Canadian Politics (Federal), Global Affairs, Opinion, Published Articles

Scheer’s stance on migration pact a nod to Bernier supporters

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

Conservative Party of Canada Lleader Andrew Scheer appears to be making a hard right pivot in the leadup to the 2019 election.

Scheer is practically shrieking about globalists with his fact-free attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for signing the non-binding UN Pact on Global Migration.

He claims that signing the agreement will limit Canada’s ability to set its own migration policies, which he wants to tighten, but the agreement does nothing of that sort.

The pact has 23 wholly anodyne goals — mitigating the factors that led to people fleeing their country of origin, collecting data to assist signatories in creating evidence-based policies, fighting human trafficking, co-ordinating international efforts to search for missing migrants and eliminating discrimination against migrants, among others.

The notion that the UN, or “foreign entities” as Scheer put it, are conspiring to erode state sovereignty and establish a global government is a theory right out of the Infowars and Rebel Media playbook.

In fact, the agreement explicitly “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy” and allows states to take measures to reduce irregular migration. This shouldn’t be controversial.

With competition to his right from Maxime Bernier, Scheer is clearly and shamelessly dogwhistling to potential Bernier supporters to stay in the Tory fold.

And with President Donald Trump south of the border being the first leader to pull out of the agreement, the Tories seem to be seeking an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with his Canadian apologists, rather than risk losing their votes to Bernier’s vanity project.

Former Conservative leadership candidate and Stephen Harper’s immigration minister Chris Alexander slammed his party’s fearmongering.

“Scheer’s statement is factually incorrect,” tweeted Alexander. “This compact is a political deceleration, not a legally binding treaty. It has no impact on our sovereignty.”

Alexander himself has had his dalliances with with hard right.

He stood idly by at a Rebel Media-sponsored rally against the carbon tax, where the audience chanted, “Lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley. He tried, to no avail, to change the chant to “Vote her out.”

And along with Kellie Leitch, another failed leadership candidate, Alexander spearheaded the ill-advised “barbaric cultural practices hotline” from the 2015 election. While both apologized for their role in blatantly xenophobic rhetoric, Alexander is the only one of the two who appears to have learned the lesson, given Leitch’s full-throated support in the leadership race for screening immigrants for ill-defined “Canadian values.”

Alexander is clearly no left winger, but he sees his party moving in an indefensible and dangerous direction. Is this a case of sour grapes after Alexander placed ninth in the leadership race? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

We’ve seen demagogues across the world — from Trump to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to India’s Nerandra Modi to the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu — stoke fears in recent years of migrants, criminals, environmentalists, Muslims or all of the above.

Scheer, who clearly seeks to join their ranks, is playing with fire, feeding into conspiratorial fantasies in a bid to win votes off the backs of migrants and those who seek to help them.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Global Affairs, Published Articles

Trump lumber tariffs cause local concern

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision on April 24 to impose a 20 per cent tariff on Canadian lumber was met with stiff opposition from local industry leaders.

“We’re completely opposed to it,” said Brock Mulligan, spokesman for the Alberta Forest Products Association and the Alberta Softwood Lumber Trade Council.

Since 1982, U.S. trade representatives have claimed that the Canadian lumber industry is unfairly subsidized, due to its harvests occurring mainly on public land, whereas it is done mostly on private land in the U.S., Mulligan said.

“We’ve seen this happen before and time and again their allegations have been thrown out by various tribunals, whether it’s NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) or WTO (World Trade Organization). We’re confident that this will happen again, but unfortunately we’re going to have to go through the process,” he said.

The previous agreement on the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber trade expired in October 2015.

Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak emphasized that this is an ongoing dispute in U.S.-Canada relations, regardless of which president or prime minister is in power.

“The issue of softwood lumber is one we’ve faced now for the fifth time. We’ve weathered the storm before and we will weather it again. It’s just a matter of how long that dispute will continue on,” Chichak said, predicting that that there will be no regional job losses in the short term.

“As this dispute continues, if it’s not resolved, then we will see job losses, not just for our community but across Alberta and Canada,” she said.

The looming threat of job losses underscores the importance of the provincial government coming up with a caribou range plan that is economically and socially feasible, Chichak added.

