Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Making The Same Mistake

Stephane Dion stepped in it last week when he suggested that the UN Human Rights Council choose someone other than Michael Lynk as Special Repporteur for the Palestinian Territories. Apparently, M. Dion has been consulting with UN Watch, a pro Israeli lobby group. He would have done well to talk to people who are familiar with Lynk and his work. Michael Harris writes that Joanna Quinn, director of the Centre for Transitional Justice and Post Conflict at the University of Western Ontario -- where Lynk teaches -- supports Lynk's nomination unreservedly. She says:

“I would like to emphasize that Professor Lynk’s scholarship and public outreach … have consistently held that there must be war crimes accountability for individuals involved both with Israel and with Palestine. His analysis has been fair-minded.”

William Kaplan, a former law professor at the University Ottawa, says:

“I have known and been a professional colleague of Michael Lynk for over thirty years. “He is principled and honourable. This guy is even-handed and fair-minded … Instead of attacking him, and quoting him unfairly out of context, I wish everyone would take a deep breath, take a reflective look at his scholarship, and give him the chance to do his job and then judge him on the job he does.”

And the NDP's Craig Scott, a professor at Osgoode Hall, called "the work of UN Watch, as re-circulated by other groups, “a piece of character assassination.” He described Lynk’s work as “careful, measured … and mainstream.”

The Harper government made the mistake of assuming that the Netanyahu government spoke for all of Israel. It would appear that the Trudeau government is making the same mistake.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Not On His Father's Terms

There are those who claim that Justin Trudeau became prime minister because of his name. And, in his first months in office, I find myself comparing him -- unfavourably -- to his father. Lawrence Martin argues that, in many ways, Justin is not his father's son. And that is all for the better:

In fact, the case could well be made that Justin Trudeau is a more complex individual than his father, deeper in terms of his range of emotions and vulnerabilities, broader in terms of of his interests and relationships. The father tended to limit his reading to non-fiction. Justin, while having studied engineering as well the humanities, was a habitual reader of novels, arguing in his home that “encyclopedias could teach me facts, but only a great story could transport me into the mind of another person.

While the father who lived only in Central Canada loathed the politics of door-knocking, the son who lived on the West Coast for a period revelled in it, developing a closer relationship with and understanding of regular people. The father moved through life into his forties as a boulevardier, generally doing as he pleased, experiencing little in the way of hardship. While benefiting from the security that parental wealth brings, Justin Trudeau has had experiences far more trying.

Justin has admitted as much. Trudeau the Elder

gave him books, one of which, as Justin Trudeau wrote about in his own memoir Common Ground, was about extraordinary steps to be taken to adapt to emotional agonies. “My father’s approach, which he encouraged me to practise, had little or nothing to do with emotions. It was exclusively intellectual.” But that approach didn’t work with Justin. Preoccupying him instead was the psychological turmoil of his mother, Margaret. “My mother’s challenge was to deal with her emotions, and I became caught up in that process.”

Time will tell just what kind of prime minister Trudeau the Younger will be. But perhaps we do him a disservice if we try to measure him using his father as a rubric.


Monday, March 28, 2016

No Paragons Of Virtue

We in the West were appalled by what happened in Brussels last week. But Chris Hedges reminds us that war promotes depravity on all sides. And, most certainly, our hands are not clean:

The Christian religion embraces the concept of “holy war” as fanatically as Islam does. Our Crusades are matched by the concept of jihad. Once religion is used to sanctify murder there are no rules. It is a battle between light and dark, good and evil, Satan and God. Rational discourse is banished. And “the sleep of reason,” as Goya said, “brings forth monsters.”

Flags, patriotic songs, a deification of the warrior and sentimental drivel drown out reality. We communicate in empty clichés and mindless, patriotic absurdities. Mass culture is used to reinforce the lie that we are the true victims. It re-creates the past to conform to the national heroic myth. We alone are said to possess virtue and courage. We alone have the right to revenge. We are hypnotized into a communal somnolence, a state-induced blindness.

We bewail the murder of innocent civilians. But consider the following:

Have we forgotten our bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War II that left 800,000 civilian women, children and men dead? What about those families we obliterated in Dresden (135,000 dead), Tokyo (97,000 dead), Hiroshima (80,000 dead) and Nagasaki (66,000 dead)? What about the 3 million civilian dead we left behind in Vietnam?

We dropped 32 tons of bombs per hour on North Vietnam between 1965 and 1968—hundreds of Hiroshimas. And, as Nick Turse writes in his book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam,” this tonnage does not count the “millions of gallons of chemical defoliants, millions of pounds of chemical gases, and endless canisters of napalm; cluster bombs, high-explosive shells, and daisy-cutter bombs that obliterated everything within a ten-football-field diameter; antipersonnel rockets, high-explosive rockets, incendiary rockets, grenades by the millions, and myriad different kinds of mines.”

Have we forgotten the millions who died in our wars and proxy wars in the Philippines, Congo, Laos, Cambodia, Guatemala, Indonesia, El Salvador and Nicaragua? Have we forgotten the 1 million dead in Iraq and the 92,000 dead in Afghanistan? Have we forgotten the nearly 8 million people we have driven from their homes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria?

There have been 87,000 coalition sorties over Iraq and Syria since the air campaign against Islamic State began. This is the newest chapter in our endless war against the wretched of the earth.

The psychologist Rollo May wrote:

At the outset of every war … we hastily transform our enemy into the image of the daimonic; and then, since it is the devil we are fighting, we can shift onto a war footing without asking ourselves all the troublesome and spiritual questions that the war arouses. We no longer have to face the realization that those we are killing are persons like ourselves.

The truth is that "the enemy" are people like us. And we are no paragons of virtue.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Final Word On Rob Ford

I have resisted writing anything on the death of Rob Ford. I am -- perhaps -- the least objective commentator on the late former mayor of Toronto. But, last week, Rick Salutin wrote a fair assessment of the man and his followers:

Terms used to describe Ford Nation include ordinary Canadians and average guys. But that’s statistically inaccurate and something else is implied: what once were called commoners, plebs, masses; they’re who Ford connected with. He never condescended to them, he was incapable of that. He felt too far down the pole himself, socially and, it seems, in his family, where he was youngest and least smart. He made a virtue of that by not looking down on others.

