Friday, December 09, 2016

Must Have A Wooden Head

Donald Trump wants to turn back the clock to the days when low skilled manufacturing jobs were king. That won't happen. But, Paul Krugman writes, Trump's appointment of Scott Pruitt -- climate denier and fossil fuel friend -- to run  the EPA may bring back the heavy smog which used to blanket places like Los Angeles and Huston:

Choking smog was quite common in major cities; in the Los Angeles area, extreme pollution alerts, sometimes accompanied by warnings that even healthy adults should stay indoors and move as little as possible, were fairly common.

It’s far better now — not perfect, but much better. These days, to experience the kind of pollution crisis that used to be all too frequent in Los Angeles or Houston, you have to go to places like Beijing or New Delhi. And the improvement in air quality has had clear, measurable benefits. For example, we’re seeing significant improvements in lung function among children in the Los Angeles area, clearly tied to reduced pollution.

That improvement was accomplished by what the Trumpists and Mr. Pruitt, in particular, are opposed to -- government regulation:

The key point is that better air didn’t happen by accident: It was a direct result of regulation — regulation that was bitterly opposed at every step by special interests that attacked the scientific evidence of harm from pollution, meanwhile insisting that limiting their emissions would kill jobs.

These special interests were, as you might guess, wrong about everything. The health benefits of cleaner air are overwhelmingly clear. Meanwhile, experience shows that a growing economy is perfectly consistent with an improving environment. In fact, reducing pollution brings large economic benefits once you take into account health care costs and the effects of lower pollution on productivity.

The historian Barbara Tuchman argued that the cause of national folly was woodenheadedness -- the inability of leaders to adapt to changed circumstances -- and to fashion policies to deal with those circumstances.

With each cabinet appointment, it becomes clear that the incoming president hires people like himself. First and foremost, they must have woodenheads.

Image: nightshade-keyblade

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Transferring Personalities

Andrew Coyne writes that the Conservative Party has reached a fork in the road. It can, he writes, either be a party of big ideas or small fears:

Will it be the party of big ideas, or small fears? The party of free markets and limited government, or the party of nativism and intolerance? The party of equality, unity and civility, or the party of race-baiting, identity tests and virulent us-and-them polemics?

Will it embrace the conservatism of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney — or the know-nothing populism of Donald Trump, his imitators and idolators?

Clearly, Coyne would prefer that the party be disciples of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney rather than Trump. But there's a problem. Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney's ideas are failed ideas. And the fears  people like Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander are fanning are not small. Now Leitch wants women to  legally be able to carry pepper spray. There's a reason she's now being referred to as Dr. Pepper. More worrisome is the clear indication that she is casting her lot with White Supremacists.

I've always thought of the modern Conservative Party as the Harper Party because it has been -- essentially -- a cult of personality. And with no new ideas to run on, it risks transferring its cult of personality to another personality -- The Great Orange Id.

Image: Slide Player

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Turning The Hen House Over To The Fox

George Monbiot writes that McDonald's has not been good for democracy:

I do not mean that the presence of the burger chain itself is the cause of the decline of open, democratic societies (though it has played its part in Britain, using our defamation laws against its critics). Nor do I mean that countries hosting McDonald’s will necessarily mutate into dictatorships.

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos.

And that phenomenon finds expression in international trade deals:

Above all, the power that should belong to the people is being crushed by international treaty. Contracts such as Nafta, Ceta the proposed TransPacific Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement and the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are crafted behind closed doors in discussions dominated by corporate lobbyists. And those lobbyists are able to slip in clauses no informed electorate would ever approve of, such as the establishment of opaque offshore tribunals, through which corporations can bypass national courts, challenge national laws and demand compensation for the results of democratic decisions.

These treaties limit the scope of politics, prevent states changing social outcomes and drive down labour rights, consumer protection, financial regulation and the quality of neighbourhoods. They make a mockery of sovereignty. Anyone who forgets that striking them down was one of Donald Trump’s main promises will fail to understand why people were prepared to risk so much in electing him.

The rising populist anger around the world is a rejection of the kind of capitalism McDonald's represents. Unfortunately, when nations put men and women like Trump, Putin, Orbán, Erdoğan, Salvini, Duterte, Le Pen and Farage in power, they turn the hen house over to the fox.

Image: Freedom Works

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Alt Right Of The North

Ezra Levant wants to be the Steve Bannon of Canadian politics. It was Levant who organized the rally which Chris Alexander recently addressed in Edmonton. And it is Levant who founded Rebel Media, which fancies itself a northern version of Bannon's  Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

The Rebel is currently on an expansion kick, running a crowdfunding campaign to become “bigger than the CBC”, in the words of founder and (ahem) ‘Rebel Commander’ Ezra Levant. Which is ironic, perhaps, since not talking to the “mainstream media” was the first of many pages event organizers ripped from Trump’s playbook.

Levant urged the crowd to not talk with CBC reporters, calling them extremists and activists. More irony: The Rebel squealed in outrage when the Alberta government temporarily banned it from press events earlier this year, using pretty much the same argument that Levant used to boycott the CBC — that Rebel Media employees are activists, not journalists. The Rebel subsequently proved the government was right all along by taking on an activist role in organizing the rally.

Levant and the other Trump acolytes chanted "Lock Her Up!" when Alexander mentioned Rachel Notley's name. The comparison to Hillary Clinton is not only unfair, it is grossly inaccurate:

Unlike Clinton, Notley has never been accused of criminal behaviour; there is no legal basis whatsoever for even thinking of ‘locking her up’. The only basis for the crowd’s chant is political: They don’t like her politics, particularly her climate change plan that will impose emissions caps on the province’s oil industry. (That plan, of course, was one of the factors in getting the federal government to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline — a quid pro quo the Edmonton crowd seemed unlikely to appreciate.)

