Saturday, May 18, 2024

Expect Poilievre to come out fighting - again

There have been a couple of critical articles in the Globe and Mail recently, calling out Pierre Poilievre on his duplicity, so you have to know that some serious push-back is on its way. The man hates to be criticized, and is highly adept at turning any criticism against its perpetrator. Indeed, you could call it gaslighting, but it is nevertheless highly effective.

A couple of days ago, an article by Robyn Urback called out Poilievre's hypocrisy about all the "useless and overpaid lobbyists" that should be fired and permanently done away with, because all they do is bend the ear of the Prime Minister in their direction.

Well, yes, that's exactly what lobbyists do, and I'm all actually all for doing away with them myself. But as Ms. Urback points out, Poilievre himself is a frequent recipient of lobbyists, seeing two within just a couple of days of his National Post op-ed, and many more in recent months. So, is he saying that lobbyists should not have access to Prime Ministers but Leaders of the Opposition are fair game?

And then today, an opinion piece by Sharon Proudfoot points out the extent to which Poilievre has a habit (straight out of Donald Trump's playbook, let it be said) of insisting that the Canadian press is totally corrupt and hostile to him, and deliberately supportive of Justin Trudeau's "woke agenda" (his favourite phrase, not mine).

Ms. Proudfoot recounts a whole litany of examples of where Poilievre uses his rhetorical gift to destroy a journalist's entirely reasonable line of questioning, or, even more commonly, to play the victim and portray the question as an unfair partisan gibe and a sop to Trudeau, turning the question around and scoring cheap political points of his own (and generating the social media-ready sound bites his supporters love so much). See the Trump connection here?

I'm not sure how Poilievre can argue that the Canadian press is biased against him. Have you read some of the sycophantic pro-Poilievre panegyrics in the National Post and The Sun recently, not to mention the local newspapers on the Prairies? What he means is: there are people out there who actually disagree with him, and they need to be cut down to size and ridiculed, by any means necessary, because his followers expect no less of him.

So, expect a press release sometime soon. Probably something with the words "woke" and "Trudeau" in it. Poilievre is nothing if not predictable. Depressingly predictable.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

No evidence pro-Palestine protests are being run by outsiders

You hear a lot about the pro-Palestine protests at US and Canadian universities being infiltrated and even instigated by outside actors, agitators and all-round ne'er-do-wells. It's a convenient way to try to de-legitimize the protests, and it comes up at almost all such protests

Frankly, I'd be very surprised if there weren't some of those. Protests and demonstration of every kind attract this kind of professional agitator/anarchist/white supremacist types - look at the Freedom Convoy and the Occupy movement, for example, and further back, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. But to what extent is this happening with this particular batch of protests?

The right-wing press and some Jewish outlets would have us think that the protests are not being organized and funded by concerned students and a few faculty members at all, but by some shadowy secret organizations with direct links to Hamas (or worse!). Others seem to be believe that George Soros and his Open Society Foundation are behind it all (despite Soros being Jewish and a Holocaust survivor!). The truth, however, as a CBC fact-checking mission concludes, appears to be much more banal.

Food and supplies have been donated in the main by other students, parents and local community members, although some crowdfunding campaigns have also, understandably, been hastily set up by the students. 

One media commentator pointed out that, wait, all those tents look suspiciously similar, and they probably cost $400 each, so some outside organization somewhere must be bankrolling all of this. (That is the level of debate and logic we are talking about here.) In fact, those tents that were bought and not donated probably came from WalMart, which sells that same type of cheap poor-quality tent for $48 each. 

In fact, there is no credible evidence of any outside funding or infiltration of the encampments, in Canada at any rate, and police have not brought any charges to that effect thus far. And the protesters themselves do in fact seem to be, well, students, in the main. That's not to say there are NO outsiders involved, but to say that the encampments are being instigated and directed by outside agitators, as a very pro-Israel friend of mine contends, is firmly in the realm of conspiracy theory.

