Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

The Trump – Thatcher triangle.

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Trump finally did it. He lost it all over a mosquito. It was enough to make you wonder if the mosquito was real or imagined. And it was an example of the root cause of our society’s problems. Out of a 70-minute speech, social media lit up with 15-seconds of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump trying to kill a mosquito.

And it finally told us why we could never believe in Trump as President of the United States. He reminds us too much of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990. It is true: Trump in drag would even look like Margaret Thatcher.

While often defined as a political libertarian, Thatcher was to, to say the least, heavy handed. Her autocratic style had somewhat more direction than Trump’s. She was definitely better focussed. They hardly called her “The Iron Lady” for no reason.

The best social media comment on Trump’s “Mosquito” speech was by Republican strategist Stuart Stevens. He said “A concerned family would be talking about taking car keys away from Donald Trump not giving him nuclear codes.”

But in this age of 140-character assessments and assassinations, people should have listened to all 70 minutes of his distorted speech. The best part was when he threw his speech notes in the air and the rest was off the wall rather than off the top of a deranged mind. And he totally lost it when he tried to defend his defence of the late Iraqi leader Sadaam Hussein.

It reminds us of Baroness Thatcher in her dotage. A writer had agreed to do a ‘repair’ on an interview with her for a chapter in a book. The only problem was there was very little in her answers to suggest that she understood the questions. What the publisher received was a very interesting summation of what she might have said—had she understood the questions.

There is no question that Trump can afford writers to write sensible speeches. He is not good at it but we have also seen him use a teleprompter. What is obviously wrong is that he changes his mind. What we get in speeches by Trump is a constant flow of him changing his mind. These are not speeches, they are rants.

In this sense Trump and Thatcher are of a kind. It is as though the ghost of Baroness Thatcher resides in the Bermuda Triangle and communicates in some way with Trump to give him her political strategy—such as it is.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

Amigos, meet the elephant.

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

The so-called Three Amigos met in Ottawa this week. It was nothing more than a public relations exercise. Nothing substantive could be resolved. The American, Canadian and Mexican leaders simply tried to ignore the problems their countries face. They certainly did not want to talk about the elephant in the room; Donald Trump.

With Barack Obama finishing his second term this coming January, there was little he could contribute to the meeting—other than rhetoric. (That was the first time we have ever seen a teleprompter used in the House of Commons.) He is out come January and either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump will take over. And the chilling prospect of a possible win by Trump in the American elections is not a warm thought for any of the leaders of the three countries.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had the most to gain in this meeting. With a gross domestic product per capita that is about 20 per cent of each of his northern neighbours, he has the toughest job. In a country noted for corporate corruption, political corruption, police corruption and drug cartels, Mexico’s cheap holidays and cheap labour are not always bargains.

And as a third partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico has the most to benefit from the relations. When political demagogues such as Donald Trump rail against open borders and trade agreements, both Canada and Mexico have reason to be concerned.

The convoluted three-way handshake Justin Trudeau tried to initiate during a photo-op was an excellent example of the relationship between the three countries. Everyone was doing his own thing and all Trudeau could do was hug both of them.

What everyone needs to bear in mind is that Canada and Mexico are very much the junior partners in NAFTA and we are at the mercy of American dominance. For Donald Trump to rail against NAFTA in his speeches shows just how ignorant the man is of the reality. All Canada and Mexico can hope for in NAFTA is a degree of fairness. Both countries are at the mercy of states that pass Buy America and Right to Work (anti-union) laws and the American Congress is complicit.

While Canada can easily sooth the Mexican concerns with this country, Mexico will long remember the walls already built by the U.S. to close out their country. For Trump to say he will have Mexico pay for his wall is not only very silly but a very serious insult.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Scotland the brave will carry on.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

You have to admit that there might just be more smarts in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. With a 62 per cent vote to remain with the European Union, Scotland is unlikely to go the route of Brexit. And if the only way to remain is to separate from the United Kingdom, so be it. When they recently voted to stay with the UK, there seemed little reason to separate; now there is.

