Quebec.

Last month, Trudeau endorsed Legault’s pick for the role of second in command of L’organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Former Bloc MP Caroline St-Hilaire was defeated as a CAQ star candidate in last fall’s Quebec election.

The Conservatives don't understand Quebec -- and they have no desire to understand the province. That's one of the reasons the party will continue to lose elections.

Image: Le Devoir

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Latest On Climate Change

On April 14th, we got some accounting on climate change. Aaron Wherry reports:

The annual account of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions was released on April 14, just as most of Ottawa was fixated on the uneventful testimony Justin Trudeau's chief of staff was giving to a parliamentary hearing on foreign interference.

Six days later, with even less fanfare, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced that the government would be updating its estimate of the "social cost of carbon," an internal calculation used for performing cost-benefit analyses of federal regulations.

Put together, the national inventory report and the social cost of carbon lay out the inescapable math of climate change. And they fill in some of the facts that have been missing from the latest skirmish in the interminable fight over carbon pricing in Canada.

There is some good news:

The latest tally of emissions includes some encouraging news, at least. In 2021 (emissions data always takes a little over a year to process), Canada's GHG emissions totalled 670 megatonnes. That's the second-lowest annual total since 1996.

The total for 2021 does represent an increase of 12 Mt over 2020. But because 2020 was such an unusual year — for most of the year, the activity of individuals and businesses was severely curtailed by pandemic health restrictions — it defies comparison.

A better point of reference might be 2019. In that pre-pandemic year, Canada's emissions were 724 Mt.

But we still have a long way to go. And we don't have a political consensus on how to get there:

There are steps the Trudeau government can take to reassure businesses and investors that current climate policy will remain in place, such as "contracts for difference." But ultimately it depends on political consensus and that doesn't exist — Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is committed to repealing both the federal price on carbon and the clean fuel standard.

But if the path to Canada's 2030 target (a cut of at least 40 per cent to Canada's emissions below 2005 levels) and the mid-century goal of net-zero is by no means assured, it's at least possible to see a way there.

According to analysis published by the Climate Institute last year, existing policies will reduce Canada's emissions to 589 Mt by 2030, 149 Mt above the national target. When policies under development are factored in, the gap becomes 93 Mt. When policies that have been promised are included, the gap shrinks to just 24 Mt.

In other words, with quick and effective action, Canada's goals will become increasingly plausible.

So the goal is possible. Whether or not it's achievable is an open question.

Image: Eastern Research Group

Saturday, April 22, 2023

American Fascism

Fascism has come to the United States. It wears Donald Trump's face. Robert Kagan writes:

The entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.

That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as anyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous.

Some think that the Trump phenomenon is new. It isn't:

What he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.

The last century has shown us what can happen under fascist strongmen:

“National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who single-handedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic.

A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death.

We've seen this happen before. Those who refuse to see it for what it is are fools. And, these days, there are a lot of them around.

Image: La Voce Di New York

Friday, April 21, 2023

War Mongering

Trucker Carlson is a white weasel who is in the business of peddling hate. Stephen Maher writes:

Canadians should expect a restless night on May 1, because that’s when Fox News superstar Tucker Carlson releases his latest project: a special film called “O, Canada.” The program argues that the US should “liberate” Canada … with military force.

Carlson, known for sharing white nationalist conspiracy theories with 2.5 million Americans five nights a week, just dropped twotrailers that portray Canada as an authoritarian hellhole where citizens are jailed for protesting against the government. They highlight interviews with a constellation of figures featured on Rebel News, a far-right Canadian outlet that depicted anti-lockdown protesters as victims of Liberal stormtroopers.

The scenes include two pastors who were locked up for violating COVID public health laws. Populist leader Maxime Bernier, who was arrested for attending a rally that violated pandemic gathering restrictions, and Rebel News broadcasters Alexandra Lavoie and David Menzies all claim to have been roughly treated by police.

But the star of the film appears to be Lauren Southern, a telegenic 27-year-old documentary filmmaker from Surrey, B.C., with a long track record as a white-nationalist provocateur. Southern is shown shooting in the wilderness, lamenting Canadian gun laws (we have bears in trees, she points out). In a sit-down interview at Fox’s California studio, she tells Carlson that the situation is “absolutely maddening.”

“We’ve just found out our elections were almost entirely rigged by the Chinese government,” she says, referring to the recent scandal over Beijing’s alleged election meddling. “Canadians are living in a state of absolute fear of our government, and we’re not even sure if our government is controlled in Canada or overseas.”

“Whether your democracy is real or not, of course, that’s a familiar feeling to Americans,” says Carlson.

As usual, there is nothing subtle about Carlson's approach:

The trailers feature unflattering images of Trudeau – including a Hitler-esque rendering of his face – and clips of American leaders announcing military strikes in Iraq and Libya. The implication? That the US should consider a shock and awe campaign in Ottawa.

