Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Are we all together?

Big and bigger cavemen rejoice

My brother and me 

Tragedies, such as the brutal slaying of 49 members of Orlando’s LBGTQ community (more than 50 others are recovering from their injuries in hospital), shrink the world. They remind us that, in the end, we are all members of the human family.

So it was, earlier this week, when New Brunswick Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman flew the rainbow flag over the provincial legislature at half-mast, stating, “These were needless, senseless killings. It shouldn’t happen, not in today’s world.”

So it was when Chantal Thanh Laplante, an organizer with Moncton’s River of Pride organization, declared, “We stand strongly in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Orlando and with all the other victims and survivors of hate crimes across the world. Let’s not fight hate with hate. Let’s fight hate with love and peace because we know that in the end, love and peace will always win.”

So it was when Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan told the Charlottetown Guardian, “You can see it from Pride (P.E.I.) and others in the community that we respond with solidarity and pride. This is obviously a senseless act, (but) it’s also an opportunity for us to show that we stand together. It’s horrific that this gay club and these people were targeted.”

It’s not surprising, then, for many to view this particular massacre through a lens focused on broad social principles that apply to all, and not exclusively to the victims of the crime: civilization versus barbarity; freedom versus tyranny.

U.S. President Barack Obama said as much in a statement from the White House: “We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terror. We will go wherever the facts lead us. . .What is clear is he was a person filled with hatred. . .This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” adding, “no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”

He was in good company. Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Norbert Cunningham, writing in the Moncton Times & Transcript , stated, “What the Orlando attack and every other shooting of this kind has been really about is not sexuality, not religion, not race, not paranoia about pre-fab scapegoats. The target is freedom and democratic values, themselves.”

And, of course, neither gentleman is wrong.

Still, it’s important to remain clear about the specific context of any act of savagery, for that’s the only way we may truly fight the bilious violence that afflicts us and threatens our larger, shared values.

The queer, trans, black and Latino clubbers weren’t murdered because they were freedom-loving Americans. They were murdered because they were members of the LGBTQ community in a country that has not always tolerated their preferences, activities, even existence.

My younger brother – a proud, successful, gay man who lives in Los Angeles – knows first-hand the inarticulate rage that’s sometimes directed toward him. To conflate the peril he faces from some people’s attitude towards his sexual orientation with, say, that of mine – a hetero grandpop of European ancestry walking down a Halifax Street at 2 a.m. – is to trivialize the deliberate nature of hate, itself.

Pride organizers are right. We defeat hate with love every day, one-on-one, in each waking moment, before the events of Orlando become all too tragically commonplace.

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For the man who has everything


It will be Canada’s first shot at the head table in 20 years. In fact, a state dinner with the putative leader of the free world is no small honour for a greenhorn prime minister of the Great White North. So, the order of the day, off the main menu or a la carte, is simply: Don’t blow it Justin.

Specifically, don’t use the salad fork to cut your rubber chicken. Don’t haul out a bottle of Niagara vino and invite your hosts to dump their overpriced French Bordeaux in favour of it. And, for heaven’s sake, scrupulously avoid lecturing anyone about Canada’s superior health care system and gun laws.

Not that any of this is likely when Mr. Trudeau assembles with his wife and entourage behind the Rose Garden this week in Washington. After all, he’s too smart to blow a free lunch, as it were.

He knows that, at the moment, everyone, including U.S. President Barack Obama, positively adores the cut of his jib. (Why, even the Dread Pirate Trump, whose own Republican Party is figuring ways to make the usurper in their midst walk the plank, has issued a few blandly nice comments about this country’s decidedly Liberal, political honcho).

Still, for Mr. Trudeau, none of this settles the question: What do you give a man who has everything?

Indeed, ‘gifting’ between heads of state is a long, honoured tradition in this and other corners of the globe. Late last year, a Bloomberg Politics report had this to say about the practice:

“The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz lavished the president (Obama) and his family with six gifts with more than $1.3 million. They included a men’s watch for the president, which was estimated to cost more than $18,000, and a ‘diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch’ for Obama’s school-age daughters.’”

Meanwhile, according to the news item, “Various Chinese officials were also generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets. Many gifts are traditional offerings – fountain pens, vases, cognac, and the like. Others demonstrate pride, including French wines or traditional garb of a given country. In the past, though, Obama has also received wackier fare, including 20 baseball caps with his face on them, as reported by Yahoo.”

