One mistake Brit’s make when looking at politics in the US is to assume that the term “party” as in Democratic Party or Republican Part (GOP) might actually mean something. It means “Corporate Fund Raising on Behalf of Certain People”.
When I belonged to the Labour Party in the UK, we would meet in our constituency association and develop policy ideas which we would then take to the annual party conference. At the conference groups of us with similar policy ideas – like on education or climate change – would meet in smoke-filled and beery rooms and do what is known as “composites” – developing a coherent policy statement on a subject to take to the floor of the conference, where it was debated. Amendments were made and voted on and then we would vote on policies like climate change, the abolition of grammar schools and so on. Once passed these became the policy agenda of the party. When I left Labour to join Plaid Cymru, the process was the same (Plaid had better policies for Wales).
In elections for the leadership of the party, at least before Blair, it was not usual to hear significant new policy ideas (though occasionally it did happen – read Harold Wilson’s 1963 speech on technology and innovation and the need to think differently, which led to the founding of the Open University for one and the appointment of Tony Benn as a Minister responsible for innovation and technology development). The basic question in a leadership campaign was about which policies to give emphasis to and how to beat the Tory menace.
Once in power, the policy process didn’t stop and the party would push the government (assuming we’d won, but even if we hadn’t) to implement policies like equal rights for equal work, minium wage, right to unionize and so on. Government is held to account in parliament through select committees which, even though they may be chaired by a member of the Government party, often challenged government to do better.
In the US, the party is more of a vehicle for personality cults to develop – GOP is the Trump Cult and last time round the Democrats were for Hilary (to the point of ensuring the Bernie couldn’t become the candidate).
Some years ago, President Carter suggested that the US no longer had a functioning democracy. That the party machines were controlled by Oligarchs and big money (he was talking about both the GOP and the Democrats) and that expediency and money were the basis of policy, not commitments and what was right.
What we see now amongst Democrats is a debacle – a kind of Boston Marathon without the excitement. It is both excruciatingly dull and a gift to Donald Trump to see 20 otherwise smart people trying to work out what it means to be a democrat and doing so in an attempt to outflank, outwit and embarrass fellow democrats so as to “win”.
Take health care. Why does the party not have a policy for universal single payer health care to be paid for by reductions in out of control military spending? To become the chosen candidate, sign up to this policy or run as an independent.
Why doesn’t the party have a green new deal which isn’t the idea of a few, but a commitment by the party to take decisive action on climate change and the environment.
Why are we even looking at candidates who are clearly closet Republicans?
Well, this is America. America is different. America believes in individual freedoms above policy. America pursues the cult of personality above what is right for people. America wants its politicians to be owned by big money, not by ideas and commitments.
If you ask me – and you didn’t, I know – its a pretty strange way to make choices of policy, people and determine the direction of social change.
But then Britain is now a mess too. Maybe I am just getting old…
Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening..
In the US, it seems clear that “thoughts and prayers” is failing as a strategy to deal with gun violence. Over 250 mass shootings in a year (so far) and white racist terrorism is on the rise. Of course, as is obvious to all, what this requires (according to President Trump) is immigration reform. Clearly, gun control is out of the question. The NRA, funder of the Senate, is having financial difficulties and is closing its thought department to focus only on prayers.
Moscow Mitch, well known Russian asset in charge of the US Senate, fell at his home and fractured his shoulder. He was practicing his sabre dance routine for the summer BBQ season in Kentucky at the time. He has no plans to recall the senate since he cannot recall it himself. It no longer resembles the US senate we were all accustomed to before he took over.
Borish Johnson is getting ready for a snap election. He has bought a new set of playing cards, each with an image of other clowns from various circuses around the world. His brexit negotiations consist of shouting from a variety of locations around Britain in the hope that the EU will take his shouting seriously. So far, none of his ministers have resigned. William Rees Mogg, leader of the house and the only living member left from the Queen Victoria administration of Benjamin Disreali, is tipped to be the key voice in any brexit negotiation – his voice is so annoying that the EU might just cave in.
