Thursday, July 18, 2024

A little glimpse into who JD Vance is

If you want a little glimpse at who Trump running mate and vice presidential nominee JD Vance is - does he not have a proper name? even his wife calls him JD! - a little snippet from his speech at the Republican National Convention last night affords one such.

Vance makes a big deal about his relatively humble beginnings - the Republicans don't have many members that can do that, so he's a valuable commodity - and one of the tedious anecdotes in his speech was about this grandmother ("Mamaw"), who was found dead in 2005 with 19 loaded handguns stashed everywhere around the house.

Anyway, Vance's point was not, "Crap, that is just so dangerous! No wonder the USA has a problems with gun violence!" It wasn't even, " Now, how did such a poor person get hold of, and manage to pay for, 19 guns?" No, his punchline was, "That's who we fight for. That's American spirit!" Audience members guffawed and cheered wildly, so I guess that was the correct interpretation of the story.

That, my friends, is JD Vance. And, for what it's worth, I'm guessing at Jeremiah Donald. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Republican "unity" merely means bending the knee to Trump

There can be no better illustration of the extent to which Donald Trump has dominated and remade the Republican Party in his own image than the Republican Convention love-fest going on in Wisconsin right now.

Speaker after speaker fell over themselves in an attempt to be seen as even more pro-Trump than the previous overblown speaker. Most notable are the one-time Trump opponents, or even Trump-haters, who have apparently had a spiritual revelation on the way to the Convention. Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Ben Carson, Vivek Ramaswamy, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio - all of these influential Republicans once professed hatred and scorn for Trump, often in very graphic terms. And Trump scorned them back, often with offensive and belittling name-calling (remember Birdbrain Nikki, DeSanctimonious Ron, Lyin' Ted, Little Marco?)

And top of the pile must be one-time "never-Trumper" JD Vance, who has now officially been made Trump's running mate (and potential Vice President). From outspoken critic to lickspittle-in-chief. Pretty impressive.

So, what's with these Paulian conversions, these transformations and 180° flip-flops? Well, the buzzword of the Convention is "unity", by which we are supposed to believe is meant national unity in the wake of the Trump shooting, but which is actually all about party unity. From the vitriol which they continue to spit at Joe Biden and the Democrats, it's pretty clear that they have no interest in THAT kind of unity.

How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of these miraculous comversions. Of course, it's all about realpolitik. These are professional politicians and power junkies. They don't care that they may have completely jettisoned some of the policies they once espoused, and on which they were voted into Congress by the people they are supposed to represent. It's all about rallying behind the person - any person - they see as their mealticket into power. Everyone is diminished apart from Donald J. Trump, and they are OK with that. It's not necessary to actually be persuaded by Trump's arguments, only to bend the knee in the interests of "unity". If that requires some Orwellian doublethink, then so be it.

I have been watching House of the Dragon recently, and it's hard not see some parallels with modern American politics. A little less killing and fewer dragons, sure. But the rampant deceit and mendacity, and the cut-throat attitudes, are all quite reminiscent. And it's almost as compelling television, were it not so depressing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Big Grocery beats out Big Beverage in recycling game

For a tantalizing (but short) time there was a possibility that Ontario could finally establish a deposit return system for soft-drink containers, similar to the one that already exists for alcohol containers in the province, and for soft drink containers in most other provinces.

Ontario has the worst recycling rates in Canada for cans, plastic bottles and cartons. But about a year ago, a working group was set up to look into what can be done here, a working group including representatives from the beverage industry, the retail industry, the waste management industry, environmental groups and provincial officials. Hope was in the air for a while.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, senior officials from the Ford administration summarily shut down the working group

It seems the Retail Council of Canada, representing the major grocery and big box chains like Loblaws, Metro, Costco, Walmart, etc, went behind the backs of the other participants and used their prodigious influence to get Ontario to shut down the whole idea of a soft drink recycling system, an idea that might cost them some money and eat into their huge profits. The Canadian Beverage Association, representing the likes of Coca Cola and PepsiCo, which interestingly enough was very much in favour of the recycling plan, is outraged at the province's shifty move, as of course are the various environmental stakeholders. 

Big Grocery 1 : Big Beverage 0. End of game.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Trump's would-be assassin missing a clear motive

The next chapter in the ongoing soap opera (farce?) that is the American federal election is being written as we speak. Front-runner Donald Trump survived what is being called an assassination attempt, the latest in a series of assassinations and assassination attempts that have blighted US politics for decades.