“A poor range plan compounded by a dispute that continues could have very devastating effects on communities such as Whitecourt and Woodlands County,” she said.

The dispute also underscores the necessity of Canada expanding its market access for lumber beyond the U.S., Chichak said.

According to Canada Trade, China and Japan comprise 20 per cent of Canadian lumber exports.

“This brings a heightened awareness to the importance over the upcoming decade that we really strengthen and encourage industry and our provincial government to look for other markets for lumber, that we don’t rely on the United States in the event that there’s a sixth dispute in the future,” said Chichak.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley recently returned from a 10-day trade mission to China and Japan, for which Chichak expressed her approval.

But there are limits to expanding Canadian access to east Asian markets, said Mulligan.

“With the Russian rouble collapsing recently, not only are they closer to us, but they also have a big currency advantage on us too,” he said.

The Japanese market has always been dependable for high-grade Canadian lumber, but there isn’t a lot of room for growth there, due to its ageing population and slow economic growth, Mulligan said.

Mulligan said the tariff would backfire on the U.S., due to its dependence on Canadian lumber for homebuilding.

“They depend upon having an adequate supply of lumber. The Americans don’t produce enough for their own market and they need Canadian lumber,” he said.

Tariffs would increase the price of a single family home in the U.S. by $1,236, which would push more than 150,000 families out of the housing market, said Mulligan, citing a study from the National Association of Homebuilders.

Countries like Chile and Russia, who were previously too far to access the American market, would be at a competitive advantage with the artificial increase in Canadian prices, he added.

“We’ll probably see a substitution of their products in, but the American consumer will have to pay a higher price,” Mulligan said.

Local MP, MLA weigh in

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, who represents Whitecourt and the area, emphasized the importance of this dispute to his constituents.

“Softwood lumber, the pulp and paper industry, (and) forestry in general is a big deal in northern Alberta,” said Viersen, noting that 6,000 people in his Westlock-Peace River riding work in the industry.

He agreed with Chichak that this is simply the return of an ongoing dispute that would occur regardless of who’s in charge.

“It’s perhaps different in terms of Donald Trump’s bluster, but it’s the same players at stake,” Viersen said.

He said it’s largely the result of certain union interests in the U.S. who are trying to protect their workers’ employment.

“They’re not that concerned about the end user of the product. They’re worried about their jobs, so basically this is an easy way to protect some of their market share,” said Viersen, who agreed with Mulligan that the move will increase the price of American lumber by restricting the market’s supply.

Viersen said that Trudeau and his Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was previously the international trade minister, should have prepared better for this issue to come up.

“We knew this was coming along. We’ve been through this before,” he said. “It should’ve been top of mind.”

Whitecourt-St. Anne MLA and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier similarly emphasized the industry’s local vitality.

“Our government stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Alberta’s forest workers, their families and communities that rely on a strong forestry industry,” said Carlier.

He said the Alberta government has been working closely with the federal government, particularly a task force headed by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, to explore the most appropriate course of action.

“All options are on the table,” Carlier said, that the provincial government had anticipated the re-emergence of this dispute.

He cautioned against linking the softwood lumber dispute with other trade issues, such as supply management for dairy farmers.

“There’s a lot of known measures here in the softwood lumber agreement and in other potential disputes there are so many unknowns,” said Carlier.

It’s important to distinguish between the U.S. administration’s tough rhetoric and what actually occurs during negotiations, he said.

“It’s at this point just comments out of the blue that aren’t necessarily tied to any potential negotiations that haven’t even yet started taking place. Once those have taken place, we can have a little more meat and potatoes where we can go and make those gains,” Carlier said.

Environment, Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

Last thoughts on Election 2016

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

The political neophyte businessman Donald Trump, who kicked off his campaign by descending from a golden escalator at one of his luxury hotels to call illegal Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals has defeated former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady Hillary Clinton to become the 45th U.S. president.

Though Clinton won the popular vote 60,828,358 to 60,261,924, which comes to half a percentage point, it was not spread evenly enough amongst the states to give her an advantage in the Electoral College, which Trump won handily with 290 votes to Clinton’s 232. 