The elites in the United States have been condescending to ordinary folks for decades, and they have produced Donald Trump -- who sounds like Ford on steroids:

Trump is a similar figure but so different. Trump condescends to everyone, even if he too is heavy with neediness. But people at his rallies can’t identify with him: he affects such superiority. He floats (or flies) far above them. He gives crap to the people who condescend to them and they love him, or at least pay him homage, for it. But it’s not the love his Nation bore Ford, who’d never have waxed on about his own personal beauty or brilliance, or having one of the best brains I’ve ever seen etc.
You’d never find Trump alone in a fast food place, blasted out of his skull, doing island accents. And you’d never hear Trump say he must’ve tried crack “in one of my drunken stupors.” That shows far more self-awareness, even irony, than Trump ever has. Give the edge to Rob Ford there. In fact when it comes to right-wing populist demagogues, I’ll take ours, may he rest in peace, any day.

In the end, everything caught up with Ford -- the bombast, the crack, the erratic judgement, the intemperate lifestyle. There are no signs that Trump will meet the same fate.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

One More Sacred Cow

The Liberals' budget has slain one sacred cow -- the notion that deficits are intolerable. Scott Clark and Peter Devries write that there is one more cow to be dispatched -- the idea that Stephen Harper's cuts to the GST are cast in stone:

How will these future growth initiatives be financed? Or, for that matter, how will the remaining election promises be funded, if at all? The government is already forecasting a deficit of about $29-billion in 2016-17 and 2017-18, falling to just under $15-billion in 2020-21. The budget projects a relatively stable debt-to-GDP ratio over the period of about 31 per cent. In other words, running larger deficits in future budgets to finance new spending is not an option, since this would violate the government’s only remaining fiscal anchor.

There is some cushion in the budget, which the government might be tempted to use for new spending. The deficit projections include a $6-billion annual prudence reserve, which reflects the high level of risk and uncertainty in the global economy.

The real problem is that the Liberals are still playing by Harper's rules:

Currently, the government is trying to squeeze a Liberal policy agenda into financial constraints imposed by the previous Conservative government. Former prime minister Stephen Harper must be quietly chuckling to himself as the government struggles with this impossibility. After all, he set the trap for future governments by cutting two points off the goods and services tax, which “starved” the federal government of $15-billion a year. He was betting, perhaps correctly, that any future government would be afraid to restore the cuts to the GST.

Clark and Devries believe that now is the time to call in Harper's chips:

Would Canadians accept restoring two points to the GST in order to finance programs and services they believe are important to Canada? We think they would. Canadians (especially seniors) are, largely, “small c” fiscal conservatives. They don’t want the 1970s and 1980s all over again. They don’t want another 1995 budget (we certainly don’t). They don’t want unchecked deficit financing and they will punish any government that tries it.

They believe that Harper's GST cuts were "the worse tax policy change ever made."
There is one more sacred cow to go. 


Friday, March 25, 2016

The Bright Lights Aren't Burning

We in the West were appalled by this week's terrorist attacks in Brussels. At almost the same time, there was an attack in Ankara. Micheal Harris writes:

Just before ISIS operatives set off bombs in Brussels, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks detonated a car bomb in Turkey near a transportation hub, killing 37 and injuring 70 more. A closely-timed second attack killed four more people. In fact, Turkey has been beset by a spate of bombings by Kurdish separatists and ISIS, who in 2015 alone killed 141 and injured 910 others.

While the world mourned Brussels, Ankara was treated as a mere regional event. Case in point: After this week’s Brussels bombings, European countries raised the Belgian flag above their national monuments — a fitting tribute. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag, as was One World Trade Center in New York (though in truth, the colours looked more like red, white and blue).

Malala Yousafzai reminded us that the only difference in the attacks was where they took place, not who the victims were:

“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIS? … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it, because that cannot stop terrorism,” she said.

But that's exactly what we are doing -- blaming all Muslims. In the United States, Ted Cruz wants to have special police patrols in Muslim neighbourhoods. And it appears that Americans may choose Donald Trump as their president:

That is astonishing for a few reasons. First of all, Trump has zero experience in fighting terrorism in any official capacity. He has never held public office, and his chief advisor on foreign policy is The Donald. Trump has been widely denounced by military, national security and senior police leaders for his unconstitutional, illegal and flatly dangerous approach to some of America’s deepest problems.

The list is well known. So far Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, deporting 12 million illegal aliens, building a wall on the Mexican border, bringing back torture and instituting racial profiling in Muslim communities in the U.S.

The bright lights aren't burning.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Not A Comforting Thought

The conventional wisdom seems to be that, if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off against each other in November, Hillary will win. Gerry Caplan isn't so sanguine. He writes:

Hillary Clinton is perhaps the best-qualified candidate for the American presidency since Thomas Jefferson and she will lose to Donald Trump in November. Few candidates have had her experience, knowledge and competence to be president, which is also one of the Achilles heels that will bring her down.

Ms. Clinton has for years been among the bright stars in that political establishment that so many Americans blame for their poor fortunes. It’s these millions of disillusioned Americans who gave us Donald Trump and who almost gave Ms. Clinton Bernie Sanders. Can Ms. Clinton present herself as the person who understands their grievances and who can credibly promise to address them?

While Trump would be a disaster as president, all of Clinton's experience has caught up with her. And it won't just be Trump who will be fighting Clinton:

First comes the Republican Party, and, broken as it by its own crackpot ideas and internal stresses, it remains a power in the land. We must never forget that the mediocrities who lost to Barack Obama still won more than 46 per cent of all the votes cast: Mitt Romney, John McCain-Sarah Palin! Despite everything, Mr. Trump is likely to get those same Republican votes, and won’t need many more to win.

Second comes the real power in American political-economic life, a vast extremist right-wing conspiracy pervading every corner of the republic, as described by investigative journalist Jane Mayer in her powerful and deeply chilling new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Featuring the reactionary oil barons Charles and David Koch and their fellow ultraconservative billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, this is a tale of how money hijacks democracy in the United States.

Once the final act of the 2016 presidential campaign begins, their sole target will be Ms. Clinton. Despite her closeness to the 1 per cent, they hate her beyond explanation. Almost a billion dollars in advertising, social media, ground organizing and dirty tricks of every possible kind will be launched at her. She won’t know what hit her.

