Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Nasty Folks Behind Him


As Senators like John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have distanced themselves from Donald Trump, some progressives have speculated that Trump may be gone sometime after 2018. But William Anderson writes that their rejoicing is premature:

The possibility of a Republican overthrow of Trump has been considered, even from within his inner circle. Vanity Fair recently reported that months ago, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon warned Trump "the risk to his presidency wasn't impeachment, but the 25th Amendment -- the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president." In addition to this, a source told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, "Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." 
However, we cannot simply rejoice at such possibilities. If one thing is certain, it's that with or without Donald Trump as president, we'll still have to contend with white supremacy and its supporters, who elected this president in the first place. Moreover, we will still have to contend with the violence of capitalism. The forces that pushed Donald Trump to the forefront of the US empire are intrinsic to the US project, and they will not go away with him, should he be cast out. If something happens that removes this president from office, it will be no shock to see those who once praised and used him quickly separating themselves from his name and administration. He may well be tossed asunder as the president "everyone" despised. Yet the millions of people who elected him will still be working, living and voting again, based on the same principles that motivated them to vote for Trump.

Trump's people may be a minority. But, thanks to the Electoral College, they are an influential minority:

Presidents are powerful, but more powerful than them are capitalism's controllers, working in the background, directing for their interests. White supremacy, too, is a grounding undercurrent of this country's history and present-day functioning. If the Trump presidency concludes, we will still be faced with a powerful system of oppressions. Until we confront the systems that enabled Donald Trump's rise to power, we'll always be at risk of seeing someone like him empowered again.

Put simply, there could be another Trump -- a smarter version of the same. Trump is a nasty piece of work. But the real problem is the nasty folks behind him.

Image: wsj.com


Monday, November 20, 2017

Ego Is No Substitute For Intellect



Word has it that NAFTA re-negotiations are not going well. Robert Samuelson writes that's because Donald Trump has misdiagnosed the problem:

What made America great in the 1950s and 1960s were the strength of its economy and the recognition that freer trade was a powerful political force promoting prosperity and cementing Western alliances. 
It is this system that Trump is repudiating on the grounds that it has backfired on American workers and firms. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said in his trade speech Nov. 10. Poor trade agreements and abuses by our trading partners have caused U.S. trade deficits, the president said. 
To be sure, the United States should be more aggressive in pursuing trade complaints against countries that steal intellectual property (patents) or engage in dumping and illegal subsidization of exports. 
Still, these are not the major sources of our trade deficits. That distinction belongs to the dollar’s status as the major global currency, used to conduct trade and cross-border investment. 
This drives the dollar’s value higher, making U.S. exports more expensive and U.S. imports cheaper. Given the nature of the resulting trade deficits — and as is obvious from the economy’s present state — the United States can achieve “full employment” and run trade deficits simultaneously.

 Trump, of course, understands none of this. Ego is no substitute for intellect.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Happens When You're Half Educated



The founders of Facebook and Google are horrified by what they have wrought. John Naughton writes:

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves. 
The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies. 
It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? 

The answer, Naughton suggests, lies in the education each of the founders of these technological giants received:

Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. 
As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”

We are still living in the world C.P. Snow described in The Two Cultures, where the sciences and the humanities are not on speaking terms:

He lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other – with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.

Snow believed that the truly educated person should be steeped in both the sciences and the humanities. And so, here we are, in a world where some very bright and influential people make stupid decisions.

Image:wikipedia


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mad As Hell



It used to be that, when the economy was doing well, the politician at the head of the parade did well, too. But Allen Freeman writes that, even with a vibrant economy, Justin Trudeau's numbers are sinking:

There were always exceptions to the rule that linked the economy and politics — but now the rule itself has to be tossed aside. Voting intentions now seem to be completely divorced from the state of the economy. 
How else can we explain the results of a recent Nanos Research poll that seems to show many Canadians giving the Trudeau Liberals virtually no credit for the current buoyant state of the Canadian economy? According to the poll, only 25 per cent rated Trudeau’s performance as an economic manager as good or better, while 36 per cent saw that performance as poor or very poor.

Denis Cordere, the now former Mayor of Montreal has experienced the same phenomenon:

In Montreal, Denis Coderre just got voted out of the mayor’s office after a single term during which the city experienced the kind of boom times that have escaped it since the 1970s. Property values are up. Unemployment is at record low levels. Tourism is soaring. The city increasingly is seen as a global centre for gaming technology and artificial intelligence research.
Yet Coderre, who obviously underestimated his opponent, got no credit for the good times.

And then, of course, there is the circus to the south of us. How to account for what's going on? Freeman says the public is just plain mad:

I think this stems from the cultural moment we’re in now in western democracies — the widespread urge to give the middle finger to the ‘elites’ no matter what they do, or don’t do. Voters are quick to blame politicians the moment things go wrong but are much less likely to give them any credit for anything positive. It’s as if voters are looking for an excuse — any excuse — to throw the jerks out of office at the earliest opportunity.
All of this doesn’t bode well for the good conduct of public policy. There used to be an assumption that if politicians did the right things economically (especially early in a term) and could show tangible benefits to the public, they had a good chance of being rewarded for it. In this new world of constantly irritable voters, ready to turn their moods and their votes on a dime, forget good policy.

We are living in Howard Beales's world. The voters are made as hell and they won't take it anymore.

Image: stevecurtin.com


Friday, November 17, 2017

Sleepwalking To Extinction



The nations of the world have been meeting in Bonn trying to map out a strategy for dealing with climate change. But we face another crisis -- which, in itself, is related to climate change. William Rees writes:

Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations. But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise. 
On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others. (Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment.”)

We are the dominant species -- and we have been crowding out all the others:

Competitive displacement has been going on for a long time. Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent! 
One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century. Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95 per cent to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000). And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970. Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.

We have adopted the mantra of exponential growth. It has become our measure of success. But consider:

The past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years. 

All of this is unsustainable. But we continue to follow the same old patterns -- sleepwalking to extinction.

