Monday, October 30, 2023

The Big Question

We have lived with a catastrophic myth for a long time. We have believed that we live outside nature. Derek Lynch writes:

Globally, we have entered the Anthropocene, with humans the dominant force driving change in all ecosystems. Through our overwhelming influence on the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, no ecosystem anywhere is sheltered from our influence.

Whether it be through colonial redistribution of species, habitat loss, the diverse forces of climate change, overextraction or pollution by plastics, forever chemicals, and reactive nitrogen and phosphorus, there is no unaltered ecosystem. As some of these forces of change combine, ecosystems are being pushed past tipping points of collapse at a faster rate.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, incidences of reverse zoonosis, in which humans became the reservoir and source of infection for domesticated and wild animals, emphasized how the fate of humanity and all creatures sharing the biosphere is linked.

There is a new vision rising:

Ecologists are recognizing that “othering” the natural world is meaningless, and the study of natural processes has to include those modified by humankind. Indeed, the idea of ourselves as distinct from all non-humans is considered by some to be the fundamental driver of our current planetary crisis.

Given such deepening understanding, is it now the time to go beyond “nature” as a concept external to humanity? Instead, we could promote a deeper understanding of biodiversity and community as the shared long history and future fate both of humanity and of non-human life.

Such revised paradigms are closer to Indigenous viewpoints of community, in which land management is conducted in partnership with our relatives within all ecosystems.

Will this new paradigm save us? That's the big question.


Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Best People?

The Republicans finally have a Speaker of the House -- someone they all voted for, someone nobody knows anything about. The internal communications of Republicans reveal a lot about who they are. Dana Milbank writes:

“Let’s get our poop in a group, people. We’ve got to figure this out,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (Mich.) admonished his GOP colleagues in a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday. (The remarks, naturally, were immediately leaked to reporters.) “I don’t want us to go out there and, in front of the entire world, puke on our shoes again. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Grouping poop? Puking on shoes? The Chaos Caucus had finally found its new digs: in the sewer. Huizenga’s was an unpleasant (if reasonably accurate) gastrointestinal diagnosis for what ails House Republicans. But it was arguably preferable to the urological diagnosis being offered by some of his colleagues.

Then, of course, there was this from the ever-eloquent Marjorie Taylor Greene:

The evening before, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), asked the panel of nine men then running for speaker whether they would impeach or otherwise harass various Biden administration officials. “I want to know which one of you have the balls to hold them accountable,” she said, as relayed to the indispensable Olivia Beavers of Politico.

This was the second time in a week that a woman in the GOP caucus had raised doubts about her colleagues’ testicles. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), irritated that Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) blocked her on social media, posted: “This is exactly what’s wrong with this place — too many men here with no balls.”

Actually, the problem is almost certainly the opposite: A toxic overdose of testosterone, resulting in aggressive behavior and excessive risk-taking.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), from the Houston area, blamed the Republicans’ latest disarray on the outcome of the American League Championship Series. “I told people there would be problems if the Rangers won, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” he said.

“Congratulations Speaker-designate @SteveScalise!” she posted on Oct. 11.

“Congratulations Speaker-designate @Jim_Jordan!” she posted on Oct. 13.

“Congratulations Speaker-designate @GOPMajorityWhip [Emmer]!” she posted at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

And finally: “Congratulations Speaker-designate @RepMikeJohnson!” she posted at 9:54 p.m. on Tuesday.

Donald Trump calls them, "the best people."


Image: National Review

Monday, October 23, 2023

Truth And War

Truth has always been the first casualty of war. The journalists who cover a war have a difficult task. Michael Harris writes:

War triggers a tribal impulse to take sides, to live in a world of black and white, to kill rather than communicate, and to turn on anyone who’s not on your side.  

Telling the truth is a dangerous occupation. It grows more perilous every year. In 2022, 67 journalists were killed, 35 of them in Ukraine, Mexico, and Haiti. Whether they are covering a war or uncovering corruption, theirs is a life-and-death occupation. 

Reuters video journalist Issam Abdullah was killed, and six of his colleagues from Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse were wounded, when Israeli rocket fire rained down on them at Alma al-Shaab in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13. The group was huddled together for safety, with their press identification prominently displayed.

No one is saying that this was a deliberate act, but neither side in a war welcomes impartial observers with cameras. That’s because there are always two wars going on in every conflict: the military battle, and the fight for the hearts and minds of the world. 