The problem with riding on the back of the tiger is that, eventually, the tiger decides to have lunch. Not a comforting thought for the rider or for those of us north of the border.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The 2016 Budget

Reaction to yesterday's budget has been predictable. On the Right, Andrew Coyne writes that the budget is "one for the 1970's to address problems from the 1980's." On the Left, Andrew Jackson -- of the Broadbent Institute -- writes, "The Budget reinvests significantly and appropriately in many important programs broadly in line with the promises made in the Liberal platform." And former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page writes that the budget announces "big policy initiatives," but is "short on fiscal prudence."

Page admits that some of the big promises have been kept. But he worries about the future:

Put in perspective, the increase in federal direct program spending is large (representing one per cent of GDP). This budget is not like previous Conservative budgets. Budget “winners” include First Nations and veterans. While the Conservatives’ stimulus budget in 2009/10 was based largely on temporary measures, the Liberals’ newly announced measures represent ongoing spending. Like recent Conservative budgets, however, there was precious little to address military procurement issues. This can was kicked down the road again.

The government has put forth some big policy initiatives but they are failing short on fiscal prudence. There are a number of red flags that merit closer attention and analysis. The budget and its presentation is premised on growing the middle class. However, there is no diagnostic or definition of the middle class in the budget.

Perhaps that's because everyone likes to think of him or herself as middle class. And, while it is true that there appear to be very few defined constraints, the government has based its revenue predictions on $25 oil. I suspect that revenues will exceed projections considerably. And, like Paul Martin, Justin Trudeau will claim that his government has exceeded expectations.

The big questions remains: Will the budget really stimulate the economy?


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Forward, Not Backward

The Conservatives are looking for a new leader. But they have a lot of work to do before they hold a leadership convention. Hugh Segal writes that the last election proved how barren the party has become:

A campaign in which candidates are barred from attending all-candidates’ meetings, or responding to the media, is not a serious effort to seek and earn public favour as, in a democracy, incumbent governments must do. The respectful tone and thoughtful policy proposals that typified Stephen Harper’s earlier campaigns were absent. The reversion to nativism and the tin ear on humanitarian and human-rights issues were, if intended, shameful; if accidental, then grossly incompetent.

Under Harper, the party became a personality cult and forgot who they were. They stopped asking questions, assuming they had all the answers. Segal  believes the following questions must be asked and answered:

Are we to continue repeating the mutual distrust between First Nations and the rest of Canada, or can we build something more inclusive? What is a real partnership and how would the Conservative view of society, identity, duty and opportunity differ from the present assurances?

Is the previous “promise much but underdeliver” stance on Canada’s military deployability the best we can do? Are there other alternatives to the hopeful and aspirational “sunny ways” now in place, and to the Cold War rhetoric that seemed dominant over the past decade? Is there a solid world view that eschews both pessimism and unbridled optimism for a more nuanced, purpose-driven and pragmatic global stance?

The former senator has always been a progressive conservative. Under Harper, the party became fixated on the past -- on 19th century economics, on resources that powered the Industrial Revolution and on social structures best suited to feudal societies.

Before they choose a new leader, the Conservatives will have to learn to look forward, not backward.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Like The Morning Dew

In the last election, Justin Trudeau ran as the Protector of the Environment. That claim took a serious hit last week when his government approved the Woodfibre LNG plant near Squamish, British Columbia. Michael Harris writes:

In giving Woodfibre LNG the green light, the government said the project underwent “a thorough, science-based environmental assessment that considered public and indigenous input and views.” That’s true, except that the project was assessed under the post-C-38 regulations, the bill that gutted traditional safeguards for the environment and transferred the task of environmental review to the provinces.

The Trudeau government had committed to undoing the damage of Harper-era environmental policy, but approved the Kitimat project before resetting the legal framework. Under Harper’s Bill C-38, the environmental review process was eviscerated, whereas under the previous regulatory regime, the public process had been far more rigorous. Opponents were allowed to express alternate opinions, stakeholders could submit briefs and also cross-examine witnesses at the hearings. Had critics been able to fully register their arguments, it is far less likely this project would have won federal approval. 

The approval ignored serious concerns expressed by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May:

As Green Party leader Elizabeth May has noted, Transport Canada has no regulations for the LNG industry. She believes that it is reckless to establish a “highly dangerous” LNG industry in B.C. without considering the possibility that a pierced hull in a ship carrying the commodity could go off “like a bomb” in some circumstances. 

And there are other potential problems:

The LNG can leak out and pool above the water. In the case of a leak over ocean water, the volume of LNG grows once escaped from its frozen condition on board. Such a cloud could be enormous, covering a very large area… Then it can still go off like a bomb. Protecting adjacent populations, especially populated areas from such extremely unlikely events, is the responsibility of the governments.

For politicians, credibility is the coin of the realm. Stephen Harper lost the last election because voters perceived that he lied-- regularly without remorse. Brian Mulroney's prime ministership was over once the Epithet "Lyin' Brian" became common in daily parlance.

Mr.Trudeau should remember that credibility can disappear like the morning dew.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

It's About Quantity And Quality

Tuesday is budget day. The deficit, Justin Trudeau tells us, is about job creation. Carol Goar reminds her readers that job creation is about quality as well as quantity:

This truth never penetrated Stephen Harper’s government.
Year after year, the federal finance minister would proudly announce on budget day that Canada had created tens of thousands of jobs — without mentioning that a growing number were part-time, temporary, casual or short-term. To federal statisticians, finance department officials and cabinet ministers, any job was an employment gain. To laid-off workers and hard-hit communities, these new jobs were a shabby replacement for the full-time positions lost in the manufacturing sector, outsourced to other countries or cut by employers seeking to improve their bottom lines. Many workers needed two — even three — to pay their bills. 

When it comes to job creation, a recent report from Craig Alexander of the C.D. Howe Institute sets out four litmus tests which should be in the upcoming budget:

  • It should make “upskilling” a priority. Creating middle- and low-skill positions won’t spur economic growth or generate the prosperity the Liberals are promising. To raise workers’ incomes, boost productivity and withstand swings in commodity prices, Canada needs a better-trained workforce.