Clinton had a compelling narrative set up for her victory: the first female president who set herself apart from her ex-president husband, who she stood behind through all his sex scandals, by starting her own career in politics. But it was all for naught.

What the hell happened?

As has been written many times by now, Trump successfully tapped into the anger and resentment of the rural white working class who felt the benefits of the economic globalization championed by Hillary’s husband during his presidency had passed them by.

Trump gave outlet to their frustrations, blaming their woes not only on unfair trade deals, which is quite reasonable, but fear of the Other – illegal immigrants, Muslims, the Chinese and a “global economic elite” that often sounded like a metonym for “Jews.”

By contrast, Clinton didn’t inspire enough enthusiasm to motivate the Latinos and African-Americans who voted in droves for Obama to come out for her on Election Day. Their lot hadn’t improved significantly under the first black president, so, many of them reasoned, what would another Clinton do for them?

In swings states that Trump won– Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, for example – Clinton won drastically in the cities but was shellacked, or “shlonged” as Trump would say, in rural areas.

It’s worth noting that Trump actually increased his share of the black and Latino vote about two percentage points each compared to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Trump won outright amongst white men and women. The latter is considerably shocking, given the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him and the “grab ’em by the pussy” recording that came out prior to them.

Like Rob Ford in Toronto’s 2010 election and the Brexiters in this year’s referendum in the U.K., Trump seized upon the chasm that opened between a core of city-dwelling “elites” and the peripheral rest of the country, motivating many disenchanted people to go out and vote for a brash outsider who promised to improve their lot, defying pollsters in the process.

Clinton came to embody everything that Trump said he opposed – a corrupt elite so entrenched in its own sense of entitlement that it was blind to the plight of the country’s downtrodden, those left behind by the closure of factories and mines.

In this regard, it didn’t matter that Trump is an elite by any measurement. After all, he started his business career with a “small loan of a million dollars” from his millionaire father.

While Clinton spoke of specific policy proposals tailor-made to appeal to a large cross section of the educated public, Trump spoke in platitudes that appealed to rural America, who were dismissed by Clinton as a “basket of deplorables.”

True, few if any Trump supporters would have voted for her in any event, but it’s generally a bad idea to insult your opponent’s supporters, as Romney learned in 2012.

When faced with a choice between the status quo that Clinton represented and “making America great again,” many Americans opted for the latter. One can strongly disagree with this decision, as I do, but it’s perfectly understandable, especially for those who feel excluded from the modern political economy.

Wikileaks and the FBI

At times, it seemed like Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange was in the tank for Trump, leaking speeches, documents and private e-mails that cast the Democratic nominee and her inner circle in a negative light. Assange strongly denies that this was intended to help Trump, insisting that he simply publishes whatever secret documents are given to him in the name of radical transparency.

Perhaps the most damaging release was a paid speech Clinton gave to the National Multi-Housing Council where she admitted to having a “private” and “public” positions on issues like trade. For instance, Clinton told an audience of Italian bankers that she was fully in favour of “open trade and open borders,” despite her publicly stated opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership she helped negotiate as secretary of state, putting the sincerity of her other token progressive positions – $15 minimum wage, opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing taxes on the wealthy, to name a few – into question.

To blame Wikileaks, or the Russians for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) server and passing the information on to Assange is to shoot the messenger.

These leaks, whatever their source, fueled Clinton’s image as a manipulative member of the ruling class concerned with nothing but her own advancement.

And the e-mails she sent from a private account as secretary of state – those “damn e-mails” as Bernie Sanders foolishly dismissed them in a Democratic primary debate – came back to haunt her in the campaign’s latter days, as FBI Director James Comey, a Republican Obama appointee, announced they were being re-investigated and then a week later said nothing noteworthy was found.

Still, the damage was done. The Clintons were correctly viewed as part of a crooked aristocracy to whom the rules need not apply.

Interestingly, the FBI, who formally accused Wikileaks of hacking the DNC and interfering in the election, was also involved in leveling the playing field for Trump.

Would Bernie have fared better?

Hypotheticals are always difficult, but it’s quite clear that Sanders tapped into the same populist rage as Trump. This is why he was able to give Clinton a far tougher primary challenge than anticipated.