The premise, of course, is laughable, and about as absurd as Fox’s attacks on Dominion Voting Systems, or Carlson’s 2022 special, which promoted testicle tanning. Canada’s lifesaving COVID restrictions were imposed by democratically elected governments and backed by a majority of voters.

“It's not representative of Canada,” says John Wright, executive vice president of Maru [a pollster]. “It's propaganda. It's falsehoods. To suggest that this is a country on the verge of revolution ... You're gonna get somewhere between 9 and 17% of the public, depending upon what avenue you want to go down, that feels that way.”

As insane as this is, there could be consequences:

If Carlson convinces voters that Canada is an authoritarian dystopia, politicians may act on that impression. Wright points out that a small number of MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives can exercise disproportionate influence because GOP leadership needs every vote, as we saw in the many rounds to select a Speaker.

It doesn't take much when you have a split House like this to have consequences if they decide that this is part of the rhetoric,” Wright adds.

Carlson’s inane special will also give an enormous boost to Rebel News personalities who are typically on the margins of Canadian public life. Research shows that American outlets, especially Fox, supercharged “Freedom convoy” content in 2022, helping turn a niche protest into a mass movement that paralyzed Ottawa and blocked border crossings.

Pandemic restrictions are gone, and the leadership of the movement is divided and dispirited, but Carlson is about to give them a huge jolt of energy.

Just a heads up.

Image: Forbes

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Plutocratic Power

Paul Krugman argues that suspicion of plutocratic power is an American tradition:

People on the right often insist that expressing any concern about highly concentrated wealth is “un-American.” The truth, however, is that worrying about the dangers great wealth poses for democracy is very much part of the American tradition. And our nation basically invented progressive taxation, which was traditionally seen not just as a source of revenue but also as a way to limit excessive wealth.

In fact, if you read what prominent figures said during the Progressive Era, many expressed views that would be hysterically denounced as class warfare today. Theodore Roosevelt warned against “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.” Woodrow Wilson declared, “If there are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States, they are going to own it.”

What is the root of plutocratic power?

Campaign finance is dominated by a tiny number of extremely rich donors. But there are several other channels of influence.

Until recently I would have said that outright corruption — direct purchase of favors from policymakers — was rare. ProPublica’s revelation that Justice Thomas enjoyed many lavish, undisclosed vacations at Crow’s expense suggests that I may have been insufficiently cynical.

Beyond that, there’s the revolving door: Former politicians and officials who supported the interests of the wealthy find comfortable sinecures at billionaire-supported lobbying firms, think tanks and media organizations. These organizations also help shape what military analysts call the “information space,” defining public discourse in ways that favor the interests of the superrich.

It’s a simplification, but I think fundamentally true, to say that the U.S. right has won many elections, despite an inherently unpopular economic agenda, by appealing to intolerance — racism, homophobia and these days anti-“wokeness.” Yet there’s a risk in that strategy: Plutocrats who imagine that the forces of intolerance are working for them can wake up and discover that it’s the other way around.

That may be what's happening now. But, in the end, the backlash may burn the whole place down.

Image: Financial Times

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Economic And Political Perceptions

Canadians are worried about the economy. Glen Pearson writes that Canadians have reason to be:

We’re right to fret, especially after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its grim financial forecast a week ago.  Its conclusion was that the next five years will be the weakest for the global economy in more than three decades.  “Ominous forces” and “uneven growth” could hinder living standards for the rest of the decade and beyond.  The forecast weighs on the mind of every government in the G20.  Added to this was the sobering reality of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change release which stated that natural catastrophic events will increase, impacting every aspect of economic life.

Some of the turbulence feels beyond our reach: the war in Ukraine, the deterioration of US-China relations that could lead to two immense global economic blocs, environmental challenges, and political restlessness in many global locations.  These are beyond Canada’s ability to manage and will inevitably impact any measures Canada takes to rekindle its economy.

This economic turbulence is fueling political turbulence:

As politics in the West becomes increasingly dysfunctional, citizens continue to check out of democracy at alarming levels.  But it will get worse, as their family incomes struggle and the standard of living takes critical hits.  Inevitably, people’s economic uncertainty will translate into political anger.

Economists, researchers, and seasoned voices can offer strategic guidance, but if governments refuse to listen, or opposition parties care more about gaining power than economic stability through principled cooperation, ineffective politics will lead to national disruption.

Some things within our domestic reach could be tackled to ameliorate some of our concerns.  Both corporate and private debt levels are too much in the extreme.  As interest rates hover at current levels, or even threaten to creep up, servicing debt can become a significant problem.  Forcing individuals and corporations to tighten their belts makes sense in times of economic uncertainty, but foreclosure on those debts might become a pending reality, causing stress in the electorate.

Economic betterment is also a significant problem, as Canadians are now fully convinced they will never do as well as their parents did.  That might or might not be true, but they believe it is, and it is perception that drives politics.

And that is the heart of the problem: our economic perceptions drive our political perceptions.

