Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Muslim Ban and Effective Activism

Over the weekend we were witness to thousands of people across the United States going to airports and protesting the detainment and removal of arrivals from the seven countries targeted by the Trump administration. When I looked at the scenes unfold I was moved. But more importantly, the protests may have been the most effective demonstrations I have witnessed in many years.

I am a cynic and a pessimist when it comes to most aspects of popular protest. I think coming to political awareness in the 1990s and 2000s showed me time and time again that people in the street are more often symbolic than effective. Look at protests that occurred at key moments or at important events and time and time again they failed to change anything at all: the globalization protests at the G7/G8/G20 meetings, the anti-Iraq War protests, the Occupy Movement. Despite mass public, international demonstrations no meaningful change was won. Instead of a demonstration of public power I think these demonstrations ultimately allow the mainstream media, those in power and critics to illustrate the opposition/left's weakness and toothlessness.

The principle weakness in these broad, mass demonstrations is that they have no detailed goals and often apply pressure to the wrong people. The airport protests had specific aims, have those detained released and allow them entry into the country. The audience wasn't the White House, who will never reverse their position, but the staff of the border agencies, other levels of government, lawyers and the justice system and most importantly the media. The attention the protests received by the media made the protests and the border changes feel like a crisis. It applied pressure on judges to issue immediate orders and caused reaction in foreign capitals. I sincerely doubt that the Canadian government would have moved so quickly and issue temporary residency permits to travelers stranded by the Muslim Ban.

If Donald Trump and his ilk are going to be defeated it will be through actions like this. He's going to lose in the courts, in the international arena, and (hopefully) in the legislative bodies and other levels of government. Mass demonstrations can only drive media attention, pressure other officials and provide them cover. Trumpist policies must be attacked in specific and with detailed alternatives. In all due respect to the women demonstrations around the world, they sadly did not move the needle, as far as I can tell. The opposition will not defeat Trump the man, they must defeat his ideas, one by one.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Worth Reading - January 26, 2017

My sincere apologies for missing my Tuesday post. I came down with a stomach bug on Monday night and only now starting to feel about normal. 

Andrew Coyne writes about Press Secretary Sean Spicer's dishonesty

The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale reflects on 'alternative facts' and their use by autocratic, deceptive regimes

Kady O'Malley writes on Nathan Cullen's suggestion that the electoral reform committee draft the relevant legislation

An essay series in Rabble, they take a second look at the election fraud that occurred during the 2011 election. 

Divyesh Mistry wrote a detailed guide to the process of Brampton receiving a university. 

Shopper's World, the oldest indoor mall in Brampton, is slated for massive redevelopment into a mixed residential/commercial site. 

During the 2016 election a number of new podcasts popped up to discuss politics. The Washington Post has launched one to discuss Trump's policies and actions as president called "Can He Do That?"  I haven't listened myself, but I like the premise.

The Atlantic put together 50 podcasts to check out from 2016. I'm a lover of podcasts, so perhaps there is something here worth checking out

Speaking of which, Patrick Klepek writes about the value of podcasts and why you should dive in and start your own. I found this article's premise alluring because I've often wanted to start my own podcast. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Worth Reading - January 19, 2017

Happy Thursday everyone! I hope everyone's week is going well. To help maintain a healthy mental space going into the weekend I intend to ignore the news on Friday and over the weekend. I recommend you all doing the same. The reading this week will give you some ideas why.

The folks at Strong Towns in cooperation with others analyzed Lafayette, Louisiana and how its economic predicament is similar to many American (and Canadian) cities. 

Divyesh Mistry reports on the progress on the Brampton university

Chantal Hebert writes that the French Conservative leadership debate was a gong show

Martin Regg Cohn writes about Kathleen Wynne's prospects as 2017 begins and we approach the next provincial election. 

The National Post reports on Justin Trudeau's national tour... which had some bumpy moments, to be sure. 

Bumblebees have been listed as an endangered species in the United States. 

Andrew Coyne argues that Kevin O'Leary cannot win the Conservative leadership race. 

From the Washington Post, the Democratic opposition to Trump is lame, lazy and leaderless

Ashley Csanady examines the demotion of Maryam Monsef and what it says about the government's attitudes towards women

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chips in Trudeau's Armour?

The last few months have not been kind to the Prime Minister. While I hesitate to use the word scandal for what has befallen his government it appears that they are increasingly mirror in unforced errors. Before I dive deeper into this piece I should make my prejudices abundantly clear. I do not like the current Prime Minister and generally I have not supported the Liberal Party. The issues confronting the Liberals seem to stem from three areas: appearance of improper financial dealings, style, and keeping their promises.

At the end of the year Justin Trudeau's approval ratings were sitting at 51%. This is a considerable number but down from earlier in the year. Similarly, Liberal support has moved from 51% to 42% in the same poll. This is a higher percentage than they won the election with. However, I think this is evidence that the honeymoon can be officially called over as the government passes a year in office. Canadians are off the high of the election and now are beginning to think of Liberals and Justin Trudeau as another politician.