The situation in Northern Ireland is quite different and needs a separate discussion from what is happening in Scotland. And before you accuse Scotland of having a ‘neverendum referendum,’ it needs to be realized that most Scots were of the opinion that Brexit would be defeated. They were even more surprised than the English bookies by what has happened.

There is of course a great deal of anger building on the continent of Europe. Nobody likes to be rejected. Imagine how people feel in London which also voted strongly to stay. It will take a lot of that bloody English stoicism to carry on through this mess. There was a great deal of that in that brief news conference in front of Downing Street by Prime Minister David Cameron.

It should be an important opportunity for the European Union to deal more effectively with the need for reform. The serious lack of leadership in the European Union has been met so far by the German and French leaders. That can hardly continue if there is not to be more countries fleeing the cloying morass of dealing through the European headquarters in Brussels.

It is particularly amusing that Canada’s parliamentarians are studying vote reform when it is so obvious that proportional voting and single-transferable voting are causing much of the problem for Members of the European Parliament (MEP). The lack of direct election and knowing your MEP has certainly contributed to the parliament’s problems and lack of effectiveness. Who knows if Canada’s parliamentarians will pay attention?

If there was no other reason for Scotland and Northern Ireland to depart the United Kingdom, it is the prospect of Brexit drum-beater MP Boris Johnson succeeding the departing David Cameron. A populist Conservative Johnson has delusions of his role in life and will not be happy to lose either Scotland or Northern Ireland from a less influential (diss)United Kingdom.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is there life after Brexit?

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

While Babel-0n-the-Bay was urged to produce a morning line on the Brexit vote, the decision was made that it was far too close to forecast. And it was. Along with the disappointment of the morning after, the in-box contained a 1900-word diatribe on our ‘pompous’ Brexit commentary. Never has 400 or so words of comment produced so much vitriol.

It is freely admitted that the Brexit commentary was far too casually handled and poorly edited. We all need a good editor. And it is also admitted that this ignorant colonial can never get the names of Great Britain, the United Kingdom and its various subjects and components right but who cares that much? Canadians learn all that stuff in grade school and quickly forget about it. You have to also swear allegiance to the Queen when you join the Canadian Air Force but you forget about it after you leave.

We were also accused of taking liberties in using the royal ‘we.’ In years of teaching writing to business people, the point was always made that only a child writing to mommy from camp starts sentences with ‘I.’ The point is that mommy cares about you; people receiving a business letter from you do not. If you write about what others care about, you will get their attention.

Obviously we did that with this gentleman. He told us he was annoyed as hell. He disagreed with our opinion. Oddly enough, that is also our objective. While reasonably confident in our opinion, we do like to receive comment from readers to keep us on our toes. This gentleman showed us how angry older men can get. He wanted to put a trapdoor under our toes and a noose around our neck.

He sees corporatism as the problem and the neoliberalism of the politicians as the support structure that maintains the corporatism. A former Brit, he sees his adopted country of Canada as being ruled by foreign corporations and decries our politicians’ desire for mounting numbers of free trade pacts. He just does not recognize that the problem is more about political laziness and carelessness than plotting.

The writer sees Babel-on-the-Bay’s ‘lordly’ take on Brexit and the Brits as an example of our failure to understand that everything was going down the drain for the average person in the UK. Frankly we also read a lot of bigotry and ignorance in the scenario. The entire fiasco could not have been better directed by England’s famed Boulting Brothers.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

BREXIT is not a breakfast cereal.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

It is supposedly friendlier to call it “Brexit” than it is to refer to it as telling the European Union to “Get stuffed.” Yet it is amazing how the polyglot peoples living on those beautiful isles have been squabbling on and off since the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Most recently our Scots cousins had a go at telling the English to bugger off in a hotly contested referendum. Knowing our Scots ancestors, we could correctly forecast that one. They are not only parsimonious but they are cautious of change.

But in this referendum to leave the EU, it is the forces of anti-immigration conservatism that are fighting the more liberal forces for growth. This is almost impossible to forecast. We might hope that clear heads prevail but whether you ignore the pollsters or believe them, this vote is just too close.