The incident illustrates what has happened to Conservative politics in the wake of the party's election defeat:

And that explains why the tactic is being aped now in the Conservative race: It worked. Playing Trump lite is paying dividends for fellow Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, whose immigrant screening proposal and pro-Trump cheerleading has helped vault her to the front of the pack in recent opinion polls. Fellow candidate Steven Blaney piggybacked on the same sentiments when he announced plans to ban the wearing of the niqab in the public service — hardly the most pressing issue of the day for most Canadians, but one which heated up during the recent PQ leadership race, also on the back of the Trump campaign.

The Conservative Party may morph into the Alt Right Of The North.

Image: Macleans

Monday, December 05, 2016

Tweetie Pie In The White House

Donald Trump's communications strategy is simple: demonize the press and communicate through Twitter. Tweetie Pie will soon leave his golden cage and move to the White House. And, while Trump really is a cartoon, that development is no joke -- because journalists and journalism are under a great deal of financial pressure these days. Michael Harris writes:

Dying democracies and a dying free press are getting to be a universal phenomenon — and the guys who are driving the process are cultists like Donald Trump — on both the left and the right.

All politicians lie, but it usually takes awhile to catch them out. Bill on Monica, the elder Bush on new taxes, Nixon on … pretty much everything. But according to PolitiFact, 78 per cent of the statements made by Donald Trump are either false, grossly false, or pants-on-fire lies. He doesn’t even seem to care if Americans know he is lying, he lies anyway.

If the free press ceases to function, there will be no one to call out Mr. Trump's lies. More importantly, there will be no one to expose Mr. Trump's intellectual limitations -- which are considerable.

So it is in Trump's self interest to destroy the free press. In that regard, he is a lot like Stephen Harper:

For years in Canada, former PM Stephen Harper told whopper after whopper. He seemed to think that whatever he said became fact, especially if he said it enough times. Lies about the F-35, the health of the economy, regulating the energy sector, the environment, and global affairs — Canadians got them all in a steady stream of mendacity.

Like Trump, Harper despised the check and balance of a free press. That’s because it represented the most powerful alternative source of information to the government that existed — one capable of going behind his bully pulpit, his misrepresentations and lies and exposing them, as was eventually done on the true costs of the F-35 stealth fighter. So Harper avoided press conferences, and interviews, and even created a weekly news show where he reported on himself at the taxpayers’ expense.

We've seen this cartoon before. Tweetie Pie was a bad joke.

Image: Quotesgram

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

It's beginning to look like electoral reform is dead in the water. In the end, Chantal Hebert writes, our political parties could not rise above partisan self interest:

The Conservatives came into this discussion riding the referendum horse, and they come out of it more firmly in the saddle.

They have not budged an inch from their sense that the first-past-the-post system remains the best option. But they have found support from the other opposition parties for their contention that any change should clear the hurdle of a national vote.

That support is more tactical than principled.

Even as they are part of a pro-referendum consensus, the New Democrats, for instance, continue to argue that it is not necessarily essential to put a reform to a national vote prior to its implementation.
If the Liberals set out to put in place the more proportional voting system the New Democrats crave, the government could find support on their benches for dispensing with a referendum.

But it's the Liberals who have truly bungled this file:

As for the Liberals, they have managed to turn a secondary policy front into a field of ruins.

With the logistical clock ticking on moving to a different voting system in time for 2019, the government waited eight months to set up a process to follow up on the prime minister’s election promise.

It never articulated a set of principles that might guide its management of the file.

The Liberals went into the debate with a known preference for a ranked ballot but could not be bothered or could not find a critical mass of intervenors to advance that option.

The Liberal committee members ended up rejecting the time frame set by their own leader to achieve a reform as unrealistic and the notion of a more proportional system as too radical. 

Electoral reform is an idea whose time has come. But it looks like it's an idea that will end, not with a bang, but a whimper. 

Image: Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Post Truth Era

Several commentators have suggested that the ascension of Donald Trump marks the beginning of the Post Truth Era. George Monbiot writes that, in fact, we have been living in the Post Truth Era for some time now. Over the past fifteen years,

I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.

Consider, most particularly, those who have battled the idea that the climate is changing:

The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.

Among those I clashed with was Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI calls itself a thinktank, but looks to me like a corporate lobbying group. It is not transparent about its funding, but we now know it has received $2m from ExxonMobil, more than $4m from a group called the Donors Trust (which represents various corporations and billionaires), $800,000 from groups set up by the tycoons Charles and David Koch, and substantial sums from coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

And then there are those who see organized labour as their mortal enemy:

Charles and David Koch – who for years have funded extreme pro-corporate politics – might not have been enthusiasts for Trump’s candidacy, but their people were all over his campaign. Until June, Trump’s campaign manager was Corey Lewandowski, who like other members of Trump’s team came from a group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

This purports to be a grassroots campaign, but it was founded and funded by the Koch brothers. It set up the first Tea Party Facebook page and organised the first Tea Party events. With a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, AFP has campaigned ferociously on issues that coincide with the Koch brothers’ commercial interests in oil, gas, minerals, timber and chemicals.

In Michigan, it helped force through the “right to work bill”, in pursuit of what AFP’s local director called “taking the unions out at the knees”. It has campaigned nationwide against action on climate change. It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into unseating the politicians who won’t do its bidding and replacing them with those who will.

Trump portrays himself as the friend of the common man.  His friends, however, are not friends of the common man. But in the Post Truth Era, that fact is irrelevant.

Image: Joe.My.God