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"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 25 min 52 sec ago

Keeping His Word

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 06:03

Justin Trudeau came to office, claiming he would put an end to the cynicism of the Harper years. Michael Harris writes:

When Justin Trudeau was running to become prime minister, he said that cynicism — about the future, the fate of our kids, and most especially the political establishment — was a serious problem. Somehow, someone just had to win back the public’s faith in the system. Otherwise, we would become a society of malcontents, nay-sayers, and self-seekers divorced from any meaningful sense of community. The national myth for those people would be that the whole shooting match was rigged against them for the benefit of the few.
On two critical files -- electoral reform  and the environment -- Trudeau has been backing away from his promises:

The prime minister found himself in a firestorm of criticism when he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that he was backing away from his commitment to ending Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The implication of his words was that his election had somehow fixed the problem, or made it far less urgent at very least. That sparked one commentator on social media to ask for a retraction of Trudeau’s words or his recall.

Trudeau was supposed to be the antidote to years of Conservative mismanagement on the environment. At best, his record has been spotty, at worst, a betrayal of environmentalists who saw him as their champion.

While it is true Trudeau has finally put a price on carbon emissions, it is also true that he supported the Site C dam project in British Columbia, despite the opposition of environmentalists, First Nations leaders, Amnesty International, and the Royal Society of Canada.

The Trudeau government has also failed to legislate its own moratorium on oil-tanker traffic on the North Coast of the province. Instead, it has given conditional approval to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s massive $39-billion project that will also create five million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually should it ever be built. Not exactly what the summiteers in Paris had in mind — nor a lot of voters in British Columbia who went Liberal. 
South of the border, we are presently witnessing a lesson about the wages of cynicism:

Part of what everyone is witnessing in the U.S. Presidential election is the extent to which “every day Americans” hate the political establishment with a passion once reserved for the country’s foreign enemies. So desperate have these people become, so overwhelming has been the avalanche of lies and betrayals visited on them by politicians of all stripes, that 50 million Americans are about to vote for a man whose preferred form of greeting women is a hearty grope.  
If Justin is wise, he'll keep his word.

It's Over

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 04:11

Andrew Nikiforuk has been writing for sometime that bitumen's heyday is over. There are four reasons that account for the decline and fall of black goo:

1. There is no way to clean up bitumen spills.

Basic science shows that neither industry nor government has developed an effective spill response for conventional oil on the high seas. As a consequence, marine oil spill response remains a public relations sham that does not remove spilled oil or fully restore damaged marine ecosystems.

Because the low-grade heavy oil must be diluted with a gasoline-like product to move through a pipeline, it presents an even graver logistical challenge than a conventional spill. 

2. The economic case for pipelines has totally collapsed.

Bitumen will always require higher transportation costs and more upgrading and processing due to its appalling quality. As a consequence, it has always sold at a price differential of around $6 to $7 dollars to conventional oil.

This historic differential widened when the Alberta government rubber-stamped so many projects that industry flooded the North American market with bitumen between 2000 and 2008. The differential dropped again to historic norms as more and more refineries in the U.S. retrofitted to process heavy oil.

 Art Berman, a reliable Houston-based oil analyst, calculates that industry is pumping about half a million barrels a day more than what the world can burn or afford. Most of this overproduction has come from Canada, the U.S. or Iraq.

At the same time, demand is not really growing due to profound global economic stagnation — a lasting legacy of incredibly high oil prices from 2010 to 2014.

But overproduction has now depressed prices to the point that many bitumen miners and American frackers continue to pump oil solely to generate enough cash to service their increasing debt loads or keep their creditors at bay. The world economy, as Berman notes, has become a volatile casino.

“The oil industry is damaged and higher prices won’t fix it because the economy cannot bear them,” Berman adds. “It is unlikely that sustained prices will reach $70 in the next few years and possibly, ever.

3. Bitumen cannibalizes the economy.

Nearly 100 years ago, it cost but one barrel of conventional crude to find and pump another 100 barrels. Today those energy returns now average about one to 20. In the U.S., they’ve fallen to one to 10 and in the oil sands they have collapsed to one to three, or in some cases close to zero. In simple terms, bitumen doesn’t bring home the bacon.