Listening to a pro-Brexit Brit cabinet minister the other day, he made the mistake of saying that Britain still had the Commonwealth to support them. That seemed to be whistling past the graveyard (‘ignoring the obvious’ for those not understanding the American idiom). There is no Commonwealth any more. It might be a club of cronies but it is no economic unit.

There are thousands of jobs in the British Isles with Canadian companies that are only located there for access to the European Union. No ready access across the Channel will end those jobs. And the economic impact will hurt Canada as well as Great Briton. And then you look for Canadian help?

The economic impact of a pro-Brexit vote could be an economic disaster for the entire world. The EU has to have the third leg of the leadership stool. And that has been Great Briton. Without the balance brought by the Brits to supporting the EU along with the French and the Germans, the union could fall apart. And it would be criminal for Brit bigotry over the refugee crisis in the EU to be the destructive force.

All we can do from the West is hope beyond hope that common sense prevails. We might not be able to convince the bigots and the ignorant that leaving the EU would be very foolish and destructive but we have always respected the average person on the street when it comes to voting. They will figure it out.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Tried and found wanting.

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

If there was a God, would He not be looking down on us today in dismay. Would He be pleased with the state we are in? Would He be pleased with the way we are destroying this beautiful world? Can He be pleased with how casually we kill ourselves and each other?

Is it a contest to see if we can kill more with cars than with guns? Can we allow stupid bigotry to fuel the rise of fascist bullies? Why do we promote racist and religious and tribal hatreds?

And at the same time, we promote base stupidity. Take the Brits. These people who live in those beautiful little isles are so misled that they want to hang themselves economically. They are misdirecting their anger and fears. They are willing to destroy their own economy in their bitterness. If they leave the European Union, they might as well throw their British Pounds into the English Channel. They will be worthless. No other country can subscribe to such ignorance.

And if we send one more foolish Children’s Crusade to the Middle East, we deserve the horrendous costs. If you think you should visit Allah’s House or back yard, you have to wait until you are invited. To visit uninvited is to earn retribution. You cannot practice Jingoism and make peace. You cannot follow false leaders.

Nor should we peace-loving(?) Canadians sell weapons of war against their own people to the Saudi despots. Why do Canadians promote pipelines to export carbon pollution to the rest of the world? Is this not hypocrisy?

We ridicule Americans for their corrupt politics but does that make us any better? Like Americans, we kill ourselves with the sludge in our blood from Big Macs and fries. You can never look down on those you emulate.

And we should stop worrying about the One Per Cent. It is the 99 per cent who need the attention, the nurturing, the worry, as they are the ones who inherit what is left of this poor planet.

We must treat this world as the jewel that it is. It belongs to us and to future generations—our progeny. We must look after this planet and those whose lives intertwine with ours. For ours is but a brief span of a lifetime and we should treat this earth and fellow travellers with the respect they deserve.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Vote Reform Primer: Proportional.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

The following is an up-dated version of the discussion on proportional voting in the Democracy Papers of 2007. This is the second of the series.

There is no denying that proportional voting in its many variations is the most common voting system in the world. This works very well in countries with many languages or with a high rate of illiteracy. All the voter needs to do is indicate which political party they prefer by making a mark or selecting the symbol of the party they prefer. After the election, members of each of the parties are appointed from party lists to the legislature according to the number of votes. There is usually a cut-off point of maybe three or five per cent below which no appointment is made.

In their enthusiasm for this form of voting, you will hear some supporters claiming that it will increase voter turnout and female legislative representation. Would it not be wonderful if such simplistic solutions to fixing our voting systems would work?

But the truth is that it is not so simple. Proportional representation (PR) has evolved in many variations.   Mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting is just one variation that tries to accommodate both first-past-the-post (FPTP) and PR.   MMP is the system that was presented as an option for Ontario voters in the October 2007 referendum.

But can it improve voter turnout? No. The voting method is not what influences voter enthusiasm or voter apathy. MMP voting in Mexico could hardly overcome voter apathy during 71 years of that country’s politics being dominated by one party. It was only the winds of change that took the usual 40 per cent turnout to over 60 per cent in the year 2000 to elect a president from an opposition party.

