Sunday, 29 January 2017

Guess which country dodged Trump's travel ban

President Donald Trump has manifested his regime's Islamophobia with a ban on the nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. The choice of countries is odd. Not a single citizen from any of these countries has ever committed a terrorist act in the United States. Not one.

On the other hand, a country of particular interest when it comes to terrorist attacks in the U.S. has been left off the list. Of which country do I speak you ask. Take a guess.... no? Well, let me give you a hint: from which country came 15 of the 19 terrorists who conducted the 9/11 bombings? Saudi Arabia, you say? Bingo! Furthermore, the Congressional investigation of the attacks reported that there were connections between the attackers and members of the Saudi royal family. And then there is the Saudi funding of extremist institutions around the world.

Yet they are not banned. Some pundits have noted that Muslim countries in which Trump has investments were excluded, and considering the Donald's ethics that could certainly be the case. However, I would suggest two other reasons. One, Saudi Arabia has the world's largest reserves of conventional oil, which it sells liberally to the U.S., and two, Saudi is the Americans' major customer for weapons sales.

So, the message would seem to be that Muslims are bad, unless they sell you oil and buy your guns, then they are good. The Americans have always pandered to the Sauds, so that part is nothing new. Now the pandering even overcomes Trump's Islamophobia.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Canadians opt for co-operative government

The results from the federal government's survey are now in and one clear result has emerged.

The survey, mailed out to every household in the country inviting online participation, was a follow-up to a report by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. The committee had spent months listening to experts and citizens, however the government seemed to think something additional was required and so created the survey. The government claims that "383,074 unique users" competed the survey. I doubt the number of "unique" users is entirely accurate because no ID was required, so one could send in as many responses as one wanted. I myself sent in at least a dozen.

But enough about cheaters. The survey was in itself of questionable value. The questions were ambivalent and the selection of questions biased. One result, however, is not in doubt: Canadians believe in co-operative governance. Seventy per cent of respondents said it was preferable that several parties share accountability and co-operate in governing rather than one party being solely responsible. This was Canadians' top priority for electoral reform. Five different versions of this question gave consistent results.

If the government takes the survey seriously, indeed if it takes the whole electoral reform process seriously, it would have to introduce a voting system that requires a more co-operative approach. And that would be a system of proportional representation. But, the big question remains: will it take the process seriously?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Lies, alternative facts and the Trump universe

Describing somewhat exaggerated claims about the inauguration by Donald Trump's press secretary, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway came up with the delightful phrase "alternative facts." It has so much more of a lilt to it than "lies." Trump came up with a few alternative facts himself, claiming that the sun shone during his inauguration speech (it rained) and that he lost the popular vote as a result of three to five million votes by illegal aliens.

His incessant lying raises the question of whether or not he actually believes what he says. The disturbing truth may be that he does. He may live in an alternative universe where things are the way he wants them to be. He wanted the sun to shine on his inauguration speech, so it did. He wanted to win the popular vote, so he did but was cheated out of it. In other words, the president of the United States may not be fully in touch with reality.

On the bright side, sales of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 have apparently soared.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Inauguration Day—from class to crass

I have differed with Barack Obama on various issues during his presidency, but on one point I hold no reservations: he is the classiest U.S. president in my lifetime. A man of intelligence and eloquence, he displayed a combination of grace and dignity that honoured his office.

And now he is to be replaced by easily the most boorish individual to ever assume the presidency—a vulgar narcissist devoid of both charm and substance.

Oh America, America, what have you done.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The world does indeed need more Canada

I wrote the title to this post with some reluctance. I am not a patriot and have little use for flag-waving. Nonetheless, I believe Barack Obama was right when he declared, "the world needs more Canada." The reason came home to me while reading an essay in the Guardian by Charles Foran entitled "The Canada experiment: is this the world's first 'postnational' country?" He was picking up on our Prime Minister's comment in an interview with the New York Times Magazine. "There is no core identity," Trudeau had said, "no mainstream in Canada.”

This struck a chord with me. I experience little blood and soul connection to my country, even while recognizing my great good luck being born here. To me, loyalty to your society is best expressed not by emotional binging but by being a good citizen. That applies to all the societies of which you are a part, your local community, your city, your province, your country, the world. It means being a good person and an involved citizen.

Foran's thesis is that a lack of a core identity allows Canada to readily absorb people of any identity, filling "our spaces with the diversity of the world." We are creating a country that not only enjoys the prosperity that diversity brings but also a society with a refreshing openness, a society that can evolve, that can "respond to newness without fear." Inclusiveness is practical as well as moral.

The ability to live without a national identity has allowed us to avoid the nativism (Stephen Harper's "old stock Canadians" notwithstanding) and the right-wing populism plaguing so much of the Western world at the moment.

With the greatest challenges to our species now being global—climate change, nuclear war, inequality, refugees—never before have we been more in need of societies that are not inhibited by identity based on religious and racial norms, societies able to get beyond tribalism and open themselves to the world. By offering proof that such a society can be realized and prosper, we do the world a service.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Pipelines, good-looking liberals and Hanoi Jane

Jane Fonda is unhappy with our prime minister. She has announced that "we shouldn't be fooled by good-looking liberals." Rachel Notley says Fonda doesn't know what she's talking about. I'm with Rachel.

Ms. Fonda, an ardent environmentalist, believes that by supporting pipelines, Prime Minister Trudeau "has betrayed every one of the things that he committed to in Paris" and advises us to get rid of him at the ballot box.

