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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dialogue With The Dumb

William Rivers Pitt admits that, inside his head, he carries on a dialogue with Donald Trump. Part of the dialogue goes like this:

You are certainly a man of the times, The Man, avatar of all that ails us. You are, among other things, the end product of a decades-debunked economic model that consigns a vast majority of Americans to poverty and stasis while lavishing trillions on the wealthy. This we call "trickle down," and we've waited half a century now for the rain that never comes.

Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you. From what I hear, the last person you trickled down on got a page in that famous dossier. The economic model has failed dramatically, but you couldn't care less. It did well by you, and that's the dot at the end of the line.

Reality TV star, right? Perfect. Just exactly right. Television, Edward Murrow's wires and lights in a box, will prove in time to be one of the greatest derangers of civilizations in the history of the planet. A spigot of fiction, fear, calamity, greed and deception flows daily from every screen, unmaking reality stitch by stitch. Many see themselves now not as who and what they truly are, but as how they are depicted in the box. That's where you came from, that land of bombast and lies, and it makes seamless sense. "Reality" TV, indeed.

Trump is a product of our times, which -- let's face it -- are badly out of joint. Ours is an age which prefers fantasy to reality. Fantasy, after all, offers many scenarios:

You are the distilled essence of the age, a blurred orange watercolor that looks different every time the light changes. There is no substance to you, only menace and the same confused fiction that seeks to define and control this nation. Too many ignore or dismiss you as some sort of terrible mistake, a wrong turn down a blind driveway we can back out of, but that is not the truth of it. You were inevitable, a product of unreality many years in the making. If you didn't exist, someone would have made you up.

And that's the point. Trump is the final product -- what you get when you build a world view rooted in lies -- and you choose willed ignorance over facts.

Image: poundthebudweiser.com

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Rise Of The City State

Jonathan Manthorpe, at ipolitics, has an interesting column about the rise of the modern city state. Cities, he writes, are where the action is:

The tipping point in this movement came in 2008, when — according to the World Bank — half of humanity was living in cities for the first time in history (the percentage has since risen to 54 per cent). More than that, the World Bank calculates that urban populations now create 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, and that this will continue to increase as urbanization accelerates in developing countries, especially in Africa.

Recent political events, however, signal that not everyone is happy with the trend:

In most cases, citizens are shifting their immediate loyalties from the nation to their city or region. This trend does always lead to positive outcomes. The Brexit vote last year for Britain to leave the European Community can be seen as the country’s rural and smaller urban regions rebelling against the political, economic and cultural domination of London. Added to this is the perception that London is increasingly distant from and disdainful of the rest of the country.

The rise of Donald Trump is also attributable to a rebellion in "flyover country." And the Electoral College favours flyover country.  The disconnect between urban and rural citizens could be the source of much future strife:

A major problem for all cities is that they tend to be administrative creatures of subnational governments (like provinces) or the nation-state. Their capacities to pursue their own policies and raise the revenues needed to implement them are usually heavily prescribed and limited.

That’s as true of Toronto as it is of Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is already Africa’s largest city, with 20 million people. The local governor predicts its population will increase to 40 million people in the foreseeable future.

Lagos is a city of enormous energy and self-confidence, but it is a city of almost unmatched chaos. There are about 200 unplanned slum neighbourhoods, with the result that 70 per cent of the city’s 20 million people lack indoor plumbing or access to grid power. About 60 per cent of Lagos’ children do not attend school.

The hope is that as Africa becomes the next repository of cheap manufacturing labour to be exploited, international investment will also bring the resources for functioning local and national administrations.

That has happened to a substantial degree in Southeast Asia, where urbanization has been underway for 30 years and more. However, since moves towards economic integration among the 10 regional countries begun in 2015, rapid social and technological developments are putting great strains on the cities and national government.

Cities that can't cope with rapid growth can quickly become hell holes -- fertile ground for terrorists:

Dislocated cities are also natural breeding grounds for radical political or ideological movements. The ultra-right-wing political movements in Europe and North America and the propagation of violent Islamic movements are not springing from villages. They are coming from the grimmer districts of Hamburg, Paris, Cairo, Karachi and the American rust belt.

Those of us who live in rural areas have watched this trend for decades. The children we raised have left because there are no jobs in the hinterland. The jobs are in the cities -- all over the world. But, unless the world can get its cities right, it will be rocked by our darker angels.

Image: nationsonline.org

Friday, October 20, 2017

Too Late

It's been a bad couple of weeks for Bill Morneau. Yesterday he said he will put his considerable wealth in a blind trust. Tim Harper writes:

Morneau finally did the right thing, placing his substantial assets in a blind trust and announcing he would begin divesting his interest in the family business, Morneau Shepell.