Image:  USA Today


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hard To Find


In the end, three Republican senators -- Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain -- torpedoed the monstrosity that was intended to put an end to Obamacare. And now they are faced with another monstrosity. E.J. Dionne writes:

The GOP bill that should be called the Cut Taxes on President Trump and Other Very Rich People Act of 2017 always had a secondary purpose: to jack up the deficit so Republicans could later cry out in horror, “Look at that awful debt!” They’d then use the pools of red ink they created to justify deep cuts in social programs. 
But people who call themselves conservative are shovelling out so much money so fast to corporations and the privileged that they needed some health care cuts upfront — at the expense of coverage for millions of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. 
And so on Tuesday, the Senate majority took an appalling bill and made it even more atrocious. To their ungainly concoction of tax breaks for the various interests that support them, they added the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

Most Republicans are still trying to get rid of Obamacare. They're also pushing a huge corporate tax break. And, as with their health care legislation, they are rushing to pass it:

Let’s take a step back and ponder the exceptional irresponsibility of what’s transpiring here. The same people who complained that more than a year of hearings, analysis and debate around Obamacare constituted “rushing” the bill are now recklessly spiriting through the system a gigantic piece of legislation that would touch all corners of the American economy. 
They are changing it willy-nilly, day-by-day, to accommodate this or that political problem. They are rationalizing their thrown-together product with false claims about everything from whom it will benefit to how it will affect the long-term deficit. They are using a tax bill to punish their political enemies (people in high-tax blue states, major universities, low-income Americans) and reward their friends and donors (corporations and the very affluent).

And, with all of the sound and fury about Judge Roy Moore, they may succeed in passing their legislation -- unless the same Republicans -- with a couple of additions -- stand up for their constituents.

These days, it's hard to find profiles in courage in the American Congress.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Making Sure The Sacrifice Is Worth It



As Justin Trudeau prepares to announce Canada's new definition of peacekeeping, retired general Michael Day asks: "Is peacekeeping worth it?"

I've always considered that the litmus test for the deployment of our military should adhere to some version of the six rules outlined by Caspar Weinberger when he was U.S. secretary of defense. The Weinberger Doctrine, as it came to be known, had at its core a series of simple assessments, but the principle Canada might best adopt would be the requirement to articulate why it is strategically important to the country – to be more precise, why it is worth endangering the lives of young Canadians. I can think of many reasons, and I recognize that our democratically elected government has the authority to deploy military force wherever it sees fit. I merely want the government to say why – including why it is worth the cost in coin and, more importantly, the potential cost in blood.

Put simply, there has to be a clearly defined reason to put Canadian troops in danger -- because these days, keeping the peace not only costs money but lives:

If there is one thing observers of all political stripes might agree on, it is that the world is a messy place. Governments may claim that force, or the threat of force, is sufficient to deter violence at some level (despite recent examples to the contrary), but it most certainly does not rebuild a civil society based on the rule of law, let alone create economic well-being. Without these components, no effort can succeed.

Recent events illustrate Day's point. After the "shock and awe" of the invasion of Iraq, there was no attempt to rebuild a civil society. And, once you engage in military conflict, it's hard to bring the conflicted sides together. Syria is the most egregious example of that phenomenon.

What these fractured states need, Day writes, " is an approach that is 'whole of society' in its application, where the cultural, ethnic and religious fractures are equally addressed. Contemplating anything less is tokenism at best and most certainly self-defeating." That is the hard work which follows military intervention. And that work takes years.

Unless we are committed to rebuilding a civil society after the battle, the sacrifice will be for nothing.

Image: Ceasefire.ca

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Return To Pre-Revolutionary France



Paul Krugman has written a blistering analysis of what the Republicans call tax "reform." They're using the same arguments that George W. Bush used to sell his tax plan. But there are new and egregious add-ons:

There are also some new aspects to this latest money grab. This time around, much more clearly than before, the goal seems to be to favor wealth, especially inherited wealth, over work. And buried in the legislation are multiple measures that would make it much harder for the children of the middle and working classes to work their way up.

The bill targets middle class families and makes it harder for children to achieve the American Dream -- to rise further than their parents have:

Suppose that a child from a working-class family decides, despite limited financial resources, to attend college, probably taking out a loan to help pay tuition. Well, guess what: Under the House bill, that interest would no longer be deductible, substantially raising the cost of college.
What if you’re working your way through school and your employer contributes toward your education expenses? The House bill would make that contribution taxable income.
What if your parent is a university employee, and you get reduced tuition as a result? That tuition break becomes taxable income. So would tuition breaks for graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants.
So what we’re looking at here are a variety of measures that will close off opportunities for children who weren’t clever enough to choose wealthy parents.

And, because the bill also reduces the inheritance tax, it makes it easier for the wealthy to pass on their fortunes to their children. It's clear, Krugman writes, that the Republicans are planning to entrench plutocracy:

The tax legislation Republicans are trying to ram through Congress with indecent haste, without hearings or time for any kind of serious study, looks an awful lot like an attempt not simply to reinforce plutocracy, but to entrench a hereditary plutocracy.

It's not just stupid economic policy -- it's a return to pre-revolutionary France.

Image: mentalfloss.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

Stunning


Ed Broadbent has the numbers on what a tax structure tilted towards the rich costs:

According to a recent study in the Canadian Tax Journal, the top 1 per cent of individual taxpayers earn 11.7 per cent of all income, but receive almost all of the benefit of the stock options deduction and 87.4 per cent of the benefit of the capital gains deduction. In the case of both stock options and capital gains, only 50 per cent of income is liable to tax.
The top 1 per cent also receive almost one half (47.8 per cent) of the benefit of special tax treatment of dividends. Even within the top 1 per cent, benefits are heavily tilted to the very rich.
These tax loopholes are costly. Money needed for hospitals, schools and infrastructure is unfairly left in the hands of the rich. Partial inclusion of capital gains in taxable income costs the federal government alone $3.6 billion per year; partial inclusion of stock options costs $725 million per year; and special tax treatment of dividends costs $3.7 billion per year.

The Paradise Papers make clear that Canada treats the rich like most so called "advanced" democracies. And they explain why these democracies are in trouble:

Tax avoidance and evasion by the rich ultimately undermines democracy: it starves social programs and public services, increases after tax income and wealth inequality, and further concentrates economic resources in the hands of a few. The overall message to a majority of Canadians is that the rules of the economic game are rigged against them.

The Liberals campaigned on a platform to restore democracy. But, Broadbent writes, their hypocrisy is "stunning."