Winning the information war is just as important as winning the military contest. Supportive press is seen as good, critical stories as skewed, and unwelcome propaganda as aiding the enemy. 

That battle is going on in the present conflict:

When it was reported that Israel had bombed a hospital, killing hundreds of people, the coverage caused outrage, not only in the Middle East, but also around the world.

In an unheard of move, leaders from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority cancelled an in-person summit with U.S. President Joe Biden. Deadly protests were triggered in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and there were even some drone attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

Even after Israel and the U.S. furnished some evidence to suggest that the hospital strike was actually an errant missile fired by Islamic Jihad, the narrative didn’t sell on the Arab street. Nor did it play much better on the international scene. 

China accused Israel of going beyond defending itself with its unprecedented aerial bombardment that has caused more than 4,000 civilian deaths in Gaza. Iran warned of consequences if the expected land invasion of Gaza takes place. Even in the United States, where the president has just asked for $106-billion to fund wars in Ukraine and Israel, there were large, pro-Palestinian protests outside the White House. 

The public-relations war over Gaza now has a new twist. The Netanyahu government has just approved measures that would temporarily shut down foreign news channels in certain “emergency” situations.

The last thing Israel wants the world to view is the brutal reality of what invading Gaza would actually look like. It will look like a blood-bath, and a lot of that blood will come from innocent men, women, and children who are not combatants. 

That’s why CNN, Reuters, the BBC, and Al Jazeera need to be there, along with as many news agencies as possible who have the resources to cover the war. 

Showing the horror is often the only way of stopping it.

In the coming weeks, we will all want to turn away. We must not do that.

Image: AZ Quotes

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Will We Get Pharmacare?

Last week, at the NDP Convention, the delegates insisted that the Liberals deliver a pharmacare program by 2025 or their deal was off. Susan Delacourt writes:

Their arrangement clearly states that a “Canada pharmacare act” must be passed by the end of 2023, and that deadline is looming ever closer with no sign of legislation on the horizon.

“We have now the leverage given to us by our convention and our members,” Singh told reporters this week, using a bit of megaphone diplomacy to warn of tense negotiations to come with the Liberals.

Don Davies, the NDP health critic, is also ramping up the public pressure on Trudeau’s Liberals, calling pharmacare the “red line” that could spell the end of the supply and confidence agreement.

The gurus in the Finance Department -- who have Chrystia Freeland's ear -- are warning that the present economy can't support pharmacare:

Behind closed doors at the cabinet and caucus retreats in August and September, Freeland essentially warned her colleagues that while Liberals will continue to be Liberals, investing in existing large spending programs, this government can’t do everything. Here’s how she put it when talking to reporters last month:

“We are Liberals. We believe government has an important role to play in supporting Canadians, in building a social welfare net that supports Canadians and in putting in place programs that help our economy to grow.”

There was a “but” there, though. “We also understand that government is able to deliver for Canadians when government operates on a responsible fiscal footing and that, by the way, is a profoundly Liberal conviction. It was Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin that did the very hard work of fighting to get the triple-A (credit) rating that Canada currently enjoys. And what we are committed to is doing the things Canadians need us to do and maintaining that responsible fiscal foundation, and we are doing that. Canada has a triple-A rating, notwithstanding the great investments we’ve made in Canadians.”

Freeland and her Finance Department officials are said to be worried that a new pharmacare program would affect those credit ratings. It didn’t help either that the Parliamentary Budget Officer came out with a report last week, putting the cost of national pharmacare at $11.2 billion in the first year and $13.4 billion in five years.

You can bet that Singh and Trudeau are trying to find a way to finesse the deal.

Image: The Council Of Canadians

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

At Our Worst

The Israel-Hamas War is a case of humanity operating on its worst instincts. Eric Ifill writes:

I am embarrassed by the leadership of this country who have polluted what it means to be a human being, and it’s up to us to push back at the one-sided nature of their performative empathy. Who gets to be the victims of the Israel-Hamas war is directly connected to whose aggression can be excused as legitimate.

The attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians was barbaric:

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a co-ordinated attack against Israeli military bases and civilians living near the border of Gaza. These victims experienced a horrific chain of events including Hamas militants murdering and kidnapping many Israeli civilians. As CNN explains, “Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians and soldiers, and took 199 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.” This strike at Israel was unprecedented in scale and tactics, and has been called the worst attack on Israel since its formation. CNN concurs that “Israel has not faced its adversaries in street battles on its own territory since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.” The operation, “Al-Aqsa Storm,” as Hamas named it, was, according to the militants, “a response to what it described as Israeli attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.”