But the "assassin", Thomas Matthew Crooks, a 20-year old math and history geek employed as a kitchen worker at a local nursing home in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, turns out to have been a registered  Republican (although, to complicate things, he did also make a $15 donation to a Democratic fundraiser back in 2021).

So, of course, the question arises: was it really an assassination attempt? I confess that when I first saw the footage of the shooting, my very first thought was: "I bet this was a set-up by some Republican aiming to elicit a sympathy vote for Trump". It's a huge indictment of modern America, Trump and the Republican Party that such a lurid made-for-TV idea would even occur to me. That, or my own cynicism.

And I'm far from the only one who thought, at least at the beginning, that the whole thing might have been staged, and a bunch of conspiracy theories have already surfaced in the darker regions of the Internet - I'm talking about X/Twitter here -  conspiracy theories on both sides of the political aisle.

Mr. Crooks - who is now dead, killed within seconds by security personnel, so we will probably never know his motives - was big into guns and explosives, watching TV shows like Demolition Ranch, and sporting hunting outfits to school. But it turns out he wasn't actually a very good shot, despite his predilection for crawling around on roofs with his dad's "AR-style rifle". In fact, he never even made his school's varsity rifle team, despite trying. (Wait, schools have rifle teams?) So he probably wasn't capable of deliberately taking out an ear at such a distance (about 150 metres).

So, just another disturbed individual with access to guns? I guess. No clear motive immediately pops out from what we know so far. But Trump will probably get his talking point and his sympathy vote anyway, given that he does not feel the need to stick to the actual truth. Indeed, he raised his little fist to the cameras and mouthed "Fight!", after calling on the security detail to wait while he bled a little more. The crowd cheered and rose to their feet in defiance. 

That photo of a bloodied Trump, fist raised, with an American flag billowing behind him in a pure blue sky, will be shared ad nauseam by supporters (already has), his very own Iwo Jima graphic. Some politicians are already referring to him as a kind of martyr to the cause, even though he actually just has a small nick out of one ear. From one Florida Congressman: "First they tried to silence him. Then they tried to imprison him. Now they try to kill him." ("They", of course, being the Democrats.) I kid you not. Trump's already-formidable persecution complex will be on full display in the weeks to come. And, of course, some are saying that only God can have saved him, so that he can carry out the Lord's (political) will. *Sigh*

Ah, America...

Friday, July 12, 2024

Why do people hold their cellphones like that?

We need to talk about cellphones. Well, we don't NEED to, but I would love some kind of explanation. I'm not talking about cellphones in school, social media addiction or disinformation, I'm talking about the way people hold them.

Most people under about forty - and a smattering of self-consciously modish copycats over that age - seem to hold their phones horizontally in front of their mouths. This looks rather awkward, and is certainly counter-intuitive given that phones come with a speaker at the top and a microphone at the bottom for good reasons. When I see someone move their horizontal phone from their mouth to their ear to hear a response, I itch to show them how it's designed to be used (vertically, by the side of the face), but I know I shouldn't.

Anyway, I have tried and failed to find out if there's a good reason why they do it. I did wonder if it was something to do with avoiding radio waves, but I don't think that's it. I think it's literally a fashion thing - someone somewhere decided it looked cool, and everyone else just followed blindly along. I mean there's no practical reason for people to wear their pants halfway down their bums, but it doesn't stop people from doing it.

Most older people, me included, just don't understand it. Most of what I can find on the internet about it is clearly written, despairingly, by older people (here's one quite amusing example). Maybe someone will explain it to me some day.

Eagles stop cormorant removal work

Urban wildlife management is hard. This is known. 

The double-crested cormorant (the official name of the regular everyday cormorants we see around the Great Lakes) was in terminal decline a few decades ago, mainly due to toxic pesticides like DDT. Due to conservation efforts, it made a miraculous recovery, and now has a very healthy summer population in the area - perhaps too healthy.

Thing is, they are pretty unpleasant birds. Perhaps their worst habit is killing off the very trees they nest in - their guano or droppings is very acidic, as well as pungently, putridly smelly, and kills their nesting trees over time. You might have seen (and smelled!) the blighted area of trees towards the tip of Tommy Thompson Park (better known locally as the Leslie Street Spit), just offshore from downtown Toronto, where they have nested for some years now.