Image: taxfairness.ca

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hot Air -- That's All



During the election campaign, Donald Trump talked tough about China. The United States, he said, "cannot continue to allow China to rape our country." But, last week, he put on a much different performance. Tony Burman writes:

Speaking at a joint appearance with the Chinese leader on Thursday, Trump lavished praise on Xi, calling him “a very special man” with whom he had “great chemistry.” He talked of the “absolutely terrific” dinner they had, and how much of a “very, very great honour” it was to be together with Xi.
Unlike past U.S. presidents in their visits to China, Trump made no reference to Chinese human rights violations and he didn’t insist that reporters be allowed to ask questions of the two leaders.
He noted the wide trade imbalance between the two countries, but blamed past U.S. administrations “for having allowed it to get so far out of kilter.” Trump went on to stress: “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

It was a remarkable turn around -- perhaps because the Chinese know how to deal with Big Egos:

Xi rolled out the red carpet when Trump and his wife arrived Wednesday. They were celebrated at an official dinner inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, an honour not granted to any U.S. president since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China put on a military ceremony that featured soldiers swinging their guns in precision and hundreds of tiny children waving flags. Trump gushed afterward that this was “a truly memorable and impressive display.”

After World War I, the 21st century became the American century. But last week, "Trump left Beijing empty-handed. It was clear from the start that Chinese officials had no intention of conceding anything of substance to the U.S. president on issues such as North Korea or trade."

Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Change Accord and the TPP. The countries of the world are watching. It looks like the 21st century will be the Chinese Century. The only thing Trump offers the world is hot air. That's all.

Image: Nicolas Asfouri/AFPGettyImages

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Disease Behind The Anxiety


This week marked the anniversary of Donald Trump's election. The British recently passed the first anniversary of Brexit. Jonathan Freedland writes that, on both sides of the Atlantic, progressives are flummoxed:

While American progressives lament their fellow citizens’ decision to make Donald Trump president a year ago this week, their British counterparts have spent the same period gnashing their teeth over Brexit. When the two groups meet, they exchange apologies: “Don’t blame me,” they tell each other, “I voted the other way.”

They are appalled by the way things turned out and they are mystified why the supporters of both phenomena have not changed their minds:

The US president’s poll ratings are awful, lower than for any predecessor ever at this stage. But his base remains intact: 35% or so are resolutely sticking with him no matter what. Nearly all those who voted for him a year ago tell pollsters they would vote for him again. In the same way, support for leave has barely dipped since the EU referendum. True, for the third month in a row those who think the leave decision was wrong narrowly outnumber those who think it was right. But still, support for Brexit remains firm.

Both camps claim that economic anxiety is at the root of what happened. But Freedland argues that the cause runs much deeper than that:

A revealing report in Politico this week talked to the voters who flocked to Trump a year ago. Most agreed that he’d fulfilled none of his promises – but they didn’t care. He wasn’t going to reopen the mines, bring back the old factory jobs or address the opioid crisis killing their young – they could see that now. Nevertheless, they were with him 100%. Why? As Politico reported: “His supporters here, it turns out, are energised by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments.”
They like the fact that he is constantly lashing out at the people they hate: the elites, the liberal media and, above all, people of colour. They understand what Trump was getting at when he went after those black players in the NFL who refused to stand for the national anthem. One Trump-loving couple said they had always believed NFL stood for “Niggers for Life”.

And, in Britain, immigration -- which many people take to mean the admission of people whose skin colour and whose customs are not like ours -- fuels the fires of British racism:

Here too, though, economic anxiety is not the whole story. Identity, immigration, loss, nostalgia, a sense of reduced status, and alienation from the country taking shape around them – all these played their part as well.

It will take more than an improved economy to cure the disease which infects both nations.

Image: The BBC

Friday, November 10, 2017

To Bee Or Not To Bee


That, Micheal Harris writes, is the question. There simply are a lot fewer of them around:

Plos One, a Europe-based Open Access multidisciplinary journal, published a stunning report this year on the plummeting number of flying insects in Germany. The report, which made headlines around the world, found that the number of such insects fell by a jaw-dropping 75 per cent over 27 years.

The reason? We are using all kinds of  neonicotinoids on our fields. These insecticides are killing off pollinators -- those seemingly insignificant creatures -- who guarantee the long term viability of our crops.  The U.K. and European Union have decided to ban neonicotinoids, And certain jurisdictions in Canada have also forbidden their use:

Vancouver and Montreal have already banned these dangerous pesticides within their city limits. Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to limit the use and sale of neonics. That seems appropriate after ten years of bee-poisoning in that province’s corn fields. Quebec also has limited the pesticide’s use.

But the federal government is still refusing to move. Harris writes that Justin Trudeau vowed that he would protect the environment and rely on science as a driver of policy. But there is a growing gap between Trudeau's rhetoric and his actions. And he should have learned from recent history:

Canadians have had their fill of governments that gave the benefit of the doubt to products and practices that kill the ecosystems that keep us alive. They watched as Ottawa issued larger and larger quotas on the Grand Banks, even as the Northern Cod was disappearing as a commercial species.
Millions of people cringed when the Harper government kept supporting asbestos exports, long after it was banned as a hazardous material in this country and we were paying to take it out of 24 Sussex.
The last thing Canadians want is a government that won’t get its ass in gear in the interests of a marvelous creature that helps pollinate the plants that give us one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat.

Canadians will throw Justin out if he can't back up his words with action.

Image: mnn.com


Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Dumber Citizens Get


It used to be an oft repeated trope that democracy could not survive without a strong public education system. The truth of that trope is now on display in the United States. Henry Giroux writes:

George Orwell's "ignorance is strength" motto in 1984 has materialized in the Trump administration's attempts not only to rewrite history, but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply politics but also a reworking of the very meaning of education both as an institution and as a broader cultural force.
Trump, along with Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing cultural institutions, echoes one of totalitarianism's most revered notions: That truth is a liability and ignorance a virtue. 

For decades now, conservatives have viewed education with disdain. When Mike Harris -- himself a failed teacher turned golf pro -- appointed John Snoblen as his first Minister of Education, education in Ontario was placed in the hands of a high school dropout. Snoblen immediately cancelled grade thirteen and set about rewriting the curriculum. For the new regime, education meant training -- and training meant teaching to the test.