Image: Harvard Gazette

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The First Casualty

From the beginning of his tenure, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has gone to war with the media. He took his cue from his predecessor, Andrew Scheer. Max Fawcett writes:

Former Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer hinted at this in his 2020 resignation speech. “Challenge the mainstream media,” he said. “Don’t take the left-wing media narrative as fact. Please check out smart, independent, objective organizations like the Post Millennial or True North. There are other places to get news. Let’s stop being the silent majority.”

In his war, Poilievre has allied himself with Elon Musk who has labeled the CBC as "government-funded media:"

To be clear, there is nothing in the new label — one that, so far, has only been applied to CBC’s corporate account — that actually says that. It’s no secret that the CBC is funded by taxpayers, and it remains editorially independent of the government of the day, just as it was when Poilievre and prime minister Stephen Harper were in power for almost a decade. More to the point, government funding is not tantamount to the dissemination of propaganda, and if it is, then someone should tell the good folks at Postmedia, which collects many millions in government handouts every year.

Poilievre's motive is as clear as crystal:

Poilievre’s provocative use of the term “propaganda” speaks to his real mission: not informing Canadians but confusing them. Former Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer hinted at this in his 2020 resignation speech. “Challenge the mainstream media,” he said. “Don’t take the left-wing media narrative as fact. Please check out smart, independent, objective organizations like the Post Millennial or True North. There are other places to get news. Let’s stop being the silent majority.”

Poilievre has taken that argument to a whole different level. In addition to his now-familiar broadsides against the CBC, he took a run during a recent press conference at the independence and integrity of The Canadian Press, an organization that has always remained steadfastly apolitical and nonpartisan. “The CBC, frankly, is a biased propaganda arm of the Liberal Party, and negatively affects all media. For example, CP is negatively affected by the fact that you have to report favourably on the CBC if you want to keep your number 1, taxpayer-funded client happy.”

Unfortunately, the stunt is having its desired effect:

That torrent of turds, and Poilievre’s willingness to open the sluice gates here in Canada, is already having an impact on our democracy. EKOS Research founder Frank Graves created a “disinformation index,” a 15-point scale that “measures how strongly respondents have bought into four pieces of disinformation and how strongly they reject one piece of correct information: vaccine-related deaths are being concealed from the public, COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility, COVID-19 vaccines can alter a patient’s DNA, inflation is much higher in Canada than in the United States, and climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

The first casualty of war, they say, is the truth. In Mr. Poilievre's war, that most certainly is the case.

Image: The National Observer

Monday, April 17, 2023

Trump In The Great White North

When Trump flags showed up as part of the Truckers' Convoy in Ottawa, it was clear that the American Disease had drifted across our border. Michael Harris writes that Donald Trump has become part of our political conversation:

Not that the political arena was ever a monastery. There have always been politicians who couldn’t keep their zippers up, who telephoned judges on active cases, who told the occasional whopper, who drove their cars while over-refreshed, who did favours for friends, and who accepted favours in return.  

But there has never been a time when misogyny was effectively a platform in a major party’s policy playbook, as it is now in the GOP in the United States.  

There has never been a time when a United States president lied reflexively on everything from his tawdry dalliances, to his sleazy fundraising—also based on barefaced falsehoods. The 2020 U.S. election wasn’t stolen. But the money sent in by naive Trump supporters to fight the electoral results in court—all $200-million worth—apparently was. One can only wonder why wire fraud charges haven’t yet been laid.  

And who ever heard of an indicted defendant in a criminal case vowing to continue his bid for the presidency, even if he is convicted of felonies? That is exactly what Trump told fellow serial liar Tucker Carlson of Fox News in a recent interview. Spoken like a man who wants to dump the U.S. Constitution and defund the FBI and the Department of Justice. Trump has driven tribalism and iconoclasm in politics to such extremes that his supporters in Congress have even subpoenaed Alvin Bragg, the district attorney of Manhattan, to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.  

The problem is that Trump's middle finger to the world approach to things is showing up here:

Canadians have supported progressive parties at the polls federally. But there is growing evidence that some of the elements of Trumpian politics are creeping into our national conversation.  

For starters, the critiques of the current federal government have more to do with swiftboating than sober analysis. Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada have put the crosshairs on Justin Trudeau, highlighting his alleged unfitness to run the country in highly personal terms, as opposed to offering a counter vision of what a Conservative government would do differently.

The examples abound. Trudeau’s blackface of yesteryear is proof he is a racist. Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to end the “Freedom Convoy” and its chaotic occupation of Ottawa is proof he is a dictator. Trudeau’s handling of alleged Chinese interference in the last federal election shows he is covering up for the Chinese and is perhaps a traitor. This from the party that sold a Canadian energy company to the Chinese communists for $15.1-billion, and bartered away Canadian sovereignty in the Canada-China Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.  

That is tawdry politics. The invitation to voters is to personally dislike and reject Trudeau, rather than embrace a better candidate with better policies and a better vision. The public dialogue is not so much a contest of ideas between political parties, as it has traditionally been, but a kind of cage fight of the Texas death-match variety. Apart from being distressingly Trumpian, the approach taken by the official opposition is totally unnecessary.  