Except this was 2017.

This should have been done a couple of years ago, because, to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, it was 2015.

If the ship of state is ever to be put on an even keel -- a proposition that appears less and less likely -- loopholes for the wealthy have to be closed. That's what Morneau said he was trying to do, even as he continued to profit from those loopholes. Nathan Cullen cut to the quick:

Here’s the nub of the conflict charge, as raised by New Democrat Nathan Cullen, an unproven allegation that nonetheless brings some smoke.

When Morneau introduced Bill C-27, legislation to make it easier for federal employees to move to a targeted benefit pension, a move which would benefit Morneau Shepell, the company’s stock went up 4.8 per cent within days, Cullen says. Morneau, he said, would have made $2 million in five days from that jump. But it’s not known that Morneau was holding or selling stock at that time.

Justin Trudeau's Liberals ran as progressives. But the Minister of Finance can't unfurl that banner. It's too late.

Image: The National Post

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Total Screw Up

Surely, no man has screwed up more consistently -- and spectacularly -- than Donald Trump. Witness his treatment of the family of a dead soldier. Richard Wolfe writes:

This week the commander-in-chief has somehow contrived to drive to tears the grieving mother of one of his own special forces. Along the way, he boasted about his own outreach to gold star families, and defamed his predecessors’ record on the same.

All the while he shows no sympathy or urgency about millions of his own citizens struggling for several weeks without food, water and power in Puerto Rico.

Hugging people doesn’t take much skill or sensibility; just a touch of humanity. A real populist finds this kind of thing quite easy. If you want to be loved by the people, it’s a good idea to show a little love to the people in their hour of need. It worked for Evita Peron, Fidel Castro and even the ice-cold British royal family.

But Trump doesn't possess even that simple sensibility. The only thing he really knows how to do is pick a fight:

Not so much Donald Trump. According to the mother of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four Green Berets killed in action in Niger, Trump managed to “disrespect” her son and his widow, forgot his name, and told them he “knew what he signed up for.” This charming conversation took place while the family was traveling to the airport to receive the body of their beloved son and husband, leaving Johnson’s widow Myeshia in tears.

Naturally Trump has turned his multiple blunders into a political fistfight. He has blamed a Democratic representative traveling with the Johnsons for fabricating the account, telling reporters: “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.”

The sad thing is he probably thought he was being nice. The even sadder thing is that he still can’t be bothered to remember their name.

It's clear that Trump is unfit for his office. But, at times, one wonders if he's fit for anything. He's a total screw up.

Image: jadeluckclub

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Something To Keep In Mind

The Canadian aerospace industry just got shafted -- again. And Donald Trump got what he wanted. Tom Walkom writes:

The latest chapter of this ongoing saga began in April when American aerospace giant Boeing formally complained to the U.S. Commerce Department about Bombardier’s proposed sale of 125 C Series jets to Delta Air Lines.

Charging that the project had been improperly subsidized by the Canadian and Quebec governments, Boeing asked that an 80 per cent tariff be slapped on any C Series plane entering the U.S.

The Trump administration was more than agreeable. It imposed a preliminary tariff of 300 per cent, thereby making the Canadian-manufactured jet virtually unsalable in the lucrative U.S. market.

So Bombardier went to Airbus, which owns a plant in Alabama:

For Airbus, the arrangement is sweet. In return for letting Bombardier use its Alabama plant, it gets just over 50 per cent of the C Series project for free. It doesn’t have to pony up a cent.

Nor does it have to absorb any of Bombardier’s sizable $8.7 billion debt, much of which was incurred developing the C Series.

For Bombardier too, this is a good deal. By moving assembly from Canada to the U.S., it avoids the 300 per cent tariff and keeps the Delta sale alive. As well, it gets to locate its American production in a so-called right-to-work state that promises cheap wages and is vehemently anti-union.

While it no longer controls the C Series, Bombardier does get to keep a 31 per cent stake in the project for at least 7.5 years. And it can take advantage of Airbus’ global reach to market the jet.

And Donald Trump gets the jobs required to assemble the aircraft. Something to keep in mind during the current NAFTA negotiations.

Image: theglobeandmail.com

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Time Is Running Out

If you want to know what future resistance looks like, Chris Hedges writes, take a good long look at what transpired at Standing Rock:

Day after day, week after week, month after month, the demonstrators endured assaults carried out with armored personnel carriers, rubber bullets, stun guns, tear gas, cannons that shot water laced with chemicals, and sound cannons that can cause permanent hearing loss. Drones hovered overhead. Attack dogs were unleashed on the crowds. Hundreds were arrested, roughed up and held in dank, overcrowded cells. Many were charged with felonies. The press, or at least the press that attempted to report honestly, was harassed and censored, and often reporters were detained or arrested. And mixed in with the water protectors was a small army of infiltrators, spies and agents provocateurs, who often initiated vandalism and rock throwing at law enforcement and singled out anti-pipeline leaders for arrest.