She ought to know better. The U.S. just got rid of its good-looking liberal and I don't think Ms. Fonda is entirely happy with the alternative. I doubt she'd be happy with our alternative either.

What Fonda doesn't seem to understand is that the U.S. got Donald Trump for president because the Democrats didn't recognize something that our government does. I refer to the fact that many people are not benefiting, or are even suffering, from two big economic revolutions: globalization and automation. Trudeau has pointed out that these changes promise great prosperity but can also create alienation and inequality. One of his key cabinet ministers, Chrystia Freeland, has even written a book about it: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.

Trump won the election largely because he recognized and exploited the anger and despair in the Rust Belt states that resulted from the loss of millions of well-paid, blue-collar union jobs, victims of globalization and automation. If Hilary Clinton had paid more attention to the "deplorables" and less to the bankers, she might have recognized their anxieties and pulled the rug out from under her rival. But she didn't.

In Canada, the oil industry creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, good jobs—a blue collar worker can hardly do better. We all know we have to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, but that will take a while, and in the meantime we would be well advised to protect these jobs until we can replace them with equivalents. I don't want to see Alberta become a rust-belt province and I don't want a Canadian version of Trump for prime minister, or premier for that matter.

Our government is attempting to find the route that combines environmental responsibility with economic prosperity. It is a challenging route to navigate, but it is the only way. If we take good care of our middle class, our middle class will take good care of the environment.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A carbon tax—an ethical imperative

The following article was published in the Calgary Herald on January 7th under my byline. You can read it here, along with comments, or below.

A carbon tax allows us to clean up after ourselves

Like most people, one of the life lessons I learned at my mother’s knee was that if you make a mess, you clean it up.

Indeed, I am perhaps somewhat anal about it. If, for example, I see someone toss candy wrappers on the street, or see a kid write graffiti on a building, I find it offensive. I believe respecting other people’s property, whether public or private, is merely a matter of good manners and good ethics.

And yet I can drive my car down the street, or ride a bus — the vehicle spewing clouds of noxious gasses into the air, clouds of garbage, so to speak — with complete impunity. And most of my fellow citizens are quite prepared to allow me this extraordinary privilege.

Their generosity arises no doubt from the fact that the mess I am making cannot be seen. Therefore, it doesn’t exist. Out of sight, out of mind. But it does exist. It exists, and it is a far fouler mess than candy wrappers or graffiti. It poisons the very air we breathe, and worse, it contributes to global warming, thus endangering global society.

But how am I to stand accountable? I can hardly collect the emissions in a balloon on the end of my tailpipe and throw it in the bin when I get home. Fortunately, there is an answer, a rather obvious one — a carbon tax.

If I am unable to actually clean up the mess, I can still compensate for my behaviour by paying a tax that can be dedicated to reducing the ill-effects of the emissions.

If I am taxed on the amount I produce, and that tax is dedicated to reducing pollution, then I am, indirectly, at least, cleaning up after myself. I can then confront the candy-wrapper tossers and graffiti artists with a clear conscience.

And the carbon tax is as fair as it is ethically responsible. It allows us to compensate for our sins and it does so in a perfectly equitable way: the more you pollute, the more you pay. So forget for a moment the contribution of greenhouse gasses to global warming — personal responsibility for our actions in itself demands a carbon tax.

But we can hardly forget about global warming, can we? It is real and we are responsible for it, largely from our consumption of energy. We should, therefore, be prepared to account for our actions for this reason as well.

And this responsibility falls heavily on Albertans. We are, current oil prices notwithstanding, one of the richest provinces in one of the richest countries in the world. Few can more afford to pay for their sins more than we can. And our sin is great. Our province is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in a country that is, per capita, one of biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

Few are more individually responsible for the sin of anthropogenic climate change and few are more able to accept their responsibility.

With the recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, some voices have claimed that as the Americans will now shrink their commitment to combating global warming, we should drop the idea of carbon taxes.

Quite aside from positing Trump as a moral exemplar, we should base our conduct on what is right, not on the irresponsible behaviour of our neighbours. That, too, is one of those life lessons.

It is time we stood accountable for our littering of the public domain with gaseous garbage. A carbon tax is no more than acceptance of personal responsibility.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Women as answer to the priest problem

Father Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, is concerned about the state of the Church in his native Ireland. Very concerned indeed. He describes priests in Ireland as "little more than a ceremonial presence on the sidelines of life" and as a "lost tribe." He laments the drastic decline in their number, down almost 17% in a decade, and the fact the vast majority of those remaining are old men.

To counter the crisis, he suggests ordaining married men as priests and ordaining women as deacons. Progressive ideas for a priest, yet he is still unable to accept the notion of women being equal to men. He opts instead for a clerical glass ceiling.

What an opportunity missed. Ordaining women as priests would in a moment double the pool available for the priesthood while at the same time go a long way to mitigating the scandal of child molestation that plagues the institution.

Not that I mourn the decline of the Irish Church, but I would think that those faithful who think progressively, such as the 90 per cent who believe priests should be allowed to marry, must regret the unnecessary decline of their priesthood, the many committed women precluded from fully serving their faith, and the congregants deprived of many fine pastors. The saviours of the Church are at hand, but even an innovative priest such as Father Hoban cannot overcome the residual misogyny of his institution.