  • It should put employment insurance reform at the top of the federal agenda. The current system is inequitable, outdated and covers fewer than half of the unemployed.

  • It should undertake to provide Canadians with timely, relevant information about the labour market. Graduates need to know which skills are needed in which regions; students need to know which occupations offer the best employment prospects; laid-off workers need to know where there are job vacancies. Neither Statistics Canada nor the federal department of labour publishes this kind of information (although they have the raw data to produce it).

  • It should signal Ottawa’s intention to bring all working-age Canadians into the labour force. As the nation ages, it will become increasingly important to utilize the pools of labour — youth, immigrants, aboriginals, people with disabilities — that are largely untapped. That means systematically dismantling barriers such as unrecognized credentials, lack of marketable skills and prejudice. 

  • Mr. Trudeau claims that his government is different -- in terms  not just of quantity  but of quality. Tuesday is where the rubber hits the road.

    Saturday, March 19, 2016

    Trumping Free Trade

    There's not much to like about Donald Trump. But, Tom Walkom writes, Trump may bring a new perspective to the present conventional wisdom on Free Trade:

    As journalist Thomas Frank noted this week on CBC Radio and earlier in the Guardian, Trump’s success with white working-class voters in the U.S. stems less from his racism and more from his recognition that free trade has cost too many people their jobs.
    In his rambling, stream-of-consciousness speeches, Trump returns again and again to free trade. Does Ford want to build cars in another country? Go ahead, Trump dares the auto giant. But be prepared to pay a stiff tariff on every vehicle you bring into the U.S.

    Does Carrier plan to move its air conditioner manufacturing plant from Indiana to low-wage Mexico? Fine, says Trump. Just don’t expect to sell those air conditioners in the U.S.

    Perhaps Trump too is simply playing politics. Perhaps he’d fall into line with the free-trade needs of corporate America if he won the White House.
    But in the meantime, he and Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders, another free-trade critic, are changing the dynamic of American politics.

    Make no mistake. Trump's supporters are seething with resentment. And, in general, they're pretty ignorant. But they're also the people who have lost their jobs to the globalized race for free trade. Sanders supporters are young and have had no jobs to lose. They know, however, that what "free trade" has left them is McJobs.

    If Trump becomes president, the world will be thrown into chaos. But, if Trump and Sanders force a discussion on free trade which ultimately re-balances the system in terms of who wins and who loses, then perhaps some good will come from the wretched campaign for the American presidency.

    Friday, March 18, 2016

    Let's Hope They Understand That

     The Trudeau government has vowed to "fix" Bill C-51 -- the bill which the Harper government claimed guaranteed Canadians national security. But that guarantee came with a price: the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment were allowed to operate outside the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    In January, Ralph Goodale and David McGuinty headed to Britain to ask for advice about how to fix the bill. But, Michael Harris writes, if they were looking for best practices, Britain -- under David Cameron's government -- was not the place to go:

    This week the Cameron government published its draft version of the Investigatory Powers Bill. It is Britain’s answer to the Apple-versus-the-FBI battle in the United States, where a controversy is raging over privacy issues and the government’s authority to breach the confidentiality of information contained on devices like iPhones.

    The Cameron government’s answer is both draconian and Orwellian, which may explain why 200 senior lawyers have written that the legislation breaches international law and is “unfit” for the its purpose. Why? It utterly destroys any known concept of privacy, and worse, it moves the power to breach that privacy from the judiciary to the government. It is, in plain language, the Big Brother Charter.

    Here’s the price in the UK of folding on the privacy issue. The government would require that internet service providers retain data on their customers, such as browsing records, for twelve months in the event that intelligence agencies decide they need it. According to Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, all of whom oppose the legislation, such legislation would also usher in an era of bulk surveillance, less effective encryption, and circumstances in which the companies would have to hack their own customers.

    Harris argues that Canadians are not prepared for bulk surveillance and they will not accept it. Let's hope Mr. Goodale, Mr. McGunity -- and Mr. Trudeau -- understand that.

    Thursday, March 17, 2016

    Sometimes, You Have To Speak Ill Of The Dead


    Yesterday, Tom Walkom published an interesting piece on the trials and tribulations of Tom Mulcair. They are, Walkom wrote, not all Mulcair's fault. A lot of the blame can be laid at Jack Layton's feet:

    As someone with a record on the party’s left, Layton was uniquely positioned to drag the NDP rightward — which he did with great skill.
    Long-time policies that had little resonance with voters, such as one calling for Canada to pull out of NATO, were quietly jettisoned.

    On the symbolic side, Layton set in motion the process that would finally expunge any reference to “social ownership” from the party’s constitution.

    More to the point, he and his team of bright, modern politicos refocused the party on winning seats. Target demographics were identified and policies created to appeal to them.

    Balancing the budget (except during severe economic downturns) was enshrined as part of official NDP policy. As Mulcair would do later, Layton hewed religiously to fiscal conservatism.
    During the 2008 election campaign, even as the world economy was collapsing and government revenues with it, Layton’s NDP — like the Liberals and Conservatives — promised a balanced budget.

    When Mulcair also promised a balanced budget, he left an opening for Justin Trudeau's Liberals to run to the left of the NDP. It was a huge strategic error. But it was not just Mulcair's strategic error.

    Among New Democrats, there has been a movement to canonize Layton. But there will be no renewal for Dippers until they completely come to terms with his legacy.

    Sometimes, you have to speak ill of the dead.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Keep The Elephant Out Of The Room


    For ten years, Stephen Harper drew his inspiration from the Republican Party. He is now in hiding. Whoever replaces him, Lawrence Martin writes, would be wise not to drink from the same well that Harper did:

    While there probably isn’t much cross-border spillover from the Grand Old Party’s madness, it hardly helps the conservative brand. For Canadian Tories, it would be best if the Republican Party just went away.

    It’s especially the case now, but it has been this way for a long time. Going all the way back to the Eisenhower era, the Republican Party, with one big exception, has served to hinder the interests of Canadian Conservatives. By contrast over the same period, the Democratic Party has served Canadian Liberals well, the latest example being the hug-in between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama last week.

    It's all about values, writes Martin. And Republican values -- despite Harper's repeated insistence -- are not Canadian values:

    Before the GOP descended into the Trump trough, it served up the troglodytes of the Tea Party, a source of ridicule. In presidential sweepstakes, Canadians have favoured Mr. Obama by a wide margin over George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain. In the 1990s, the Newt Gingrich brand of Republicans found little favour here.