No one should estimate what and who the resistors are up against:

The corporate state, no longer able to peddle a credible ideology, is becoming more overtly totalitarian. It will increasingly silence dissidents out of fear that the truth they speak will spark a contagion. It will, as in China’s system of totalitarian capitalism, use the tools of censorship, blacklisting, infiltration, blackmailing, bribery, public defamation, prison sentences on trumped-up charges and violence. The more discredited the state becomes, the more it will communicate in the language of force.

Native leader Tom B.K. Goldtooth sees the battle in existential terms:

This world is heading towards economic systems that continue to eat up life itself, even the heart of workers, and it’s not sustainable. We’re at that point where Mother Earth is crying out for a revolution. Mother Earth is crying out for a new direction.

As far as a new regime, we’ll need something based on earth jurisprudence.A new system away from property rights, away from privatization, away from financialization of nature, away from control over our … DNA, away from control over seeds, away from corporations. It’s a common law with local sovereignty. That’s why it’s important we have a system that recognizes the rights of a healthy and clean water system, ecosystem. Mother Earth has rights. We need a system that will recognize that. Mother Earth is not an object. We have an economic system that treats Mother Earth as if she’s a liquidation issue. We have to change that. That’s not sustainable.

This is not just a battle for one nation's soul -- although the battle for the American soul is seminal. This is a battle for the future of the planet. And time is running out.

Image: dfreeberg.wordpress.com

Monday, October 16, 2017

Could He Be Right?

Sometimes irony is entertaining. Sometimes it hurts. Tom Walkom points to the irony of Donald Trump's insistence on American content rules as part of NAFTA:

Under NAFTA, automobiles manufactured anywhere in North America may be sold duty-free in Canada, the U.S. or Mexico.

Since, at $2.45 (U.S.) an hour, Mexican wages are a fraction of what they are in the other two NAFTA countries, this is a powerful incentive to locate production there.

As a recent report by former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin shows, this is exactly what has happened. Rubin calculates that the number of auto jobs in Mexico has quadrupled over the past decade. Over the same period, auto manufacturing jobs shrank by 26 per cent in Canada and 28 per cent in the U.S.

Which brings Walkom to Unifor's strike against GM's plant in Ingersoll:

Their demands did not focus on the usual issues such as wages. Rather employees sought ironclad assurances from GM that Ingersoll would continue to be the lead plant in North America for production of the popular Chevy Equinox sport utility vehicle.

Earlier this year, GM moved production of its Terrain model to Mexico from Ingersoll — at a cost of 400 Canadian jobs. The CAMI workers and their union, Unifor, wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again.

What the union wants is what Canadian politicians of various stripes used to insist upon:

Until recently, it was the position of the New Democratic Party. A little further back, it was the position of the Liberal Party.

Justin Trudeau may reject economic nationalism as dangerous. But his father, Pierre, did not. Indeed, Pierre Trudeau recognized that sometimes even the most cosmopolitan of nations need to protect themselves from the buffeting winds of the global economy.

It was a principle enshrined in the old Auto Pact. All of which begs the question: Could Donald Trump be right about something?

Image: theguardian.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Eminently Sensible

There has been a lot of fury about Bill Morneau's tax changes. His failure to disclose the full story behind his French villa hasn't helped his cause. But the main problem he has faced is that his changes aren't simple enough to understand. Robin Sears recalls a conversation he had with New Zealand's former finance minister, Roger Douglas -- who introduced the developed world's first GST:

“Listen,” he told me, “our bloody income tax systems — personal and corporate — look like bloody Swiss cheese! And, by the way, so do yours. Every country has more loopholes and giveaways in its income tax system than they can count. And any finance minister who claims he can fill even half of them is either lying or stupid or both,” he added.

He went on, that with a VAT or GST he could equally tax a rich man’s mink coat purchase and a working boy’s hamburger — everyone pays. He conceded that some cheating was always possible if cash and no receipts were involved, but he added, it was a lot easier to catch a GST cheat than an income tax cheater, with the help of a good tax lawyer.

It’s not regressive, depending on what we do with the revenue, Douglas argued. He planned to take a big slice of the GST revenue and give it back to those who needed it most — and did, setting up a generous rebate structure. His pioneering was copied all over the developed world. As Douglas said that day, when you want to get a big tax reform done quickly you need to do three things: keep it simple, open and transparent.

These days citizens -- with justification -- feel that legislators are deliberately trying to pull the wool over their eyes. The Republican health care plan was cobbled together behind closed doors. Then they tried to push it through without hearings. It failed. Somebody's missing something.