Oddly, there’s very little literature on the subject of official state gifts from Canada’s Prime Minister to America’s Commander in Chief (although the satirical, online magazine The Lapine once had a field day ‘reporting’ Stephen Harper’s bequest of a two-year-old beaver named ‘Slick’).

Certainly, the circumstance demands immediate redress. Mr. Trudeau could choose from a cornucopia of obvious trinkets and delicacies with which to honour Mr. Obama: A plank of pricey salmon from British Columbia; a hockey puck from the 1972 showdown between Team Canada and the former USSR, a cutting of winter ice from the Rideau Canal preserved in a summer cooler.

None of these, though, strike me as novel or even emblematically Canadian in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Might I suggest an alternative?

Somewhere in the back country of New Brunswick, a little distillery with a big international reputation, produces the best gin that has ever passed these (or anyone else’s) lips. As this province helped hand a convincing electoral victory to Mr. Trudeau last fall, it would apropos to ship a case of Distillerie Fils du Roy’s ‘Thuya’ to the White House.

There, behind the Rose Garden, may the two world leaders sip away their worries, plot world peace, and admire the cuts of their respective jibs.

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Trumping American reason


Many times over the past decades have we shaken our Canadian heads and clucked our Canadian tongues at the sight of the circus that is, so often, U.S. presidential politics.

There was former movie star-cum-California governor Ronald Reagan “horsing around” on talk radio about “bombing” Moscow in 1984.

There was George W. Bush stealing (literally) the presidency away from Al Gore in 2000.

There was Mitt Romney who effectively lost his bid for the White House after engaging in a peculiar bit of social calculus in 2012:

“There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president (Barack Obama) no matter what. . .47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

But no one, and I mean no one, has come close to the audacity, vulgarity and caustic cynicism of Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate tycoon and former reality show producer and host, who, to the astonishment of many in the still flappable mainstream media, enjoys a public approval rating of 23 per cent in a field of 17 Republican candidates for president.

That may not sound impressive to our north-of-the-border ears, where our own candidates for prime ministerial vainglory are flirting with a three-way draw of about 30 per cent. But consider that, in the U.S., the next nearest in line to Mr. Trump for civic approbation on the right hand of the political ledger, Jeb Bush, enjoys a mere 12 or 13 per cent, followed in descending order by Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie and the rest of the gang.

All of which may only prove that the steady doses of abuse, insult, and villainous misrepresentation that have defiled the American electoral system have finally become politics-as-usual – in other words, no big deal.

Apparently, it’s no big deal when Mr. Trump questions Senator John McCain’s war record. Neither is it any great cause for alarm when “The Donald” calls comedian Rosie O’Donnell a “big, fat pig” and a “slob”.

Indeed, according to Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, writing in ThinkProgress online “Trump has a long history of sexist comments. Soon after the first Republican presidential debate ended, Trump retweeted a comment deriding Kelly as a ‘bimbo’. . .In 1991, he told Esquire, ‘it doesn’t really matter what (the media) write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of (expletive).’

More food for thought, courtesy of Ms. Lee: “When a lawyer once asked for a medical break to pump breast milk for her daughter, Trump reportedly told her ‘you’re disgusting’ before walking out of the room. Trump said that the women on his reality show The Apprentice all flirted with him because ‘I believe we’re all equal except women still have to try harder and they know it. They will do what they have to do to get the job done and will not necessarily be demure about it.’”

Thank you for sharing. Still, this is the guy who once said, not too long ago, that political correctness is killing America. Perhaps this is why a goodly number of Americans appear ready to send him the White House next year.

We Canadians may occasionally deride the lack of decorum in our own campaigns for office.

Under the circumstances, though, Stephen Harper’s most recent attack ads seem downright adorable.

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The new cone of silence


We, all of us, had begun to think that nothing we said, did or even felt was private. After all, doesn’t London, England, maintain the largest collection of closed-circuit television cameras in public spaces of any city in the entire world?

We had even begun to suspect that in our own hometowns on this side of the pond, we weren’t actually safe from the prying eyes of spooks and creeps in the employ of Canada’s secret services.