It has been constantly proved in Canadian elections that the closeness of the contest, the attractiveness of leaders and candidates, the efforts of campaign workers, the reporting of the news media and the major issues being argued as well as regional events are all factors in influencing voter turnout.

“Increasing female legislative representation” is an ongoing myth of those who support proportional voting. This idea might have something to do with the high percentage of women in public office in the Nordic countries of Europe that use PR voting but there are also sociological factors to consider. An unusual factor in Norway is a 40 per cent rule in the Storting (parliament). Despite the successes women have had, they still feel they need a law to ensure 40 per cent of the legislators are women. Some sociologists suggest that this rule limits women more than ensuring their role. Since Norway uses pure PR voting, the party lists for each of their electoral districts have the obligatory female representation. According to the International Parliamentary Union, currently 39.6 per cent of the legislators in Norway’s Storting are women.

Some people would consider it unfair to suggest Mexico’s MMP voting helps increase the number of female legislators. They would point out the supposed Mexican male machismo and that male dominance in a devoutly Catholic country would hold women back. And they would be wrong. Despite women only winning the right to vote in Mexico in 1947 and the right to run for election in 1953, they have progressed to a greater share of seats than women legislators in Canada. Mexican women hold over 42 per cent of their federal congress seats and Canadian women currently hold just 26 per cent of the seats in our House of Commons.

PR voting is no panacea. It is a system that the Mexicans have fiddled with for the past 90 years. They are still not sure they have it right. While the Mexican President is chosen by direct FPTP election, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (similar to the U.S. House of Representatives) use a mixed-member selection process. Of the 128 senators, 96 are elected and 32 are selected from closed party lists. In the Chamber of Deputies, 300 deputies are elected by FPTP voting and 200 selected from party lists.

In Ontario, the proposal was that there be 90 members elected by FPTP in larger ridings, averaging 135,000 people, and then another 39 members be selected from party lists according to the party vote. How this would solve the ills of a plurality (FPTP) system remains very much a mystery.

The suggestion often made by PR supporters is that the FPTP system means people who do not vote for the winner are wasting their vote.   They also think people are wasting their vote when they add their vote to the winners’ pile when the winner already has more than enough votes. It is not a very logical argument.

Hundreds of years ago, before voters were given ballots to indicate their choice, they would gather in the market square and would shout out their choice of person to send to parliament. While that system was not perfect, it was the best that could be done at the time. Even today, FPTP is not a perfect system but at least it allows us to make a choice and not have to trust political parties to make our choices for us.

Today Canadians have a system of voting that allows them to vote for someone they have an opportunity to know. The candidates are very frequently from your community and we have the opportunity to decide if we want them to represent us. Proportional voting means that we can only vote for a political party and its leader.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

When controlling media, look like you’re not.

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

The other day Lisa LaFlamme of CTV News was actually gushing when she said she was reporting from Northern Iraq. She was flattered and delighted to be reporting from just down the road from where the dreaded Daesh, or ISIL or ISIS, or pretenders at being an Islamic State are holed up in the Iraq city of Mosul. She had been selected for this honour by the Department of National Defence. CTV and the Toronto Star were following the chief of the defence staff on a tour of Canadian operations in Northern Iraq with Kurdish peshmerga army troops.

It was the best piece of self-serving media manipulation we have seen recently. You can only conjecture on what the military were selling to want to be baby-sitting reporters that close to a war zone.

And inviting experienced media people such as LaFlamme and Bruce Campion-Smith has other risks. These are not kids just off the rewrite desk. They know what questions to ask and they can be persistent.

And what has Defence got to sell? The only thing that seems to be in flux at this time is the question of rethinking the dumping of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter. Some people are saying that National Defence wants the F-35 back in play. The over-priced, attack fighter hardly fits any of Canada’s defence needs and is the last aircraft that Canada should be considering.

But Defence’s top sales guy was there to carry the message. The reporters were treated to an extensive briefing by the chief of the defence staff. Lieutenant General Jonathan Vance said a few things that caught our attention. While he said we would be arming some of the elite Kurdish forces the Canadians have been training, there is to be no attempt to upgrade the equipment of the regular peshmerga soldiers–which means the Kurds will be on their own in confronting the confused leadership in Bagdad after the Daesh forces in Iraq have been destroyed.