In the United States, Donald Trump has appointed Betsy DeVos as his new Secretary of Education:

Higher education is being defunded, corporatized and transformed to mimic Wal-Mart-esque labour relations by the Trump administration under the preposterous ill-leadership of a religious fundamentalist, Betsy DeVos.
It's also, according to a recent poll, viewed by most Republicans as being "bad for America." Higher education is at odds with Trump's notion of making America great again.
This assault on higher education is accompanied by a systemic culture of lies that has descended upon America. The notion that democracy can only function with an informed public is viewed with disdain. Trump apparently rejoices in his role as a serial liar, knowing that the public is easily seduced by exhortation, emotional outbursts and sensationalism.

Consider "for instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and more than half of Republicans in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Shockingly, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 26 per cent of Americans can name all three branches of government."

In addition, a majority of Republicans believe that former President Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, a belief blessedly skewered upon Trump's arrival a few days ago in Hawaii, Obama's birthplace.

Ignorance is the ally of modern conservatives. The dumber citizens get, the more they can accomplish.

Image: Quotefancy

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wealth As A Wedge

 

Susan Delacourt writes that wealth is becoming a wedge issue in Canadian politics. It hasn't yet taken over the conversation, as it has in the United States. But make no mistake. It's alive and well:

In the Commons on Tuesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was still hammering away at Trudeau’s “rich, well-connected friends,” saying that people with a “jet-set life” were far removed from those with a “road-trip life.” (Rock bands?) 
The Conservative finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, said that Trudeau’s problems were “generational” and somehow managed to use his questions to remind people of former Prime Minister Paul Martin and his shipping business.

The good news is that, so far, Canadians are still focused on issues. But the conversation is beginning to shift to character:

I asked Abacus’s pollsters — David Coletto and Bruce Anderson — whether they had any recent numbers on what looks like the rising unpopularity of ‘wealth’ as a personal attribute in politics. They didn’t have any results from the past few months of this class warfare, but they could point to some findings over the past year. 
In April, Abacus asked people whether they would agree with this statement: “The power of a few special interests prevents our country from making progress.” A whopping 74 per cent agreed, though the loose wording of the statement would seem to encompass a wide variety of ‘special interests’, not just the wealthy. (Conservatives, one assumes, would see ‘special interests’ differently than New Democrats would.)
Abacus also asked people about a year ago what they were seeking in a political leader. Wealth and pedigree were way, way down on the list. In fact, it was the last thing on the list, with only 6 per cent of respondents saying a political leader should come from “an accomplished family.” 
Then again, only 8 per cent said they wanted political leaders to come from a less affluent background, which may mean (happily) that Canadians are less concerned with how or where political leaders grew up. 
“It’s about character, values and priorities,” Anderson and Coletto said.

It's clear that a sizable number of Americans have gone off the deep end when they make political decisions. They judge their leaders -- rightly or wrongly -- on who they are, not what they say and do.

Let's hope we can stop that disease at the border.

Image: salon.com

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Trouble in Paradise


The Paradise Papers have hit the fan. Bernie Sanders understands what they are really telling us:

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a statement to The Guardian, said that the papers demonstrate that the world has turned into an “international oligarchy” controlled by a minute number of billionaires. “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy, in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy,” he said. “The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

Of course, the Americans aren't the only ones who are avoiding taxes. Justin Trudeau's chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman, and Elizabeth II are on the list of those who stash money in the islands.  The world's most profitable companies are also socking money away there:

Apple has come under scrutiny by Congress for shifting much of its earnings to Irish subsidiaries, avoiding income taxes. Documents from the leak show that after its chief executive, Tim Cook, said that the company didn’t just “stash money on a Caribbean island,” it found a new tax haven—an island in the English Channel. The use of complex offshore structures have helped keep much of Apple’s more than $128 billion in profit abroad free from taxation. 

And Russian money is being washed clean in the Caribbean:

Behind one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Yuri Milner, was hundreds of millions of dollars in Kremlin funding. The documents show that Mr. Milner’s investment in Twitter relied on money from VTB, [a] bank controlled by the Russian state. One of his most significant investors in Facebook relied on funding from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled institution. Mr. Milner is also an investor in Cadre, a New York-based real estate technology company founded by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and White [House] adviser.

Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce -- the man who is telling Canada and Mexico about the new trade rules -- is avoiding taxes and getting richer in Paradise:

The revelations about Ross prompted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, to call for an investigation into the investments. The New York Times reports that “much” of Ross’ wealth is tied up in secretive offshore dealings.

Interestingly, Ross's wealth has Russian connections.

There's trouble -- lots of it -- in Paradise.

Image: Lovin Malta

Monday, November 06, 2017

Every Day Is Groundhog Day


Last week, Julie Payette told a science conference in Ottawa, "We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, my goodness, a random process." Justin Trudeau signalled his support for what the Governor General said.

Andrew Sheer was appalled. "It is extremely disappointing that the prime minister will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion."

Sheer has a short memory -- perhaps a willfully short one. Michael Harris writes:

As I recall, it was Scheer’s party that was so “supportive” of Muslims that it wanted to ban the niqab. The Conservatives ended up creating an environment so toxic across the country that Muslim women in religious dress were assaulted in Canadian cities.

Scheer is simply continuing the Harperian war on science:

Scheer’s cynical attack on the prime minister is nothing more than the continuation of the CPC’s war on science — and any other independent source of information that gets in the way of this sad, angry organization driven by ideology straight out of the Republican Tea Party. 
It was not by accident that Stephen Harper did away with the national science advisor. Or shuttered the Experimental Lakes area. Or muzzled scientists about their work. There was method to his suppression. Facts have a way of debunking dogma, and neoconservative dogma is what Harper and his government stood for.

The Conservatives have a new leader and a new face. But it's still the Harper Party. And, for them, every day is Ground Hog Day. They haven't learned a thing.

Image:  blog.eogn.com

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A Clear And Present Danger



Donald Trump has crossed a lot of lines since he became president. But last week, Robert Reich writes, he crossed a most dangerous line:

In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump directly called on the Justice Department and the FBI to “do what is right and proper” by launching criminal probes of Hillary Clinton. 
Trump’s obvious aim was to deflect attention from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of his campaign, and of the indictments issued against his campaign aides.