Whereas Trump channeled this mass angst towards immigrants and minorities, Sanders’s focus was primarily economic, with a little bit of racial justice thrown into the mix under pressure from Black Lives Matter activists.

As we know thanks to Wikileaks, the DNC conspired against Sanders from day one. He was regarded, particularly by former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as a mere obstacle on Clinton’s inevitable path to the presidency and not a serious challenge. Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as a result of the revelation, being replaced by yet another Clinton surrogate, Donna Brazile.

Had Sanders been the nominee, I suspect Trump would have gone into full red-baiting mode. It’s doubtful that the white rural voters who voted overwhelmingly for the KKK’s candidate of choice would vote for a Jewish socialist senator from Vermont.

It seems, unfortunately, that it was Trump’s time.

What will a Trump presidency actually look like? 

Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but Trump released a list of policy proposals for his first 100 days in office that is mostly frightening.

It does not bode well that that the Republicans now have control of the White House, both Houses of Congress and soon the judiciary. They’re already intent upon working with Trump to roll back Obama’s modest environmental, health care and taxation regulations.

His reported cabinet choices reads like a rogue’s gallery of right-wing ideologues: former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, George W. Bush’s UN ambassador John Bolton, Mr. 9/11 Rudy Guiliani and Sarah Palin, whose stupidity needs no introduction, are just a few.

I suspect and hope that some of Trump’s more outrageous proposals – banning Muslims, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, prosecuting Clinton and bringing back “a hell of a lot worse than water boarding” – were just to get the rural masses riled up and set him apart from the other candidates.

If true, Trump will govern like any other modern Republican president, which is bad but could conceivably be worse.

He’s already toned down his rhetoric considerably, giving an uncharacteristically gracious acceptance speech and mysteriously removing his proposed Muslim ban from his website before restoring it.

One of his signature proposals, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, seems particularly unlikely, given his repeated insistence that Mexico will pay for it. That appears to be a trap door – if the wall doesn’t get built he can blame it on the Mexicans and move on.

And as a businessman, he must be aware of the economic havoc his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom work low-wage jobs U.S. citizens won’t do, would wreak.

Still, his environmental policies – scrapping the Paris climate agreement, building pipelines and categorically rejecting any form of carbon pricing – are cause for immense concern, because they’re entirely plausible from an economistic standpoint.

An erratic foreign policy

In terms of foreign relations, the big question is whether he will make good on his promise to thaw out relations with Russia, one issue where he ran as an unambiguous dove.

Intimately connected is the fate of NATO, whose other members Trump has insisted must pay up to continue as part of the alliance that was founded to counter Russian foreign policy. NATO requests that its members spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Canada, for instance, spends half that.

The former, mending ties with Russia, seems much more doable than the latter and could assist in solving the Syria’s bloody civil war, where Russia and Iran support the government and the U.S. and its allies back rebel forces.

Of course, Trump’s vow to renege on Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, a promise likely made under the pressure of the powerful right-wing pro-Israel lobby, would have the opposite effect on Syria.

Combined with his dismissal of man-made climate change, it’s especially scary that the incoming U.S. commander-in-chief, with control over a vast nuclear arsenal, has such a contradictory array of global policies.

The Democrats: What’s next?

This election, as horrible a result it was for Democrats, was a vindication of the party’s progressive wing.

Notably, there’s currently a push to make Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), the first Muslim congressman and a key Sanders supporter, the new DNC chair.

But for much of the party establishment and its apologists, blame falls on everything and everyone but themselves for the electoral upset: racism, sexism, the media, Wikileaks, the Russians, the FBI and Green leader Jill Stein for having the temerity to run to the left of the anointed one.

To New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, a Clinton devotee who did all he could to sandbag Sanders during the primaries, it’s inconceivable that Clinton lost because she was a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign.

“The Democratic Party has mastered lying to itself and its core constituencies,” wrote New York Daily News columnist Shaun King. He added:

It claims a progressive identity, but is as moderate and lukewarm as it has ever been on so many issues that matter to everyday people. It claims to be tough on Wall Street, financial corruption and white collar crime, but is awash in donations from lobbyists and executives in the industry. Democrats claim to be the party of working people, but so often seem to be deeply out of touch with their problems and needs.