It's not that the Liberals are above criticism:

The Liberals are open to legitimate criticism on a number of policy fronts. Did the government get the balance right between prudent public health measures and civil liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Did the government react to the crisis of inflation quickly enough and with the right measures?  

Given the desperate problems facing many Canadians on the health-care front, did the government go far enough in its recent rescue package with hard pressed provincial governments?

But “Fuck Trudeau” signs, like “Fuck Biden” signs and “Fuck Ford” signs, put up by fanatical supporters incited by relentless personal attacks on political leaders, are not the way to conduct a democracy.  

And, for Trump and his supporters, it's democracy that is the enemy.

Image: The Hill Times

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a problem right across the country. In Toronto, one of the candidates for mayor has suggested a solution. Edward Keenan writes:

When mayoral candidate Josh Matlow unveiled his “Public Build Toronto” proposal Wednesday — part of a larger affordable housing and rental program he’s been releasing in stages — it would be easy to say at best it looks like a good start. A $300-million “seed funding” kick-start to a program to build 15,000 units of rental housing on city land is modest — such a build-out would likely cost billions, whereas Matlow’s proposed seed funding turns out to be the cost of hosting five World Cup Games, give or take.

But it was noteworthy to me because it proposed the city government tackle the housing crisis in part by building new affordable housing on land it already owns. Not give the land to someone to build on. Not sell it to someone to build on. But build on it ourselves, with the city acting as a developer. That’s the kind of proposal we haven’t heard a lot of in recent decades from governments around here.

Sometime around the 1990s, the prevailing wisdom moved away from direct government construction of housing — and direct government construction and operation of virtually anything. Looking at actual evidence of cumbersome or inadequate public infrastructure projects, we all rode the pendulum to the other extreme, enamoured suddenly of the idea that the private sector was the best and only purveyor of such work, and where the public couldn’t privatize a whole area of service entirely, it should hire companies to do the work for it in “public-private partnerships.”

The results are everywhere around Troonto -- huge homes that only a fraction of us can afford -- and no new public housing:

The city’s open data portal offers information on Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) units by the date their construction was completed: you see hundreds and often thousands of units per year constructed from the 1960s through the early 1990s, and then virtually nothing for more than a decade, and then only a handful of units over the past 10 years or so. We used to build lots of public housing as the city grew, and then, while the city continued growing, we just stopped.

This is a crisis of our own making:

As with so many things, much of the blame for this can be placed at doorsteps other than the city’s own — Mike Harris at Queen’s Park and then Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien in Ottawa pulled the funding and made the regulatory changes that virtually ceased the construction of public housing and co-op housing in Toronto. But virtually cease it did.

And meanwhile, a few decades later, how are those public-private partnerships looking in general? Well, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT may open someday, maybe. If we’re lucky. It’s hard to tell, because no one in the provincial government is saying much about it at all, after years of budget increases and years of delays. This follows a model of provincial project management jobbed out to the private sector that has become the stuff of horror-story legend in the city of Ottawa after that city’s own still-unfolding LRT construction nightmare.

It's clear that neo-liberalism has been an ugly failure -- and that government, when properly supervised -- can do good work.

Image: Point2 Homes

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Just Another Lie

The United States is ruled by a crumbling gerontocracy. Maureen Dowd writes:

Carl Hulse and Annie Karni wrote in The New York Times about Washington’s actual gerontocracy and the challenges of governing with “an old and frail group of lawmakers.” The advanced age of many senators — with their ailments and chronic absences — has diluted the power of the Democratic majority. Now everyone in D.C. is also wondering how long Mitch McConnell will stay as the head of the Senate Republicans.

The 81-year-old minority leader is recovering from a fall at a fund-raiser that resulted in a concussion and a broken rib. Dianne Feinstein, 89 and suffering from shingles, has barely been in the Senate this year. The Judiciary Committee she is supposed to sit on can’t advance judicial nominations to keep pace with the way Donald Trump and McConnell reshaped the federal courts; their handiwork is visible in the horrible abortion rulings being handed down. Chuck Grassley, 89, had a fall and a hip replacement this winter and has already filed to run in 2028; at the end of that term, he’d be 101.

Next week, an American rendition of King Lear opens with an Australian in the lead role:

The $1.6 billion Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against Fox News goes on trial in Delaware Monday. At long last, after a shameless career built on spreading poisonous lies about everything from climate to Covid to Trump’s stolen election blather, King Rupert, as Vanity Fair calls him, may be losing dominion over his dominion because of Dominion.

The Australian immigrant who ran anti-immigrant news organizations and let Fox News thrive on the racist “birther” lie about Barack Obama reaped billions by putting Americans at one another’s throat.

It’s hard for a journalist to argue that a news organization should be penalized, but Fox News isn’t a news organization. It’s a greedy business that freaked out when some Fox News reporters actually told the truth about Trump’s lies, and then it proceeded to broadcast the lies.