You simply don't do that kind of thing in a democracy. Consider what happened between Al Gore and George W. Bush after the 2000 election:

Think of Al Gore’s concession speech to George W. Bush in 2000, after five weeks of a bitterly contested election and just one day after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Bush. “I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.” 
Gore publicly bowed to the institutions of our democracy. “Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it … And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
And consider Bush's response:
“Vice president Gore and I put our hearts and hopes into our campaigns; we both gave it our all. We shared similar emotions. I understand how difficult this moment must be for vice president Gore and his family. He has a distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and as vice president.”
Democracy demands that leaders occasionally show graciousness to each other. Trump knows nothing of graciousness. Perhaps the word simply has too many syllables for him. But, for whatever  reasons, he is -- and has been since the beginning --  a threat to the foundations of American democracy.
He is a clear and present danger.
Image: Mountain Xpress

Saturday, November 04, 2017

A Caucus Of Con Men



From the beginning, it's been clear that Donald Trump is a con man. But he's not the only one. Paul Krugman writes:

I’m talking about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, an obvious phony who nonetheless convinced the rubes — that is, much of the news media and the political establishment — that he was a brilliant fiscal expert. What we’re witnessing now is the end of the charade, the political equivalent of what happened when graduates of Trump University tried to get some value in return for their money.

The Republican tax bill bears all the marks of the party's attempt to "repeal and replace" Obamacare:

On Thursday, House Republicans unveiled a tax “reform” bill with the same good order and careful deliberation with which they unveiled their various attempts to repeal Obamacare. That is, after having had years to prepare, the G.O.P. waited until the last minute to throw something together, without any hearings or serious analysis.

Why are they in this spot? Put bluntly, despite all the talk, they never worked out the details:

This week’s debacle was predictable from the moment, more than seven years ago, that Ryan began establishing himself as a media darling by publishing impressive-looking blueprints for fiscal reform with titles like “Roadmap for America’s Future.”
Like the bill just released, all these blueprints included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy; but Ryan insisted that any revenue losses would be made up for by ending unjustified tax breaks. Which tax breaks would he eliminate? He refused to say.
These evasions worked brilliantly as a public relations strategy. Those who warned about his plans’ phoniness were ignored. Ryan even received awards for fiscal responsibility.

So now the Republicans are stuck with a plan that will blow a hole in the deficit. And the only way to fix that is to take tax breaks away from ordinary folks:

What they came up with was a hodgepodge of stuff: ending deductions for some state and local taxes, limiting deductions for mortgage interest, phasing out child tax credits, and so on.
Since the point of these measures is to offset tax cuts for the rich, they will, more or less by definition, end up raising taxes on large numbers of middle-class families.

It's a repeat of Repeal and Replace. It's clear that the Republicans are a caucus of con men and women.

Will ordinary folks catch on?

Friday, November 03, 2017

Mary, Mary, What Have You Done?


Michael Harris asks a really good question: What, exactly, is Mary  Dawson doing?

It’s time to either get serious about people who violate the ethical rules that govern elected officials — or shutter this largely worthless operation and spend its $7 million budget on something useful.

Dawson simply muddied the waters swirling around Bill Morneau:

Dawson came up with a beauty to describe this nonsensical state of affairs: she told Morneau that he wasn’t “required” to set up a blind trust. 
But when the merde hit the fan, she explained that she had not advised Morneau not to create a blind trust. Ms. Dawson could teach an Actor’s Studio class in ass-covering. Contrast that with a comment made on background to iPolitics by a senior Liberal: “If the finance minister doesn’t need to set up a blind trust, who does? I don’t see how he survives this.”

And consider the fines she imposes on transgressors:

For that lapse, Morneau (a multi-millionaire) got slapped by Dawson (a high-paid civil servant) with a $200 fine. That’s a parking ticket for a politician who has demonstrated an unseemly fondness for loopholes and ‘ethical screens’. Who happens to be the finance minister.
When Harper cabinet minister Jason Kenney failed to report stock purchases made in his name. Kenney paid the princely sum of $100 for breaking the disclosure rules.
Dawson found that another Harper cabinet minister, Peter MacKay, was in “serious breach” of the conflict of interest guidelines on two occasions. Against the rules, MacKay held directorships in his father’s companies. MacKay’s knees must have wobbled when he got his comeuppance: a $200 fine.

The fine for jay walking in Nova Scotia is $687.50.

There is something seriously out of joint in Ms. Dawson's office.

Image: cbc.ca


Thursday, November 02, 2017

You Need To Take A Shower



Two weeks before the Mueller indictments, the Trump propaganda machine began to trumpet the line that Mueller should be investigating Hillary Clinton for a uranium deal. E.J. Dionne understands the Trump game plan:

Trump’s rampage against Clinton focuses on the 2010 purchase of Uranium One, a Canadian company with U.S. assets, by the Russian nuclear authority. The deal was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States when Clinton was secretary of state.

But the conspiracy side of this story was debunked long ago. As The Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler reported this week, Clinton, “by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale” and the sale “does not actually result in the removal of uranium from the United States.”  

And, after the terrorist attack in New York, Trump ramped up his distraction strategy:

Trump moved to exploit the murderous New York City truck attack by casting blame on Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer because the Democrat had backed the diversity visa lottery. Trump tweeted in response to the then-unconfirmed but later verified reports that the driver of the truck, Sayfullo Saipov, entered the United States from Uzbekistan under the program. Schumer, by the way, supported a bipartisan 2013 immigration reform bill that would have abolished the lottery.

Both of Trump's claims are boldfaced lies. But that comes as no surprise:

From the moment he descended that escalator at Trump Tower in 2015, he made clear that he would say and do anything to advance his purposes and to eviscerate anyone who opposed him.

It’s essential to recognize that Trump is faithfully following the autocrat’s playbook. He’s trying to undermine a lawful inquiry that endangers his hold on power. He has suggested that his opponent in the last election deserves to be jailed. He’s inventing stories about dark coverups by his enemies to sow confusion about the proven facts of his own team’s skulduggery. And now he is blaming his foes for violence and disorder.

Reports suggest that Roger Stone is the brains behind Trump's disinformation campaign. If you have access to Netflix, I suggest you watch the documentary Get Me Roger Stone. Stone got his start in Richard Nixon's dirty tricks shop. He was in business with Paul Manafort. He is proud of what he has done and continues to do.