In Canada, as we gear up for an election in October, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, is hoping he doesn’t have to return to his old job as an insurance salesman. Some of us are rather hoping that he does, though (to save him time), I am very happy with my insurance bundle. Calls are starting to be made to ascertain the voting intentions of households. My standard reply “I will vote for the sensible, future-focused candidate”. Sadly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not running in my riding.
Engaging with those who support a different religious, political or philosophical position is hard work. When I was younger – just after the battle of Hastings – I was a very active member of the Labour Party (was in fact a constituency secretary at 16 and an election agent at 20) and had to debate Tories, Liberals and members of the Monster Raving Looney Party (look it up). But it was always a debate about the ideas – I had a few close friends with whom I seriously disagreed about politics, but we would drink together, go to concerts or public lectures.
Now you are either for or against, with or without, accepting or rejecting. No ability to put politics in one compartment and music, food, drink, walking in another.
In part this is the new tribalism. You are either a member of my tribe or you are not and if you are not, then our tribe rejects you. But it is also about, at least in my case, just exhaustion. I don’t have the energy or time or inclination to sit and explain to people why, for example, late stage capitalism turns into fascism and populism and that white supremacy in the US is just part of the stage late capitalism is going through. Nor do I have time to explain just how universal health care is a good thing and that private health insurance makes healthcare worse, not better. Nor do I have time to explain Warren Buffett’s point that if there were only public schools then they would dramatically improve. It’s just too much like climbing Everest in your underpants without shoes, sherpa’s or sausages.
So I have decided to just not bother. I cut someone off from FaceBook the other day – we share a passion for interesting and generally under-rated music – because I just didn’t have the energy either to deal with his views or those of others who objected to his views. (Facebook can do this to you). One of the people I follow on FaceBook – Kathleen Smith (a very smart lady and, by all accounts, an excellent cook) – does the same. Life is too short.
Film, music and television occupy a fair bit of my time. I work with music playing and listen to music in the car, especially on long journeys (or I listen to an audio book).
Recent films and television I have watched:
- Keeping Faith (BBC – Series 2). Excellent, if intense, drama set in Wales (where I used to live). Involves serious crime, legal stuff and a real family drama. Eve Myles (who plays Faith) is terrrrrrific.
- Tolkien (movie) focused on his early life. Solid and insightful.
- Red Joan (movie) true story of an elderly lady (Judi Dench) who is arrested as a British spy. Dench is excellent.
- Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC) – ancestry explorations with people who are kind of famous. What’s nice about this is that the story is told by the person through their eyes, with the help of historians and ancestry search specialists.
- The Repair Shop (BBC) this will sound really corny, but I love it. People bring in broken treasures (pin-ball machines, swagger sticks, baby weigh scales) which need repair and the team do the work. My father was a carpenter (and a very good one) – he would have loved this show, given the quality of the work and the skills shown. I am just intrigued.
- Fake or Fortune (BBC) – art investigations with Phillip Mould (whose gallery we popped into in London) and the ever lovely Fiona Bruce. They are in search of treasure and sometimes they find it, but not always. Fascinating stuff. Its like art ancestry.
- Poldark (BBC) – this show is getting tired and the writing getting weaker. Time to end it.
One of the UK newspapers (Radio Times) recently explored the question “which TV shows do you miss most?”. Foyles War was the #1 and #3 was Count Arthur Strong – a comedy show I absolutely loved. Also on the list was Downton Abbey, The Bill, Spooks, The Detectorist (very funny show), Happy Valley and Phoenix Nights (written and starring Peter Carr – one of the funniest men on the planet). I would have added Last Tango in Halifax and At Home with the Braithwaites.
We can look forward to a new series of Gentleman Jack, Vera, The Crown, Line of Duty, McMafia and Strike (based on J K Rowling’s crime fiction). A nice glass of wine, some mellow food…
Signals are being sent by the UCP government in Alberta that austerity is on the way. These signals include a symbolic pay cut for MLA’s and the Premier – still the highest paid public representatives amongst all of the Provinces and statements that the provincial financial position is “worse” than we thought, even though the year-end deficit was $2.1 billion less than anticipated in the NDP’s last budget in 2018.