These are horrendous crimes that unleashed a spiral of violence from which victims will continue to suffer. There is no doubt about that.

But there are thousands of innocent victims on the other side. Note the language the Israelis are using:

This dehumanizing language paints Palestinians as sub-human, and therefore builds a narrative for their disposal. And like animals are how they are being treated.

The Palestinian residents in Gaza are under siege, and had only been given 24 hours to flee when the IDF bombed their only escape to Egypt, the Rafah Crossing. The Washington Post confirms: “Israel bombed areas of southern Gaza where it had told Palestinians to flee to ahead of an expected ground invasion, killing dozens of people.” This has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions for a people who continue to pay for crimes they did not commit. This is what is called collective punishment, and it is contrary to international humanitarian law. Médecins Sans Frontières, in its reprinting of the Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law by legal director Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, highlighted: “International humanitarian law posits that no person may be punished for acts that he or she did not commit. It ensures that the collective punishment of a group of persons for a crime committed by an individual is also forbidden, whether in the case of prisoners of war or of any other individuals.”

There is a reason Mark Twain called us "the damn'd human race."

Image: CNN

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Going Your Own Way

We live in difficult times. The Israeli-Hamas War is only the latest in a long series of crises. Susan Delacourt asks:

What happens to a government that’s constantly in crisis mode? There are a couple of obvious answers, none of them great: burnout, distraction and exhaustion. Trudeau and his government, not faring so well in the polls right now, can certainly lay some of that unpopularity at the feet of the big and controversial things they’ve had to manage. As well, there’s a real risk of a public growing weary of hearing end-of-times talk from their leaders, a crisis fatigue mentality that sets in, both within and outside government.

The answers are uncertain. But there are lessons to be learned:

In discussions with people who have been doing that crisis management, it is possible to see some ways in which each big world-shaking development has taught some lessons for dealing with future ones.

Trump’s existential threat to free trade taught the Trudeau government the value of networks abroad, using other relationships at the state level or in other countries to leverage Canada’s interests with the U.S.

Those networks came in handy when Canada had to shut its border with the U.S. during the pandemic, but also keep business and trade moving. The pandemic, in turn, forced the Trudeau government to put new programs and procedures in place quickly, with what one adviser described as “high-risk tolerance for implementation.”

So when war erupts in Eastern Europe, or now in the Middle East, Canada has some practice in putting out a suite of quick-response measures.

What you learn during constant crisis management, [an] adviser said, is that “you can’t operate in a zero-risk policy environment.” So when the next crisis comes along, the government knows there are new levers to pull, ways to speed up its notoriously slow bureaucracy.

In sum, while Trudeau’s government might have preferred to avoid the constant-crisis mode, each one has given it new ways to deal with the next one. And what should be clear by now: there will be a next one. That may be the only safe prediction to make in a world where each week brings a new crisis

 In an uncertain world, one thing is certain. Those international connections are vital. Anyone who claims you can make your own way in such a world is a fool.

.Images: United Nations Development

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Wisdom In That Notion

Taking her inspiration from Rene Levesque, Danielle Smith suggests that Alberta should separate from Canada. Max Fawcett writes that -- for the rest of Canada -- that might be a good idea:

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule on the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act that was triggered by a reference case filed by the Alberta government in 2020. While the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the federal legislation — better known as the former Bill C-69, or as conservatives like to call it, the “No More Pipelines Act” — intruded on provincial jurisdiction over the development of natural resources, the Supreme Court is expected to view the federal government’s appeal of that decision more favourably. If it upholds the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act, as most legal scholars expect, we’re going to see a nuclear-grade meltdown coming out of Alberta.

It’s a safe bet people like Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her various proxies in the local media will start by going after the court, which they’ve long complained has a supposedly Liberal bias. Never mind, of course, that its chief justice was appointed by one Stephen Harper — for them, this will be another opportunity to undermine its legitimacy and politicize its judgments. That’s especially true given that Russell Brown, the most Alberta-friendly of the nine Supreme Court justices, stepped down from the bench earlier this summer after the Canadian Judicial Council began looking into his disreputable conduct during a recent vacation. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

It’s an even safer bet the Alberta separatist movement will use the decision to add fuel to its long-simmering fire. Witness Take Back Alberta’s David Parker, who tweeted recently, “Alberta will not obey Ottawa’s draconian climate virtue signalling. If they attempt to enforce it, we will separate. If you don’t believe that is possible, just watch us.”