It would be swell to see someone held accountable for the grotesque deceptions that corroded our democracy and sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection. Just as social media companies torqued their algorithms to spin up conflict and profits, Murdoch torqued the news, giving viewers what they wanted to hear and blinding them to the truth.

Thanks to the despicable likes of Murdoch and Trump, America is now “this great stage of fools,” in Lear’s phrase, howling at the storm.

Murdoch and Trump may claim that they are "more sinned against than sinning," but that's just another lie.

Image: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Friday, April 14, 2023

Time To Go?

Lawrence Martin thinks that it's time for Justin Trudeau to plan his exit:

It’s getting near crunch time. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to leave an opportunity for a successor to prepare for their fight in an election, he should announce he is departing by the fall and call a leadership convention for the spring of next year.

All indications from Mr. Trudeau suggest that despite his sagging popularity, he will seek a new mandate. That means he will be trying to extend his time in office to 13 or 14 years.

No PM since Mackenzie King in the 1940s has ruled that many years in succession. Pierre Trudeau was beaten in his 11th year before returning to power later.

And he had a paramount long-term policy goal for which to fight – his Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justin has no life-consuming political project. He might want to rival his father's record. But ten years is about the end of any prime minister's shelf life. Justin has accomplished a number of things:

Along with his electoral record he has put in place an impressive package of progressive legislation that has expanded the social safety net.

Conservatives, of course, loathe Mr. Trudeau and his house of handouts. They have good reason. A decade ago, they had the Liberals down and almost out, languishing in third place. But Mr. Trudeau revived the party, winning a majority, then two minorities, running up the count of election victories by the Trudeau family to a remarkable seven out of eight campaigns.

But power itself can be life-consuming:

Justin Trudeau wants more. No matter that he’s skating on ice that is getting thinner and thinner. No matter that in this era of anger politics fuelled by internet polemicists and haters, he is the target of constant abuse. No matter that to run again when so much of the population is already tired of him would be an enormous gamble for him and his party.

He should be content with what he has been able to do. On social policy, there’s his progress on strengthening the Canada Pension Plan, on a national subsidized daycare program, on getting dental care started, on transgender rights.

There’s his work on equality for women, on abortion rights, on legalizing marijuana, on the rights of minorities. Some progress has been made in addressing the plight of Indigenous peoples. The number of immigrants has almost doubled. He’s done well on trade agreements (the USMCA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, completing the EU deal). He’s taking on climate change with a controversial carbon tax. And all the while he has kept an often divided party unified.

The Trudeau government faced three unique crises and challenges. In managing the coronavirus pandemic it did better than Britain, the United States and many other jurisdictions. It performed ably in handling the pugilistic presidency of Donald Trump. Its use of the Emergencies Act to stop the truckers’ occupation of the country’s capital was deemed appropriate by an inquiry.

There have been notable failures:

He is not about to repair fractured relations with the West. It’s been the fate of every Liberal prime minister for the past 60 years to be totally rejected on the Prairies. That’s not about to change. His leaving would lower the temperature.

On the ethics file, Mr. Trudeau has been damaged by scandals and semi-scandals. One could easily make the case that most every government going way back has had a similar number of ethical travesties. But Mr. Trudeau promised to do better and did not. His sticking around won’t change that verdict.

On the economy, the course has been set by his spending bonanza and time will tell whether it was affordable – he argues that the debt-to-GDP ratio is low compared to other G7 countries – or whether it will lead to deficit and debt anguish.

All said, Mr. Trudeau’s progressive mission has been for the most part accomplished. But the leadership style of the Prime Minister and his leftish thrust has alienated great numbers. He’s an overexposed lightning-rod PM, an acoustically irritating source of tension whose welcome seems to have just about worn out.

Perhaps he will -- like his father -- take a walk in the snow and decide to return to Montreal.


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Megaphones and Intelligence

Elon Musk and Pierre Poilievre have labelled the CBC the enemy. Bruce Arthur writes:

In a reasonable world, the CBC makes for an odd enemy. You can argue about how it is run, sure: ask the opinion of just about any employee of the CBC, then sit back and crack a beer. You can have an adult conversation about the CBC’s value and impact as a catch-all competitor to media across Canada, and the parameters of its mission, and all that. Debating the CBC is a shared Canadian pastime, and we don’t have enough of those left.

But labelling the CBC as an enemy is something else entirely, no matter how much you miss Don Cherry. Labelling Canada’s public broadcaster as an enemy of Canadians is a different kettle of fish, indeed.

Which brings us, regrettably, to the leader of Canada’s Official Opposition. Last week Twitter owner Elon Musk slapped new labels on the BBC and NPR accounts, calling them “government media”; it was Musk’s own version of the labels the previous Twitter regime had applied to places such as Tass, the Russian-controlled news service, or China’s People’s Daily, or Iran’s IRNA News Agency, which are called “state-affiliated media.”

The comparison between public broadcasters and Tass is ludicrous:

Tass, People’s Daily and IRNA are literal organs of the state, under full government control. The BBC and NPR — and the CBC — are independent entities that receive government funding, but have editorial independence. If you can’t see the difference, please consult an optometrist.