Having killed off that area of trees, the cormorants thought it a good idea to move just across the bay to Centre Island and infest a grove of trees there. But Centre Island is a tourist area and adjacent to the small community of people who live on the islands. Toronto naturalists and park managers tracked the move and have been trying to deter the cormorants from settling on Centre Island

However, that work is now on hold. The reason? Two bald eagles moved in to a cormorant nest on Centre Island this spring, spruced it up, tripled its size, and this has those same naturalists very excited. Because, other than another nesting pair that made an undisclosed Toronto ravine home earlier this year, these are the first bald eagles ever to settle in Canada's most populous city.

So, the cormorant removal work promptly stopped in order to give the eagles some space, and now the cormorant population on Centre Island has mushroomed from about a thousand to at least two thousand. The eagles have been seen snacking on cormorants, but that's not going to be enough to discourage them from wrecking the trees of Centre Island. 

*Sigh* What to do? Well, now that two healthy eaglets  have fully fledged from the nest, Toronto Region Conservation Area personnel believe they can now continue their work of aggressively relocating the cormorants back to Tommy Thompson Park. And I guess they will do the same thing all over again next year if the eagles return.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

LCBO strike will struggle to find too much support

As workers from the LCBO - Liquor Control Board of Ontario, otherwise known as "the liquor store" in Ontario's restrictive booze business - go out on strike, serious questions are being asked about the organization's continued relevance.

I am normally reasonably supportive of striking workers, who typically don't take such drastic action lightly. But a lot of normally supportive individuals are not quite so gung-ho about this one. It may be partly their rather disingenuous sloganeering which attempts to equate a government-controlled wine and spirits business with the provincial healthcare system. Yes, the LCBO contributes about $2.5 billion in profits into the province's coffers, but under other circumstances that would be achieved by taxation.

I actually think the LCBO does a pretty good job of providing a good selection of local and international wine and beer (I'm not a spirit-drinker and so can't really comment there). A bit pricey, maybe, but a monopoly will do that.

The editorial in today's Globe and Mail laid out the main problem, though. The ship has already sailed. Booze is now available through many different outlets, and the LCBO's monopoly position is already severely weakened (partly due to Doug Ford's alcohol privatization crusade over the last few years, which has had its own problems as I have noted previously).

The editorial breaks down the numbers. There are 650 LCBO stores in the province, but there are also: 628 wineries and winery retail stores selling wine; 82 distillery retail stores selling spirits; 373 breweries selling beer; 437 Beer Stores selling beer; 448 grocery stores selling beer and wine; and 389 LCBO "convenience outlets" inside small stores in rural areas selling beer, wine and spirits. 

Add to that the upcoming further relaxation of retail rules which will allow convenience stores to sell wine beer and premixed cocktails, and there you have it. People are not going to be too worried about the LCBO stores closing for a few weeks. 

The writing is on the wall, the cat is out of the bag, the horse has bolted, use whatever idiom you prefer. But the fact is the status quo has shifted, and we are never going back to the grim old days I remember from when I first moved here, when alcohol was grudgingly dispense in brown paper bags from Soviet-style rationing offices.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Poll: only one person can beat Trump (and it's not Biden)

A Reuters/Ipsos poll looking at US voter intentions based on various Democratic presidential candidates facing off against Donald Trump, and the results are certainly illuminating.

The poll gives Joe Biden a 40% vote against Trump, exactly equal to Trump's vote against Biden. Note that this was AFTER the "Great Gaffe" - the first presidential debate, which Joe Biden memorably bodged - and so this is probably as bad as it gets (except this is much more generous to Biden than some other polls which show him about 6 percentage points behind Trump).

If Biden were to stand down - and, thus far, he insists that he won't - the most likely replacement would be Vice President Kamala Harris. The poll gave her 42% of the vote against Trump, but Trump would get 43% of the vote against her (fewer "don't knows" and abstainers).

Other potential Democrat presidential candidates fare worse still: Gavin Newsom 38%, Trump 42%; Gretchen Whitmer 36%, Trump 41%; Andy Breshear (who?) 36%, Trump 40%; JN Pritzker (who??) 34%, Trump 40%. None of it looks good.

But there is one more name covered by the poll: Michelle Obama. According to the poll, Ms. Obama would win 50% of the vote, compared to Trump's 39%. Problem is, Michelle Obama has repeatedly confirmed that she is not interested in standing for President. I wonder whether this poll might change her mind? God, I hope so.

Strategic voting saves Macron's (and France's) neck

If France's election this last Sunday teaches us anything it is the value of strategic voting.

