Friday, January 20, 2017

Neanderthals



Donald Trump's cabinet choices make it clear that one of his administration's prime directives will be to protect and entrench the fossil fuel industry. George Monbiot writes:

Trump is the president that corporate luddites have dreamed of: the man who will let them squeeze every last cent from their oil and coal reserves before they become worthless. They need him because science, technology and people’s demands for a safe and stable world have left them stranded. There is no fair fight that they can win, so their last hope lies with a government that will rig the competition.

The most obvious signal of Trump's intention is the appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State:

By appointing Rex Tillerson, chief executive of the oil company ExxonMobil, as secretary of state, Trump not only assures the fossil economy that it sits next to his heart, he also provides comfort to another supporter: Vladimir Putin. It was Tillerson who brokered the $500bn (£407bn) deal between Exxon and the state-owned Russian company Rosneft to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic. As a result he was presented with the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin.

But Trump's other appointments underscore his prime directive:

Trump’s nominations for energy secretary and interior secretary are both climate change deniers, who – quite coincidentally – have a long history of sponsorship by the fossil fuel industry. His proposed attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, allegedly failed to disclose in his declaration of interests that he leases land to an oil company.

The man nominated to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has spent much of his working life campaigning against … the Environmental Protection Agency. As the attorney general in Oklahoma, he launched 14 lawsuits against the EPA, seeking, among other aims, to strike down its Clean Power Plan, its limits on the mercury and other heavy metals released by coal plants and its protection of drinking water supplies and wildlife. Thirteen of these suits were said to include as co-parties companies that had contributed to his campaign funds or to political campaign committees affiliated to him.
 
Last year was the warmest year on record. The two previous years broke the previous records. We were told that Neanderthals became extinct thousands of years ago. We were misinformed. They are alive and congregating in Washington. They will eventually die out -- along with every other living species.

Image: The Guardian

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mr. Wonderful?


Kevin O'Leary is in. But Brent Rathgeber isn't impressed by either O'Leary or his prospects:

The first few times I saw Kevin O’Leary harshly criticize a contestant, I thought it was so over the top that it had to be contrived. His affected viciousness repelled me; predictably, it also earned him a seat on the American copycat program Shark Tank. The American entertainment industry has a history of embracing the obnoxious.

There are those in the Conservative Party that are trying on Trump Lite for size:

We’ve already seen some of the worst aspects of the excruciating 2016 American presidential campaign migrate north. Kellie Leitch’s opportunistic proposal to screen potential immigrants for their embrace of ‘Canadian values’ is carefully nebulous, allowing it to send different messages to different people. Steven Blaney wants to revoke citizenship for terrorists and ban the niqab from the public service. Red meat for the anti-Muslim crowd.

Both Leitch and Blaney went after Maxime Bernier last night in Quebec City, before and during the French language debate, for campaigning to end corporate welfare after having handed out the pork as Stephen Harper’s industry minister. Leitch, the queen of the drive-by smear, quickly issued a press release calling Bernier a “liar and a fraud.”

But O'Leary sees himself as the Trump of the North -- a notion that Rathgeber doesn't think will fly:

I believe the Trump phenomenon was more an accident then the beginning of a trend. He’s the outcome of an unlikely collision between multiple factors: a deeply disillusioned electorate, fear of undocumented workers ‘stealing’ jobs, fear of terrorists — or anybody who looks like he might be one — and a very, very unpopular Democratic nominee. Take away any one of those factors, and Trump loses.

And the conditions that could permit the ascent of ‘Trump Lite’ simply don’t exist here. Undocumented Mexicans ‘stealing’ Canadian jobs? That’s not even a thing. Terrorism? Canada hasn’t been immune from terrorist attacks — but mass shootings are, thankfully, rare here. Stephen Harper tried to capitalize on islamophobia in 2015 but the barbaric cultural practices ‘snitch line’ and the war on the niqab were soundly rejected by the electorate.

Finally, there’s the obvious: Justin Trudeau is no Hillary Clinton. I may disagree with many of the current government’s policies, but Trudeau is young, hip, photogenic and (politics aside) personally very likeable. Moreover, Canadians already have had the opportunity to “drain the swamp” — and to some extent they did so in 2015.

Rathgeber is betting that Canadians will understand that Mr. Wonderful is not who he says he is.

Image: sharktankmrwonderful.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Restoring Character



God knows, governments are imperfect and the source of great frustration. Some suggest that the antidote is to run government like a business. On Friday, Donald Trump says that he will run the United States like a business. And, starting today, Kevin O'Leary is making the same pitch.