    Richard Nixon’s presidency served as a thorn to Tory interests. When he visited Ottawa in 1972, officials took hot-water hoses to the snow on Parliament Hill for fear he would be pelted with snowballs.

    If Canadians could vote in American elections, most of us would be Democrats: 

    The reasons why Canadians favour Democrats, as pollsters such as Mr. Nanos and Frank Graves attest, is because they see Republicans as considerably more distant from Canadian values. That’s particularly true as the GOP has moved further right. Republicans like guns, they like war, they’re retrograde on the environment, they’re more inclined to survival of the fittest, they’re more xenophobic.

    Canadian conservatives are a far cry from the demagogic excesses of Mr. Trump and Ted Cruz. But one of the reasons the Tories lost the most recent federal election was their display of intolerance as reflected in their attitudes toward the niqab, on promoting a snitch line, on being seen on board with former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Instead of bringing together Canadians, the Tories pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy.

    Republicans have gone -- in the words of Senator Lindsay Graham -- "batshit crazy." And the Conservative Party of Canada would be wise to keep the elephant out of the room. 

    Tuesday, March 15, 2016

    We're No Longer In Charge


    With all of the sound and fury taking place south of the border, it's easy to have missed what was really significant about Justin Trudeau's meeting with Barack Obama. Glen Pearson writes that what the meeting represented was a power shift from baby boomers to millennials:

    When the two leaders summited in Washington D.C. last week, there was the unmistakable sense that something new was brewing and that the brief moment in the sun between Obama’s retirement and Trudeau’s arrival was a kind of passing of the torch.  But behind each of these men emerged a new social and political force that will make our tomorrow, for better or worse, unlike our present age of democratic underperformance.

    For the first time, the abiding and somewhat lackluster political imagination of the Baby Boomers is formidably matched by the Millennial generation – those born from the mid-1980s onwards.  We should have noted by now that the key trait of this new political reality is decidedly progressive.  Like Trudeau and Obama they view the public estate through a centre to centre-left lens.  How else can we explain the massive success of Bernie Sanders with young voters in the American primaries, or Trudeau’s enlistment of over two million new or re-engaged voters in the past federal election?  Things are not only changing in both countries, but are transformational in their effect.

    That's not to say that the forces of neo-liberalism have been routed. The Saudi arms deal is a reminder that the military-industrial complex is alive and well. And, certainly, the Trans Pacific Partnership is far from dead. But the neo-liberal agenda is being viewed through a different lense:

    This new force demands transparency over backroom deals, authenticity over authority, social inclusion over historic stereotypes and practices.  And unlike their predecessors, who systematically tolerated, even promoted, the shrinking and paucity of the public estate, the Millennials envision a strategic place for government in their collective future.  In their own way they are angry, frustrated that nations that produce more wealth than at any other time in their history would permit so much of it to be frittered away in the pursuit and practice of a narrowing capitalism.

    And, Pearson writes, that attitude is entirely understandable:

    What else should we expect?  They face stiffer unemployment than their predecessors, are saddled with unacceptably high student loans, and have watched their wages either stagnate or shrink.  They largely played by the rules, went to university or colleges in record numbers in order to secure well-paying jobs to secure their future – the same pattern their parents had employed and enjoyed.  Except it didn’t work out for them, or for their respective countries.

    How this will affect the future is still unclear. But one thing is clear: We baby boomers are no longer in charge.

    Monday, March 14, 2016

    The New George Wallace?


    I devoted space yesterday to Donald Trump -- a man whose pronouncements are not just untrue but hateful. I did not intend to return to him this morning. But, having read Michael Harris' column today at ipolitics, I once again return to a loathsome subject.

    Harris makes the point that there are several disturbing parallels between the late governor of Alabama and presidential candidate and the present blowhard:

    Wallace’s campaign was thinly disguised as the protection of states rights. In fact, it was a bigoted rejection of civil rights for all Americans, and a circling of the wagons around racial segregation. It was Wallace who infamously said “If some anarchist lies down in front of my automobile, it will be the last automobile he will ever lie down in front of.”

    Fast forward to Donald Trump. There is an eerie echo of Wallace’s violent and incendiary demagoguery. Trump has not only encouraged his followers to “knock the crap” out of anti-Trump protesters at his rallies, he also promised to pay the legal bills for anyone who assaulted his detractors.

    There is another comparison between George Wallace and Donald Trump. One of the important areas of support for Wallace back in 1968 was extremist groups like the White Citizens’ Councils. Though he did not recruit them, neither did he reject their support.

    Sound familiar? When he isn’t quoting Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Trump has been tacitly accepting the support of people like David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

    Both candidates also ran on anti-Washington, pro-law and order platforms. Wallace sneered that U.S. foreign aid was “like throwing money down a rat hole.” He never missed an opportunity to invoke the police as the proper answer to the “anarchy” of the anti-Vietnam war movement.

    Similarly, Trump routinely portrays ‘Establishment Washington’ as the downy nest for fools, chokers, losers, and “horrible” negotiators who have sold the country down the river. He wants to wall out Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and ban all Muslims from the United States because they “really hate” America.

    At the end of his life, Wallace admitted his mistakes and asked forgiveness -- particularly of African Americans. Somehow Trump doesn't seem capable of that. God help the United States if George Wallace's ghost -- in his fire breathing prime -- is elected president.

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Inheriting The Wind


    The Republican Establishment and the Mainstream Media claim they are bewildered by the rise of Donald Trump. That claim, Neal Gabler writes, is as believable as Claude Rain's claim, in Casablanca, that he is "shocked, shocked" to discover that gambling is going on in Humphrey Bogart's place of business.

    But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.

    The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.

    Starting with Richard Nixon's southern strategy, the Republican Party actively sought the support of bigots and extremists. As it moved further and further right, its ranks were peopled by those who actively promoted intolerance:

    The sainted Reagan blew his party’s cover when to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 he spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his sympathy to the civil rights movement, but to demonstrate his sympathy to those who opposed it. This was an ugly moment, and it didn’t go entirely unnoticed in the media. In fact, David Brooks would later be moved to defend the speech, which invoked the not-so-subtle buzz words “states’ rights,” and to act as if Reagan had been slandered by those who called him out on it.