The main source of the decline in the polls seems to be the fundraising issue. To my distress Canadians don't much care about things like electoral reform, but the stories circulating about the cash-for-access fundraisers are eroding sympathy and support for the government. The Prime Minister has appeared at fundraisers where wealthy Canadians and people with links to Chinese business donate money to the party and discuss government business.

If I'm being honest I think some of the criticism is hyperbole. However, the government's handling of the issue has been appallingly bad. For a time the government seemed to hope that it would all go away over Christmas. Though she later retracted the comments Bardish Chagger, the Government House Leader stated that the House of Commons was not the place to discuss this issue. The Liberals have seemed to violate their own guidelines of fundraising. While I doubt $1500 is enough to sway a minister's opinion it looks problematic to say the least.

Perhaps the Liberals could have weathered the storm with Christmas and New Year's to give them cover, but then out came the story of the Trudeaus holidaying with Aga Khan in Bermuda. Much like the fundraising the Liberals have had trouble with their messaging on this issue. Trudeau attempted to dismiss allegations by saying it was a family trip. It was later revealed that a Liberal MP, his spouse and the president of the Liberal Party and her spouse was also on the trip. All told this probably doesn't amount to much, but the whiff of corruption or at least backroom dealings and sweetheart deals is in the air. Despite the disturbing number of times Justin Trudeau can cram "middle class" into a sentence he is an elite and has connections and relationships that compromise his ability to appear objective.

The style of the new government is also losing its appeal. The savvy, social media focused, light and fun government with the young leader is losing its traction. While the PM and the government generally remain popular there is a tonal shift in the media to not so easily fall for these ploys. I'm confident a video of Trudeau playing with puppies would do exceptionally well and smear itself all over my social media channels, but the number of people who would roll their eyes seems much higher now than 12 months ago.

The style problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the Liberals actually have to govern. The first year of endless consultations, reports and committee work now has to confront the reality of making choices and implementing policies. This is most apparent in the relationships with the provinces. The PM cannot simply force policy without power criticism, nor will "sunny ways" impress the likes of Christie Clark, Brad Wall or Rachel Notley.

Finally there are the promises. According to the Trudeau Meter website the Liberals made 223 promises during the election. So far they have broken 28, kept 38 and not started on 90 of them. Some are minor, but others are major. The pipeline approvals went against the expressed wishes of First Nations leadership and the environmental lobby. Commitments to renew the relationship with First Nations has been pushed off. What about proper funding for indigenous children as the Human Rights Tribunal ordered? What about keeping the deficit to $10 billion per year? What about reviving the economy and protecting the middle class? How about this big one, where's movement on Bill C-51?

Individually there is little political penalty for each promise broken or half-delivered, but there are constituencies out there watching. Bill C-51 was important for Toronto ridings. If the bill isn't fixed by 2019 that leaves the door open for the NDP. If the Liberals fail to put in place some sort of electoral reform it will have been seen, rightfully, by Conservatives as a boondoggle and waste of time,  and a betrayal by the NDP, Greens and electoral reform advocates.

I am not a Trudeau fan, but I think evidence is mounting that the shine is coming off the Prime Minister and his party. Initial enthusiasm gives way to the day-to-day business of governing which inevitably angers some and pleases others. The question is how the government will respond and if that response will be enough.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Worth Reading - January 12, 2017

When the Liberals nearly lost the last two elections at the heart of it was controversies over electricity policy. As we approach the 2018 election electricity remains a major point of contention. The Globe and Mail has put together why and how Ontario electricity policy has gotten to this point and it's not all on the shoulders of Kathleen Wynne, despite what critics would say. 

Kady O'Malley argues, optimistically, that the replacement of Maryan Monsef in the Democratic Institutions Ministry suggests the Liberals are committed to achieving some kind of reform

The Bramptonist writes about 8 stories to watch for in Brampton in 2017. 

Similarly, 5 people to watch in Brampton politics in 2017. 

Paul Wells writes about the recent federal cabinet shuffle

Who is Karina Gould

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Creeping Illiberalism

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election and Brexit I wrote an article and talked about the backlash to the liberal consensus. Among popular culture and political discourse there is a greater acceptance of illiberal practices and ideas.

 Europe might be the front line of this conflict. As I shared in a recent Worth Reading, some observers fear that the centre cannot hold, as it were. In recent years many European countries have been governed by centrist coalitions to keep the far right and the far left out of power. This strategy will eventually falter and allow one of the extremists to take power. These coalitions could leave voters feeling cheated. If the socialists and conservatives keep climbing into bed to keep out nationalists, individuals among all parties will feel cheated. For North Americans we saw an example of this in the presidential election with the rejection of so-called establishment politics and rise of less conventional, more radical alternatives. While I am too uninformed to know if it fits within the trend, apparently South America is swinging towards the right after a decade under mostly leftist parties.