Alberta’s debt is modest. Using the government’s own fiscal data, net debt is $27.47 billion. This means that our net debt:GDP ratio is around 8% – the lowest of any government in Canada. It is also very low by comparison to any government anywhere in the world. To give context – Japan’s net debt to GDP is 153%, UK 78% and the US 82%. Alberta does not really have a significant debt problem. The idea that governments should have balanced budgets makes little sense given their responsibilities. Few sensible businesses are debt free when interest rates are as low as they are right now. For example, Air Canada equity to debt ratio exceeds 100%. Cenovus has a debt to equity ratio of 52%. Debt is used to deliver services, value and meet expectations for business. It is the same for government.
We should also remember that Alberta is an incredibly wealthy place. If it were a country, it would be the 9th wealthiest in the world by GDP per capita. This is also a stable community with relatively low rates of crime and high levels of life-satisfaction.
Debt cannot be a problem since, within days of coming to office, Premier Kenney made decisions which will deliberately increase both the deficit and the debt. Reducing revenue by app. $4.5 billion through tax cuts for business and reducing income through the cancellation of the levy on carbon (except for large emitters).
Kenney’s argument is that the tax cuts will, eventually, lead to more jobs and economic growth. There is no evidence to support the idea that giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations produces returns to the tax system through job growth or increased corporate tax revenues. In the US, where in late 2017 the Trump administration slashed corporate taxes from 35% to 21%, reduced the number of tax brackets, lowered the rate for many high wealth individuals and doubled the standard deduction, little impact of these were seen in 2018 and so far in 2019. Corporations got a $94 billion tax break. Most companies paid their executives more, bought back shares (the buy-back is valued at $1 trillion so far) and invested in labour reducing technology. In a range of studies since Ronald Raegan promoted this trickle-down idea “big time”, there is no evidence that trickle-down economics works.
If debt is not the big problem, what is?
Kenney suggests that we pay too much for our services. He has ordered a review of AHS on the grounds that “he understands” (we know not from where or whom) that management costs are high and this detracts from front line services. Yet the evidence is the opposite. Administration is 3.6% of AHS expenditure – the lowest of any province and amongst the lowest in North America. While AHS is working to continually improve services and outcomes and to engage in disruptive innovation, it does continuously evaluate outcomes and costs.
Kenney suggests that Alberta pays more for education than it needs to and uses BC as a comparison. His source here is the Fraser Institute, funded in part by Koch with US funds (which I thought he was opposed to – seeking to influence Alberta policy with foreign money). Their most recent report on education spending suggests that Alberta’s costs grew by 35.4% between 2006/7 and 2015/16, in part because of a 71% growth in capital expenditure and in part because of significant growth in salary, pension and fringe benefit costs. Costs in BC in this same time window grew just 12.2%. However, Premier Kenney needs to pay attention to another table within the Fraser Institute report that looks at spending adjusted for both inflation and enrollment growth which shows that, in this same time period, spending in Alberta was 2.1% lower at the end of the 2015/16 year than it was at the start of the 2006/7 year. More students, more new schools, more teachers better management.
Alberta’s real problem is called “thinking”. In particular, thinking that future will be a straight line from the past with a few bumps on the way. What the Premier needs to understand are these things:
- A recession is near at hand. A big one. Debt levels from all sources globally are at levels which the market cannot tolerate ($247 trillion plus a huge unfunded pension liability, which if it is not dealt with, will add $400 trillion by 2050 – just thirty years away). The yield curve (short term debt is worth more than long term debt) is the highest it has ever been and this signals a coming recession. By cutting public services and waiting for the oil and gas sector to rebound, Kenney will make Alberta much more vulnerable than it needs to be.