In fact, we’ve lived with the conviction that our lives have not been our own since the last episode of the X-Files, just in time for the first episode of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney road show.

An entire generation of voters in North America has not only grown accustomed to having its personal information mined and consumed by complete strangers – it has come to welcome it.

As Daniel Newman, a technology journalist, wrote in Forbes Magazine’s online platform last year, “With social media users well over a billion and a growing mobile and wearable trends that puts us online almost around the clock, we are ever connected and endlessly sharing what seems like our every idea.

“This feeling of connectedness undoubtedly gives many a sense of community and happiness, as it is through the sharing of our everyday lives that we are able to garner the feedback we seek and the validity that we need.

However, if we are fooled, for even a moment, as to what all of this is really about – the desire to have us tethered without wires and connected without cost – then we are delusional. . .I, for one, can say that I have almost never read the privacy policy of an application I downloaded.”

Indeed, we may be delusional. But when, this week, the U.S. Senate reformed one of the signature Acts – introduced in the aftermath of the 9-11 catastrophe to curtail individual privacy rights – for the first time in more than a decade confusion suddenly became clarity.

“Reversing U.S. security policy that had been in place since shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the bill would end a system exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon in 2013,” a Reuters report stipulated. “A federal appeals court on May 7 ruled the collection of ‘metadata’ illegal. The new law would require telephone companies to collect and store telephone ‘metadata’ the same way that they do now for billing purposes. But instead of routinely feeding U.S. intelligence agencies such data, the companies would be required to turn it over only in response to a government request.”

Oh, well, fellow plebes and peons, at least it’s a start in the right direction.

The notion that the state – which eschews paying for anything that might actually improve the minds, moods and attitudes of the citizens who fund it ­– works for the people has been discredited in so many present ways and means. That the Obama Administration – so hopeful, so fundamentally feckless – has finally managed to push through a truly progressive piece of legislation is, frankly, a miracle of American politics.

Could such an epiphany materialize here, in the Great White North?

Currently, our putative whistleblowers remain underground. They don’t seek asylum in sketchy nations where the weather is even worse than Canada’s. They wait in silence, knowing that nothing they say or do is actually private. They, who do the government’s business, keep their heads down.

After all, doesn’t Ottawa maintain the second-largest collection of closed-circuit television cameras in public spaces of any city in the entire world?

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All the malaprops and melodious valedictories of office 


The public’s love-hate relationship with political speeches is not merely a matter of record; it is an historical fact. It’s also an observably mutable one.

On word, for example, that a young Winston Churchill, primping and posing in the early years of the 20th century, was about to speak, his fellow parliamentarians (of all ideological bents) could not flee the Commons’ chamber fast enough.

Today, of course, we recognize the late Prime Minister of Great Britain as one of the all-time great speechifiers in english

His famous quips inspired (“to build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years; to destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day”), assured (“success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”), motivated (this is no time for ease and comfort; it is time to dare and endure”), advised (if you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. . . use a pile driver. . . hit the point once. . . then come back and hit it again. . .then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack”), and amused (“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly”).

Prior to winning the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama had been considered a worthy successor of Churchillian oratory – certainly, a breath of fresh and invigorating air, given his immediate predecessor’s preternatural talent for issuing verbal gaffes and malapropisms.

Ah, yes, George W. Bush, we continue to miss your skilled use of language from 

“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” to “rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?”

And we have not forgotten this: “They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander in chief, too.”

Or this: “There’s no doubt in my mind, not one doubt in my mind, that we will fail.” Or this: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Or, finally, this: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, fool me once, shame on shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again.”

In the dim light of such unintentional tom-foolery, Obama has presented himself as a virtual oracle of hope and promise (which is his deliberate brand statement). In fact, giving speeches, some critics have observed of his term-and-a-half as president,  is about the only thing he does well.  As for follow through. . .well, not so much.

Still, in last week’s sixth State of the Union address he was, as political speechwriters like to say, on fire; and sitting here in the frigid northern reaches of North America, it’s hard not draw comparisons with our own latter-day Ciceros.

“At every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot,” he thundered. “We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the Internet tools they needed to go as far as their effort and their dreams will take them.

“That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success, we want everyone to contribute to our success.”