But, Mark Bulgutch writes, applying business principles to government doesn't solve the problems -- because business suffers from the same problems:

Volkswagen programmed its engines to control emissions only when they were being tested in labs. Once those engines hit the road, they emitted 40 times more pollution. Not to be outdone, Fiat Chrysler installed engine software to disguise the fact that illegal amounts of nitrogen oxides were getting into the air. To be clear, this wasn’t accidental. In the words of the California Air Resources Board, “A major automaker made the business decision to skirt the rules.”

Takata put faulty airbags in millions of North American cars. Then it prepared falsified reports to cover it up. At least 16 people have been killed by those airbags exploding violently.

The Walmart in Fort McMurray, Alta., has been hit with 174 charges of selling food unfit for human consumption after last year’s terrible wildfires. Walmart reacted to the charges with a carefully worded statement that doesn’t deny anything. It just says it worked closely with food inspectors. Those same food inspectors say they gave Walmart guidance in person and in writing and that what the store did was, “a direct and avoidable risk to the health of this community.”

The antidote to corruption in government or business is character, not technocratic expertise. And, these days, money seems to corrupt character:

Money is literally the bottom line for business. There’s no such thing as too much. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported this month that the 100 top CEOs in Canada made an average of $9.5 million dollars in 2015. The top earner was Michael Pearson of Valeant Pharmaceuticals. He made $182.9 million. That’s about 536 times more than our prime minister makes. Looks like the government made a good deal.

Politicians, who now raise money 24/7, are looking for a piece of that action. Take money out of politics and you just might restore the character of its participants. 

Image: Before It's News

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

No Catharsis



Donald Trump is the new LBJ. That's Richard Cohen's conclusion in this morning's Washington Post. And, like Lyndon Johnson, his presidency is doomed:

But Trump ought to pay attention to [John] Lewis and what he represents. The president-elect will take the oath with a minority of the popular vote — a substantial deficit of almost 3 million votes. He enters the Oval Office with historically dismal poll numbers, lower now than right after he won the election. He has done nothing to woo the majority of Americans who rejected his candidacy and has, instead, adhered to his schoolyard habit of tweeting his every grievance, denigrating his every critic, making cameos with vaccine and global-warming doubters and, as if to show some versatility, rascals such as Don King and Kanye West. It is a “Gong Show” with no gong in sight.

Lyndon Johnson would no doubt warn Trump that he is already on thin ice and he will plunge through it the moment Congress takes the measure of his unpopularity. Johnson was a man of huge political abilities and experience, and his achievements in civil rights entitled him to greatness. Yet, when Vietnam went sour, so did the public, and it seemed, after a while, that his personal characteristics, scathingly caricatured by artists such as David Levine and Jules Feiffer, oozed out of him so that they obscured both him and his accomplishments. He was deemed capable of anything — of lying and perversion of all kinds. This is where Trump stands now.

Trump has a sense of self. But he has no sense of history. So don't expect him to take any lessons from that quarter. However, there are also lessons to be gained from Greek Tragedy:

Meanwhile, Trump will have his moment, that’s for sure, but when things go wrong he will be chased from office — just like Johnson once was. The ancient Greeks knew why: A man’s character is his fate. In that case, Trump’s presidency is doomed. 

 When the end comes, there will be no sense of catharsis.

Image: jarofquotes.com

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sabotaging The Economy


American stock markets have skyrocketed since the election of Donald Trump. The president-elect and giddy investors think they're on the cusp of Reagan 2.0. But, Ruchir Sharma writes, they can't go back to 1981:

The forces that underlie economic growth have weakened significantly since the Reagan years, worldwide. No nation, no matter how exceptional, can try to grow faster than economic forces allow without the risk of provoking a volatile boom-bust cycle.

The potential growth rate of an economy is roughly determined — and limited — by the sum of two factors: population and productivity. An economy can grow steadily only by adding more workers, or by increasing output per worker. During the Reagan years, both population and productivity were growing at around 1.7 percent a year, so the potential United States growth rate was close to 3.5 percent. In short, Reagan did not push the nation’s economic engine to run faster than it could handle.

In recent years, America’s population and productivity growth have fallen to around .75 percent each, generously measured, so potential economic growth is roughly 1.5 percent, less than half the rate of the Reagan era. Any policy package that aims to push an economy beyond its potential could easily backfire — in the form of higher deficits and inflation.

Like all conservatives these days, the Republicans want to turn back the clock:

The nub of the problem here is nostalgia for a bygone era. The postwar world grew accustomed to the rapid growth made possible by the baby boom. Not every country with rapid population growth enjoyed a steady economic boom, but few economies boomed without it. And for most countries, the era of population growth is now over.