Unfortunately, mined bitumen and fracked oil aren’t easy, cheap or carbon neutral. Companies extracting fracked oil from Texas and North Dakota typically spend four times more than what they make. Bitumen miners aren’t much better. They burn more energy and capital, and all to deliver fewer returns and surpluses to society. It’s like cycling backwards.

4. Climate disruption and carbon anarchy aren’t a distant threat... they’re here now.

 Every day the science spells out some new horror: thinner Arctic ice; acidic oceans; record hot spells; flooded cities; drought-stricken crops. And every day, the economic costs grow dearer. The Fort McMurray wildfire cost $3.5 billion and was determinedly fuelled by petroleum production. The mega-flood that submerged Louisiana cost more than $8 billion and was also primed by oil extraction.
The emissions math on climate change in Canada is now pretty simple. Environment Canada states it boldly: “Emissions of GHGs from the oil and gas sector have increased 79 per cent from 107 megatonnes (Mt) in 1990 to 192 Mt CO2 in 2014. This increase is mostly attributable to the increased production of crude oil and the expansion of the oil sands industry.”
Canada can’t meet any reasonable target to decrease its climate-disrupting emissions by digging up more bitumen.
The writing is on the wall. The Bitumen Boom is over.

Image: Youtube

Electoral Reform Cannot Be Postponed

Sat, 10/22/2016 - 05:27

This week, Justin Trudeau backed away from his promise to reform Canada's electoral system by the next election. There was -- rightly -- an explosion of criticism. By the end of the week, Trudeau was saying that his government is "deeply committed" to electoral reform. Alan Freeman writes:

Trudeau was rightly attacked from all sides for appearing to duck out of his election promise to reform the first-past-the-post system in time for the next election — and for the arrogance of the claim that his election alone was enough to deal with the issue once and for all.
Dropping an election pledge is nothing new. Freeman writes that lots of leaders have backed away from promises if they thought they could get away with it. George W. Bush, for instance, tried to privatize Social Security:

Bush launched a campaign to promote a dramatic reform that would allow Americans to set aside a portion of their Social Security and invest it themselves in private accounts. The ideological right and the investment industry, which had been pushing the idea for years, were thrilled. But voters, particularly older ones, were horrified when they realized that the change would simply impoverish the already-stretched Social Security system and risk the guaranteed benefits they depended on in return for the crapshoot of the stock market.
And Stephen Harper, with the support of Jim Flaherty, tried to harmonize the GST:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was initially a big proponent of GST harmonization, throwing billions of dollars at Ontario and British Columbia when they decided to come on board with a harmonized sales tax. He embraced the view of leading economists and his own Finance Department — that a harmonized GST would lead to tax efficiency and remove the burden of provincial sales taxes from business.

But the moment grassroots opposition to harmonization started to build in British Columbia, Flaherty ran for cover. He never spoke about harmonization again. At the Finance Department, where I was working at the time, the order came down that the department was not to answer any questions about the issue — to act as if it didn’t exist. In the end, B.C.’s harmonization effort died and the province refunded the big grant it had been given to go ahead with harmonization. Flaherty and Harper had dodged a bullet and spent not a cent of political capital doing it — but an opportunity to change tax policy for the better was lost.
Electoral reform is a bullet Trudeau can't dodge. If he takes that tack, he will not make it through the next election -- even if it occurs under the First Past The Post system.

Image: CBC

Lessons Learned?