In Canada, our version of a call to citizen action sounds a lot like this passage from the 2013 Speech from the Throne: “(Ours) is now among only a few countries in the world with a triple-A credit rating. By taking decisive action, Canada has stayed strong where others have faltered.

“But we cannot be complacent. The global economy still faces significant risks from factors that we do not control. We must stay the course. And sound management remains our Government’s guide.”

Who knows? Maybe this will be remembered someday as a glittering example of 21st Century oratory.

“Staying the course” may be every government’s boring, old bread and butter, but

a political speech that doesn’t over-promise. . .well, that’s something to commemorate.

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For a prominent prognosticator, no easy answers in the year ahead


Reading The Economist’s redoubtable annual turn as Nostradamus, we will be forgiven if we emerge shocked, appalled and fundamentally confused.

After all, this is what the western world’s leading print pundit of fair-market capitalism does best: perplex.

“The World in 2015” imparts much the same wisdom as the various “Worlds” the magazine has published since big-picture, 30,000-foot views became both the sage and financially responsible way to board-up the bottom lines of publications heading into the otherwise preoccupied end-of-year times, just around the Christian holidays.

In the early 1980s, at the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, these annual numbers were considered essential reading for cub reporters – just as important, for example, as the Canadian Securities Institute’s textbooks for aspiring investment, dealers, brokers and floor traders.

And as metro and national beat scribblers might have tucked into Charles Dickens, while the snow fell gently on the gritty curbs of downtown Toronto, we trenchers at the ROB studiously perused the writings of Walter Bagehot, The Economist’s preeminent editor (between 1860 and 1877) for clarity about the how the world’s financial systems worked then, and perhaps now, to sadly little avail.

Complexity is, of course, the essential nature of modernity. And accepting intricacy – nay, embracing it – in the affairs of men and women of good conscience is, arguably, what The Economist does best (hence, the name of the publication). In this regard, the 2015 outlook edition does not disappoint.

In his piece, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, writes, “Of all the predictions to be made in 2015, none seems safer than the idea that across the great democracies people will feel deeply let down by those who lead them. In Britain, Spain and Canada, elections will give voters a chance to unleash some of those frustrations.”

Are you listening Messrs. Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau? How about you, Barack Obama, one-time savior of the disavowed?

“The levels of unpopularity and disengagement in the West have now risen to staggering levels,” Micklethwait continues. “Since 2004 a clear majority of Americans have told Gallup that they are dissatisfied with the way they are governed, with the numbers of those fed-up several times climbing above 80 per cent (higher than during Watergate. Britain’s Conservative Party, one of the West’s most successful political machines had three million members in the 1950s; it will fight the (general) election in May with fewer than 200,000.”

So, then, we may reasonably assume, democracy is on the run.

But, wait, here’s what The Economist’s foreign editor, Edward Carr, writes in the same issue:

“Look on the bright side. . .Armed with more realistic expectations, optimists can point to three reasons for hoping for something better in 2015. The first is that democracies take time to respond to new threats and dangers, but when they do they tend to be committed to their new policies. . .The second reason to temper pessimism is adaptation. . .In 2015, China and Japan will begin to put aside their differences. Not because either is willing to give ground on their in their long-running territorial dispute over some rocky outcrops in the East China Sea, but because both need the economic boost from sustained trade and investment between them. . .The third reason concerns America. . .(Some have said) that (Barack Obama) is weak and distracted, and others (have said) that the United States is falling into decline. The charges distort Mr. Obama’s thinking and vastly overstate America’s loss of power.”

In fact, it’s hard to argue with a five-year recovery that has returned five million jobs to the biggest economy on the planet, reduced unemployment to below 5.6 per cent, and goosed annual GDP growth (in that country) to between three and 3.5 per cent over the next 15 months.

Perplexing, indeed.

Are we going to hell in a hand basket; or are we at the cusp of a new age of fair-market capitalism, powered by democracy movements that fully appreciate the role that healthy public institutions play in realizing their peaceful, common goals?

Let us dust off our crystal balls, for all the good they will do us.

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The banality of evil is alive and well in the “civilized” world


The casual brutality with which man treats his fellow man is nowhere near as surprising as is the astonishment with which so-called polite society greets the news of such ritualistic barbarism.