This is precisely the form of elite corruption and hypocrisy that Sanders and Trump railed against.

Sanders will likely be too old to run again in 2020, but someone will undoubtedly take up the mantle of democratic socialism in the Democratic Party. It’s just a matter of whether the current DNC establishment and its allies will allow them to win.

The Democrats elected some young progressive women of colour to the Senate: Kamala Harris (Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii). Any of them, and others like popular Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, could become the first female president.

If the Democrats can take back the Senate in 2018, there’s the potential for even more young progressives to get elected and stand up to Trump.

But the mass movement that propelled Sanders in the primary needs to continue causing trouble for the establishment and exerting pressure on progressive members of Congress to ensure they stay on the right track.

Yes, Trump’s presidency does have the possibility to be a catastrophe of historical proportions, but it also serves as an opportunity for progressives to unite and offer meaningful, fundamental change of the sort Clinton didn’t offer.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Global Affairs, Labour

What’s the deal with CETA?

Belgium has agreed to support the European Union’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, removing a major roadblock to the contentious deal’s implementation. The deal, however, must still be approved by the 27 other EU governments, who may raise objections to its entrenchment of corporate power over the state.

Last Friday, Canadian International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland angrily stormed out of a meeting with her Belgian counterparts, as the agreement appeared to have collapsed under Walloon dissent, the product of an increasingly global anti-trade sentiment.

Belgium is essentially split in two – a Dutch-speaking Flemish region, Flanders, in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. (There’s also a small German-speaking region in the east.) Flanders and Wallonia must both consent to the deal in order for it to move forward. Today the Walloon government, no doubt under immense pressure from the rest of the EU, agreed to support CETA.

Once the deal is signed, which is expected to occur on Sunday, the European parliament and its constituent nations must ratify it, which could take between two and four years.

So what is CETA? Why was Wallonia opposed and why are Canada and Europe so adamant about its passage?

CETA defined

Like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, CETA seeks to reduce trade barriers between Canada and the EU. In other words, it would make it easier for Canadian and European businesses to trade with each other by reducing tariffs on foreign goods, which are designed to put domestic industries at an advantage.

“CETA covers all aspects of our broad trading relationship with the EU, including goods, services, investment, government procurement and regulatory cooperation,” according to Global Affairs Canada, so it is very far-reaching, providing Canada with access to a $20-trillion market.

Overall, the Canadian government says 98 per cent of tariffs on goods traded between Canada and Europe will be eliminated.

It will make it easier for Canada to sell maple syrup to Europe, for example, by eliminating the 8 per cent tariff imposed on that product, while making it easier for Germany, Canada’s second-biggest trade partner and largest economy in the bloc, to sell their cars to Canadians by eliminating Canada’s 6.1 per cent tariff on European-made cars.

The question is how will this effect auto manufacturers in Oshawa and Windsor when the Canadian market is flooded with less expensive German cars? There are anti-dumping rules as part of the agreement that created the World Trade Organization, which is still in effect, meaning Germany, in this case, cannot sell its cars below market value. But as the wealthier and more populous nation, Germany has an inherent competitive advantage, able to produce more cars cheaper than Ontario’s struggling auto sector.

The Canadian government’s summary of the pact has vague provisions near the end about “seeking high levels of labour protection” and “commitments to foster environmental governments,” but does not elaborate significantly on how they’ll be achieved.

The U.S. is in the process of negotiating its own CETA-style deal with the EU, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There’s also the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would similarly reduce trade barriers between its signatories, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Japan.

Interestingly, the United Kingdom, which voted to leave the EU earlier this year, is part of CETA, as negotiations began prior to the Brexit vote.

CETA can be read in full here.

What does Wallonia have against CETA?

Most controversial, and where it departs most significantly from past trade agreements, is the deal’s investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, whereby companies are empowered to sue governments for reducing their profits, which critics say will reduce governments’ ability to impose regulation and was the linchpin of Wallonia’s rejection.

As a condition for Wallonia’s approval, an adjustment was made to have the European Court of Justice approve any ISDS application, which still doesn’t address the issue of shifting power away from elected representatives, for all their flaws, to unelected corporations. It just uses the unelected European judiciary as a middleman.