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 06:40

It's been a year since the Harper government was sent packing. But, Gerry Caplan writes, if those vying to replace Stephen Harper are any indication, their defeat taught the Conservatives nothing:

There’s the widespread view among people within the party that the problem was their “tone.” It’s not at all clear what they think they mean by this, but it seems to have little to do with a series of mean and bigoted policies that failed to appeal to any but the Conservative base.
The Harperites have, so far, not morphed into Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. However, they haven't morphed into anything:

For example, take Kellie Leitch, who seemed at first to be ashamed of her shabby role in the Conservative pledge to establish a tip line to report barbaric cultural practices to the RCMP, but has since doubled down on the very notion.
As a leadership candidate, she is promoting a “discussion” of Canadian values for immigrants. Yet when given an opportunity by interviewers, she refuses to discuss anything except how very, very much she wants to discuss. So she simply advances her meaningless slogan, then repeats it over and over again without any elaboration.
Chris Alexander now claims he loves immigrants. But, Caplan asks, "Who can doubt his sincerity?"
Then there's Maxime Bernier. "Quebec MP Maxime Bernier wants to turn Canada into a libertarian dystopia; he’s the Ayn Rand candidate, beloved no doubt by many impressionable first-year university students."
And, of course, there's Brad Trost:
Someone named Brad Trost – allegedly an MP from Saskatchewan – offers to turn the clock back by repudiating both a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage.
The Conservative Party itself entered modern history only in May when its convention voted that marriage need not be defined as between a man and woman, something Canada itself had decided a decade ago. But history is moving far too fast for Mr. Trost and for that third of the convention delegates who voted against the resolution. But early indications are that they are resisting Mr. Trost’s reactionary lure.
Harper's Conservatives were always stuck in the 19th century. The only member of the party  who wasn't was Michael Chong. And, for that reason, Chong will face a tough slog for the leadership of the party.
Lessons learned?  There's no evidence of that. 

A Classical Example

Thu, 10/20/2016 - 05:23

Last night proved beyond a doubt that Donald Trump has his foot to the floor and is headed to the wall. He has offended women mightily. Last night's vow to repeal Roe v. Wade will add to the Access Hollywood debacle. But, along with women, he's also mobilized Latinos and African Americans against him. E.J. Dionne writes:

The states on Clinton's new target list include Arizona and, of all places, Texas. In Nevada, the polling is mixed, though Clinton seems to have gained ground. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead of Trump here by seven points. Trump was up by two points last month. But a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, which showed her in a commanding position nationally, had her still down here by four.

All these states have something important in common: They include large numbers of Latino voters, who are clearly mobilizing to defeat Trump. He is also suffering from profound weaknesses among African-Americans, college educated voters of all backgrounds, and the young.

After its second loss to Barack Obama, the Republican Party took a hard look at itself and concluded:

The nation's demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become," its authors wrote. "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity."

They went on: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States ... they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."
One wonders if Trump read the report. He's certainly not following its recommendations. There is still disagreement about whether or not Albert Einstein was the source of the classical definition of insanity.

But Donald Trump is a classical example of it.


There's The Rub

Wed, 10/19/2016 - 05:29

Pierre Trudeau famously quipped that Joe Clark wanted to be "headwaiter to the provinces." Susan Delacourt writes that his son will be no headwaiter:

In the years since Trudeau the elder left the scene, his successors have adopted a number of other approaches to the provinces, from the deferential to the collaborative to the virtually absent. From obsequious waiter to dumbwaiter, you might say.

But now it’s looking like we’d better get used to Ottawa coming to the federal-provincial table with some sharp and definite views about what’s on the menu. Even as the provinces grapple with Ottawa’s ultimatum on carbon pricing, delivered just weeks ago, they’re now being told that federal money for health will come with conditions attached.
Yesterday, Jane Philpott's meeting with provincial health ministers broke up without any progress on negotiating a new health accord. The provinces want more money. The Feds want to carefully track what happens to new money:

In September, Philpott declared: “It’s time to reclaim the political will, time and resources to develop and implement bold reforms in the funding and organization of front line delivery.”

It’s been a while since we’ve heard a health minister (or a prime minister, for that matter) declare that money going to the provinces for social programs would have strings attached. “Reclaiming the political will,” in that context, sounds a bit like a government that’s decided it wants to be more than a valet to the provinces.
Trudeau declared that he wanted to establish a new relationship with the provinces. The provinces want to keep the old one. Ay, there's the rub.

Image: CBC

It Can't Happen Here?