Morneau shouldn't expect any tax change to slide through without tough parliamentary oversight. And, if it looks like he's playing a shell game, his proposed changes will never get off the ground.

Roger Douglas' advice was eminently sensible.

Image: thestar.com

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Another Canary In The Coal Mine

Everyone these days focuses on the middle class as the engine which drives the economy. However, Susan Delacourt writes, the shuttering of Sears stores across the country tells the story of what has happened to the Canadian middle class:

Retail analysts have been warning for some time now that e-commerce is threatening the very nature of shopping.

Those same analysts are saying, however, that you can’t draw a straight line between the rise of digital shopping and the downfall of the big stores like Sears or Zellers.

“The bigger thing is the shrinking of the middle class,” Barry Nabatian, market research director of Shore-Tanner Associates, told Ottawa’s local CBC Radio morning show this week. 

Neo-liberal economists, like Joseph Schumpeter, call it "creative destruction." But there's nothing creative about it:

The current troubles in the Canadian retail business have at least three dimensions, fallout-wise. When things go badly, we have to worry about the people who work in the stores, the people who shopped in the stores, and, as a Star story pointed out this week, all the businesses that supply the shops, too.

“The list of suppliers left in the lurch by the Sears Canada insolvency reads like a who’s who of retail and it circles the globe,” the Star’s Francine Kopun wrote, describing the tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars Sears owes to a vast array of businesses whose products fed into the once-great store empire.

That's a lot of destruction. The death of Sears is another canary in the coal mine. There have been several since the financial meltdown ten years ago. But the powers that be don't appear to be paying attention.

Image: imgarcade.com

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Trump Show

When it comes to Donald Trump, Neal Gabler writes, we keep missing the point. We judge him as a president. Trump doesn't see himself as a president, Instead, he is -- and always has been -- an entertainer:

Whether by design or experience — and I suspect it is both — Trump never saw the presidency as a political institution. Originally, I wrote earlier here, he thought of it as a form of celebrity — the best way to get attention, which is what celebrities do. Now I fear that I was too optimistic. He actually seems to see it as an entertainment — not just a way to be the center of attention, though he clearly loves that — but as a way to tickle the public appetite for excitement. In doing so, he has replaced political values with entertainment values. Politics mean nothing to him. Policy is a bore for him as for most Americans. They want a show. So does he. And he intends to provide it.

Trump spends his time dreaming up future episodes of the Trump Show:

He knows how to put on a show for an electorate who likes shows. He thinks in terms of episodes. He knows how to bait the press into asking “what happens next” and to keep juicing the narrative. Chaos is an awful way to run an administration, but it is a wonderful way to keep people riveted and to distract them from policy discussions. And here is another thing about the show: It never ends. It is all Trump all the time. No entertainer has ever come as close as he has to monopolizing the ink and air.

Earlier episodes of the show had him "repealing and replacing" Obamacare. This week, he's cutting government subsidies to those who can't afford health insurance on their own. Next week's episode will be entitled,"Cancelling The Iran Deal." A future episode will be devoted to NAFTA.

For an electorate fascinated by The Jerry Springer Show, The Bachelor, and Survivor, he's made to order. That's why what used to be considered the world's greatest democracy has become The Gong Show.

Image: Pinterest

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Not The Sharpest Tool In The Shed

Canadians and Mexicans are wondering whether Donald Trump will tear up NAFTA. The rest of the world is wondering whether Trump will tear up the Iran nuclear deal. Roger Cohen writes:

The president’s refusal to certify an accord his own defense secretary, James Mattis, says Iran is upholding, and is in the American national interest, would send a strong signal that the United States has become a bait-and-switch power whose word is worthless.

It’s America’s word as solemn gage that has underwritten global security since 1945. Goodbye to all that.

Trump claims that the accord was a lousy deal. Cohen writes that it never promised an ideal outcome, but it was negotiated when both parties had their eyes wide open:

Iran’s nuclear program was pitched into reverse by the agreement after a decade of rapid development. The number of centrifuges was slashed. Iran’s uranium stockpile was all but eliminated; enrichment levels are capped at 3.7 percent, a long way from bomb grade; outside inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency is rigorous. The IAEA, like Mattis, has found that Iran is in compliance.

Would it have been nice if Iran had been persuaded to dismantle its nuclear program and its scientists induced to consign their mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle to amnesiac oblivion? Sure. Dream on. Diplomacy takes place in the real world, as those mouthing off about North Korean nuclear dismantlement will discover. It involves trade-offs equally painful for both sides that produce an imperfect outcome better than the alternative.

Throughout his entire life, Trump has never had his eyes wide open. It has been reported that when Steve Bannon warned Trump that he could be removed under the 25th Amendment, Trump's response was, "What's that?"