The problem with this aspect of CETA, writes copyright lawyer Michael Geist, is that the deal has extended its reach by forcing “changes to domestic regulations and the creation of dispute settlement mechanisms that may prioritize corporate concerns over local rules.”

Wallonia has been hit hard by unemployment – 11 per cent, which according to the Financial Times is nearly double that in neighbouring Flanders – so there is little appetite for giving multinational corporations more power to move away.

This is why the Walloons also demanded the ability to re-establish tariffs if a specific agricultural market will be negatively impacted by the deal. They have one year after signing the deal to determine which markets these are.

Walloon Prime Minister Paul Magnette, a social democrat, is now reportedly “extremely happy” with CETA.

Why are the Canadian and European governments so eager?

According to the Globe and Mail, Freeland called CETA “the most progressive trade deal negotiated,” which may not be saying much. While the deal certainly pays lip service to environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, there is little in terms of enforcement.

The same article cites a joint Canadian-EU study from 2011 that says CETA “would boost Canada’s income by up to $12 billion a year,” which “is the equivalent of adding an average of $1,000 to Canadian household incomes,” yet it doesn’t indicate how this wealth will be distributed.

European President Jean-Claude Juncker echoed Freeland when he called the pact “the best and most-progressive agreement we have ever, as a European Union, negotiated,” emphasizing its “new approach to investment that is transparent and … impartial.”

The Globe concedes the agreement is “a mixed bag for Canadian consumers,” with cheaper cars and cheese, “which could take a bite out of the market shares of dairy in Ontario and Quebec,” and more expensive drugs for the average Canadian, due to a two-year extension on European pharmaceutical patents.

Canadian and European leaders are eager to pass CETA because, to put it simply, it’s good for business.  This is precisely why the Canada Business Council, along with its European counterpart, demanded the “swift approval and implementation of CETA to boost trade and investment and create jobs.”

As a result of this rapidity, “The announcement of the completion of CETA was … the first time people in Canada and Europe were allowed to see the official text of the agreement,” reads a statement from the left-leaning Council of Canadians. “The deal was signed without any public consultation.”

In other words, this purportedly transparent deal was negotiated above Canadians’ and Europeans’ heads, primarily to benefit big business. The negotiators will no doubt take credit if some jobs trickle down to the working class.

Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

Clinton, Trump spar in bizarre second debate

The absurdity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s town hall-style debate Sunday is difficult to do justice.

Coming off the heels of embarrassing leaks for both candidates – Trump boasting of his sexual improprieties and long-awaited transcripts from some of Clinton’s paid speeches to banks – and considering how belligerent the campaign’s tone has already been, it was clear this was not going to be a serious, policy-focused exchange.

The day of the debate Trump held a press conference with Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, three of the many women who have accused President Clinton of sexual assault, and Kathy Shelton, a woman whose alleged rapist was defended pro-bono by Hillary Clinton. The four of them were also brought to the debate by the Trump campaign. Clearly, this had a triple purpose – to throw his opponent off balance, deflect from Trump’s own history of sexual aggression and make him appear compassionate.

There was no ritual handshake at the beginning, which although repeated ad naseum on social media, was another harbinger of the debate’s tone.

The first question, as most viewers probably anticipated, asked how each candidate would serve as a role model for Americans, a clear allusion to the Trump tape. The Republican nominee reiterated his apology immediately before dismissing his recorded remarks as mere “locker room talk” that provides no evidence he engaged in sexual assault. He then added a non-sequiter (there were a lot of those) about the need to keep the nation safe from ISIS.

Clinton was put on the defensive herself when co-moderator Martha Radatz asked about the recent Wikileak of a paid speech to a bank where she distinguished between her “public and private positions on certain issues,” which the presidential candidate called “principled and strategic.” Clinton said she had just seen Spielberg’s Lincoln and was inspired by his “great display of presidential leadership” in using different arguments in front of different crowds.

She then switched gear to blaming Russia for the leak, insisting they’re attempt to embarrass her and make Trump president because he would go easier on them, to which Trump responded, “I know nothing about Russia,” which is eerily similar to what he said last year after receiving former KKK grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement.

