Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Who Does It Better?

The battle for the future of America looks like it is down to two people. The following requires little comment from me, as Donald Trump and Kamala Harris stake out their sides. 

With his usual 'elan', the aggrieved Trump had this to say about Kamala Harris from his Truth Social perch:

“Lyin’ Kamala Harris destroys everything she touches!”

“The Democrats lied and misled the public about Crooked Joe Biden, and now we find he is a complete and total Cognitive and Physical ‘MESS,’” Trump said. “They also mislead [sic] the Republican Party, causing it to waste a great deal of time and money” 

And this is what Ms. Harris had to say about Trump:

Who portrays a more accurate picture, and does it with real verve, insouciance and style?

You decide.

Monday, July 22, 2024

A House Divided

That America has become a house divided is so obvious it hardly needs stating. That Don Trump has played a major role in cultivating and growing that division should also be obvious to minds able to rise above the contamination that is rampant in America. With Joe Biden having now bowed to the inevitable, it is past time for everyone to see the bilge Trump spews for what it is - hate mongering, intolerance, overt prejudice, resentment - name a negative sentiment and you will see Trump fanning the flames. 

The cult of personality is never a pretty thing, but the one propagated by Trump is especially repugnant to anyone who can see past their own pettiness and grievances. The injuries he does to the spirit are profound and deep; his country must now reckon with that fact before November if it is to have any chance at continuing as a democracy. 

Another wakeup call emerged with the announcement of Biden's decision to step down from the re-election race. While he was lauded almost worldwide for the contributions he made during his ong political career, there was one notable exception. 

This is what Trump wrote on his Truth Social account:

Crooked Joe Biden was not fit to run for President, and is certainly not fit to serve - And never was! He only attained the position of President by lies, Fake News, and not leaving his Basement. All those around him, including his Doctor and the Media, knew that he wasn’t capable of being President, and he wasn’t - And now, look what he’s done to our Country, with millions of people coming across our Border, totally unchecked and unvetted, many from prisons, mental institutions, and record numbers of terrorists. We will suffer greatly because of his presidency, but we will remedy the damage he has done very quickly. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

If people cannot or will not see the absolute absence of grace in the above statement, if they cannot see that this is Trump showing his most unclean and utterly debased face, then yes, he is definitely their man in November, and if they prevail, America and its people are lost causes.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

This Epidemic Is Widespread And Growing

On this blog I have never made a secret of my disdain for those who are willfully ignorant and mindlessly led. To allow someone else to do our thinking for us is unforgivably lazy and a complete dereliction of the responsibilities of citizenship. Yet in both the United States and Canada, that dereliction seems widespread and growing.

Consider the circus (a.k.a, the Republican National Convention) that so recently concluded in Milwaukee, site of Don Trump's presidential nomination and the quasi-apotheosis of J.D. Vance as his running mate. The embrace of cheap emotions, distortions and lies there was widespread. Witness this distasteful scene, which earned a rousing ovation:

Our movement is about single moms like mine ....
 Really? Past performance suggests something quite different, and apparently saying that your mom is now 10 years clean and sober is not cheaply voyeuristic and exploitive but inspiring. It is, if nothing else, certainly soap-opera worthy.

That Vance and Trump can get away with such nonsense did not escape the notice of Andrew Philips, as he notes this from Vance's speech:

“America’s ruling class wrote the checks [sic]. Communities like mine paid the price.”

“America’s ruling class?” A Democrat who used that kind of language would be scorched for waging “class war,” for promoting division and turning his back on the American dream of everyone rising together. Democrats are gun-shy about that. Even now, when under Joe Biden they’ve done more to create good working-class jobs than Trump ever did, they soft-pedal their message.

But Vance gets away with it. My favourite part of his convention speech was when he slammed Biden for supporting the “disastrous invasion of Iraq” and sending working-class kids off to fight and die in far-off deserts.

That is truly chutzpah on a grand scale. I seem to recall it was a Republican president, George W. Bush, who ordered that disastrous invasion and the even more disastrous attempt to pacify Iraq and the region that followed.