Tue, 10/18/2016 - 05:33

Canadians like to think that Donald Trump could never happen here. But he's been here and left -- for the moment. His name was Rob Ford. And he had lots of editorial support. David Beers writes:

As Donald Trump burst into an orange fireball melting down the Republican Party, one pundit telling us why was the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. His analysis on Saturday echoed others: Gullible Republicans had fooled themselves into believing Trump could be tamed. They shrugged off his deep personal flaws and the divisions his bigotry would sow. Now “the Donald has come home to roost.”

If the GOP loses big “it will only have itself to blame” for siding with those who “seeded the clouds for Trump.” Blame some media, said Gee. Blame those “talk-show ranters” who cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal.

Which, by the way, is pretty much what Marcus Gee did six years ago. In February 2010 he cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal in his column headlined: “Rob Ford, Please Run. You’re the Right Guy for a Lefty Race.” 
Ford was not very bright, driven by demons and -- in the end -- doomed. But he railed against political correctness -- just as Margaret Wente does:

The country club conservative Margaret Wente, for example, drolly makes fun of Donald Trump. She also happens to regularly nurture the climate that helps Donald Trump thrive. Wente may shake her head at the “angry man yelling at me on TV.” She may marvel that “What’s stupefying is that so many people can’t see that the emperor is naked.” But Donald Trump and his supporters would resonate with much else she says, and they would appreciate her digs at his enemies: We have Trump, she argued in August, because “The Democrats have morphed into an alliance of liberal elites and minorities, with a relentless agenda of political correctness that has driven millions of people away.”
Donald Trump could happen anywhere at any time. All it takes is editorial -- and public -- support.

Image: Huffington Post

Now For The Hard Part

Mon, 10/17/2016 - 05:14

Justin Trudeau's decision to put a price on carbon -- over the objections of some of the provinces and territories -- is a signal that the hard part has begun. Robin Sears writes:

Justin Trudeau’s decision to devote a large chunk of his accumulated political capital imposing a clear, mandatory path on pricing carbon is the first of several big choices he faces, each of which will help determine his survival and his legacy.
He is about to discover the first of many ironies about choice in political life. Many enemies, and even some friends, will always be angry with your choice, especially big decisions on risky projects. They’re hedging their risks, betting on your failure.
Your internal opponents and your political opposition will attack every choice as dangerous, irresponsible, too late, too expensive — fill in the blank. It’s insurance for them, if you stumble. And curiously, it’s a guaranteed media hit.
There are more difficult decisions to come, like re-engaging in United Nations forces around the world and renegotiating a healthcare agreement with the provinces. There are lessons in each of these tasks; and we'll see how well the Liberals have learned them.
But there are also lessons for the opposition parties:
Justin Trudeau’s opponents need to understand their certain failure in challenging a big political choice with scary fairy tales and niggling, whining attack. To succeed in persuading Canadians to come to their vision of a national future — they need to offer one!
Listening to Conservatives whinge about adding a quarter a litre to gas prices and then claiming “billions and billions” of revenue harm — as a strategy on climate change — will make even their own mothers sigh in quiet frustration. New Democrats who want to move votes, cannot simply say no to this pipeline and no to that pipeline, then claim there are not opposed to pipelines per se. Or that they have a plan for the safe, efficient transport of oil and gas — unless they outline what theirs is and why it is better.
As a nation, we now must face an array of tough choices about which we have hesitated and prevaricated overlong. A majority of voters endorsed that message last October. To consider other political choices Canadians will first expect New Democrats and Conservatives to offer an alternative vision on how to integrate First Nations into decisions on resource development, not to simply sneer “too little, too late!”

Both opposition parties could offer dramatically different visions than Trudeau's. But being the parties of no will lead nowhere. The Republicans have been The Party of No for twenty-five years. Look at where -- and who -- that has got them.