On foreign policy, Trump and Clinton alternated as hawks and doves, with Clinton coming off the slightly more hawkish candidate on some issues and Trump on others. Clinton defended the merits of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate, which Trump called the “dumbest deal perhaps I’ve seen in the history of deal-making.”

On Russia and Syria, the roles were reversed, as Trump disagreed with running mate Mike Pence and Clinton on the need for a more forceful intervention against the Assad regime. “I don’t like Assad at all but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” he said shortly after denouncing the Iran deal.

“Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS,” argued Clinton. “They’re interested in keeping Assad in power, so when I was secretary of state advocated, as I do today, a no-fly-zone.” She proceeded to link the Assad regime’s brutality to the “ambitions and aggressiveness of Russia,” who have gone “all-in in Syria.” Yet she said she was willing to co-operate with Russia on issues of common interest, like nuclear disarmament.

Trump reiterated his demand that Clinton refer explicitly to “radical Islamic terror,” as if further alienating and stigmatizing Muslims were a step in the right direction. “Before you solve it, you have to say the name,” said Trump.

Clinton seized the opportunity to present herself as the inclusive candidate, pointing out that there have always been Muslim-Americans, “from the time of George Washington” to Muhammad Ali. These comforting words stand in stark contrast to her record – as senator she voted for the Iraq War and agitated as secretary of state for attacking Libya and Syria.

“The Muslim ban has somehow morphed into extreme vetting,” said Trump in defence of his policy of banning Muslims form the United States, which was deservedly subject to much ridicule on social media.

Much fuss was made by the punditry of Trump’s quip that if he were president, Clinton “would be in jail,” but it wasn’t at all surprising hearing that from the man whose supporters have been chanting “lock her up” for months.

Towards the town hall’s conclusion, Trump called Clinton evil for her remark calling half of his supporters a “basket of deplorables,” for which she had previously apologized.

Shortly afterwards, they finally shook hands.

Global Affairs

Former head of refugee agency slated to be next UN chief

António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and a former prime minister of Portugal is primed to be the next UN secretary general after a Security Council straw poll selected him over 12 other candidates.

The UN Security Council endorsed him – with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions – as the most qualified candidate to be the successor to outgoing, and woefully uncharismatic, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This relative unanimity, as no one voted against Guterres, is an unexpected development given the enhanced U.S.-Russian tensions that have characterized the last few years in geopolitics.

There will be an official vote in the Security Council Thursday and then in the General Assembly next week, where Guterres will require two-thirds support.

Trounced competition

There was hope among some members that the next secretary general would be Eastern European or female, as neither one has been at the head of the UN. Bulgaria’s Irinia Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, and Kristalina Georgieve, a former UN budget commissioner, match both these characteristics, but neither received enough approval form the Council to be considered for the top job.

Hamstrung by her week-before entrance into the contest, Georgieve fell behind Bokova, who in turn was outvoted by Serb diplomat Vuk Jeremić, who himself was outvoted by runner-up and Slovakian Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák. None of these candidates received more than seven votes in favour, making Guterres’s 10 votes a landslide.

U.S.-Russian unity for now, but to what end? 

Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, who currently serves as the Council’s chair, announced the choice of Guterres Wednesday jointly with his U.S. counterpart Samanatha Power, in another unusual display of diplomatic cooperation.

The selection of the former UNHRC chief, who served the organization for a decade until last year, is particularly symbolic, given the global refugee crisis that has shocked and paralyzed the international community for the past two years with no end in sight. It is also a direct consequence of foreign meddling in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Churkin simply called Guterres the “clear favourite” for the job, whereas Power spoke about the importance of “unity,” particularly when dealing “with carnage as horrific as that in Syria.”

It will be interesting to see what specific measures Power has in mind for Syria, given her well-established affinity for military intervention as espoused in her highly-regarded bookA Problem from Hell.

It also remains to be seen whether Guterres will remain subservient to U.S. militarism, like Kofi Annan’s first-term support for President Clinton’s bombarding of the Balkans, or a critic of their foreign policy, like second-term Annan’s denunciation of George W. Bush’s Iraq War.