Not the sharpest tool in the shed. 

Image: deathandtaxesmag.com

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Losing Its Moxie

Things have not been going well for the Trudeau government of late. Tim Harper catalogues its problems:

Nowhere has the gap between expectations and delivery been wider than on Indigenous reconciliation, part of a sweeping series of pledges Trudeau made on the campaign trail.

Despite a commitment to end all drinking water advisories on reserves within five years, the government says there were still 41 short-term advisories as of Aug. 31 and 103 advisories that have been in place for more than a year. The statistics do not include British Columbia.

The Enquiry Into Murdered And Missing Aboriginal Women keeps spinning its wheels as staffers resign. And there are a host of other problems:

Another Liberal promise, electoral reform, was cynically tossed overboard after a long series of sham hearings and questionnaires.

The early glow as Trudeau’s government welcomed Syrian refugees has long ago faded. Now the debate revolves around those arriving illegally at land crossings and whether Trudeau oversold the welcoming nature of this country’s immigration system.

Promised deficits of under $10 billion for two years before a return to balanced books was quickly punted and although this year’s deficit is smaller than forecast, there is no longer any timetable for balance.

Two years after pledging that Canada would return to a peacekeeping role as a sign the country is back on the international stage, the plan is in limbo.

Worse, this government can seem petty, whether moving to tax employee discounts (now apparently under government review), a measure that goes after low-paid retail clerks, not the 1 per cent, or spending more than $110,000 fighting an Indigenous girl’s $6,000 dental claim.

It has spent more than $700,000 fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that it cease discriminating against Indigenous children when it comes to health and social services spending.

Finally, there is the hew and cry over Bill Morneau's tax reforms. Today Justin is in Washington trying to deal with Donald Trump -- a task that increasingly seems impossible.

It's not unusual for a government in the middle of its mandate to lose its moxie. But if it doesn't recover, it could be sounding its own death knell.

Image: quotesgram.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

In Crisis

The United States is in crisis. Eugene Robinson writes in today's Washington Post:

The truth can no longer be ignored: Donald Trump is dangerously unfit to be president and could lead the nation to unthinkable disaster.

Retiring Senator Bob Corker says the White House is an "adult daycare centre" and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that Trump is a "moron." So what's to be done? Robinson writes:

This crisis isn’t about conservative governance vs. progressive governance. It’s about soundness of mind and judgment.

The Constitution does not offer much of a playbook for the situation we find ourselves in. Impeachment is reserved for “high crimes and misdemeanors” — a phrase that means anything Congress wants it to mean. Assume special counsel Robert S. Mueller III eventually concludes that Trump obstructed justice or even participated in a collusion scheme with the Russians. Would Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican majority in the House actually move to impeach the president? Or would they be too fearful of the wrath of the GOP base? Unless the evidence were overwhelming, would there really be enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office?

That option doesn't look very likely. There is the 25th Amendment. But that solution was crafted to deal with a physical disability -- like Woodrow Wilson's stroke. There is nothing in the constitution dealing with the president's unsoundness of mind.

For the moment, we can only hope that the adults in the daycare centre can contain Trump. And that the Democrats win back one or both of the Houses of Congress in 2018.

Image: teejaw.com

Monday, October 09, 2017

Right Wing Lunacy

There has always been lunacy on the political right. In the 1950's it found expression in the John Birch Society, which accused President Eisenhower of being a communist agent. William F. Buckley took on the Birchers in the pages of The National Review. They were banished from the Republican Party and went underground.

But now they're back -- branding themselves as the Alt-Right -- and using the same playbook they used in the 50's and 60's. E.J. Dionne writes:

The extremist approach is built on a belief in dreadful conspiracies and hidden motives. It indulges the wildest charges aimed at associating political foes with evil and subversive forces. What’s striking about our current moment is that such groundless and reckless accusations have become a routine part of politics — all the way to the top.

The difference between the 50's and now is that Eisenhower new garbage when he smelled it. President Trump sees conspiracies everywhere, intent on doing him in:

Ah, you might say, campaigns are often dirty. But current forms of right-wing dirty politics reflect a reversion to the old extremism. It has become part and parcel of “normal” politics and justifies kooky pronouncements as expressions of patriotism. Ordinary political acts are painted as diabolical. Dark plots are invented out of whole cloth. They are first circulated on websites that traffic in angry wackiness, and are eventually echoed by elected officials.

Remember, Steve Bannon used to be Trump's chief political strategist. He's now back at Breitbart News peddling his lunacy. In the 1950's there were Republicans -- like Buckley -- who took on the crazies. These days, there are no Buckleys in the Republican Party.