    When the Elder George Bush chose Lee Atwater to direct his campaign, the genteel Mr. Bush was giving Atwater permission to make coded bigotry part of the campaign. In a now infamous interview, Atwater explained what was at the core of the Southern strategy:

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

    The media let all of this pass. And they continue to let it all pass:

    Accurate reporting means taking sides when one side is spouting falsehoods. I am still waiting for the media to correct the GOP pronouncements that Obamacare has cost us jobs and sent health care costs skyrocketing – both of which are screamingly false. I am not holding my breath.

    Mr. Trump did not get to where he is all by himself. His enablers have inherited the wind.

    Saturday, March 12, 2016

    Out Of Touch


    Throughout North America, conservatives are up the creek. Andrew Coyne writes:

    Across North America, the right is in disarray. It isn’t only at the ballot box that conservatives are in retreat. It is in the broader contest of ideas. On issue after issue, the left has been running the table, whether overturning orthodoxies long considered invincible, like the taboo on deficits, or opening new territory for the expanding state, from pensions to pharmacare to a guaranteed annual income.

    Perhaps the most startling advances have come in the social issues. From same-sex marriage to legalized marijuana to assisted suicide, public opinion and legislation seem in a headlong race to see which can undo centuries of custom and precedent the fastest, while across the multiplying fronts in the wars of identity — racial, sexual and the rest — one famous victory follows another.

    In the United States, the Republicans are on the verge of blowing themselves up:

    Whether the intellectual incoherence on display in the Republican presidential race is a cause or consequence of this is hard to say. The extremity of the solutions offered by the “conservative” candidates is not a sign of the health of the movement, but of its increasing disconnect with reality. None has a fiscal plan that is remotely credible. Each would, if implemented, bankrupt the federal government in short order.

    The special obnoxiousness of Trumpism, while in some sense a reaction to the excesses of identity politics, is in fact its own form of it. Trump is not appealing, as his answer to “political correctness,” to a universalistic liberalism that transcends differences of race and sex: he is simply championing an identity politics for white males.

    And before the advent of Mr. Trump, the Harperite version of conservatism proved to be utterly rudderless:

    The weakness of Canadian conservatism in recent years is in many ways the opposite. If the Republicans who shut down the government rather than accept a budget deal that included any increase in revenues — not just tax increases, but any additional revenues — were in the grip of an unreasoning fanaticism, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper seemed to have no ideological moorings whatever.

    Not only was it impossible to predict what position they would take on any given issue, but they seemed to revel in their incoherence, boasting of their commitment to the most regulatory-heavy approaches to economic questions — cross-border pricing, anyone? — even as they were claiming to be the party of free markets.

    Having just returned from the Manning Conference, Coyne sees hope in the likes of Michael Chong, Maxime Bernier and Tony Clement. Clement's bright idea is to cancel funding for the CBC -- a remarkably boneheaded suggestion. Bernier still carries the whiff of incompetence -- having left his ministerial briefing notes at his biker girlfriend's apartment. We'll see what kind of a chance Mr. Chong -- always on the outside looking in -- has at his party's leadership.

     These days, conservatives  are incredibly out of touch.

    Friday, March 11, 2016

    The Ghosts At The Press Conference


    Rick Salutin writes this morning that there were two ghosts at the joint press conference which Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama held yesterday. And both ghosts are alive and well. The first was Stephen Harper. Obama's joking about things Canadian --"It's about time, eh? -- underscored the differences between Harper and Trudeau:

    There was something obstinate and principled in Harper’s refusal to embrace what’s widely viewed as Canadian: the niceness, peacemaking, public programs, good will toward Syrian refugees etc. He was never comfortable with it and made it his mission to change: to remake the meaning of Canadian both concretely and symbolically. Now he’s gone and his projects, like a garish anti-Communism monument for downtown Ottawa or Afghan war and Victoria Cross memorials, are relocated or in limbo. His passion — to reconfigure what Canadian means — turned out, at least in that nine-year incarnation, quixotic.
    Cartoonist Terry Mosher (Aislin) caught it with an image of Harper driving through a Calgary fast food place at the very moment of the Trudeau state dinner in D.C. and hearing: “Fries with that, Mr. Harper?” This was the true coda to the Harper years and his avatar surely had to make an appearance.

    The other ghost was Bernie Sanders. Obama joked that the United States almost had Canadian style health care and when he spoke about trade deals:

     “I believe there have been bad trade deals in the past” that “served the interests of global corporations and not workers,” he said — as if Bernie was sitting on his shoulder, chirping like Jiminy Cricket. “We can’t put up walls,” he went on — which isn’t the point; the point, as Bernie says, is to have deals not exclusively dictated by corporate interests. Then Obama added that he’s against deals “busting up unions” with “tax breaks for the wealthy.” By then it was more like Bernie’s dybbuk was inside him. Maybe it was strategic and election-directed, but Bernie had definitely got into his head.

    Canadians will have to wait a bit to see if Obama's ghost is inside Justin's head.

    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    Looking At Other Doors


    Today, Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama will trumpet the special relationship Canada and the United States enjoy. But, Tom Walkom writes, that relationship isn't quite so special anymore:

    Canada used to be America’s largest trading partner in goods. Now it is not. Since late last year, that honour has consistently gone to China.

    As my colleague Jennifer Wells has pointed out, Mexico — whose trade in goods with the U.S. is growing in leaps and bounds — is well on its way to edging Canada out of the number two spot.

    The U.S. still accounts for 49 per cent of foreign direct investment in Canada. But even that figure is down from 54 per cent in 2010. 

    That was the whole idea behind the Keystone XL pipeline. But the Americans see no need for the pipeline. The world has changed. The United States is now exporting oil.

    Labour costs less in Mexico. And, so, the Americans are now turning their gaze south. Mr. Trudeau's reconfiguring of Canada's mission in the Middle East seems to please the Americans. He's signalling that he wants to keep the doors open. 