Torture is, after all, a bestial remnant of humanity’s atavistic past. Is it not? And where it still occurs in the world’s dark enclaves, where fanaticism festers and seeps like an infected wound, surely civilized principles of democracy, justice, faith and moral rectitude will soon ride like horsemen of the apocalypse to smite the villains where they stand.

Certainly, it can’t happen here. “Canada,” Foreign Minister John Baird declares with all the certitude of a specimen of the most evolved species on the planet, “does not torture.”

Perhaps not, but members of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – whose religious, educational and social pedigrees do not stray far from Mr. Baird’s, or, for that matter anybody else’s in this country – most assuredly have. And, according to findings released last week by the American Senate Committee on Intelligence, they have done so with relish.

According to a Global News synopsis, gleaned from the 500-page executive summary of the Committee’s 6,000-page report, CIA operatives routinely deployed despicable tactics to extract information from the detainees and often undocumented prisoners in their clutches in the years following the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington, D.C..

These measures, Global reports, included: “Rectal rehydration, a form of feeding through the rectum” for which “the report found no medical necessity; ice baths; water boarding; weeks of sleep deprivation; slapping and slamming of detainees against walls; confining detainees to small boxes; keeping detainees isolated for prolonged periods (i.e. 47 days in one case); threatening prisoners with death or by telling them their families would suffer, including harm to their children, sexual abuse of the mother of one man and cutting the throat of another man’s mother.”

The news swept through the world so rapidly, so remorselessly, that the U.S. government ordered all of its embassies and consulates on high alert, for fear of reprisals.

Meanwhile the Democratic chair of the intelligence committee, Senator Diane Feinstein, had this to say: “History will judge us by our commitment to a just society, government by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.'”

Where have we heard that before?

The wretched truth is that, for years, all media, everywhere – apart from Fox News, of course – have reported the awful abuses of the past several years. Till now, officialdom’s response has been to deny, deflect and distract, feeding successfully into the general public’s determination to keep its head firmly planted in the sand. Among those who allowed that such interrogation practices probably comprised standard operating procedure during the George W. Bush era, the compelling argument was that if they saved even one innocent life from terror, they were justified.

In fact, though, according to the Committee report, they haven’t and, so, weren’t.

Indeed, no credible evidence indicates that the torture of one, or many, ever averted organized predations on hapless citizens of any country. Tragically, such gruesome methods  just might have inspired them.

So, then, whose terror-filled lives are we gamely facilitating, anyway?

Predictably, U.S. President Barack Obama praises with one fork of his tongue the “patriots” in his intelligence community to whom, he insists, his nation “owes a profound debt of gratitude,” and with the other fork abjures: “What is clear is that the CIA set up something very fast without a lot of forethought to what the ramifications might be. . .Some of these techniques that were described were not only wrong, but also counterproductive because we know that oftentimes when somebody is being subjected to these kinds of techniques, that they are willing to say anything to alleviate the pain.”

Spoken like a true technocrat.

Shall we willingly forget that treating people in this way makes monsters of us all? Shall we ignore the slippery slope that delivers our righteous ambitions into the pit of our barbarity?

What price do we, in our comfortable lives, pay when we manifest surprise at the depth of our own depravity?

Not my business, we say.

Sorry, fellow animal; but, again, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Canada’s climate chickens now come home to roost


For months, even years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that he is as environmentally friendly as the next guy, and so is his government.

In fact, with the leader of Canada’s largest trading partner, he has played a high-stakes game of truth or dare. Just as soon as U.S. President Barack Obama announces a convincing program to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has said, so will he.

Now that the former has done just, to the surprise of the developed and developing world, alike, it remains to the latter to answer the only question that matters on an inexorably warming planet: Now what, Captain Canada?

Indeed, the policy change south of the border, announced last week, is not merely surprising; it’s stunning. The new U.S.-China joint agreement would see the Yanks cut GHG output 26 per cent from 2005 quantities by 2025. The previous commitment had been a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020, a target the Americans are, in any case, quite likely to hit.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have thrown themselves into a multi-billon-dollar build-out of renewable energy technologies and production facilities (including, it should be noted, nuclear) – an initiative that should help them fulfill their new pledge to cap the production of GHGs to levels comparable with the United States by 2030.

Why this accord, and why now?