In the first round of voting, Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) party polled well and looked to be firmly in the driver's seat and on course to form a far-right anti-immigration anti-EU anti-Ukraine government (anti-everything really).

But the reality turned out to be far from that. RN came in third place after the New Popular Front leftist alliance and President Macron's own Ensemble liberal alliance. RN is still the largest single party (New Popular Front and Ensemble being composite alliances), and they did increase their seat count from 88 to 140. But they have been kept out of government by a concerted agreement between the parties of the left, a kind of alliance of alliances.

Over 200 candidates from the Popular Front and Ensemble parties voluntarily pulled out of the second round of voting so that a better-placed progressive candidate could stop RN from winning. RN, of course, call this cheating, but it is really just a particularly vivid example of strategic voting, and you can see how effective it is.

You can debate till the cows come home whether President Macron was right to call a general election right after the far right made such large gains in the European Parliament, particularly in France, but he seems to have got away with it. Hard negotiations still remain between Macron and New Popular Front leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon in order to make this alliance of alliances work. But it just goes to show that swallowing pride and establishing cooperation can have dramatic results. 

Canada's Liberals and NDP could learn a lot from this experience. Canada too is saddled with a three main party system, in which two of the parties can be seen to be united in their fear of a Conservative sweep next election (2025). But Canada has the added advantage of time to plan. There is time for the two centre-left parties to swallow their pride and amalgamate in the national interest, particularly given that they are no longer even that far apart politically.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Quebec tries to muzzle the Supreme Court of Canada

Quebec is calling for a Supreme Court of Canada judge to recuse himself from an appeal case on the province's proposed secularism law, Bill 21.

Well, that might not seem like big news to you. But Quebec's argument is that Justice Mahmud Jamal is not impartial to the case because he was chairman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) when the group first challenged the law in Quebec's Superior Court back in 2019.

What the province of Quebec is actually saying is that it doesn't want Justice Jamal to vote on the case because it knows which way he will vote (and they don't like it). This would be like asking the Conservative members of the US Supreme Court not to vote on an abortion case, like the one they recently embarrassed their country with, because everyone knows which way they will vote.

Thus far, the Supreme Court of Canada is saying that there is no reason for Justice Jamal, who is no longer associated with CCLA, to recuse himself. They need to hold that line.

Iranian election makes a statement but don't expect change

Iran has given a resounding vote of confidence to a new "reformist" president, in the recent election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who died mysteriously in a helicopter crash in May of this year.

Masoud Pereshkian, the only "reformist" candidate in the slate of six presidential candidates allowed by Iran's Guardian Council, received 16.3 million votes compared to 13.5 million votes for conservative hardliner Saeed Jalili in the run-off round of voting on Friday. You have to see this as a slap in the face for the regime, as the people voted overwhelmingly for the only "reformist" candidate they were allowed. Voter turnout was, however, a historic low at less than 50%.

Of course, "reformist", in Iranian terms, does not really mean that much - you'll notice I'm using quote marks throughout - so don't get your hopes up. Pereshkian did promise to ease enforcement of Iran's mandatory headscarf law, but let's see whether he is even allowed to do that. He is technically in control of a government that is still largely made up of hardliners, and most of the real power in the country still resides with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Preshkian he will almost certainly not try and cross Ayatollah Khameini in anything important, so his aims will remain modest.

The country is not really expecting a major turnaround in its international policies any time soon, and it will remain a pariah at the extreme fringes of the geopolitical status quo.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Where are those monarchs?

I saw my first monarch butterfly of the year just yesterday, 4th July, here in Toronto. I swear it gets later every year.

It's hard to find hard information on monarch numbers on a timely basis, despite them being probably the most researched butterflies in the world. The best I can find is a late June report by Monarch Watch, which seems to suggest that there is nothing to worry about.

Despite the winter monarch count in Mexico being the second-lowest ever recorded and some low early numbers of migratory returnees, Monarch Watch says that they take comfort in the fact that the early arrival were just that, early. 

"It seems safe to say that the numbers indicate that the growth of the population this year is comparable to that of most populations since 2015. The recovery to this point is nothing short of extraordinary and is a testament to the monarch's resilience."

Hmm, OK. That doesn't gel with my own observations of increasingly late arrivals and low numbers here in Toronto. So, what to think? Wait and see, I guess.