It's raining where I am. But, rain or shine, have a happy Thanksgiving Day.

Image: meanlefthook.com

Sunday, October 08, 2017

This Is The Way Their World Ends

The American Empire is in decline. Chris Hedges writes that the signs of decay are everywhere:

The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. 

And, as with  all empires, the end will come quickly. Hedges quotes Alfred W. McCoy:

“The demise of the United States as the preeminent global power could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” McCoy writes. “Despite the aura of omnipotence empires often project, most are surprisingly fragile, lacking the inherent strength of even a modest nation-state. Indeed, a glance at their history should remind us that the greatest of them are susceptible to collapse from diverse causes, with fiscal pressures usually a prime factor. For the better part of two centuries, the security and prosperity of the homeland has been the main objective for most stable states, making foreign or imperial adventures an expendable option, usually allocated no more than 5 percent of the domestic budget. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profit—witness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgium’s rubber lust in the Congo, British India’s opium commerce, the Third Reich’s rape of Europe, or the Soviet exploitation of Eastern Europe.”

Most Americans -- and, most importantly, the current president  -- are clueless about what is happening. They huff and puff in collective self delusion as their future gets darker:

For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness,” McCoy writes. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will see the U.S. unable to pay for its huge deficits by selling Treasury bonds, which will be drastically devalued at that point. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls “insubstantial issues” will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.

This is the way their world ends.

Image: wwwviralthread.com

Saturday, October 07, 2017

It's Coming

On the question of electoral reform, Andrew Coyne is an optimist:

It is going to happen, eventually. Some day, somewhere in this country, at some level of government, the monopoly will be broken, and the debate will have changed forever.

The monopoly to which I refer is the system by which we elect members of Parliament, the provincial legislatures, and city councils: single-member*, plurality-wins voting, or as it is popularly known, “first past the post.” And not only them — mayors, school boards, the works. Canada is one of the few countries that still uses first past the post, but it is the only one that only uses first past the post, universally and exclusively.

There are places in the country where the way in which we vote is changing:

Ontario has passed legislation allowing the province’s municipalities, if they choose, to use ranked ballots for their elections: earlier this year, London became the first to take them up on it, while Kingston will hold a referendum on the idea in 2018. This isn’t proportional representation: it’s still one member per district, winner-take-all, rather than the sharing of representation among several members on which PR is based. But it’s something other than the status quo.

Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, voted in a 2016 referendum to switch from first past the post to a hybrid system known as mixed-member proportional. Turnout, however, was “only” 36 per cent — as high as for most municipal elections in this country — on the basis of which Premier Wade MacLauchlan has ordered a do-over, to coincide with the next provincial election in 2019.
And now British Columbia. Readers will recall that B.C., too, voted by a majority to switch to a form of PR (known as the single transferable vote, or STV) in the 2005 referendum: nearly 58 per cent, in fact, including a majority in 77 of the province’s 79 ridings. But the rules, unusually, stipulated a 60 per cent threshold. In the rematch four years later, the same proposal obtained just 39 per cent.
With the coming to power of the NDP, however, the issue is back on the table: both the NDP and the Green Party, on whose support it depends, had made proportional representation part of their election platforms.  

The change will not come from the top -- as Justin Trudeau promised, and those of us who voted for him expected. But the change will come.

Image: bonuscut

Friday, October 06, 2017

Making Their Way Bareheaded

An entire generation -- those who are presently in charge -- has grown up thinking that the Unholy Trinity -- Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand -- understood how society should be organized. But Giles Fraser argues that the next generation -- the millennials -- are dusting off their copies of Das Kapital, and that Karl Marx is back. Marx argued that capitalism was based on superstition and magical thinking:

In the first chapters of Das Kapital, Marx explains how money makes money – or how, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, “to everyone who has, more shall be given … but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away”. Those with money are able to own the means of production and the labour needed to operate it. Throughout the whole cycle of making things and selling them on, the capitalist creates more money for themselves by getting employees to work longer and longer hours. This extra labour creates surplus value that results in profits for the capitalist.
Profit here is intrinsically exploitative – it does not exist without the extra hours worked by the capitalist’s employees. This is the source of the capitalist’s wealth, and when it is reinvested to capture an even greater share of the means of production and employ more workers, it grows off itself. Thus more and more is owned by fewer and fewer people. And money makes money, as if by magic.

Globalism has proven that Marx was, essentially, right:

The magical quality of our faith in money and in economic growth is a deliberate mystification of the social exploitation that the capitalist – understandably – wants to cover up. And “we draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters,” as Marx put it in the preface to Das Kapital.

All of this becomes more and more obvious as global capital seeks new and ever more ingenious forms of concentration. The generation who learned their politics through the Occupy movement have had the scales fall from their eyes. Since then the 1% has become the 0.1%. And the magic cap is beginning to slip.