As different as are their respective political conventions, economic institutions and societies, the U.S. and China still share one embarrassing habit in the arena of energy production: their relatively heavy use of coal, a fossil fuel that makes oil and particularly natural gas seem, by comparison, pristine.

According to the Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, “In the United States, coal is the third-largest primary energy source, accounting for 18 per cent of all energy consumed in 2012 with the electric power sector accounting for 91 per cent of U.S. coal consumption.

“With the highest carbon content of all the fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion represented 24.5 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. . .Globally, coal is one of the most widely distributed energy resources with recoverable reserves in nearly 70 countries. The U.S., China, and India are the top producers and consumers of coal. Worldwide, coal supplies 29.7 per cent of energy use and is responsible for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions.”

Of course, given the most recent news from the front lines of the global-warming wars, some sort of U.S.-China compact on the issue was not entirely unexpected.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth word on the subject in as many years. It makes for chilling reading.

Reported the Guardian: “The new overarching IPCC report builds on previous reports on the science, impacts and solutions for climate change. It concludes that global warming is ‘unequivocal’, that humanity’s role in causing it is ‘clear’ and that many effects will last for hundreds to thousands of years even if the planet’s rising temperature is halted.”

Added Bill McKibben, a climate crusader of the first and most popular order, in the piece: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. . .Thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”

No, they won’t, Mr. Harper. So, again, what say you?

The federal government’s reduction target, even before the new agreement between its two biggest export markets, was doomed from the outset. Only the rosiest prognosticators suggested that a 17 per cent cut in GHGs from 2005 in this country had a hope in Hades of materializing by 2020. The reason is simple.

This government’s political and ideological capital is invested entirely in the success of the western tar sands. That’s where it wants derelict Canucks from the East and the Centre to work. That’s where it wants to find its tax revenues and corporate royalties.

It cares very little about anything else that might have been considered, at some point in the elegiac past, authentically Canadian.

The Tories’ current conundrum is that the world, through the U.S. and China, is beginning to turn a corner (late, perhaps) that might well leave their atavistic thinking behind, along with their government.

They just might be thinking about using the fuel in the ground to build the infrastructure necessary to, one day, abandon it forever, except as seed for renewable manufactures.

Then what, Captain Canada?

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Welcome back, you summertime follies


North of the normally frozen 49th parallel, summer reaches its apogee, often baking the brains of public figures just well enough to justify calling this the silliest season of the year. On the other hand, when it comes to official foolishness, we don’t dare hold a candle to the Americans.

Last week, in the land of the Star-Spangled Banner, Congressional Republicans voted in favour of suing President Barack Obama for allegedly trampling the Constitution during his campaign to ram healthcare reforms down the gullets of unwitting citizens, (which would be, presumably, their preferred take on the matter).

“This administration has effectively rewritten the law without following the constitutional process,” GOP Representative Pete Sessions was quoted as saying to Washington reporters following the 225-201 vote, in which only five Republicans demurred and not a single Democrat assented.

According to a Reuters account, “The suit is expected to claim that Obama, a Democrat, exceeded his executive authority in making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Republicans argue that by delaying some healthcare coverage mandates and granting various waivers, he bypassed Congress in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Indeed, over the past six years, the GOP has made as much mischief for the president as is democratically possible. But this is the first time in history when members of Congress have actually sought redress for their complaints with the Executive branch of government through civil litigation.

But that’s not even the most absurd aspect of the affair. This is: The Republicans are suing over changes to Obamacare that they, themselves, demanded the president make back in October.

“Obama, himself, tweaked Republicans on Wednesday,” CNN reported last week. “In Kansas City, Missouri, he noted the House was about to leave Washington for the month of August, but ‘the main vote that they have scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job.’”

In one sense, though, the threat of a lawsuit is a more logical avenue to go down than that other, more common expression of opprobrium: impeachment. The Republicans know that they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of stick-handling that result. They don’t have the votes in the Senate. 

Still, according to a CNN analysis, “The issue resonates with Democratic supporters, according to Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The group has raised $7.6 million online since Boehner announced the lawsuit plan just over five weeks ago, he said. ‘You bet we’re going to run on a Congress that is just obsessed with lawsuits, suing the President, talking about impeaching him instead of solutions for the middle class, talking about jobs and infrastructure,’ he said.”