    But he may find that the Americans are looking at other doors.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2016

    Israel and Freedom of Speech


    The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian, "freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression," -- except, it would seem, when it comes to the State of Israel. That was certainly true during the Harper years. Gerry Caplan writes:

    Two years ago, for example, then-prime minister Stephen Harper insisted that Israeli policies should not be criticized, especially in public. To criticize Israel, he said, is to be guilty of “the new anti-Semitism. … It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel.”

    Why it was anti-Semitic to criticize the Israel government for its housing or land or human-rights policies, as indeed so many Israelis do, Mr. Harper never explained.

    Nor did he ever bother spell out why accusing Israel of being an apartheid state is the ultimate form of anti-Semitism. Yet it makes no sense. Labelling Israel an apartheid state may be jarring, but that makes it neither inaccurate nor anti-Semitic. When Israelis call Israel an apartheid state – as many do – are they anti-Semitic too? How did Mr. Harper arrogate to himself the right to decide what Canadians were authorized to say about this one foreign government?

    But the same policy seems to apply under Justin Trudeau's Liberal government:

    Last month, the Conservatives raised an apparently even more ultimate form of anti-Semitism. This time, they brought almost the entire Liberal government with them. The essence of the subject was identical. This time, the crime that didn’t deserve Charter protection wasn’t labelling Israel an apartheid state. It was promoting the perfectly legal, peaceful, non-violent international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. An overwhelming number of MPs have now voted to condemn any attempt by Canadians to offer support for the BDS campaign.

    The merits of the BDS campaign are as irrelevant as whether Israel is an apartheid state. In both, the core Canadian issue is free speech – my right to say freely whatever I think about Israel and its policies. Just as I have the right to say whatever I want about my own government’s policies, or Washington’s, or Costa Rica’s, or Cuba’s. Yet a large majority of our MPs want to remove that right from me when it comes to my opinion of Israel. For them, promoting BDS is not a legitimate form of criticism of Israel, but, in the words of the motion, its “demonization and delegitimation.”

    Foreign Minister Stephane Dion was uncomfortable with the Conservatives' resolution:

    But like the vast majority of Liberals – yes, including their Leader – he also decided that it’s never a smart move to cross the Canadian Jewish establishment. It is a tiny but tenacious group, and its political organizations can make life intolerable for any one who dares to cross it. So all but a handful of Liberals took the path of least resistance and least principle.

    Only the NDP did what it used to do regularly -- stand on principle. For the two other parties -- when it comes to Israel -- freedom of speech disappears.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2016

    Generation Y Gets The Short End


    Yesterday, the Guardian reported on a study which has concluded that, across the world, Generation Y is getting shafted:

    A combination of debt, joblessness, globalisation, demographics and rising house prices is depressing the incomes and prospects of millions of young people across the developed world, resulting in unprecedented inequality between generations.

    A Guardian investigation into the prospects of millennials – those born between 1980 and the mid-90s, and often otherwise known as Generation Y – has found they are increasingly being cut out of the wealth generated in western societies.

    Where 30 years ago young adults used to earn more than national averages, now in many countries they have slumped to earning as much as 20% below their average compatriot. Pensioners by comparison have seen income soar.

    The news is really quite depressing:

    In seven major economies in North America and Europe, the growth in income of the average young couple and families in their 20s has lagged dramatically behind national averages over the past 30 years.

    In two of these countries – the US and Italy – disposable incomes for millennials are scarcely higher in real terms than they were 30 years ago, while the rest of the population has experienced handsome gains.

    It is likely to be the first time in industrialised history, save for periods of war or natural disaster, that the incomes of young adults have fallen so far when compared with the rest of society.

    In the United States, we are currently witnessing what happens when an entire social class is left behind. Now an entire generation is being left behind. Caelainn and Shiv Malik write:

    • Prosperity has plummeted for young adults in the rich world.
    • In the US, under-30s are now poorer than retired people.
    • In the UK, pensioner disposable income has grown prodigiously – three times as fast as the income of young people.
    • Millennials have suffered real terms losses in wages in the US, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Canada and in some countries this was underway even before the 2008 financial crisis.

    The Masters Of The Universe have done the young no favours.

    Monday, March 07, 2016

    Dealing With The Donald


    This is the week Mr. Trudeau goes to Washington. During his visit, Trudeau says he will steer clear of the subject of Donald Trump. Michael Harris questions the wisdom of that decision:

    In the beginning, Trump was just a fascist on a Moped. He disrupted the sidewalk of national politics — a blowhard, a bully, and a bloviating billionaire so full of himself that only the worshipful need apply as supporters. The rest were forcibly removed. Still, most people thought he would have the political life-expectancy of a mayfly.

    But having taken out Jeb Bush and a gaggle of other political veterans, he is now astride a Harley roaring down the electoral highway that leads to the White House. Another crypto-fascist, Ted Cruz, is in second place. A shadow is falling across America.

    Normally, it's wise for Canadians not to interfere in American elections. But this year, Mr. Cruz is being called a Canadian. So, like it or not, we're in the mix. But more importantly, a number of world leaders have waded into the debate:

    • British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Trump’s words were “divisive, unhelpful, and quite simply wrong”. A lot of Britons seem to agree. Six hundred thousand of them have signed a petition to keep Trump out of the United Kingdom — treatment usually reserved for vile hate-mongers, not U.S. presidential candidates.
    • London Mayor Boris Johnson described the Trump agenda as “complete and utter nonsense.”
    • Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Tatal, who has twice bailed Trump out financially, called him a “disgrace” who should end his candidacy.
    • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu put the kibosh on Trump’s proposed trip to Israel last December. Netanyahu’s office also said “Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Muslims.”
    • Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders called Trump’s racist pronouncements “very unhelpful and very discriminatory.”

    And you can bet that, after Trudeau's interview on 60 Minutes, he will be asked about Trump. Dodging the question won't help. But a witty response might -- like Pierre Trudeau's response when told that, on the White House tapes, Richard Nixon referred to him as a "son of a bitch" and an "asshole."

    The Elder Trudeau's response? "I've been called worse things by better people."

    Sunday, March 06, 2016

    It Matters How The Money Is Spent


    The Ontario government  recently announced its cap and trade system. The system will add a little more than four cents to each litre of gasoline. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller -- now president of the World Wildlife Fund -- writes that some of that money should be used to protect Ontario's forests and wetlands:

    The government can make significant advances in the fight against climate change if some of the billions in expected cap and trade revenue is also spent to support healthy forests, complex wetlands, climate-friendly agricultural practices and other large tracts of biomass-covered land.