The kids are refusing to wear the hats they were given. They're making their way in the world bareheaded.

Image: mixedapples.co.za

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Tryanny Of The Minority

Once again, voices have been raised, clamouring for gun control in the United States. And once again, E. J. Dionne, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann write that those voices will be ignored, because the United States "is now a non-majoritarian democracy:"

If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. Claims that our republic is democratic are undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy. Nowhere is the imbalance more dramatic or destructive than on the issue of gun control.

And the non majoritarian character of American democracy also explains why Donald Trump is president. His supporters live in "flyover country." And they complain that nobody listens to them. But, actually, they are in control:

David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators.

In the House, mischievously drawn district lines vastly distort the preferences of those who cast ballots. After the 2010 Census, the GOP controlled the redrawing of congressional boundaries in most key states. The result? The Brennan Center for Justice concluded that Republicans derived a net benefit of at least 16 seats from biased boundaries, about two-thirds of their current House margin.

The electoral college, meanwhile, is increasingly out of line with the popular vote. In raw terms, Trump had the largest popular-vote deficit of any electoral college winner. It was the second time in just five elections that the two were at odds. Here again, the failure of our institutions to account for the movement to metropolitan areas is the culprit. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metros; by 2010, 84 percent did.  

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. Trump claims that they were all illegal votes. But Rex Tillerson and a majority of Americans know that Donald Trump is a moron.

Image: davidbrin.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Get Ready To Feel The Burn

Andrew Nikiforuk writes that megafires will be a part of our future. The source of his information is a new book by Edward Struzik, Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future:

Thanks to the way climate change has collided with the growth of industrialized communities in forests, wildfires have got wilder, bolder, hotter, costlier and larger. Megafires are now poised to unsettle much of North America — and anyone who likes fresh air. 

Fire and forestry scientists foretold this unfolding horror story long ago. As Struzik documents, it is only politicians who don’t yet appreciate that climate change has ended business as usual in our forests. As a consequence the continent now has passed into a singular hell of megafires from California to Fort McMurray.

Canada is squarely part of the problem. Despite being a boreal nation shaped by northern forests that were “born to burn,” as Struzik puts it, the federal government has made things worse by gutting its ability to respond to wildfires.
Canada was once a leader in fire research, but no more. This year British Columbia could barely stay on top of its record-breaking fire season. In 2015 Alberta cut its wildfire prevention and management budget by almost $15 million just months before being humbled by the “Beast” in Fort McMurray. 

It's a story we should be familiar with by now. As the planet warms, governments cut back their fire prevention budgets, claiming the cupboard is bare. And, so, the forest burns:

This summer British Columbians got a smoky taste of the new realities. A record fire season in the Interior displaced 45,000 people, racked up nearly $500 million in firefighting bills and charred almost a million hectares. Meanwhile urban dwellers choked on the smoke and beheld orange-hued landscapes.

The fire science that Canada’s petro-politicians have chosen to ignore isn’t rocket science. A century of successful and aggressive fire suppression has created expanses of ungainly wood piles all ready to go up in smoke.

In addition the undisciplined consumption of fossil fuels has changed the climate and given us warmer temperatures, which in turn have extended the tree-burning season and invited more lightning storms.

Hot air from the Fort McMurray conflagration, Canada’s costliest natural disaster, even formed a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that triggered its own lightning storm. It sparked new firestorms more than 30 kilometres away from the main fire. That dragon-breathing development even shocked and awed seasoned fire scientists.

Fire scientists know where the damage will likely be done:

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction lists Vancouver, Victoria and Jasper as likely candidates for purgatory, if not hell itself. Fire experts suspect that Banff National Park, Timmins and Prince George are also at risk. Minnesota, Michigan, Maine and New Jersey are becoming more combustible too.  

We can see the train coming. But our political leaders tell us we can't afford to get off the tracks.

Image: The Tyee

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

American Violence and Donald Trump

In the wake of the horrific weekend in Las Vegas, Henry Giroux writes about American violence and the part Donald Trump plays in ginning it up:

Violence, sadly, runs through the United States like an electric current. And it’s become the primary tool both for entertaining people and addressing social problems. It also works to destroy the civic institutions that make a democracy possible.

Needless to say, Trump is not the sole reason for this more visible expression of extreme violence on the domestic and foreign fronts.

On the contrary. He’s the endpoint of a series of anti-democratic practices, policies and values that have been gaining ground since the emergence of the political and economic counterrevolution that gained full force with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, along with the rule of financial capital and the embrace of a culture of precarity.