Separatism -- whether it emanates in Quebec or Alberta -- has always been a pipedream:

The notion Alberta would be better off on its own ignores everything from basic geopolitical realities to the historical example of Quebec, never mind the risks associated with being heavily dependent on fossil fuels right as the world is transitioning away from them. But after years of being a very vocal critic of the movement and its obvious blind spots, I’m starting to have some pro-separation arguments of my own.

An independent Alberta, for example, would put an end to the tiresome and tedious debates around equalization, most of which are informed by a fundamental misunderstanding of how the program actually works. This has been a cottage industry in Alberta for years now, one that’s aided and abetted by politicians and pundits who profit from the confusion. Without them around to chum the waters, the rest of Canada would have more time and opportunity to talk about issues that actually matter.

An independent Alberta would also be forced to bear the full brunt of the global energy transition, one that it has about as much control over as you might over a passing locomotive. For Canada, this would almost certainly be a very good thing. After benefiting from Alberta’s resource-driven wealth and the surplus contributions they’ve made to the federal income tax and social security systems, the country would be free of any downside associated with the global transition away from burning fossil fuels. And the more than $200 billion in unreclaimed environmental liabilities which the oil and gas industry is supposed to pay for and the Alberta government seems utterly uninterested in collecting? That would be an independent Alberta’s problem — and it would be one of many.

No longer would the rest of Canada have a province, and a substantial subset of its population, that’s actively working against its shared interests and priorities on climate change. The citizens of an independent Alberta would also benefit since its political leaders would no longer be able to blame Ottawa and the federal government for all of their woes. As masters of their own destiny, they would suddenly be accountable for their choices and the consequences that flowed from them.

This alone might be enough to deter any provincial or federal conservative politician from taking the idea of separation too seriously. They’ve been dining out for more than 40 years now on a sense of victimhood and injustice perpetrated by shadowy eastern elites, which they use to distract the public from their own political failings. To give up that familiar crutch would mean they’d finally, for the first time, have to stand entirely on their own merits. They, more than anyone else, might prefer to keep the status quo intact.

In the end, Quebecers decided to stick with the devil they knew. There is wisdom in that notion.

Image: The National Post

Monday, October 09, 2023

The Party Is A Fraud

The Republican Party can't do anything right. Ruy Teixeira writes:

What is with the Republican Party? At a moment when they seem to have so much going for them, Republicans again are working overtime to throw it all away.

By the numbers, this should be their moment. President Biden is scraping the proverbial bottom in polls that measure his approval rating. A recent NBC News poll found that voters prefer Republicans to handle the economy by a shocking 21 points, the largest lead for the GOP in over 30 years. Similar margins hold for Republicans on border security (30 points), handling crime (26 points) and immigration (18 points). Democrats have only a 2-point lead over Republicans on “looking out for the middle class” — a measure that has historically yielded double-digit leads for the Democrats.

The party has shifted its appeal to the working class -- particularly under Donald Trump:

Initially, Republicans were able to take advantage of the breakup of postwar Democratic voting blocs by promulgating an anti-welfare, anti-tax agenda that, along with an aggressive cultural conservatism, appealed to many working-class voters.

But that sales pitch will only get you so far:

Working-class voters, as many of their communities continued to deteriorate, lost faith that lower taxes and less government were really the solution to their problems — however much those principles might appeal to business supporters of the GOP. It was Trump’s genius to break with orthodox Republican economics, particularly on trade, entitlements, deficits and corporate priorities. In other words, he leaned into the working-class tilt of the GOP instead of simply exploiting it when it overlapped with standard GOP priorities.

For decades, the Republicans were known as the party of wealth and privilege. The pitch changed, but the policies didn't:

The economy under Trump did perform well until the pandemic hit — better in wage and income terms than it has under Biden — and working-class voters give Trump credit for that. But in terms of policy, he did very little. The big economic policy achievement of his presidency was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was unpopular with working-class voters and provided them with little direct benefit.

In part, this reflects the fact that Trump is not interested in policy issues and knows little about them. But it also highlights the lack of unity in Republican ranks about how to appeal to working-class voters. Some Republicans want to stick to traditional GOP approaches (such as cutting taxes on the wealthy); some want to press the accelerator on economic nationalism; some want a pro-worker industrial policy that breaks decisively with the legacy of Reaganism.