UK Reform Party celebrating, but election results underwhelming

This is the day after the UK general election in which Keir Starmer's Labour Party swept the board with 412 seats out of the 650-seat British Parliament. It wasn't a surprise, with an electorate in desperate need of a change after 14 years of turbulent Conservative rule, but it may have been more definitive than even Labour had hoped, more than doubling it's previous seat count, and handing the Conservatives their worst electoral defeat in 200 years.

But, as of last night, and based on exit polls, a lot of the media attention was focussed not on Starmer but on the grinning mug of Nigel Farage, leader of the nascent Reform Party (ex-Brexit Party and UK Independence Party). Garage is Boris Johnson's far right alter ego, a blustering mendacious populist who was responsible in large part for the misinformation that led to Britain's disastrous exit from Europe.

As of last night, the Reform Party - named, incidentally, in deference to Canada's Reform Party, in whose footsteps Farage transparently hoped to tread, taking over the larger, more moderate Conservative Party from within - was predicted to win 13 seats, including Farage's own (after seven previous failed attempts). While this is only 2% of the available seats, it represented a big breakthrough for a far right party in Britain, and therefore a big deal.

In the cold light of today, the Reform Party actually only won 4 seats: Farage in Clacton, Lee Anderson in Ashfield, Richard Tice in Boston/Skegness and Rupert Lowe in Great Yarmouth. That's just 0.6% of seats, and so not exactly a tsunami, and certainly not the "many, many seats right across the country" that Farage was expecting. As it happens, this is the same seat count as the Green Party, and less than the Scottish National Party (9), Sinn Fein (7), individual members standing as independent of any party (6), and the Democratic Unionist Party (5). The Green Party saw its haul of seats rise almost as dramatically as Reform, from 1 to 4, to much less recognition -  wouldn't/shouldn't that be as big news? UPDATE: the 4 Reform seats have now been updated to 5, with James McMurdock belatedly taking the seat for Basildon South and East Thurrock,  which messes up my math, but my point stands.

Farage and Reform are nevertheless celebrating getting a foot in the doorway, so to speak, and Farage, ever the blusterer, is not ruling out a spell in Downing Street in five years' time. 

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Julian Barnes introduces us to his ill-remembered namesake

I have been reading Julian Barnes' 2022 novel Elizabeth Finch. And, while it is a good read, like all of Barnes' books, it is a strange animal, and not at all what I was expecting.

This is largely because a sizeable proportion of it is given over to an extended account of one of the Roman Empire's less-talked-about emperors, Julian the Apostate. I can only think that Mr. Barnes went down a rabbit hole concerning his namesake, and decided to lead us down there too. It's a strange detour in a novel that is ostensibly about a student's long-term unrequited love for an eccentric but brilliant teacher, but in fact it also makes an interesting novelette in itself (and yes, there is a kind of connection to the main story, it's not completely random).

Julian the Apostate (Flavius Claudius Julianus) was Caesar of the declining Roman empire for five short years, from 355 to 360 AD. He inherited the position from his uncle Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor and the founder of the great city of Constantinople.

Julian, though, was a maverick. He was, by all accounts, oafish, hairy unkempt, and poorly-presented in an age when the patrician classes prided themselves on their clean-cut, well-coiffed image. Julian was oblivious to such worldly concerns, and devoted himself to philosophical ruminations, becoming remarkably well-read for a late-Empire emperor. He made some attempts (none too successful) to weed out the corruption and foppery that had taken over the higher echelons of Roman society in his day.

His studies led him to an intellectual rejection of Christianity, preferring the divinity-rich paganism of old and the philosophy of Neoplatonism. He spent much of his time and money on elaborate auguries, animal sacrifices, etc.  However, he did not purge Christianity in a violent manner (in traditional Roman fashion), but preferred to use words and arguments, showing a policy of "ingenious clemency" or blanda persecutio ("persecution by gentleness").

He was reviled by most in his own time, partly for his appearance and methods, and partly for his anti-Christian rhetoric at a time when Christianity had taken strong hold among the general public and particularly among the gentry. He enjoyed a short period of endorsement and validation among the intelligentsia of the French Enlightenment in the 18th century, but in general he has been treated shoddily by history.

Julian was killed trying to extend Roman occupation into the deserts of Persia, which he undertook based on his own positive auguries and in spite of the dire warnings of his advisors. Go figure.