Image: Quotesgram

Russian-American Relations

Sun, 10/16/2016 - 03:16

The War in Syria has severely damaged relations between Russia and The United States. Tony Burman writes:

Not since the darkest days of the Cold War, we are being told, are the dangers of a catastrophic conflict between Russia and the West so genuine.
Last Sunday on Russian television, Dmitry Kiselyov, an influential current affairs host, warned that U.S. military action against the Russian-backed Syrian regime could provoke a world war: “Offensive behaviour toward Russia has a nuclear dimension.”
This week, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, wrote that today’s global situation is “more dangerous” than the Cold War. And former Soviet leader and Nobel winner Mikhail Gorbachev warned that “the world has a reached a dangerous point” because of the deepening Russia-U.S. clash over Syria.
But there are differences between the standoff which followed World War II and today's standoff:
Putin may strut, may preen and may bluster — and, like the KGB operative he once was, he is skilled at manipulating the optics of a situation. But like Trump, his comrade-in-arms in the U.S., Putin is a phoney. When all is said and done, he doesn’t have the economic or military firepower to deliver on his threats. Compared with the Soviet Union, Russia’s economy is strikingly weak and integrated with the West. If tensions ever escalated to the point of actual war, Russia would be annihilated. And Putin, above all, knows that.
Russia’s sabre-rattling is unnerving the West. It is messing with the heads of American and European politicians, military leaders and opinion-makers. In response, NATO and its member states, led by the U.S., are embarking on their own military buildup, particularly in countries neighbouring Russia. They are using the Russian threat, exaggerated as it is, as a pretext for challenging Russia in its own backyard. That’s a recipe for disaster. Putin isn’t the only threat here: our leaders also need to be watched.
Even though Trump will likely crash and burn on election day, Nov. 8, the poisoned American political system will still be with us. And it’s a system increasingly corrupted by money. Regardless of who resides in the White House, there will be many Republican members, perhaps a majority, whose political success is tied to America’s war machine. This is reflected in those military bases and military jobs that reside in their districts. Even though the Pentagon itself admits that the American military is bloated and over-resourced, it is in the interests of these politicians to keep this war machine growing.
And, should Hillary win, we're told that Putin loathes her. The West is in a tight spot. It's easy to get into a war -- much easier than it is to get out. 

Look In The Mirror

Sat, 10/15/2016 - 07:23

Donald Trump gets more reprehensible with each passing day. But he did not rise to where he is on his own initiative. Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post that there have been may people behind the ascension of Trump. And he has been a long time coming:

The Trump fiasco has been more than two decades in the making, going back to Newt Gingrich’s destruction of civility, Bill Clinton’s personal misconduct, a Supreme Court that, in Bush v. Gore, delegitimized democracy, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney squandering the warm courage of national unity after 9/11, a bipartisan cycle of revenge in Congress, angry liberals portraying Bush as a war criminal, the fury and racial animus of the tea party and the birthers, GOP leaders too timid to tamp down the excesses, and Supreme Court decisions that allowed anonymous groups to spend unlimited sums poisoning the airwaves with vicious and false political speech. 
The media have also had their role to play:

My colleagues and I in the news business deserve much of the blame. Fox News essentially created Trump as a political figure, validating his birther nonsense and giving him an unparalleled platform before he launched his campaign. The rest of the news media, most visibly CNN, gave the entertainer undiluted and uncritical coverage (at least until he secured the nomination), sacrificing journalistic integrity for viewers and readers. If you don’t report on Trump’s latest action, utterance or outrage, you won’t get the clicks or the ratings. And the combination of social media and a news industry fragmented by ideology allows an increasingly polarized public to choose only information that confirms their political views.

Trump knows how to play people for suckers. And there have been a lot of suckers. In the end, Americans will have to look in their mirrors.

Image: Pinterest

Another One Of History's Ironies

Fri, 10/14/2016 - 05:43

There are those who believe that engaging in "what might have been" speculation is wasted energy. But Linda McQuaig does precisely that in today's Toronto Star. Doug Peters -- the former chief economist for the TD Bank and former Liberal cabinet minister -- died last week. Peters grew up in Brandon, Manitoba during the Great Depression. That experience -- and the training he received on the way to getting a PhD in finance from the University of Pennsylvania -- made him a committed Keynesian.