Similar exaggerated and unfounded allegations are being levelled at the university protests in the USA, mainly as an excuse to bring in police to break them up, as in New York amd LA. And, there too, it seems like the truth is that very few "outsiders" are involved, and there is no real evidence of major outside funding or core organization by non-students.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Violence against Canadian politicians is a Conservative development

I've lamented many times the new "nasty" style of politics being brought to Canada by Pierre Poilievre and many of the current crop of Conservatives. But I hadn't appreciated quite how nasty it was getting until reading an article by long-time NDP MP Charlie Angus.

Angus has always been a feisty and outspoken politician, but recently he has been particularly outspoken about Poilievre, whom he sees as going beyond the pale of traditional Canadian politics, and even undermining our whole democratic system. 

Well, he has been receiving some substantial push-back for his pains. Photos of his daughters were posted online, with details of where they work, and many threats have been levelled at him, all through the anonymity of social media (no actual violence ... yet). And they call HIM a coward!

Poilievre has been vocal about encouraging his supporters to take their protests directly to Liberal and NDP politicians, and they have been doing just that. Angus recounts examples of where MPs have been called on to engage in physical fights over their support for the carbon tax, where constituency office windows have been smashed with an axe in an "axe the tax" protest, where an MPs tires were slashed and his garage set of fire, and where a young female MP was followed down the street by a man screaming obscenities about her carbon tax stance.

Liberal MP Pam Damoff has vowed to quit politics completely, and won't run in the next federal election, due to the misogyny, disrespectful dialogue and threats to her life she has received of late. Certainly, the general tone of discourse has deteriorated drastically and, as Damoff says, the level of misinformation and just plain lying has resulted in a loss of trust in our institutions among the electorate. Why would you want to stay in such a toxic worm environment?

Going back a little further, this nastiness was perhaps presaged by the physical violence against Justin Trudea on the campaign trail in 2021 (still just a few short years ago).

It seems to me that none of this would have happened just a few short years ago. This kind of extreme anger has been deliberately stoked, and today's Conservatives are, unequivocably, to blame. I'm not just being partisan here; it seems incontrovertible to me. Maybe you could blame Donald Trump, if we go one step further back. But the Tories/Republicans are the instigators, and the Liberals/Democrats are being inexorably drawn in to respond in kind, in a depressing race to the bottom.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Like it or not, the keffiyeh has become a political symbol

Maybe it seems like a bit of a storm in a teacup (or a storm in a teakettle, as North Americans would have it, which I confess has never made any sense to me), but the fracas over the wearing of keffiyehs in the Ontario Legislature is still going on.

House Speaker Ted Arnott banned the wearing of the traditional checkered scarf, which is commonly worn in Arabic countries, but which has come to more specifically represent Palestine and its independence struggle in recent years. Just yesterday, Arnott partially walked back the ban, ruling that it could be worn into the legislature buildings, but still not in the legislative chamber itself.

Apparently, the Speaker of the House does have the authority to enact such a ban, and have the Sargeant-at-Arms enforce it, even if, as in this case, the Premier disagrees. The rules prohibit "the display of signs, banners, buttons, clothing with partisan/political messages" within the legislature (which, when you think about it, is kind of bizarre in a place that exists solely to argue politics). It is up to the Speaker to interpret that rule, and Mr. Arnott has ruled that the wearing of the keffiyeh has crossed that line.

MPP Sarah Jama started wearing one about a month ago to express her solidarity with Palestine, and was removed from the NDP caucus and asked to leave the chamber several times. Jama is actually of Somali heritage and, although a practising Muslim, is not actually Arabic. So, any claim that she is wearing it as a cultural symbol is pretty disingenuous. She certainly didn't wear it before the Israeli war in Palestine started.

More recently, left-wingers Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joel Harden have taken to wearing it, and they definitely can't claim any cultural connection. It's hard to argue anything other than that the keffiyeh is being wilfully and knowingly used as a political symbol or prop. 