After recalling Vance's rank hypocrisy and opportunism (which I discussed in my previous post, Philips asks a pertinent question:

[H]asn’t Vance, a successful venture capitalist among other things, joined that same ruling class he now rails against? Isn’t the Trump-Vance project now backed by a coterie of billionaires like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel? Isn’t all the class-war talk just a smokescreen for traditional Republican policies that leave Vance’s hillbilly relatives scrambling for crumbs?

Maybe. But if you’re the kind of person who’s devouring articles in the New Yorker and the New York Times detailing all this, you’re already a lost cause from the Trump-Vance POV. And the evidence is those kind of attacks aren’t landing. It’s like going at Pierre Poilievre for targeting “gatekeepers” while spending his entire adult life as the ultimate gatekeeper — a career politician. True, but frankly so what?

A comparison with Canada's mentality is inevitable, along with the fact that the hard right has stolen from the Democrats and the Liberals/NDP the mantle of working/middle class champions.

The arrival of Vance is another big step in the Republicans’ campaign to displace Democrats as champions of the American working-class. Poilievre and, in his own way, Doug Ford, are managing the same trick in Canada, stealing that space from the Liberals/NDP. It’s astonishing, and disappointing, that progressives on both sides of the border have allowed conservatives to pull that off.

I'm not sure progressives could have done much about it. It is not often in their natures to rant, chant, hector, exploit and grossly manipulate those whose issues they advocate for. To lie wantonly and shamelessly would require a breadth of unscrupulousness that would make them no different from those they fight.

To conclude, while playing from some sort of reasonable playbook may now seem out of date, the alternative is far worse.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

For The Sake Of My Sanity

I have been avoiding most American news these days, given how the media are fixated both on the  attempt against Trump's life and his coronation via the Republican National Convention. 

However, Trump's VP running mate, J.D. Vance, merits closer scrutiny. The Independent offers the perspective of one of his former roommates at Yale law school, and it is hardly complimentary.

Ohio junior senator and vice-presidential nominee JD Vance is a “hypocrite” who “sold his soul” and will unquestioningly help advance twice-impeached former president Donald Trump’s hard-right agenda if the pair manage to take the White House in November.

That’s according to attorney Josh McLaurin, who spoke to The Independent about his former Yale Law School roommate, now vying for the number two spot in American politics.

It only took a few years for the 39-year-old Vance to go from a so-called Never Trumper to be “not just a cheerleader for Trump, but to be arguably the nation’s biggest cheerleader for Trump,” McLaurin said on Wednesday. “There aren’t even really words.”

“I believe that he has adopted the MAGA mindset wholesale,” McLaurin said. “I think that he personally wants to see a lot more destruction of institutions and norms than your average elected Republican does. And I think that he’s allowing his deep-seated anger—and who cares where that anger is from—to motivate him to make this complete ideological conversion.”

As a student, McLaurin initially found  Vance to be a companionable roommate, but that quickly changed as

he found Vance becoming more and more contemptuous of their privileged peers. Still, Vance knew “it didn’t pay, professionally, to unleash” those feelings openly, McLaurin continued.

“Trump has changed that,” said McLaurin. “He’s created a permission structure for politicians, and for everyday Americans… to be bullies. To try out contempt [and] see how it works. And I think it has really worked for JD.”

That Vance could go from holding deep contempt for Trump, at one time comparing him to Hitler, to fawning admiration for the demagogue suggests a man with no moral centre.

 As McLaurin “progressively watched [Vance] get Trumpier over the years,” he found himself feeling “dismayed,” then “utterly disappointed” upon Trump’s endorsement of Vance for U.S. Senate in 2022. He had saved the text conversation he’d had with Vance about Trump’s similarities to Hitler, and struggled with the notion of exposing the exchange.

Ultimately, McLaurin explained, Vance’s glowing acceptance of the endorsement from Trump was what prompted him to release the texts. 

By accepting a key role “in the Trump moment,” according to McLaurin, Vance “has chosen a very destructive path.”

“Just because he’s capable of insight and thoughtfulness doesn’t mean that he can be trusted to exercise it,” McLaurin said. “... What good are your thoughtfulness and your principles if you’ve created enough of a monster through your rhetoric that those principles don’t matter anymore?”