After watching the documentary, you may feel the need to take a shower.

Image: usseek.com

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

He Does Not Understand



Before anyone starts to agree with former prime minister Stephen Harper's conclusion that the Liberals have been "napping on NAFTA," Tim Harper suggests that they take a look at Stephen Harper's record of dealing with Washington:

While in opposition, Harper aligned himself with George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing,’’ for his failed invasion of Iraq, something Harper agreed, five years later, was a mistake.

There were early disputes with Bush over Arctic sovereignty, although Harper did win a softwood lumber truce.

Things chilled with the election of Barack Obama, starting with the Democratic primaries of 2008 when a member of Harper’s inner circle was accused of leaking a private conversation from an Obama advisor revealing the candidate’s threat to rip up NAFTA was merely campaign rhetoric.

A deal called Beyond the Border was signed by Harper and Obama in 2011 and hailed as historic. It got bogged down in too many pilot projects and too little interest in the White House.

Obama’s decision to wrap Keystone XL pipeline approval in domestic politics led Harper, in successive U.S. appearances, to label presidential approval a “no-brainer,’’ then vowing he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.

Relations soured to the point that Harper cancelled a trilateral summit with Mexico and the U.S. in 2015. Of course, by then, Harper had angered Mexico by precipitously slapping visa requirements on Mexicans traveling to Canada.

There's not much to crow about there. The Liberals, on the other hand, are dealing with tougher customers:

They are dealing with a U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, whose comments after the wrap up of the last round of talks were so rude and condescending that, had he made them in Freeland’s home she would have rightly told him to leave.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says Washington is asking Mexico and Canada for deep concessions and offering nothing in return, and Trump issues a threat to kill the deal whenever the spirit moves him.

Harper's memo is rooted in his animus to all things Liberal. When it came to dealing with the United States, Harper never really understood our southern neighbour. And now he does not understand that the Party of Trump is a universe away from The Party of Lincoln.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Is This Their Cause?


In the wake of Robert Mueller's indictments, Michael Gerson has a question for Republicans:

To what circle of hell are Republican officials about to consign themselves? It would be useful for members of Congress to declare that they will never enter the fourth circle — the demolition of the integrity and independence of the FBI — if only to deter Trump from forcing a constitutional crisis. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has done so, arguing such an action would be “the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.” But it is hard to imagine such courage written broadly in today’s GOP — and even harder to imagine such courage exhibited preemptively. 

The Republican Press is supporting Trump:

It is worth making clear that every conservative media voice — including, recently, the editorial voice of the Wall Street Journal — that attacks the objectivity and legitimacy of Mueller is giving Trump cover and encouragement to move against him. They are dropping lit matches in the dry tinder of American politics. And they would be responsible, in part, for the resulting wildfire.

Trump staged a hostile takeover of  an intellectually and morally bankrupt party. The question, Gerson writes, comes down to this:

Do Republicans and conservatives really want to be remembered as a bodyguard of enablers for this man? For this cause? 

If this is their cause, ignominy will be their legacy.

Image: politicaldig.com

Monday, October 30, 2017

It Doesn't Seem Obvious



Last week, Stephen Harper sent a memo to clients of his firm, Harper and Associates. The memo was titled "Napping on NAFTA." The Toronto Sun reports that:

The memo was obtained by The Canadian Press and it criticizes the Trudeau government in several areas: For too quickly rejecting U.S. proposals, for insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico, and for promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, aboriginal and environmental issues.

The former prime minister says he was worried by what he heard during a recent trip to Washington, where he discussed NAFTA at an event but did not publicly share his misgivings about the Trudeau government.

"I fear that the NAFTA re-negotiation is going very badly. I also believe that President (Donald) Trump’s threat to terminate NAFTA is not a bluff… I believe this threat is real," [he wrote.] "Therefore, Canada’s government needs to get its head around this reality: it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now. What matters in evaluating them is whether it is worth having a trade agreement with the Americans or not."

The memo upset Michael Harris -- who has been on Justin's case of late:

“It does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now,” Harper wrote.

Of course it matters very much. It also shows Harper at his Yankee-Doodle-Dandy worst, a man willing to accept a bad deal just to make a deal. By contrast, the Liberals have been solid on standing up for Canada’s interests here, including cleverly ignoring taunts and outrageous demands designed to make our negotiators throw up their hands and walk out of the talks. That’s what the Americans were doing when they demanded the end of supply management in this country for dairy, poultry, and eggs.

And Harris gives Trudeau credit for standing along side Mexico:

The Liberals have also been wise to stand with Mexico, rather than throw that country under the bus, as Harper would undoubtedly have done to mollify Trump. The Liberal move will not only improve the relationship with Mexico, but with countries around the world who will view it as proof that Canada sticks by its friends. No matter how tempting it would be to betray them when the going gets tough, or someone proffers forty pieces of silver.

Harris is betting that Trudeau will walk away if he has to -- because he has no illusions about Trump:

If Trudeau is authentic in how he presents himself to Canadians, he should be civil, diplomatic but personally less engaged. After all, you could not make up a less fitting pal for him that Donald Trump — braggart, bully, misogynist and liar.

Once you subtract the aura of office from Trump, you are left with an Il Duce billionaire out to blow up the system of checks and balances designed specifically to prevent a person like him from abusing power.

Trump’s goal, obvious to all but the most gullible, the greedy and the ghastly, is to turn America into a franchise of the super wealthy. That’s why his idea of tax reform would send 80 per cent of the benefits to the wealthy, and pay for it by cutting services to those that need them.

That doesn't seem obvious to Trump's base. And it doesn't seem obvious to Stephen Harper.

Image: 604now.com

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What Do We Do About Them?



The advent of social media was supposed to call forth our better angels, Instead, Neal Gabler writes, it has unleashed our darker angels and made Donald Trump possible:

It is by now a given that social media have changed and continue to change the way we interact with one another and even with our own selves, the way we use our time, the way we prioritize and value things, the way we respond emotionally, the way we assess information and a thousand other components of our lives. For the post-millennials, nearly everything is refracted through social media, but the spillover effect is huge.