That said, Mr. Arnott could have just left the whole issue alone. He has the descretion to be able to do that, as evidenced by his later decision to allow it in the outer parts of the building. And Doug Ford clearly wishes he had done, calling the move unnecessarily divisive, one of the few times I find myself agreeing with the Premier.

But, make no mistake, whatever the keffiyeh used to be, or may still be to some people, in this context the keffiyeh is most definitely a political, not a cultural, statement. And if the Speaker chooses to ban it for that reason, you kind of have to go along with that. Don't try and argue that it's just an innocent piece of cloth, or a cultural symbol of deep personal significance.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Meet the hammer-headed bat

Couldn't help but share a picture of a hammer-headed bat, the largest of all African bats.

These so-ugly-they're cute animals glory in the Latin name Hipsignathus monstrosus, and their similarity to medieval gargoyles has not been lost on researchers. 

They live in the lowland forests of west and central Africa, and eat fruit like figs, guavas, bananas and mangoes, as well as flies and other insects, and even scraps of bird meat and chicken blood. Their wingspan is an impressive one metre, and they wrap their wings around their huge noses to sleep. The boxy elongated heads of the male bats contain a large resonating chamber that amplifies their calls and honks. In fact, their voice box or larynx takes up fully half or hie body cavity, and other major organs are pushed way back by it.

They make particular use of this prodigious voice box during their lek courtship pageants, where up to 150 animals gather together twice a year to honk and flap and generally try to impress the females. The females are picky, though, and only a very small percentage of males are chosen for mating.

Very cool animals.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Toronto's huge World Cup bill (partly) due to FIFA's overreach

The World Cup is coming to Toronto. This is not news, having been known since the USA/Mexico/Canada joint bid was accepted back in 2018, and the host cities were announced in 2022. Most people were probably agreeably disposed to it at that point although, even then, a sizeable minority were against it. Much as I like soccer, I was one of them.

Fast forward six years, and the bill for our tiny share of the huge 2026 extravaganza has ballooned. Did no-one else see that coming?

And when I say "ballooned", I mean ballooned. Like at least 10-fold. The original bid envisaged costs of $30-45 million for the five games then envisaged, an obvious under-estimate even then. We are now looking at $380 million for six games in Toronto, with plenty of time for that sum to increase still further. I recently drove past the Toronto stadium with friend and avid soccer fan, and he merely said "is that it?" (the stadium will need many improvements and extensions).

Mayor Olivia Chow, who is upfront in admitting that she would not have allowed the bid had she been Mayor at the time, has been desperately scrambling to obtain promises of funding from other levels of government, and she has managed to wrangle $97 million from the Ontario provincial government and now another $104 million from the federal government. However, that still leaves Toronto on the hook for nearly half of the total sum, and even recent hefty property tax increases are not going to make much of a dent in that kind of bill.

Part of the huge cost increase has arisen from FIFA's ever-changing demands. The city insists that it did not just write a blank cheque, but there seems to be a lot of FIFA requirements that were not spelled out in the initial negotiations - or were kept secret from its taxpayers - requirements that the host cities are just expected to cover. 

In addition to the stadium rebuild, FIFA mandates: free transit tickets for game attendees and media, and extended transit hours on game days; free office space and equipment "of the highest quality" for FIFA officials; the covering of any municipal taxes FIFA may incur; extensive city beautification measures (including covering up construction projects in progress); a huge FIFA Fan Fest event; late night opening for bars, restaurants and stores on game days; the removal of commercial signage and advertising in the area around the stadium on game days; the list goes on. They also tried to force Toronto not to host any other "substantial cultural events" while the games are on, but the city pushed back against that one.

*Sigh* I suppose we should be grateful we are not Vancouver. They are on the hook for $581 million for the seven games they are to host.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Why Hertz is selling off its electric vehicle fleet

Car rental giant Hertz made a big splash a couple of years ago when it announced it was investing heavily in electric vehicles (EVs), manly Teslas and Polestars. When I travel to the UK (about once a year), I always rent a Polestar these days, and I have had nothing but good experiences. Plus, Hertz still seems to have a special offer going on its EVs, making them among the cheapest rental cars.