The issues raised by McLaurin are ones the American public would do well to consider before casting their vote in November. Given the appalling history of that country, however, I expect his warning to have very little impact on the electorate.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Connecting The Dots

Were we abundantly blessed with critical-thinking skills, we would have no problem asking some serious questions about the direction in which Ontario is headed with Doug Ford at the helm. As well, we would be able to discern a pattern that suggests the premier is leading us nowhere good.

I am hardly the first to note that this Progressive Conservative government has been progressively and relentlessly paring down the revenues we need to fund our healthcare, our education system, our infrastructure and our social safety net; to be fair, this process long predates Ford's ascension. But since the time of Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution, it has only gotten worse.

  • In the guise of helping 'the little guy',  Ford has kept extending a popular gas-tax cut that, while saving the average household about $130 per year, has thus far cost the treasury, since its inception in 2022, a total of  $3.2 billion. 
  • Then, of course, there is the ending of licence plate renewal fees, again costing the treasure about $1.1 billion per year.
  • Additionally, as I pointed out in a recent blog post, there is the war against the LCBO, a public institution that on average contributes about $2.5 billion to the provincial coffers.
  • And on the expenditure side, it has been estimated that the early cancellation of the Beer Store agreement in order to get more product into private hands could cost upwards of $1 billion.

So where does all of this lead? To an impoverished public purse and a turn to the private sector to fill the void. 

Jordan Roberts writes of the move to put more alcohol into stores, now that the way has been paved for beer and premixed cocktails:

Having won this major battle for beer and wine revenue, Ontario’s big box stores and grocery stores will put additional energy into lobbying to sell spirits like gin, vodka and whiskey. “Hard liquor” is currently only sold at the LCBO or LCBO-licensed outlets. The inclusion of ready-to-drink products (like hard seltzer) in the announcement will help support industry’s argument that they should be allowed to sell all kinds of alcohol, because they are already selling products which include spirits.

The chains have also been lobbying for the right to be wholesalers and distributors of alcohol, taking advantage of their own integrated distribution systems and subsidiaries. Currently, only the LCBO and the Beer Store can run alcohol distribution in the province.

The fate of the LCBO becomes increasingly precarious, as the prospects of grocery and big-box store  profits soar, especially if one considers  the following:

Claudia Hepburn, who was appointed to the board of the LCBO in 2021, is Galen Weston’s first cousin. Galen Weston, of course, is the chairman of Loblaws’, and stands to benefit enormously from these changes. 

The there is the chair of the LCBO, Carmine Nigro,

a developer (CEO of Craft Development) who was hosted at the premier’s table at Kayla Ford’s wedding reception. Nigro’s company benefited from a number of MZOs (or Ministerial Zoning Orders, which are fast tracked zoning approvals) from Ford’s government. Prior to MZOs being issued to his company, Nigro was also vice president of the PC Ontario Fund, a fundraising arm of the Ontario PC party. Nigro is also part of the controversial scheme at Ontario Place, as chair of the Ontario Place Corporation. 

Thanks to available public sources, all of these facts are fairly accessible to the public. But it is up to all of us to connect the dots to see the larger picture, one that Jordan Roberts concludes is pretty grim:

Within this strategy, a key tactic is making sure government coffers are empty, so that government cannot provide services to its constituents, ensuring the only options for services are private ones. In that regard, the Ford government’s moves on alcohol sales are not only a gift to friends and donors in the private sector, and a way to reduce the influence of labour unions, but another nail in the coffin for Ontario’s government revenues.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Thinking Clearly

Those who read this blog with any regularity likely know that I make frequent reference to the importance of critical thinking. As I have said before, it is an ideal toward which I am always striving, never claiming to have perfected the skill.

When I was teaching high school seniors, we did a unit on Orwell and the use of language combined with an examination of rhetorical devices and logical fallacies. I would have the students clip things out of the newspapers (yes, they were still fairly widely-read in those days), and they would tell the rest of the class what language errors and logical fallacies they found. The results were mixed, as there is a certain maturity, intellectual level and contextual knowledge needed for sustained critical analysis.