The secretary general appears to serve as a wild card in international affairs.

Guterres’s record

The secretary general-designate entered politics during Portugal’s first democratic election in 1976, which took place after 50 years of dictatorship.

The trained engineer was elected as a Socialist, eventually becoming the party’s leader in 1992 and leading them to victory in the 1995 election.

His signature achievement as prime minister was to bring about Portugal’s law decriminalizing all drugs, which Vox reports did not lead to any significant increase, or decrease for that matter, in drug abuse.

As head of the UNHCR from 2005 to 2015, Guterres was forced to deal with the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the UN’s foundation. Civil strife in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen kept him busy throughout his time there and earned him a reputation as a staunch humanitarian.

Guterres takes the helm for a term of five years when Ban steps down in January. In 2021 he will be eligible to run for a second five-year term, which would begin in 2022.

A brief timeline of UN Secretary Generals

  • Trygv Lie (Norway) 1946 – 1953
  • Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden) 1953 – 1961
  • U Thant (Myanmar) 1962 – 1971
  • Kurt Waldheim (Austria) 1972 – 1981
  • Javier Pérez de Cuellar (Peru) 1982 – 1991
  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt) 1992 – 1996
  • Kofi Annan (Ghana) 1997 – 2006
  • Ban Ki-moon (South Korea) 2007 – 2016
  • António Guterres (Portugal) 2017 – ?


Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

VP Debate: Kaine, Pence argue over whose running mate is more belligerent

Tonight’s vice presidential debate between Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was fairly drab for the most part.

Besides the usual partisan shots about which “charitable” foundation is shadier, Clinton’s or Trump’s, Clinton’s private e-mail server and Trump’s never-ending string of insults, the debate’s portion on foreign policy stood out.

This was because of Pence’s repeated disavowal and denial of Trump’s positions and, more importantly, the candidates’ shared support for ramping up war in the Middle East and confrontation with Russia.

Pence’s denials

Here are just a few of the Trump positions Pence claimed were distortions by his political opponent:

  • His remark that Putin was a “stronger leader” than President Obama, a claim which was Pence defended less than a month ago.
  • Pence thought Kaine’s assertion that Trump belittled NATO was laughable, but this is a position Trump has taken repeatedly .
  • Pence supports a no-fly-zone over Syria, which the Washington Post says “goes far, far beyond Trump,” who has been generally coy about his strategies for the region.
  • He called for the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which strongly contrasts with Trump’s entertaining the nuclearization of Japan and South Korea to counter North Korea.
  • Near the debate’s beginning, Trump’s running mate called the Clinton-Kaine campaign an “avalanche of insults.” Trump has referred to his opponents as “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and “Little Marco” against countless other petty insults.

A consensus of hawkishness, at home and abroad

When Pence called for the aforementioned no-fly-zone against Syria to demonstrate “American strength” against Russia, Kaine couldn’t agree more, demanding a “safe zone” from which the U.S. could bomb Assad and the Russian army with presumed impunity.

Kaine also boasted of Clinton going “toe-to-toe with Russia” as Secretary of State, in an apparent attempt to paint her as promoting a more aggressive foreign policy than Trump-Pence.

“Everyone wants war. So many choices,” observed independent journalist Rania Khalek on Twitter.

In terms of domestic policy, both candidates agreed on the necessity of “community policing,” which as Alice Speri of The Intercept observed, has a nice ring but is a completely vacuous term that does nothing to change the fundamental relationship between cops and communities of colour.

“True community policing is one that puts the community first, and not just in the occasional town hall meeting: giving civilians oversight over their police departments, including a say over legislation regulating law enforcement and access to serious accountability processes,” writes Speri. It goes without saying that this was not on the table during the debate.

There was an awkward moment when the debate’s penultimate question was regarding abortion. Pence is passionately opposed to female reproductive rights. Kaine is too, but believes women should be convinced not to get abortions, rather than compelled by law.

Like all Veep debates, this one is unlikely to change anyone’s minds. Trump supporters will think Pence won and Clinton supporters will believe Kaine was victorious. I’d say it was a draw, but I doubt anyone cares.

Stay tuned for the next presidential debate, which will be the second of three, on Sunday at 9 p.m.