- Oil and gas will not return to its former glory for a variety of reasons. In part, it is because the transition to green energy is underway but more significantly it is because oil and gas companies are no longer throwing people and money at jobs, they are looking for smart technologies. Just looking at drilling. We used to drill one well at a time, now we can drill five or six. We used to have a crew of 14 to 16 to drill, now we have 4 or five drilling five or six at the same time. AI and smart technologies are enabling higher productivity with less labour.
- The emerging new economy will depend less on tangibles and more on intangibles – know how. Think what Amazon does. It is outstanding at managing supply chains. Apple is outstanding at design and managing supply chains. Smarter people is what an economy is now built on and therefore education is no longer an opportunity it is the life-blood of our economy. With 30-40% of all Alberta jobs being impacted by emerging technology – including white-collar and blue-collar jobs: education, training and retraining will be vital. Don’t see education in terms of costs. See education as a better investment as a tax break for firms. Right now, Alberta has 31,000+ vacancies we can’t fill because we don’t have the skills needed to fill them.
- We are too reliant on two markets – China and the US – and both are at war over trade and were caught in the middle. This trade war will get worse before it gets better. We have to start diversifying not just our product base, but our markets. Asia is fast growing and by Asia we should look not just at China but other fast-growing Asian nations like South Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. This is the Asian century. Get used to it.
- We need to rethink our revenue model. Government has lived for too long on the boom and bust energy market and oil and gas royalties (which are, in any case, far too low). We need to diversify the revenue through a sales tax (as in BC) and through sensible levies on CO2 which we can then use to reinvest in the future. Until we look at revenue and expenditure together, we will not get to a different future.
Setting up a panel to look at reducing public spending without letting them look at public revenues at the same time is like trying to find a haystack through a blindfold with a needle. Kenney had already decided what he was going to do, he wanted excuses and a scapegoat. He’ll get one, because that is what he has paid for.
So we will wait now and see what the Premier and his band of myopians to come up with a plan. Don’t hold your breath.
I have been in Banff with the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) delegates at the 71st Summer Conference. I worked with 40+ teacher leaders and encouraged them to get serious about something very specific as a leadership challenge.
I also explored what the future looks like with them. Let’s remember:
- Teacher workloads in Alberta are amongst the highest in the world.
- Class sizes in Alberta are already higher than those recommended by the Education Commission and higher than is acceptable for effective teaching.
- Inclusion – where students with special or physical needs are included in classrooms rather than excluded – is a major concern for teachers
- A new curriculum, which has been in development for close to a decade, is urgently needed in Alberta. In the arts curriculum, for example, there are no connections to digital technologies of any kind.
- Mental health issues are growing for both students and teachers in schools across Alberta.
- The moral distress of teachers – the tension between knowing what needs to be done to support students and not being able to do it – is growing in Alberta.
So what do I see? I see a government hell-bent on cutting budgets for education and removing some of the related supports for such things as school lunch programs, mental health and literacy, early childhood education and daycare, supports for special needs as well as cuts to post-secondary education, which will impact teacher preparation. I also see the growth of:
- High Stakes Testing (HST) – already, the government has made testing at Grade 3 mandatory (it was voluntary). Expect to see more testing and more emphasis on testing.
- Curriculum chaos – the government has put the about to be rolled-out curriculum on hold, withdrawn from its collaborative agreement with the ATA and signaled a “return to basics” in mathematics and a focus on STEM. They also have indicated that they want to consult widely on the curriculum – this after one of the broadest consultations in the history of Alberta.
- Marginalization of the ATA – the UCP official policy is to split the professional body (widely regarded as one of the leading professional associations in the world) into a union and a professional body. Then it will bring the profession into central control within Government and start to police professional standards. It will then seek to marginalize the union. This is not an urgent task for the government, but it will happen in the first or second term of the UCP.
- Remove Principals from the ATA – in the eyes of the UCP, Principals and Assistant Principals are “management”. In the eyes of the profession, they are instructional leaders charged with the development of best practice and the support of collaborative professional development. Given that the government sees the ATA as a union, not a professional body, they will move to remove Principals from the ATA before they seek to split the ATA (see above).