Violence has been part of American culture long before Trump arrived on the scene. Nevertheless,

Trump is the unbridled legitimator-in-chief of gun culture, police brutality, a war machine, violent hypermasculinity and a political and social order that expands the boundaries of social abandonment and the politics of disposability — especially for those marginalized by race and class.

His language is full of violence:

He revels in a public discourse that threatens, humiliates and bullies.

He has used language as a weapon to humiliate women, a reporter with a disability, Pope Francis and any political opponent who criticizes him. He has publicly humiliated members of his own cabinet and party, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a terminally ill John McCain, not to mention the insults and lies he perpetrated against former FBI Director James Comey after firing him.

It is no accident that the worst mass murder in American history has occurred during the Trump administration.

Image: NBC News

Monday, October 02, 2017

Will It Be Different?

Jagmeet Singh now leads the New Democratic Party. All three of Canada's political parties are now firmly in the hands of millennials. Andrew Scheer and Singh are even younger than Justin Trudeau. So what does that mean? Campbell Clark believes that Singh will shake up Canadian politics:

Mr. Singh has the potential to disrupt the patterns of Canadian politics. His candidacy offered the NDP a ray of hope that they could move beyond union workers and urban lefties to appeal to new Canadians and fight for suburban ridings such as those in the Greater Toronto Area. The stalwarts didn't.

Still, that doesn't mean there will be another Orange Crush:

The party is dwindling into irrelevance in Quebec, which was supposed to be the new NDP base. Even a New Democratic MP, Pierre Nantel, questioned whether Quebeckers will accept a turbaned Sikh as a party leader. But Mr. Singh will be new and different, and speaks French well enough: On Sunday, he said he learned the language out of solidarity with people who had suffered the slights of a linguistic minority.

It will be interesting to see what Quebecers make of Mr. Singh. In the meantime, Singh has the potential to do well in the suburbs which surround Toronto. The NDP will look different under Singh. But the real question is this: Will it be different?

For the last forty years, all three parties have been firmly in the grip of neo-liberalism. The financial meltdown of 2008 should have spelled that ideology's doom. But it stubbornly hangs on. In the United States, it refuses to die and lives on in the body of a crazy old man.

Will Singh do more than just make his party look different?

Image: singhstation.net

Sunday, October 01, 2017

How Many Times?

When Petronas pulled the plug on its West Coast LNG juggernaut, some angry voices blamed government for nixing the project. Jim Stanford writes that Canadians have dodged a bullet and should be grateful the project is dead. Consider what happened in Australia:

To better understand the bullet that Canada dodged, consider Australia, a place where resource developers face far less onerous regulatory constraints. When gas prices in Asian markets surged past $15 per MMbtu in 2009, and again in 2012, gas producers everywhere salivated; but in Australia's case they could act on that greed quickly. Several massive LNG projects were built, virtually simultaneously, all aiming to cash in on premium Asian prices. Environmental and fiscal hurdles were modest; and Indigenous populations in Australia have little leverage to negotiate. A new right-wing government sweetened the pot by cancelling a modest carbon tax in 2014.
The outcome was a madcap construction boom that puts the Klondike gold rush to shame. Close to $200-billion (Australian) was spent on LNG projects over the next several years. In Queensland, three massive plants were built at the same time, on the same island. The impact of this mayhem on construction costs was both enormous, and predictable. The mother of all cost overruns was racked up at Chevron's Gorgon plant offshore Western Australia. Its final price-tag (a whopping $72-billion) was almost 50 per cent over budget. (Just imagine the recriminations if any public sector agency ever blew through its budget by a similar margin.)

The economic carnage from the building boom continues to be felt throughout Australia:

The short-lived boom affected the whole course of Australia's economy, generating inflation, putting upward pressure on interest rates, and contributing to a skyrocketing currency -- that in turn sparked massive deindustrialization (including the complete shutdown of Australia's auto industry). The plants are now on stream (though most have suffered repeated operational breakdowns), long before a single shovel hits dirt in Canada's LNG play. A triumph of free-market efficiency, right?

Once again, the Apostles of Unfettered Capitalism have created a disaster:

It's not just gas producers paying for this enormous miscalculation. Every Australian energy consumer is also paying. Unlike Canada, gas exporters don't have to prove that exports are surplus to domestic needs. Hence domestic prices more than doubled with the diversion of so much supply to exports; electricity prices also skyrocketed (because of gas-fired generation costs). Government isn't reaping any benefit, since the sweet royalty deals inked to accelerate LNG projects require virtually no royalty payments until capital investments have been paid off. That will likely never happen -- meaning Australians effectively gave away this gas (without royalties) to Asian consumers, many of whom now pay less for it than Aussies do.

How many times will this scenario need to be repeated until we wake up to the fact that neo-liberal economics is snake oil?

Image: TechnoKontrol.com