There is no room here to enumerate each of these transformations. But a few are worth mentioning because whether we recognize it or not, they can, and I believe do, have vast political implications. To begin with, for all the boasts of connectivity, social media actually isolate us and drive us back into ourselves. Facebook alone may be the largest platform of self-promotion ever devised by humankind, but of course, Facebook is not alone. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and many others are ostensibly dedicated to sharing when they are really dedicated to solipsism: You are always the star of your page, always centralizing what you are doing. Worse, social media encourages an anonymous meanness that actively splinters us. There probably always were trolls, but they had no platform for their poison. Now they do.

Put bluntly, social media has encouraged and amplified all kinds of anti-social behaviour:

MIT social psychologist Sherry Turkle, one of the leading experts on the effects of social media, has even written a book titled Reclaiming Conversation, in which she notes not only how the retreat to the smartphone has atomized us, but also how, through separation and self-centeredness, it has endangered empathy, which is the very core of a civic culture, perhaps even the very core of humanity.

And they encourage us to stare at our own navels:

Another technological savant, Eli Pariser, the founder of MoveOn.org and UpWorthy, in his prescient 2011 bookThe Filter Bubble, shows how social media, with their plethora of algorithms, give us customized, curated information that never takes us outside ourselves or our own biases, but only reinforces them. In effect, social media create an informational onanism, which, again, destroys a sense of community and circumscribes national conversation every bit as much as it aborts personal conversation. And it does something more: It makes all information that doesn’t conform to one’s biases suspicious. Social media — the “social” here is practically ironic — disallows us from accepting anyone else’s arguments — that is, disallows us from being social. In fact, it delegitimizes not just arguments but all information by seeming to legitimize all information.

The bottom line is that social media was tailor made for a man like Donald Trump -- who has been staring at his own navel for 71 years. Gabler writes that it was no accident that Trump was elected president:

You may begin to see a theme developing here. Self-centeredness and solipsism, division and tribalism, disinformation and misinformation tailored to one’s predispositions, the need for constant stimulation (FOMO) without reflection, bullying against those who disagree, a lack of empathy — these are all hallmarks of the “alt-right” and of the Trump presidency. Trump is not, in reality, their master, though he has learned to use the tools of social media to his benefit. He is actually their product — the product of the social and psychological dynamics that fuel social media. This is why the right was almost destined to use social media more effectively than the left. It was made for social media.

It's obvious that social media will not disappear. So the question is, "What do we do about them?"

Image: theconservativetreehouse


Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Age Of Conspiracy



The release of the Kennedy  assassination papers revealed no smoking gun. But that will not silence the conspiracy theorists. That's because, Jonathan Freedland writes, we live in a Conspiracy-Post Truth Age:

Superficially, conspiracy theory and post-truth might look different. The conspiracists insist that they are bent on uncovering the real truth, while post-truthers shrug their shoulders, suggesting such truth doesn’t really exist, can never be known and doesn’t really matter anyway. But what both have in common is an indifference to facts and evidence. The conspiracist brushes off inconvenient facts as bogus, while the post-truther says they have “alternative facts” of their own. But both end up in the same place, dismissing the hard, established evidence that is the basis of reason.

They share too a supposedly defiant attitude to the establishment and the powers that be, casting themselves as heroic truth-tellers who have broken free of the credulous herd – lions among sheeple. They have favoured targets in common too. Both the JFK obsessives and a post-truther such as Donald Trump – who, let us not forget, offered his own addition to the Kennedy conspiracy canon with an evidence-free claim that the father of his Republican primary opponent, Ted Cruz, was involved in the assassination – perennially cast the FBI and the CIA as the key tools of dark, unseen forces.

In the end, it all leads to a pervasive cynicism:

In this view, elections are a sham; politicians are mere puppets; the real masters are hidden and lurk in the shadows, pulling the strings. Which is why, incidentally, so many conspiracy theorists, like so many post-truth merchants of the populist hard right, end up reaching the terminus of antisemitism. For antisemitism is itself often rooted in conspiracy theory: the belief that the secret hand behind world events, manipulating each and every development, belongs to the Rothschilds or George Soros or, when no euphemism is required, the Jews.

Antisemitism is alive and well -- and it makes it even harder to tell the truth about Israel's occupation of Gaza. Gaza is an open prison. And anyone who points that out is accused of being an Anti-Semite.

The current president is selling the notion that there is a conspiracy to do him in. His own incompetence has nothing to do with those who oppose him. It's becoming more and more difficult to see the truth behind the smoke and conspiracy theories.

Image: salon.com

Friday, October 27, 2017

Perhaps He's Right



I wrote yesterday that companies should be made fully liable for their employee pension plans. Tom Walkom writes that, essentially, pensions are deferred wages:

Pensions are, in effect, the fruit of forced savings. Workers forego wages now for the promise of income after retirement.

The actual payments are usually split between employer and employee. But conceptually, both represent the same thing — deferred wages.

In North America, company pension plans took off during the Second World War as a way to get around wage controls. It might be illegal to offer scarce workers higher wages. But it was all right to offer non-wage benefits like pensions.

After the war, the growth of unions encouraged the expansion of company pension plans. But it was always a minority of workers who benefitted from them.

The quality of your pension depended on how well managed your company was. If you were lucky, you retired well. But companies go bankrupt. And, if you worked for Sears or Nortel, you were left up the creek.

That is why Walkom believes the best solution is to expand the public pension system:

The CPP is well-run and financially self-sustaining. As the Sears saga demonstrates, even the biggest private enterprises can go out of business. The government of Canada, which ultimately backs the CPP, cannot easily do the same.

If there is a future in pension reform, it is with the CPP. Changing the bankruptcy laws to put pensioners at the front of the queue, as both the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois suggest, is a fine idea. But it doesn’t deal with the fact that the company pension plan such a move would protect is a thing of the past.

Perhaps he's right.

Image: www.pionline.com

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It's Time



There are several lessons to be learned from the demise of Sears Canada. Linda McQuaig writes  that one of the biggest is that the legal principle of  "limited liability" leaves loyal employees in the lurch:

Whatever competitive pressures Sears Canada faced along with other big retailers, its controlling shareholders almost certainly made the company’s demise more likely with their decision to pay out more than $2.7 billion in dividends since 2005 to themselves and other shareholders.