- More charter schools – the standard neo-liberal tactic is to so disrupt public education (and health) so that performance declines and then to push privatization. We already hear the promotion of “choice” of school, which is code for privatization. Remember, Premier Kenney’s family ran private schools.
- Attempt to introduce performance pay for teachers – despite promoting austerity, the UCP will also try to revive Jeff Johnson (former Minister of Education) proposal to introduce performance pay for teachers. This despite a mass of evidence that it does not lead to any improvement in learning outcomes.
- Reduce the number of school boards – this has been the policy of other conservative governments across Canada and it is difficult to justify the number of Boards (and superintendents) Alberta has.
- Changing the role of Superintendent – this is a difficult role, as an interesting ATA study shows. Currently, a Superintendent is appointed by a School Board, subject to approval by the Minister. They have a role of ensuring compliance with government requirements while at the same time encouraging bottom up innovation and improvement. Some focus on enabling and empowering Principals and their staff, others focus on compliance and control. Over the next few years, compliance will become more dominant mode of operation.
I hope I am dead wrong on all of these items – time will tell. But you read it here first.
Mendelssohn was sixteen when he wrote one of the most beautiful pieces of chamber music – The Octet. I listen to it a lot and have been to a variety of performances in which it was played. It always moves me. Sometimes to tears. My mother loved this piece of music (she played the violin) and she had played this in a youth orchestra she belonged to.
But my focus is more today on other matters. In fact, I am getting growingly concerned that the Canadian election will produce another “fine mess”. At a dinner recently in Canmore, I was surprised to hear and feel the vehemence against Prime Minister Trudeau. I agree he is not the most skilled politician we have had, as his response to the SNC-Lavalan “noise” (which is what it is) shows. Rather than document the way in which every Prime Minister (especially Stephen Harper) did the very same thing, he hummed and hard and told a porky. Silly man. But it is no big scandal.
What would be a scandal is a victory by Andrew Scheer. A clearly out-of-his depth leader of the Conservative Party (but more competent than the leader of the NDP), he is offering policies that would be a return to the 1980’s in terms of tone, purpose and value. What Canada needs is a massive rethink. We were getting some of this with Trudeau (or “Skippy” as my friends called him in Canmore), but now we are all playing “pass the parcel” and could well soon be playing musical chairs.
Trudeau had a tough hand dealt to him when Trump became President of the United States and began to demonstrate his ego-centric behaviour. Yet, with a very skilled Foreign Minister, a trade deal was negotiated (but not yet signed off). He has also had to deal with some real “piggy in the middle” stuff between the US and China, with our farmers and others caught right in the middle of the battle of the bulging golf pants.
Trudeau is not the brightest button in the drawer, but I’d take him over the former insurance salesman who has been a politician since he was 25. Indeed, my hat saying “Make Andrew Scheer an Insurance Salesman Again” arrived today.
I have been reflecting on why so many people are disinterested in becoming leaders of organizations. In Edmonton there are three higher education Presidencies available right now (McEwan University, NAIT and the University of Alberta). These are very demanding jobs – dealing in millions of dollars (over a $1 billion in the case of the UofA) the lives of thousands of staff and students and a social responsibility of some significance. I suspect it will be tough to recruit to these positions.
Traditionally, Provosts or Vice Presidents Academic have been tapped to take the lead in such institutions. Yet surveys of those holding these positions taken over time show a declining interest in taking the top job. In part it is because the role is less of an academic and instructional leadership role than it used to be and in part because the role of President is now mostly about money (finding it) and politics (appeasement generally).
Boards of Governors are looking to business for some of these appointments. At my old place of work, The Open University (UK), Martin Bean was recruited from Microsoft as Vice Chancellor and did an excellent job of shifting the institution and moving it into a digital space. His successor, Peter Horrocks, who came from the BBC, failed miserably to inspire and engage and, following the loss of a vote of confidence by his staff, resigned. Martin now leads the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
There are also very few women in leadership roles, especially in the polytechnic sector. Those that do chose to pursue these positions generally do a solid job. In the UK there are thirty-four current Vice Chancellors out of over 114 universities who are female.