All of which fuels the U.S. public’s thoroughly unalloyed disgust with politics in general. “Americans are finding little they like about President Barack Obama or either political party, according to a new poll that suggests the possibility of a ‘throw the bums out’ mentality in next year’s midterm elections,” an Associated Press story declared last fall.  “The AP-GfK poll finds few people approve of the way the president is handling most major issues and most people say he’s not decisive, strong, honest, reasonable or inspiring.”

Meanwhile, “In the midst of the government shutdown and Washington gridlock, the president is faring much better than his party, with large majorities of those surveyed finding little positive to say about Democrats. The negatives are even higher for the Republicans across the board, with 4 out of 5 people describing the GOP as unlikeable and dishonest and not compassionate, refreshing, inspiring or innovative.”

So much grist, so little time to mill up here in Canada where we try vainly to compete for scandal mongering with the Joneses south of us.

Alas, notwithstanding the Conservative caucus of Stephen Harper – the fetishistic attraction for control, the militancy, the coarse name-calling that passes for principled debate – we just don’t seem to have what it takes.

Not, at least, like the Yanks.

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Climate change is real. But do the feds care?



Senior federal Tories no longer deny, as more than a few once did, encroaching climate change. Their thinking on the issue has evolved. Now, they accept it, almost willingly, as a cost of doing business in the 21st Century.

With all the bellicosity that this proposition implies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper thumbed his nose at U.S. President Barack Obama this week, suggesting that the latter’s effort to enforce new emission standards for power plants was disingenuous.

“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” he said during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Ottawa. “We are just a little more frank about that.”

Moreover, he added, “the measures outlined by President Obama, as important as they are, do not go nearly as far in the electricity sector as the actions Canada has already taken ahead of the United States in that particular sector.”

Finally, he said, “It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change, but we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth. . .Frankly, every single country in the world (feels the same way).”

Now, who’s being disingenuous?

Canada’s official government position on climate change is virtually non-existent. The feds do not maintain, let alone enforce, regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry for a very good reason: They are terrified of angering their pals in Big Petrol. 

According to a report in the Globe and Mail last year, the World Resources Institute stated that in 2010 this country’s carbon footprint was the tenth-largest in the world. “On a per-capita basis, Canada is 17th; among the G20, Canada trails only Australia and the United States,” the item noted.

As for Canada’s putative lead over the United States in regulating the electricity sector, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank based in British Columbia, begs to differ. In a blog post on June 4, he wrote:

“While Canada did introduce federal coal regulations in 2012, the regulations have a long phase-in period that allows some of Canada’s coal plants to operate clear through the middle of the century, without any greenhouse gas controls whatsoever.”

Mr. Dyer observes that this “timid response” guarantees that meaningful drops in greenhouse gas emissions won’t appear until 2030. In this context, he writes, “The U.S. proposal is far more effective at reducing greenhouse gases from electricity generation in the short term, compared to business as usual. Analysis suggests the EPA rules would reduce power sector emissions by an estimated 23 per cent below business as usual by 2025, compared to five per cent from Canada’s federal regulations (according to Environment Canada’s own numbers).”

Apart from this, Pembina estimates that, between 2005 and 2020, tar sands expansion will have rendered preposterous Canada’s faint-hearted promise to the international community to cut its greenhouse gas production by 17 per cent.

“Environment Canada estimates that Canada will only be ‘halfway’ to meeting its 2020 target in 2020 – meaning that we’re on track to miss the 2020 target by 113 million tonnes, or double the current emissions of British Columbia,” wrote Clare Demerse, Pembina’s former director of federal policy, on the Institute’s website last year. “To date, the federal government has not published any plan or proposal to close that gap.”

Under the circumstances, how can any political leader in Ottawa claim with a straight face that the government has a plan for mitigating the effects of the nation’s increasingly rapacious fossil fuel industry?

Energy Minister Joe Oliver is practically apoplectic over the possibility that Alberta oil will forever languish where it does no one any good. In a recent speech, he described the black gold as “landlocked”, costing the national economy billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is ritually fond of stating that the federal government’s emissions policy demonstrates how she and her Conservative confederates are “standing up for Canadian jobs,” as if no clean, sustainable alternative is even worth considering.

Fair enough. But if certain federal Tories no longer deny the existence of climate change, neither should they deny the other truth: They couldn’t care less.


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