Nowadays, given the bombardment of arrant nonsense that social media and extreme websites embrace and spread, critical thinking is more important than ever; admittedly though, it goes against a strong and widespread inclination to indulge in what I call lazy thinking. 

Real thinking can be hard work, but the following helps in our efforts to spot and refute bad arguments.

1. Appeal to ignorance

This is when a lack of evidence is interpreted to mean a claim is real – rather than placing the burden of proof on the person making the claim. It's a fallacy that commonly underlines arguments for conspiracy theories. Ask one of the estimated 10 million-plus people who believe that lizards run the world about the evidence for their claim, for example, and they might counter, "Well, these lizards are too clever to leave any evidence – that's what makes this situation so dangerous! How can you be sure it's not true?" You might wind up scratching your head, but, hopefully, it's not because you've been persuaded; it's because they've set you the trap of the "appeal to ignorance" fallacy.


 2. Ad hominem

This is a fallacy in which a claim is rejected on the basis of an aspect of someone's character, identity, motivations, or even the relationships they have with others. Think of the health professional who is told that they are only recommending vaccines because they must be a shill for Big Pharma, or the research of climate scientists being dismissed on the basis that they must be ideologically motivated.

3. Slippery slope -

This is the argument that taking one step, or putting into place one measure, will inevitably lead to more and more drastic measures – like an object sliding down a slippery slope. [It could be called the Domino Theory of the mind.] It's particularly common in debates over policy. Think of the argument that some opponents of same-sex marriage made against legalising it in places like the US or Europe. In 2016, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that many people who were against the policy were persuaded by the argument that it would lead to greater sexual promiscuity across society, and threaten their own way of life. This particular argument is fallacious because, rather than debating the policy change itself (whether same-sex marriage should be legalised), the policy was dismissed because of the fear of its predicted outcome (the breakdown of traditional society).

4. Strawman

I see this one on social media, especially, all the time. It's misrepresenting the argument of the other side to make it seem more ridiculous, and therefore easy to defeat. Think of someone who puts forth a nuanced argument that excessive sugar intake may raise the risk of health issues like heart disease. A strawman response would be, "Oh, so what, sugar is killing everyone and should be outlawed? That's absurd!" This distorts the original argument, making it easier to defeat – a strawman.

 5. Appeal to authority

This pernicious argument holds that someone's credentials, fame or reputation alone prove that they must be right. If people perceive someone as an authority, they have an innate cognitive bias to assume they have expertise in all things (even subjects they have no background in). 
More problematic still is the version known as "appeal to irrelevant authority". Our tendency to believe something because, say, a celebrity states it, even if they have no expertise at all in the topic at hand – a classic tendency in today's influencer-obsessed world. But "irrelevant authorities" aren't always so obvious. Take arguments about climate change, for example, when sceptics quote someone like a theoretical physicist as an expert – despite the fact that theoretical physics generally has very little to do with climate science.


6. False dichotomy

Presenting a complex scenario as if there are only two either-or, often opposing options, rather than multiple options. Think of that famous, often-recycled and even ancient phrase, famously used by President George W Bush shortly after 9/11: "You're either with us or against us." It implied to the international community that they had only two options – back the United States completely, including in its invasion of Afghanistan, or consider themselves enemies. In reality, of course, there were a spectrum of other options nations could take, and kinds of allies (or enemies) they could be.  

7. Whataboutism (also called whataboutery)

Sometimes considered a type of red herring – a logical fallacy that uses unrelated information to redirect away from the argument's flaws – whataboutism is intended to distract attention. It describes when, normally in response to an accusation or a question, someone responds with their own accusation. 

In politics, one of the most infamous examples has been when Russia is accused of human rights violations, and its leaders respond "Well, what about the West?". While a whataboutism can serve to illustrate hypocrisy, it deflects from the original argument.

There is no magic elixir that inoculates us against the ignorance so pervasive in the world today, and the problems will only be compounded by the increasing use of AI. Whether it will prove a winning or a losing war remains to be seen, but do we have any real choice other than to fight the good fight?



Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A Hot Summer

While it is shaping up to be a summer of meteorological heat, there is another kind quickly building in Ontario. And, despite a summer sojourn at his new, palatial cottage, Doug Ford cannot escape it: the political fallout of the LCBO strike.

After For's release of his cottage video touting an interactive map where Ontarians can buy their booze despite the strike, people have reacted swiftly and decisively:

The announcement is stirring up angry reactions from many residents and city officials, who accused Ford of union busting and failing to address pressing socio-economic issues.

“While the Ford government wastes billions of tax dollars, schools need fixing, hospital wait times need attention, cities need support for transit, services & infrastructure, the science centre needs saving and people struggle to make ends meet. Yet, this guy’s priority is beer,” Councillor Josh Matlow wrote on X on Monday.

“You’re using public dollars to break a strike, undermine workers rights and to destroy an agency that generates $2.5 billion for healthcare and other services. But this app looks cute. Why didn’t you use this kind of tech to save lives from COVID19 or to find ERs,” one X user wrote.

“Can I get a map of where I can find emergency clinics that are open?,” another person said.

“All this government cares about is alcohol, not education, not healthcare, not housing…alcohol,” someone else wrote.

“They rolled out that interactive map pretty damn fast. I guess he can be efficient when it really matters,” another person commented.

Businesses for whom alcohol is a big source of revenue are not reacting well either.

The strike by the 9,000 workers is a disaster in the making for a bar and restaurant industry that’s still struggling to recover from the financial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Restaurants Canada CEO Kelly Higginson.

“The contingency plans are not working, and they didn’t work right out of the gate. It’s chaos,” said Higginson.

The strike comes in the middle of a patio season that’s even more crucial than usual, Higginson added. On top of increased debt load from COVID, customers having less disposable income and cost increases, restaurant and bar owners also had to deal with the usual slowdown in spring and winter. 

“It’s a must season. We need a good summer,” said Higginson.

For bigger restaurants and bars which have the money and storage space to buy by the case, the LCBO’s wholesale website has been equally frustrating, Higginson said.

“They’re struggling to get alcohol. The LCBO said there were going to be 168 different (products) available for wholesale, but in fact at this point there are maybe 30,” said Higginson.

And the people who perhaps matter least (except at election time) to Ford are offering their views:

I find it hard to comprehend why stores other than LCBO outlets should be allowed to sell alcohol. People want health care and education, and the LCBO profits help fund those things as a revenue stream for the province. We whine about lack of health services but seem too stupid to realize that sales go to the store, not the province. Do large stores such as Loblaws and Metro really need the money from alcohol? 

Barbara Tallis, Toronto

The LCBO strike is another big blunder of Premier Doug Ford. For starters, why would Ontario want to compete with itself? Taking business away from a well-managed, secure, and efficient LCBO does not make sense. Putting beer, wine and mixed drinks in the hands of private store operators is very concerning. The many concerns of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) are justified. Allowing  alcohol to be sold in other markets will ruin a strong organization that has worked well for many years. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!

Mark Borkowski, Toronto

One of Premier Doug Ford’s poorly-thought-out decisions that may prove disastrous in the future is the weakening of the mandate of the LCBO by allowing beer, wine and mixed cocktails into corner stores. I think we can all agree that the contributions made by the LCBO toward our health care and education systems are invaluable. In fact, I believe that the LCBO is the goose that lays the golden eggs. So, what smart person that owns such a goose would wilfully try to weaken it? It is all too obvious that Premier Doug Ford does not know how to play chess and is incapable of properly foreseeing the next move. Who in their right mind would want to weaken that asset for little return? Someone intent on the short term goal of reelection at any cost. Wake up, premier.

David Ottenbrite, Cambridge

Then there is this stinging indictment that carries so much truth:

Why is alcohol retail more important than addressing homelessness? The priorities of this government are skewed. Revenue for health care and education are much more important. Premier Doug Ford does not have my vote.

Ted Lister, Hamilton

It is my understanding that Ford has called a press conference for this morning. I think he may find that empty rhetoric, stock phrases and anodyne commentary will not quell the angry beast he has unleashed.