It’s predictable, though. Since buying Twitter, Musk has leaned heavily into easily disprovable right-wing conspiracy theories — for instance, he promulgated the repellent lie that the home invasion attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of prominent Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, was a gay tryst gone wrong. Equating the BBC and NPR to state propaganda was in keeping with Musk’s fart-cushion childishness of late, and his habits.

Pierre Poilievre has habits of his own, and an audience to court. So he posted an open letter to Musk.

“We must protect Canadians against disinformation and manipulation by state media,” wrote Poilievre. “That is why I’m asking @Twitter @elonmusk to accurately label CBC as ‘government-funded media.’ It is a fact. And Canadians deserve the facts.”

It's pretty clear: There is an inverse relationship between the size of the megaphone and the intelligence of he or she who holds it. Empty barrels have always made the most noise.

Image: WNYC

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Justin Pearson And The Future

In the United States, Justin Pearson has become a national figure. He writes in this morning's New York Times:

Last week, the people of Tennessee and the nation witnessed an assault against democracy when my colleague Justin Jones and I, both young Black Democratic men, were expelled from office for allegedly breaching decorum on the House floor. My former colleague, a 60-year-old white female Democratic representative, Gloria Johnson, had also joined our peaceful protest against gun violence but narrowly survived expulsion. Mr. Jones has since returned to the House after a vote by the Nashville Metropolitan Council. I’m hoping the Shelby County Board of Commissioners similarly puts me back in the House on Wednesday.

There is something amiss in the decorum of the State House when G.O.P. leaders like Representative Paul Sherrell, who proposed death from “hanging by a tree” as an acceptable form of state execution (Mr. Sherrell later apologized for his comment) feel comfortable berating Mr. Jones and me for our peaceful act of civil disobedience. This, in Tennessee, the birthplace of the Klan, a land stained with the blood of lynchings of my people.

I wasn’t elected to be pushed to the back of the room and silenced. We who were elected to represent all Tennesseans — Black, white, brown, immigrant, female, male, poor, young, transgender and queer — are routinely silenced when we try to speak on their behalf. Last week, the world was allowed to see it in broad daylight.

In such a hostile environment for democracy, I’m inspired by the late civil rights fighter and congressman John Lewis, who in 1965, when demonstrating for voting rights in Selma, Ala., endured a police beating that almost took his life. In 2016, after the tragic Pulse Nightclub massacre that killed 49 people, he led a sit-in on the U.S. House floor for 25 hours to protest the inaction of lawmakers in the pockets of the National Rifle Association.

My mother, a schoolteacher, and my father, a pastor, instilled in me the hope that justice is possible for all. When I was 15, I attended a Memphis City School Board meeting with my parents to give a speech demanding access to quality textbooks and classes that white peers in their school districts had. These were resources that increased their opportunities for a good college education — chances that Black students, too, deserved.

A few years ago, I helped lead a coalition of community activists in the fight against the construction of the Byhalia Connection crude oil pipeline project in my late grandmothers’ community in southwest Memphis, where, according to a 2013 study, the risk of cancer is four times higher than the national average. Both of my grandmothers died from cancer. Our coalition killed the project before it killed more of us. We fought and we won.

This is a man who believes, like John Lewis, that sometimes you have to get into "good trouble." A lot of Americans won't like it. But Mr. Pearson -- and his generation -- are the future.

Image: The New York Times

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Same Polluted Source

Once again, the debate over gun violence is roiling in the United States. The latest example has consumed the state legislature in Tennessee. Gary Wills writes:

We are the disgrace of nations because we can’t stop killing our children—along, of course, with their teachers, relatives, and innocent bystanders. We don’t even seem to want to stop doing it, not effectively, at any rate. We say we should, but we don’t. We just can’t. We are worse than the drunk who says he should stop drinking but doesn’t. At least drinking is (or was) pleasant in its early stages. But how can killing be pleasant at first?

Our children can’t fight back as they watch their classmates and teachers being mowed down. Why do we let it go on, case after case? Are we just more evil than all the other countries that do not have our murder rate—not only in schools but in churches, synagogues, and mosques? Are we just killers by breeding or tradition?

Some say we kill innocent people in large numbers because we have so many guns. Well, we do have them, more than any other country. But guns do not force themselves into our hands and fire themselves. We have to use them for them to work. Why do we want to keep doing that?

The answer to that question is stark -- because the courts have greenlighted unregulated gun ownership:

No other nation has a Supreme Court that claims its Founding Fathers wanted to make it possible for any individual to get military-grade weapons and kill like a combat soldier, spewing bullets from high-capacity magazines at split-second rapidity, racking up the tiny corpses before the police can possibly arrive. These murder machines cannot be controlled as we control other dangerous things, from cars to planes to drugs, because these are guns, and guns are sacrosanct. What makes them so? The Second Amendment. Because of it, guns and their use are beyond criticism or control. That makes it possible for a presidential candidate to suggest with impunity that a rival should be murdered if he just calls her killers “Second Amendment people.”