But there is no agreement. You can see it in the dueling manifestoes of the Freedom Conservatives and National Conservatives, who disagree about how strong a role government should play in supplementing and regulating the free market. You can see it in the complete lack of a party platform when Trump ran in 2020, which could well be replicated in 2024. And you can see it in the shambolic debates among the Republican presidential candidates that have been held so far this year — and the shenanigans of the Republican House last week, which now have left it leaderless.

The lack of a policy center leads Republicans to over-index on cultural issues, especially anything connected to “wokeness,” to the point where they seem extreme even when Democrats have adopted clearly unpopular positions. That obsessive focus on culture limits Republicans’ ability to capitalize on working-class economic discontent. The culture wars will get you only so far.

Put simply, the party isn't delivering for its voters. Republicans, like their leader, are a massive fraud.

Image: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post

Thursday, October 05, 2023

The Times They Are A-Changin'

The new speaker in the House of Commons is a black man -- Greg Fergus. He'll have his hands full -- because he'll have to deal with Pierre Poilievre. Susan Delacourt writes:

Poilievre welcomed Fergus’s election with a partisan slam against the Liberal government — standard fare for the Conservative leader, but unusual on ceremonial occasions in the Commons.

“Common wisdom, our common resources, our common heritage and our common future is determined by the people elected to serve in this place,” Poilievre said after lambasting the “excessively powerful and costly” Liberal government, then pivoting over to his newest political slogan.

“We must always do it with common sense, the common sense of the common people, united for our common home: your home, my home, our house. Let us bring it home.”

It was a demonstration of what Fergus will be up against as he assumes the referee’s job in a highly polarized chamber, where personal antagonism has been running rampant on all sides and no one can resist a partisan swipe.

All sides could do better. But the Conservatives specialize in this kind of rhetoric:

Just last week, Poilievre’s deputy leader, Thornhill MP Melissa Lantsman, refused to comply with an order from the chair to withdraw the word “disgrace,” which she had hurled at Liberal House Leader Karina Gould.

Poilievre, who casts himself as a crusader against “gatekeepers,” has also bristled when warned the rules don’t allow him to refer to another MP’s absence in the House. Despite that long-standing convention, Poilievre regularly and repeatedly mentions it when Trudeau is away from the chamber.

Fergus has pledged to improve things:

“Words matter. Symbols matter. This, I know,” Fergus said in his pre-election address to fellow MPs. “As your Speaker, I will restore, and quickly bring back the honour to this chamber.”

That will not be an easy job. But new people bring new perspectives. The Speaker is a black man. And the new premier of Manitoba is from Canada's First Nations. The times they are a-changin'.

Image: Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Monday, October 02, 2023

Walking the Walk

Pierre Poilievre claims he's a friend of the working man. But he doesn't like workers when they're on a picket line. Linda McQuaig writes:

The Conservative leader fumes relentlessly about today’s “affordability” crisis, and he correctly points out that workers are struggling to pay for groceries, rent, mortgages, etc.

Yet he seems confused about what actions workers should take to ease their affordability problems — other than voting for him.

In fact, the proven most effective way for workers to increase their pay and improve their working conditions hasn’t been to vote Conservative but rather to join a union and, when necessary, go on strike.

Still, despite the success of unions in increasing their workers’ pay — unionized workers in Canada have received on average about $5 more per hour than non-unionized workers over the past decade — Poilievre has never seen much merit in unions. Indeed, he’s sided with corporate interests that have persistently acted to suppress unions.

In 2012, when Poilievre was a young parliamentary secretary, he pushed hard for Canada to adopt notorious “right-to-work” laws, which are favoured by corporations because they undermine unions. Barack Obama famously described them as being about “the right to work for less.”

Back then, the bespectacled Poilievre was a far-right political gadfly. His support for “right-to-work” laws — which originated in the U.S. South to weaken unions and their efforts to promote a cross-racial brotherhood of workers — was regarded as too extreme by even the staunchly anti-labour Harper government.

Today, the smoothed-down, done-over Poilievre is less overtly waging class war on behalf of the corporate elite. Instead of focusing on crushing unions, he now presents himself as battling the more neutral-sounding “affordability crisis.”

That's quite a contrast with Joe Biden, who last week joined a picket line in Michigan. Poilievre has a hard time talking the talk. And he's incapable of walking the walk.

Image: France 24