Those dividends went heavily to its largest shareholder, Sears Holding, controlled by [Eddie] Lampert, according to Bloomberg and the Globe and Mail.

Forbes currently estimates Lampert’s wealth at $1.65 billion U.S., and describes the source of his fortune as “Sears, self made.”

Sears Canada might well have survived if some of the $2.7 billion paid out in dividends had been redirected into updating and redesigning its more than 130 stores to attract a new generation of shoppers.

If the company felt unable to compete, it could have, at least, set aside enough money to pay its employees severance and fully fund the company pension plan.

Instead, it left some 12,000 workers without severance and a shortfall of $270 million in its pension fund, leaving 18,000 retirees uncertain about collecting future benefits.

There was a time when employers were held legally responsible for what bankruptcy did to their employees:

Wealthy capitalists used to be personally responsible for unpaid wages when their businesses went under. But capitalists fought hard in the late 19th and early 20th century to win the right to limit their liability.

At first they won only a partial limit, but over the years U.S. and Canadian courts have extended that limit.

The change was fiercely resisted on the grounds that it would leave vulnerable employees in dire situations — like the situations faced today by thousands of Sears ex-workers.

But for decades, government and the legal system has been tilted in favour of capital. Employees supposedly got what trickled down to them. And, over the years, what trickled down slowed down.

It's time to re-balance the interests of labour.

Image: slideplayer.com

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Alive And Well



There was a time I foolishly thought we had outgrown racial and religious prejudice. The ascension of Donald Trump has underscored the fact that racial prejudice is alive and well. And now Bill 62, in the province I know only too well, has confirmed that Lionel Groulx's ghost still stalks the body politic. Martin Patriquin writes that the bill is "Racist. Misogynist. Xenophobic. Anti-Muslim. Anti-religion. Hateful. Divisive."

But Philippe Couillard's Liberals will not suffer any political consequences for passing it into law:

To understand why, let’s look at who traditionally supports the Quebec Liberal party. Since the founding of the Parti Québécois in 1968, the QLP has had a Bon Cop Bad Cop relationship with the leading sovereignist party. As the province’s federalist bulwark against the nasty separatists, it harvested the support of anyone wishing to remain within Canada: anglophones, big businesses, the financial sector and the many French Quebecers who didn’t buy into René Lévesque’s dream. And almost all the immigrants.

The PQ’s nativist bent only pushed Quebec’s immigrant population deeper into the Liberal bosom. When he blamed the separatist loss of the 1995 referendum on “money and some ethnic votes,” Premier Jacques Parizeau undid years of good work by the likes of Lévesque and Gerald Godin, his first immigration minister, who tried like blazes to sell the virtues of sovereignty to Quebec’s cultural communities.

The trend continued in 2013, when the PQ introduced the so-called “Quebec values charter”, which sought to purge “conspicuous” religious articles from the bodies all those drawing government paycheques. As QC125.com poll aggregator Philippe Fournier points out, the PQ’s support among non-francophones took another nosedive in the wake of its this particularly noxious gambit.

The PQ never was able to appeal to non-francophones. They have no where to go except the Liberals. And the Liberals can expand their appeal to nous autres. There are lots of votes under rocks. And politicians know how to mine them.

Racial and religious prejudice is alive and well.

Image: Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

It Fits



Donald Trump, Roger Cohen writes, likes to use epithets. During his campaign for the presidency, he coined several: "crooked Hillary," "lying Ted," "little Marco." His latest is directed at a Florida congress woman -- "wacky congress woman" Frederica Wilson. Cohen suggests that Trump's current spat with John McCain has generated an epithet which fits Trump like a glove -- "bone spur bozo:"

I’d like to suggest “bone-spur bozo” for the president, referring, of course, to the five military draft deferments Trump received during the Vietnam War, one of which was a medical deferment for bone spurs in his feet. (They never apparently affected his life, or golf swing, thereafter).

Repetition is part of Trump’s arsenal. The bone-spur bozo residing in the Oval Office, surrounded by terrified sycophants, has sinister talents. Turning the solemn rites of loss in the line of military duty into a squalid, race-tinged scandal is some achievement.

McCain recently reminded Americans just how unjust the draft was during the Vietnam War. He told an interviewer on C-SPAN: "We drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur."

 And consider all the nasty things Trump has said about McCain:

Trump has called McCain a “dummy.” He has called McCain a loser. He has said McCain was no hero because he was captured in war. The president warned McCain this month that, “I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

He has threatened to rain down "fire and fury" on North Korea and he has decertified the Iran nuclear deal.

Bone Spur Bozo. It fits.

Image: imgarcade

Monday, October 23, 2017

They March On



Former  Liberal MP Paul Szabo has been looking into how our democracy works. What he reports is deeply disturbing. Michael Harris writes:

His documented investigation makes clear the Liberals are about as interested in playing by the rules as Dean del Mastro, whose fast and loose approach to getting himself elected landed him in a jail cell. This time the focal point is how parties conduct nominations.

According to Szabo, the Liberal Party thwarts local voters to cherry-pick its chosen nominees. The campaign expense reports of some of those nominees are often late, incomplete and perhaps even illegal. Worse, many of the memberships that secured the nomination for one candidate over others were allegedly fraudulent.

Szabo is no lightweight who doesn't know what he's talking about:

Before anyone thinks that Szabo is the king of sour grapes — an accusation I have heard — consider his resume: 17 years in Parliament; professional chartered accountant; science degree; director and vice-chair of two hospitals; director of a shelter for abused women; voted hardest working member of Parliament three years running by fellow MPs; 2,500 debates in the House of Commons; and a 95 per cent attendance record for votes.
This guy didn’t fall of the turnip truck last night.

This was how things worked under Stephen Harper's Conservatives. And it's how things work under Patrick Brown's provincial Progressive Conservatives:

As Ontario gears up for its next election, PC leader Patrick Brown is knee-deep in charges of skullduggery bordering on corruption.

His party’s nomination system has been rife with ballot stuffing, fake memberships, fake membership forms, people registered without their knowledge, payment or permission, as well as cheating so egregious that it elicited a rebuke from one of the staunchest Tories of them all: former Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton.

It's been clear for sometime that most -- if not all -- parties put their fingers on the scales. And, as citizens give up, convinced that nothing will change, those tipping the balance march on.


Image:  dreamtime.com