The Second Amendment is invoked like a blessing over each of our recurrent Columbines. But there is nothing about that constitutional text that absolves these classroom slaughters. Their perpetrators are not “well regulated.” They are not “bearing arms,” a military term (one does not bear arms against a rabbit), nor are they “keeping arms” if they have a gun at home (they are called armories, not gunneries). It was only our modern Court that thought you could decide “original intent” by reading the wrong dictionaries. Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century defined “arms” as “war,” citing Dryden—“Arms and the man I sing”—and he defined “armed men” as “army.”

Previous Courts read history, not simply the dictionary, and knew that Madison added the Bill of Rights not because there was any threat to individual ownership of guns, which had always existed unchallenged and would continue to do so before, under, and after the draft Constitution. If personal weapons of self-defense or attack were the issue Madison was dealing with, the Second Amendment could have been written about a right to “bear knives” or “bear swords” or “bear clubs.”

In the end, it's all about that old excuse for so many American ills -- states' rights:

No, Madison added the Second Amendment to placate “states’ rights” advocates like Patrick Henry, who argued state militias had to be guaranteed for three reasons:

1. Short of war, states could not be shielded by a Federal standing army, which the Founders opposed. (How has that gone, Joint Chiefs?)

2. Residents of the states wanted to be able to respond to clashes on their borders with Native Americans or local opposition before a Federal authority could respond.

3. Slaveholders like Henry (and this was the main reason) feared slave uprisings in the South, anticipating rebellions like Nat Turner’s in 1831. They wanted to “keep arms” in guarded armories where the “well regulated” militias could get them out quickly and irregular slave mobs could not.       

Gun violence, Slavery, Jim Crow. They all stem from the same polluted source.

Image: The Philidelphia Inquirer

Monday, April 10, 2023

Like A Pitbull With Rabies

Donald Trump has been indicted. But, Michael Harris writes, one indictment isn't enough to stop him:

Simply because Donald Trump never submits to any authority or set of rules that get in the way of his impulsive ego-liberation and terminal narcissism. Instead, he attacks his accusers and opponents like a pit bull with rabies. Facts and decorum have nothing to do with his modus operandi. Consider Trump’s unhinged public remarks about Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing his trial on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

For good measure, Trump also attacked the judge’s family. He accused Judge Merchan of treating his company “VICIOUSLY” in the recent trial of Trump Organization, which Merchan also presided over. That trial ended with tax fraud findings against Trump’s company, and a hefty fine. For his role in the tax frauds, long-time Trump executive Allen Weisselberg was sent to jail for five months.

Trump the bloviating bully has behaved even more outrageously toward Alvin Bragg, the first Black person to hold the post of district attorney for the southern district of Manhattan. He has called Bragg a “criminal” an “animal” a “psychopath” and a “racist.” Trump also posted a photo on Truth Social showing himself wielding a baseball bat next to an image of Bragg’s head. Subtlety has never been Trump’s forte.

Proof that what happens on the internet doesn’t stay on the internet? Both Judge Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg have now received multiple death threats. Trump actually mentioned Merchan by name in one of his Truth Social posts. The upshot? The judge now has extra personal security at the court he presides over. 

So let's be clear-eyed about who and what Trump is:

It is now crystal clear why Trump announced his third presidential run so early. He knew that a flurry of possible indictments was coming his way, and he also knew that as a past president and presidential candidate, the courts would be under great pressure to treat him differently from your garden-variety criminal defendant. 

Trump was also aware that with his death grip on the Republican base, his potential rivals for the GOP nomination would have no choice but to rally to his cause, even if he were to be indicted. Proof that he had that part right? Even Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans to see the dangers presented by Trump, is parroting the baseless claim that Bragg’s prosecution against the former president is political.  

If Trump is allowed to heap abuse on officers of the court for seven or eight more months, if he is permitted to stir up a hornet’s nest of rage in his political base, there will be little to no stopping him. Officers of the court will be needlessly endangered, and the GOP will be further emboldened to interfere in a criminal case to push the lie that this is somehow all political. 

The time to act is now. If anyone else but Trump were involved in this case, that is exactly what would have already happened. If anyone else were spouting the inflammatory rhetoric Trump employs, they would be admonished, held in criminal contempt, or subjected to a gag order to protect the integrity of the case. Judicial authorities have got to stop being in thrall over the job Trump once had, and start dealing with his deeds, or rather, misdeeds.  

I'm betting that before Trump is convicted for several crimes, he'll be spending time in jail for contempt of court.

Image: You Tube

Friday, April 07, 2023

The Better Analog

On this Good Friday, some are comparing Donald Trump to Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate -- a man who believed that cruelty was the point -- is a better analog. I'll be back on Monday.

Image: The Sacred In The Secular

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Hot Air Isn't A Defense

Several commentators have suggested that Alvin Bragg's case against Donald Trump is weak. Jennifer Rubin isn't so sure. She writes:

Any pundits who speculated ahead that the case was weak, misreported the “intent” requirement under New York law or ignored obvious “tolling” arguments putting the charges in compliance with the statute of limitations may have been premature in denigrating the case. Once more they’d be wise to hold their fire given some strategic ambiguities apparent in the indictment.