The pressure of falling population growth means that every class of countries needs to adopt a new math of economic success, and bring its definition of strong growth down by a full point or more. For developed nations like the United States, with average incomes over $25,000, any rate above 1.5 percent should be seen as relatively good.

As they have done before, the Republicans will sabotage the economy -- and try to blame it on somebody else. 

Image: OpEdNews

Sunday, January 15, 2017

They Have To Speak French


Back in the 1990's -- when Preston Manning burst on the scene -- a new kind of sign sprouted on lawns in my neck of the woods. Its message was blunt: "No more prime ministers from Quebec." The sign's unstated assumption was that French is spoken only in la belle province. But, when Brian Mulroney was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Stephen Maher writes, that he

liked to tell Conservatives that they had to choose a leader who could speak both languages. “There are 102 ridings in the country with a francophone population over 10 per cent,” he said. “In the last election the Liberals won 100 of them, we won two. You give Pierre Trudeau a head start of 100 seats and he’s going to beat you 10 times out of 10.”

New Brunswick is our only officially bilingual province. Manitoba has a significant French population. And northern Alberta also has a a significant number of French communities. That's why Maher maintains that, if the Conservatives choose a leader who can't speak French, they'll lose. His or her French doesn't have to be perfect:

It is not necessary to speak both languages as well as the Trudeaus, Mulroney or Tom Mulcair. Stephen Harper never captured the music of the langue de Molière, and Jack Layton’s Montreal street French sometimes sounded too folksy, but both politicians were able to express themselves, which is what is necessary.

It works the same the other way. Jean Chretien’s English was not elegant, but he could communicate enough effectively to hammer home his point.

Chretien's syntax could be just as fractured in French as it was in English. But the message was always the same -- and Canadians knew it.

What does that mean for the Conservative candidates?  In the upcoming French only debate:

Chris Alexander will be good, and Michael Chong, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole ought to be able to unspool some talking points, but Brad Trost, Kellie Leitch and Lisa Raitt face de facto disqualification if they parler Français comme une vache Espagnole.

The same rule will apply to whomever the New Democrats choose to be their leader. Prime Ministers don't have to come from Quebec. But they have to speak French.

Image: J.J's Complete Guide To Canada

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sunny Ways Don't Work With Him



Justin Trudeau is encountering a lot of blowback these days. His cash for access troubles have him in hot water. And his announcement yesterday that the oil sands will have to be phased out will be met with cold fury in Alberta. But these are nothing compared to the blizzard that's blowing in from Washington. Michael Harris writes:

Forget about Trudeau’s domestic adversaries — his most deadly political foe is a real estate mogul and part-time president of the United States. As Trudeau fares against Trump on a handful of key policy areas, so his government will rise or fall.

That’s not to say that there aren’t domestic issues that matter. There are, including the still-unlamented Bill C-51, broken promises on the environment, and a sophomoric attempt at electoral reform. But Trump will cast a far longer shadow over public affairs in this country than any of them.

Harris goes on to catalogue the types of nasty weather that will blow across the border:

You can be certain that the Trump government will return to one of the preoccupations of U.S. policy: getting Canada to agree to a ballistic missile defence shield (BMD). The Americans have been trying to make this sale ever since Ronald Reagan saw Star Wars one too many times. In 2005, Paul Martin turned down the Americans on joining BDM, even though President Bush personally lobbied him on it.

In the course of throwing other toys out of his policy pram on his way to the White House, Trump has promised to rip up NAFTA. He already has, in a way, because the Tweeter-in-Chief has threatened General Motors, Ford and Toyota with a “big border tax” for building cars in Mexico. That, of course, is illegal under NAFTA — which is why he wants to tear it up.

And if Trump is ready to violate trade treaties and walk away from NAFTA if he can’t get the changes he wants, imagine what he’ll be asking of Canada in these negotiations. You can bet he’ll be playing shamelessly to his own lumber lobby by placing restrictions on Canadian softwood lumber going into the United States.

And while maximizing production in the U.S. and insisting on favourable trade balances with his trading partners, Trump will come after other major concessions from Canada. The Americans have always wanted market access to our agricultural sector, and it will come as no surprise when they demand in a new NAFTA an open door to dairy products.

And that’s to say nothing of Canada’s highly vulnerable auto industry, which will soon catch the eye of a man who would sooner see its jobs in Michigan under his ‘America First’ initiative.

All those clips of Trump in and out of the WWE ring are part of the Donald Trump Show. Sunny ways don't work with him.

Image: Mic/WWE