But it was Peters misfortune to be at the the cabinet table when Milton Friedman was all the rage. McQuaig writes:

Despite his Bay St. pedigree and a PhD. in finance from University of Pennsylvania, Peters rejected the business world’s obsession with deficits and smaller government.
From his seat next to [Paul] Martin at top-level budget meetings, the soft-spoken, articulate Peters repeatedly challenged the deficit hysteria that gripped the Finance department and increasingly controlled government policy. To Peters, the key problem was unemployment — which hovered above 10 per cent — not the deficit.
Indeed, the way to solve the deficit problem was to reduce unemployment, Peters argued. As he once told a parliamentary committee: “Unemployed people pay less tax. That is one of the most certain laws of all economics. It should be inscribed on plaques and hung in the offices of prime ministers and premiers across the country.”
There were some who sided with Peters:
He got support from an unlikely source — a Goldman Sachs report in September 1994 identifying unemployment, rather than excessive government spending, as Canada’s key problem, and noting that once full employment was achieved, “the budget gap of Canada vanishes.”
But Friedman had received the Nobel Prize. How could be be wrong?
Time has proved Friedman wrong and Peters right. Another one of history's ironies.
Image: Toronto Star

The Last Person Standing

Thu, 10/13/2016 - 05:49

Yesterday, Tony Clement dropped out of the Conservative leadership race and Chris Alexander dropped in. The Conservative ranks are teeming with ambition. But ambition is expensive. Brent Rathgeber writes:

Running for the leadership of a Canadian political party is no modest undertaking. Including the registration fee and a subsequent charge for access to the membership list, it costs $100,000 to play.

But that’s only the beginning. Canada is a big country. Given that the leadership contest is weighted — that is, the 338 electoral districts are each assigned an equal number of points in the final vote — it’s important that serious candidates at least show up in most ridings and regions. That’s a lot of flights, a lot of hotel rooms.
In the end, it's money that will determine who will leave and who will go. And money is tied to an MP's record. Clement's Achilles Heel was his record:

He will never be able to walk back the reputation he picked up during the 2010 G8 Summit. Clement was in charge of a $50 million infrastructure program intended to reduce border congestion; some of the money was used to build parks, walkways and gazebos in Clement’s riding in advance of the summit. To a lot of people, he’ll always be ‘Gazebo Tony’.

Although that pork barrel episode probably guaranteed his re-election as MP in Ontario Lake Country, it also destroyed his credibility with fiscal conservatives across the nation.
Clement is only the first contender to drop out. There will be others. It's impossible at this point to guess who will be the last person standing.

Image: Huffington Post

Not A Comforting Thought

Wed, 10/12/2016 - 05:48

While Donald Trump huffs, puffs and sniffles -- and while the Republican Party tears itself apart -- there will be those who take solace in The Donald's Demise. However, Michael Den Tandt writes, Trump's defeat will not put Trumpism to rest:

Trumpism is bigger than the man. For evidence, juxtapose a map of the two parties’ current support, with one of regional income distribution.

The safe red (Republican) states swing from the Deep South (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina) northward in a band through the Midwest (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota), and into the upper Midwest. These are also the regions with the highest concentrations of Americans living below the poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four).

The key swing states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania), where Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders launched their respective insurgencies, are regions where traditional economies have been disrupted by globalization. Hence Trump’s repeated promises to “bring back our jobs,” resurrect heavy manufacturing and re-open shuttered steel mills. He’s giving voters in populous, influential states precisely the comfort they want to hear.
What Trump is selling is "pure fantasy." But that makes no difference:

Trump has given voice to a new constituency. That he is personally unfit to be president is a historical fluke. His losing next month will not prevent states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania from going full nativist in future, unless more people there can see the hope of a better economic future.
Trump's people are not going anywhere. And Hillary -- deplorable though they may be -- will have to deal with them:

A future President Hillary Clinton will need something like a Marshall Plan — a New Deal might be a better term — to bring hope to the Rust Belt. Or she’ll face another revolt in four years, likely led by someone more personally fit, and capable, than Trump. Not a comforting thought.
Image: Forward Progressives