    All plants absorb and hold carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. That’s why plant-rich areas are sometimes referred to as carbon sinks. Carbon sinks are one of nature’s ways of dealing with an excess of carbon in the atmosphere by absorbing and storing it. When land is cleared and trees or vegetation removed or burnt, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

    The United Nations has estimated that about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are the result of destruction of wetlands, forests, and plant habitat in freshwater and oceans systems.

    A recent report underscores the notion that our forests are in trouble:

    The report, on the state of Ontario’s forests, included the gloomy news that our Crown forests are expected to be a net source of carbon between 2010 and 2030. That’s because the forests currently include many older stands that contain high levels of carbon — and as trees die, they release carbon instead of absorbing it.

     Only when the younger trees mature will the forests again become a carbon sink, which the report estimates will start happening in 2040 after a 10-year neutral period during which the forests will be neither sources of carbon nor sinks.

    In the meantime, instead of helping clean carbon out of the atmosphere, as forests should do, they will be a net contributor for 20 years to the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

    As a result, the climate change candle is burning at both ends. At one end, we continue to emit more carbon. And at the other, we could do more to protect the plant life that absorbs that excess carbon to keep it from contributing to climate change.

    And work needs to be done to rehabilitate wetlands:

    Good work along these lines is already being done elsewhere. In the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia, for example, the World Wildlife Fund and partners are halting deforestation and preserving species diversity in an area that covers more than 200,000 hectares of forest.

    In the Southern Africa region last month, seven new wetlands areas were designated for conservation with WWF support, pushing the number of such hectares protected past the 100-million milestone. 

    Some will grumble about the increased cost of gasoline -- even though the cost has dropped significantly. But what will really make a difference is how the money raised under Cap and Trade is spent.

    Saturday, March 05, 2016

    It Isn't Easy


    This week, the prime minister and the premiers reached an agreement to put a price on carbon. It's been so long since the Prime Minister of Canada met with the country's other first ministers that Canadians may have forgotten how it's done -- and how difficult it is to get something done. That's because, Tim Harper writes, the participants each come to the meeting with at least one elephant:

    There was the Quebec decision to use a court injunction to force TransCanada to submit to provincial hearings to show its Energy East pipeline meets the province’s environmental standards.
    Another elephant — the expected federal bailout or investment, depending on your point of view, of Bombardier, and the Quebec argument that what was good for the auto industry in Ontario must be good for the aerospace industry in Quebec.

    Never mind there are a host of good reasons for Ottawa to invest in that industry. This is again timing and misplaced anger from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

    Throw in the eternal election elephant. Votes loom in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Brad Wall’s opposition to a carbon tax, while consistent, is certainly exacerbated by his need to get re-elected.

     He has inferred that his opposition is based more on timing than bedrock ideology, but it’s unclear when that assertion could be tested. There is no time on the horizon where the price of oil and the resource-based rebound would end Wall’s opposition.

    Then there’s the slumping economy, an elephant most difficult to wrestle down. If you consider carbon pricing a tax and if you are hurting economically in 2016, it takes a special, highly elusive type of altruism to agree to take on a larger burden for the greater good years down the road.

    Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador flatly claim to have no fiscal room to slap a new tax on residents.

    Finally, there is the other eternal provincial elephant — the resistance to top-down demands from Ottawa and, if Trudeau has to ultimately impose a carbon pricing floor on the provinces, premiers were not about to roll over for a consensus-minded prime minister who, at least publicly, does not believe the environment is a partisan issue. 

    We -- and that includes our former prime minister -- have forgotten that being a first minister in this confederation requires an extraordinary skill set -- something which Christopher Moore examined in his excellent book, 1867: How The Fathers Made A Deal.

     It wasn't easy then. And it isn't easy now.


    Friday, March 04, 2016

    Stuck In The Past


    Tasha Kheiriddin is bitterly unhappy. She confesses over at ipolitics that she yearns for the good old days:

    I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the Liberal party of the late 1990s. I miss Prime Minister Jean Chrétien telling APEC protestors to stick it in Vancouver. I miss Finance Minister Paul Martin balancing the books on the backs of the provinces, basically telling them to stick it too. I miss the House of Cards atmosphere that pervaded in party circles as Chrétien hung on to his leadership, frustrating Martin’s ambitions —which eventually folded over the sponsorship scandal.

    For Kheiriddin, Justin Trudeau's Liberals are just beyond the pale:

     Now we know why everyone wanted to take a selfie with Trudeau at the G7 and Davos. Gone is the dour penny-pincher Stephen Harper, who lectured his fellow leaders on the virtues of frugality. Instead, Trudeau lifts a page from the dog-eared Keynesian playbook. Spend your way to prosperity, friends. And buy goodwill while you’re doing it.

    Chretien and Martin made tough choices, writes Kheiriddin. Trudeau is nothing but sunny ways, as the storm clouds continue to build:

    Someday, that money will have to be paid back. Someday, Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio will start to rise. Someday, the federal government will have to cut services because it’s paying too much to cover its debts. For proof, Trudeau has only to look at Ontario, where the Liberal government has racked up the highest sub-national debt in the world and is chopping programs as a result.

    True. But Ontario's economy is growing. Alberta's is not. And, yesterday, all of the premiers -- including Brad Wall -- agreed to put a price on carbon. We don't know how the agreement will finally be worked out.  But at least it's a step forward. And Conservatives, like Kheiriddin, want to go backwards.

    They're stuck in the past.

    Thursday, March 03, 2016

    Hillary Is No Saviour


    Even if Hilary Clinton beats Donald Trump in the upcoming federal election, Chris Hedges is not optimistic about his country's future. The Clintons, Hedges writes, are card carrying members of the liberal elite which has sold out the white working class:

    College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

    There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

    The rise of a particular kind of American fascism was predicted over twenty-five years ago. Back in 1998, Richard Rorty wrote, in his book Achieving Our Country:

    Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

    At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

    American fascism will not look like European fascism of nearly a century ago. It will have its own particularly unique American character, which Robert Paxton described in The Anatomy Of Fascism:

    The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as [George] Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

    It might have happened in 1932 and didn't. But it could very well happen in 2016.