It is, though, an interesting academic exercise to imagine how history might have been changed had Julian lived, and had he succeeded in steering the civilized world away from Christianity. What if? If the great scholarly libraries of ancient times had never been destroyed or lost, there would perhaps have been no need for a European Renaissance or an Enlightenment. Might Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans and tree-huggers have lived side by side in peace, with no need for the religious wars that racked Europe for centuries, no need for over-zealous missionaries scouring the world for souls to save, decimating their populations in the process? Imagine science progressing unhindered by religious persecution and shortsightedness. People living for the joy to be had in life, rather than cowering before the threats of the priesthood in the forlorn hope of some imaginary life after death.

Probably not. But it's nice to speculate.

Toronto can now recycle its coffee cups

It's taken a while, but Torontonians can now recycle their disposable paper coffee cups, including plastic/wax lined ones.

I don't know quite how they are suddenly managing to deal with such composite products in the recycling system, and forgive me for being a bit suspicious about it. But, assuming this is all above board and not just greenwashing, kudos to Toronto for achieving this. 

In fact, the kudos goes to Circular Materials, the administrators of Ontario's recycling system. And this announcement for Toronto is just a pilot projects, which will hopefully spread to the rest of the province. 

It comes with a few provisos -  cups must be rinsed out, lids must be removed, and cups may not be stacked - and I think it may lead to a lot of confusion for a while. Perhaps the main sticking point is that it only applies to single- and multi-residential homes, long-term care homes and retirement homes, and elementary and high schools within the city of Toronto. So, not street garbage/recycling bins, which is probably where a lot of coffee cups are currently disposed of, I'm guessing.

But hopefully people will get used to it, and it will represent a genuine step forward in our recycling capability.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

The GOP elephant in the US Supreme Court room

I suppose I have to comment on the US Supreme Court's groundbreaking and frankly inexplicable decision granting near absolute immunity from prosecution for a serving president acting in the course of their duties. It is, after all, one of the most important and momentous decisions the court has ever made, the Dobbs abortion case notwithstanding. And it's absolutely wrong (just ask any legal scholar without a Republican axe to grind).

Thus is the first time that ANY kind of presidential immunity has been officially ruled on, and it throws out a lower court ruling which rejected Donald Trump's claim of immunity from federal criminal charges regarding his attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. It does concede that there is no immunity for a president's "unofficial acts", however that might be interpreted, but this ruling has thrown everything regarding Trump's various court cases wide open. At the very least, it has effectively put most of Trump's cases on hold until after the November election. Good job, guys.

Some have described it as a modern equivalent of the medieval "divine right of kings". It effectively puts the president, and even former presidents, above the law, and marks a severe blow to democracy in an America where Trump is already talking about taking on dictatorial powers if he is voted in. 

Other legal commentators, including some conservative judges, have accused the Supreme Court conservative majority of abandoning the legal philosophy of "originalism" that they have claimed to espouse in other cases. This latest decision lacks any basis in the Constitution or historical tradition.

As one of the dissenting judges put it, the ruling creates a "law-free zone around the president", and it raises the possibility that a president could, for example, assassinate a political rival with compete impunity, or take a bribe in exchange for a pardon, again with effective legal immunity. "In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law", she wrote. A president, under this ruling, can lie, steal, kill, imprison rivals, trade secrets to foreign powers, all with complete impunity. Is that really what the Supreme Court intended?

Now, I don't want to get into any more of the details and implications of the case. You can read up on that yourselves. But I do want to address the huge elephant in the room. And that is the fact that the ruling was a purely political, rather than a legal, one. All six conservative judges voted for it; all three liberal judges voted against. So, there is really no chance that this decision was made on legal principles alone. It is a mockery of the rule of law, and another step along the path of the destruction of democracy itself. And that is indeed a scary thing.

UPDATE

Although it predated the presidential immunity decision by a few days, and although it perhaps received less media attention, another Supreme Court ruling - also by a 6-3 margin along party political ideological lines - may be just as important.

The ruling overturned the Supreme Court's own 40-year old "Chevron deference" doctrine. The practical effect of this is to make it harder for executive agencies to tackle a wide array of policy areas from environmental and health regulations to labour and employment laws, giving the judiciary more say in what federal agencies can do in  interpreting and implementing laws.

Justice Elena Kagan, one of the forlorn liberal voices dissenting the decision, notes that Congress would normally prefer the interpretation and resolution of ambiguities in new laws to be carried out by a responsible agency with expertise in the area, not by a generalized court of law, and warned that the ruling is likely to produce widespread and large-scale disruption. More federal rules will be challenged in the courts, and will find themselves subject to more ideological interpretation. She called the decision a "grasp for power" by the majority Conservative element of the Court.