Bragg sets out the allegations: Trump was part of a scheme to pay off three individuals (a doorman, Daniels and a second woman, Karen McDougal) as part of an effort to “catch and kill” allegations of extramarital affairs (which Trump has denied). The indictment alleges that Trump directed Cohen (who already pleaded guilty to federal crimes based on these same facts) to make the payments through shell companies and invoices falsely labeled “legal retainer.” A plethora of check stubs, invoices and general ledger entries form the foundation of the case.

Importantly, the indictment ties Trump’s actions to the election in two key ways: First, evidence of his desire to drag out payments to Daniels beyond the election so he might not have to pay up in full. Second, as soon as he was sworn in, the doorman and “Woman 1” were released from their deals. Once the election was over, Trump didn’t care what they said.

And then there is Michael Cohen's indictment:

Bragg quotes from the plea entered by Cohen in federal court:

[O]n or about October of 2016, in coordination with, and at the direction of ... candidate [Trump], I arranged to make a payment to a second individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign to keep the individual from disclosing the information. To accomplish this, I used a company that was under my control to make a payment in the sum of $130,000. The monies I advanced through my company were later repaid to me by the candidate. I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election.

The core of the indictment alleges that Trump violated New York books and records law, a crime that is regularly prosecuted, according to research compiled by former prosecutors. In this case, those violations arguably impacted an extremely close presidential election. False statements in furtherance of a scheme to pull the wool over the eyes of voters is hardly inconsequential.

Bragg alleges that records were falsified in furtherance of a scheme to contravene state and federal election laws. He also says Trump took steps to mischaracterize the true nature of the payments for tax purposes. Tax law provides another sound basis for bumping the charges up to felonies.

Bragg has two paths to elevate Trump's false bookkeeping to the level of a felony. If one path doesn't work, he has another path open to him:

While the indictment does not set out precisely which crimes elevate books and records violations to felonies, Bragg at his news conference pointed specifically to misstatements to tax authorities, to federal election law and to N.Y. Election Law § 17-152, which makes it illegal for “two or more persons [to] conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.” With the testimony of Cohen and others, plus the documents, this may not be hard to prove.

Trump's lawyers speak in Trumpian bravado. But hot air isn't a defense.

Image: YouTube

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Riding With The Truckers

When the Truckers Convoy arrived in  Ottawa, the Conservative Party of Canada hopped on its bandwagon. Michael Harris writes:

The Conservative party lurched to the populist right in the very first days of dysfunction in Ottawa. It abruptly changed leaders, championed the truckers, and came after Justin Trudeau personally. They were betting that with the help of evangelicals, angry blue collar workers and the usual fatigue with any three-term government, the truckers would chauffeur them back into power.

Pierre Poilievre took his inspiration from  Donald Trump:

He’s employed many Trumpian tactics, including attacking the media and a nebulous class of “gatekeepers,” exploiting social media’s honeycomb of echo chambers, darkly characterizing the nation as “broken” and demonizing Trudeau the way the MAGA wing of the GOP villainized Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.

A year later, the hazards of MAGA emulation daily become more manifest, as a wildly unhinged Trump threatens “death and destruction” for being indicted and lionizes the seditionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol building. As the MAGA faithful feed on crazy conspiracies and big lies, Republican leaders afraid to draw their wrath genuflect to Trump’s cult of personality.

It’s an extremely dangerous game, but Canada’s Conservatives were tempted to believe they could manage the risks for a simple reason: desperation. The Liberals had won a minority government in September 2021, their third consecutive victory under Trudeau’s leadership. Although the Conservatives won the popular vote, they took just 119 seats, compared to 160 for the Liberals and 25 for the NDP. The Conservative party lost seats in key regions despite leading in the early polls, and they ended up with fewer seats than ousted leader Andrew Scheer had won.

The Convoy brought out the crazies:

On Feb. 3, 2022, far-right Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski travelled to Coutts to address the blockade: “They have waged a war against our way of life, against freedoms that were given to us by our God.” While hinting ominously that bloodshed might be required, Pawlowski urged the protesters to not lose their momentum and not give up their power.

Arrested five days later at his home and charged with mischief for inciting people to commit criminal acts, the preacher awaits a May verdict in what he somewhat grandly referred to as “the trial of the century.” In the meantime Pawlowski has managed to be the story of the moment in Alberta for recording his startling conversation with Premier Danielle Smith in which she pledged sympathy and admiration and said she’d been regularly checking on his case with the province’s justice officials.

There was an unmistakable evangelical Christian undercurrent to the protests across Canada. Biblical references were visible everywhere, and there were curbside sermons from preachers in Ottawa. One sign read, “We must obey God rather than men.”

These were -- and are -- Pierre Poilievre's people. Canadians should treat what happened yesterday in Manhattan as an early warning.

Image: Cole Burston