And Vance bravely said Daesh would be destroyed. That is a strange promise for a general who is not going to allow his Canadians to enter Syria.

It seemed to be no secret that the peshmerga are to be used to mop up the Daesh fighters when they try to escape Mosul by heading north to the Syrian or Turkish borders. That seems to be on the assumption that the Iraqi forces (with their American ‘trainers’) are able to chase them out of Mosul.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

No honours for Elizabeth at 90.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

If the Brits really get lucky, Queen Elizabeth might outlive her son Charles. It seems that the British monarchy is holding up better than the country’s membership in the European Union. Mind you if that green little island gets cut adrift from Europe, there is no telling what will happen.

One of the worst-case scenarios for ‘Brexit’ (England’s shorthand for ending ties to the EU) would be the Brits trying to get Australia, Canada and New Zealand to help pay for the excessive cost of the Royals. This is well covered today by England’s tourism but by the time the French and Germans get even for deserting them, the British Pound would not be worth 16 ounces of anything. And the French would feel justified in turning their half of the Chunnel into a hostel for homeless Syrians.

We can hardly speak for the Aussies and New Zealanders but Canada would not be inclined to help fund England’s then impoverished Royals. Bill and Kate could bring the kids for a visit but if they wanted to stay Bill would have to get himself a proper job. Nobody can be pretender to the Throne of Westminster forever.

But what use are ties to England when the Brits have thoroughly pissed off the rest of Europe? Brexit would not be a friendly divorce. The country would be able to turn Heathrow Airport into an English Maquiladora to make cheap knock-offs of American products for the EU.

Canada would have no choice but to open up its constitution to changes. We could get rid of the Senate of Canada and the Monarchy at the same time. No more cartoon Governors General. It would open a new day for Canada with a constitution that serves us all.

But could Queen Elizabeth carry on regardless under this scenario? Could her and the old Duke face the torture of travelling tourist class on Air Canada for a royal visit to the Canadian colony? Even if the Monarchist League had a fundraiser, all they could probably be able to afford would be a first-class upgrade for her but the old Duke would be left to his own devices back with the hoi polio.

We will have to face the facts that at 90, Queen Elizabeth is very set in her ways. The Brits should leave her alone. That ignorant Mayor of London who is leading this Brexit fiasco needs to exit the Court of St. James by a window for a date with the guy who chops off heads. It might be the first decent haircut the jerk has ever had.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

The snob appeal of Brexit.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Babel-on-the-Bay has decided not to do any Morning Line handicapping on the question of Great Briton voting to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum (commonly referred to as Brexit). Unlike the Scottish referendum a couple years ago, we have no emotional ties to this argument. While there is no reason to think this vote will change anything, the foolish Brits seem to need the exercise as a way to clear the air, so to speak.

Quite frankly the entire exercise also seems to be a way for Brit Prime Minister David Cameron to play his usual games. What we are sure of is that no matter what side wins, it is the Brits who are going to pay the piper. This is a lose-lose proposition. It is already a stick in the eye to the French and Germans just for holding the referendum.

While Canadian expatriate Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, is doing his damnedest to stay out of it, there are so many economic questions that he is being dragged into the middle of the fray. What he obviously knows is that the Bank of England will be paying for this referendum either way. England has already annoyed the rest of Europe for its smug bigotry on the refugee file, the slurs against EU membership and their ongoing snobbish attitude towards fellow members of the European Union.

Any person who has gone through a divorce can tell you that it pays to keep some friends among your former family.

And it not as though there is any solace in thinking the Americans are your best friends for life. When you weight the economy of the European Union against that of Great Briton, who the hell would you choose?

And the Brits can hardly count on the Commonwealth. Canada is tied so tight to the Americans that Ottawa would have to call Washington to ask permission before offering anything to Great Briton. And the Aussies and New Zealanders are likely to have a jolly good laugh if the Brits ever asked them for anything. And have the Brits tried doing business with India lately?

The smart thing for the Brits to do is to cancel the damn referendum before they do any more damage.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me