Then, earlier this year, Hertz announced out of the blue that it was selling off most of its fleet of EVs, at least in the US, quoting high repair costs and poor resudual values as the main reasons. So much for the moral high-ground it tried to take in its publicity. It seems it's really about the money.

But wait, high repair costs? What gives? Regular maintenance costs for EVS are a fraction of those for ICE cars, but what they are talking about here are repairs to damage caused by renters. A big proportion of their EV customers, apparently, are rideshare drivers (e.g. Uber, Lyft, etc) who have a tendency to drive their cars into the ground and not take very good care of them. Who knew rideshare drivers rented their vehicles? Sounds like an expensive option, no? And, yes, the research shows that repairs of collision damage to Teslas in particular can be a bit more expensive, partly because of all the connected technology, cameras, etc.

But, hold on? Does Hertz not insure its cars? And do they not rake in money from their customers for the various insurance coverages they try to insist drivers pay for? If a customer, even a rideshare driver, bangs up a rented Tesla, do they not have to pay for those repairs (or at least a hefty insurance premium up-front to cover it)? So, why then is Hertz out of pocket?

And low resale costs? Sure, I can see that. Tesla, in particular, has been slashing its prices over the last year to try and address the soft demand for its cars, especially in the USA, so resale values have also taken a hit. But is the best solution to that to sell everything off as soon as possible, especially given the current poor resale prices? Maybe it would have been better to wait and see how things pan out? A large part of that problem seems to be Tesla-specific, rather than EVs in general.

It just seems a very strange policy to me to go all in on something, and then all out after such a short time. Their much-vaunted commitment to the environment has taken a battering over this. I will take advantage of their EV fleet whenever I can (especially given the good prices), but I will know that they are not doing it out of concern for the fate of the earth.

Was Pierre Poilievre's ejection staged?

The Canadian chattering classes - which I guess includes me, surprisingly enough - are all a-twitter over yesterday's ejection of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre from the House of Commons after his name-calling of Prime Minister Trudeau and his unrepentant mockery of the Speaker of the House Greg Fergus.

"Wacko" is not exactly the most offensive epithet that has ever been used in the House of Commons, but the rules are clear. It is one thing to call a policy "wacko", and entirely another to call a person "wacko". When politicians resort to kindergarten name-calling during an official sitting of the House, it's time to clamp down and re-establish some modicum of order and civility.

Most of the responses I have heard or read since express incredulity and despair that the level of civility in the House of Commons has sunk so low. It's not just this particular incident, but the whole tenor of political discourse has deteriorated, possibly irretrievably, since Poilievre achieved a position of power. He may not be the only one responsible for all the fractiousness, but his extreme partisanship and divisiveness, and his - there's no other word for it - nastiness, seems to have infected the whole of parliament.

Whether you think the Speaker acted in an uneven and partisan fashion (the partisan Conservative viewpoint), or that Poilievre had it coming to him (pretty much everyone else), it seems undeniable that this level of polarization and divisiveness is unprecedented. Question Time in particular is "broken" (to use one of Poilievre's favourite words). It was never particularly edifying, but now it is downright embarrassing.

However, what I hadn't understood until earlier today, after it was pointed out in a radio talk show, is that there is a good chance that this whole thing - the nasty exchange, the ejection, the recriminations that followed - may have been pre-planned and deliberately engineered by Poilievre and his spin doctors. 

Granted, this may still be in the realm of speculation, and maybe I shouldn't be engaging in it, but apparently a Conservative Party fundraiser email was sent out within minutes ("within seconds", according to some) of the ejection. It was heavy on its use of the word "wacko". The Liberals too sent out a fundraising mailout, but that was much later that evening.

Now, maybe the Tory fundraising machine is really that efficient and fast, or maybe this was pre-planned to coincide with the shenanigans in the House of Commons. It's a good indication of the depths of cynicism the Conservatives have sunk to under Poilievre that so many people believe that the whole thing may well have been deliberately staged specifically for the fundraising mailout.