As I write this we are only 10 days away from the inauguration of Donald Trump. While America is not the whole world I can only imagine how Trump’s anti-liberal rhetoric will embody and magnify this global trend. A trend that embraces authoritarianism, scoffs at globalism, acceptance of weaker democratic institutions, and has a lukewarm attitude towards equality and rights.

Perhaps ironically this trend is self-reinforcing. This move creates instability on the global stage and pushes people to conclude that greater global involvement is to their disadvantage. I think this partially explains the rise of anti-EU sentiment in Europe. The instability of the PIIGS contributed to Brexit which seems to be fueling separatist movements in Italy, France and Holland.

To me this trend feels a bit like a singularity point, a point beyond which we cannot see. I don’t think that we are inevitably heading towards World War III or trade wars. I believe we are in the midst of a pendulum swing. The liberal consensus/neo-liberalism took several decades to become the established order of things, how long this reaction will be and the extent of the roll back is unclear.

What troubles me is the comfort people seem to have with the retreat of democracy around the world and at home. No country is perfectly democratic, nor would I recommend that, but a liberal democracy has been a highly successful form of government that seems to be eroding. I suppose if I’m trying to draw to a conclusion it would be this: be mindful of the changes government is making and how it will dictate your freedoms and rights. How are governments minimizing their own accountability or bending policy to their own institutional benefit over those they serve. I would be very content to be paranoid and alarmist on this topic.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Worth Reading - January 5, 2017

Happy New Year readers! Sorry for the somewhat grim list of stories below, but I think they are really interesting, especially the one on North Carolina. 

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, has stepped in it early in 2017. 

The federal government has been accused of inadequately providing for indigenous children

Lisa Raitt (CPC - Milton, ON), Conservative leadership candidate, has gone hard against Kellie Leitch and Kevin O'Leary's borrowed tactics. Let's hope it goes better than it did for Jeb Bush.

From the Economist, Matt Steinglass predicts that Europe will slip deeper into the control of right-wing populists in 2017. 

This headline was a real shocker "North Carolina is no longer considered a democracy". 

Jane Jacobs may have predicted the rise of Trumpian politics with a focus on nationalism and xenophobia

The Washington Post reports that Poland, like far too many countries, is falling to illiberal democracy

Thomas Walkom writes about the neo-liberalism of Justin Trudeau, or as many New Democrats would put it, 'Liberal, Tory, same old story.' 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Review: The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

I greatly enjoyed The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin and so was eager to read his follow-up, The Oath. The Nine examines the Renquist court, which was remarkably stable. The Oath on the other hand uses the framing device of Obama's first term. This is an important distinction. The book concludes in 2012, not 2016. Perhaps Toobin will write a third book or a second edition that encompasses the entire presidency. While reading this book in December of 2016 I could not help but reflect upon the importance and transformative nature of the supreme court and how President-Elect Trump may shape it. It is a disturbing thought exercise.

When people think of President George W. Bush's legacy the majority will concern themselves with foreign policy and the other policies associated with the post-9/11 period. After reading this book I wonder if Bush's most significant domestic legacy will be the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Following the appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito in 2005 and 2006 the court lurched radically to the right. The extent of the change became fully apparent under Obama's first term. Before 2006 the far right of the court was occupied by Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, but with Alito and Roberts' appointment they joined the mainstream of the court. Decisions like Citizens United and others reveal how radical the Supreme Court has become.

Toobin's writing reveals, in my opinion, that he is sympathetic or aligned to the criticisms of the new court. Under the Roberts court precedent is simply irrelevant and the so-called conservative justices feel comfortable overturning laws, displacing decades of precedence and going against the expressed will of the democratically elected branches of government to satisfy their own legal ideology.

Toobin gives the reader far more than one would get from reading current coverage of the courts. He provides deep background on the personalities of the justices and their lives. During this period several tragedies marred the court and he discusses how it shaped the decision making and relationships. Toobin also provides a broader, more meaningful context. The right-wing (for lack of a better term) essentially want to reset the United States to the Lochner Era (pre-1937) where government intervention in many fields was viewed as unconstitutional. Lochner has been cited in recent cases to justify decisions despite 70 years of precedent overruling it.

Ignoring who controls the White House and the Congress, the Supreme Court is poised to continue to march down this revolutionary path. It would do little good to elect a liberal president in 2020 if the supreme court has curtailed the interventions that could meaningfully make a difference. Toobin implies that progressives need to take the courts more seriously and I think this book makes a compelling case on how Obama failed in that regard in his first term.

Though not as strong as The Nine I found this a compelling and disturbing read. I recommend it those interested in the law, the supreme court and American politics.