It’ not just universities where recruiting to leadership is difficult. School Superintendents are also tough positions to recruit to, especially in rural districts. Some time ago I was part of a team looking at the role and position of the Superintendent. What struck me, as I was writing my part of the report, was just how many trade-off’s they had to make each day. They have to manage up, down, out and around. This became abundantly clear when I conducted the performance review of an Alberta superintendent on behalf of the school board in a leading school district.
Part of the challenge is the growing moral distress leaders experience. This is the gap between knowing “what the right thing to do” looks like and “not being able to do the right thing” because of politics, money or optics. A study, which will appear quite soon (not done by me), of leadership in education in Alberta makes this clear. Using substantial evidence, this study will show that leadership is a real challenge and that the root problem is the growing moral distress leaders face. This distress has consequences not only for the quality of school as an experience, but also for the health and wellbeing of leaders and teachers. The study is due out in late October.
I have been a student of leadership for over forty years. My book (with Don Simpson) focuses on the underlying requirements for effective leadership in an organization determined to have an impact. The book is available here. It maybe time for a new edition.
I read a lot. Some of it is academic stuff I need to read to earn a living. But a lot of it is not – fiction, social and political commentary, economics. I learned a long time ago that it is better to read across disciplines than to focus my energy on a single focus. That way, I can do better work in terms of strategic foresight, which is what I do to earn my living.
Creative works – fiction, plays, poems – also are helpful for foresight. If you look at Star Trek and the science-fiction ideas there and then look at developments, you might be surprised about how much fiction became fact. Indeed, just read Orwell’s 1984!
Here is what I have been reading:
I decided to read Howard Jacobson’s novels (well, some of them). I met his brother (Stephen – who is a wonderful artist) and his sister in law (who did the cover for his most recent book) when we were in Clevedon in May. I read:
- Kalooki Nights
- Shylock is My Name
- The Finkler Question
Howard won the Booker Prize for fiction in 2010 for The Finkler Question – the first truly “laugh out loud” book to do so in the prize’s history. It deserved to. He writes brilliantly with a fantastic command of language.
I also enjoy crime and thrillers (but not horror). Daniel Silva’s nineteenth novel featuring Gabriel Alon (head of Mossad) The New Girl is a really good read.
I also re-read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – a story I read in the early 1980’s. She died too young and we could have had some wonderful fiction and poetry.
Graham Norton, the chat show host (who is very good at the job) has written two novels and I read them both. A Keeper and Holding are both good stories with good character development and insights.
The Sisters of Alameda Street by Lorena Hughes is a good coming of age and complex family story, set in Ecuador. Enjoyable.
On the non-fiction front I have read a lot:
Hans Rosling, who I met and spent an evening with in Stockholm many years ago (he died recently) published a wonderful book called Factfulness. It is about data and its importance. It is also about looking optimistically at the world through the available data. He was a fun guy and an inspiration to those of us who taught statistics.
My colleague in South Africa, Professor Paul Prinsloo, recommended I look at Satiya Umoja Noble’s book Algorithms of Oppression about the dangers of AI and analytics importing frameworks and models from the North into the global south. Sobering.
Sarah Langford is a British lawyer who wrote a lovely account of what it is like to practice to law – the story behind the story. The book is called In Your Defence and I truly enjoyed this book. A similar kind of book, this time about what it is like to work in the groves of academe called Academia Obscura – The Hidden and Silly Side of Higher Education by Glen Wright. A bit too close to home for me, but still a fun read.
David Epstein has written an insightful book about why generalists (like me) are needed in a complex and increasingly specialized world. The book is Range and it’s well worth a read.
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis explores the implications of Donald Trump (and his band of myopic footsoliders) occupying positions of power. Chilling.
My colleague J C Couture recommended Alex Beard’s Natural Born Learners and I am glad he did. Well written, focused and clear it explores the ability of children to learn and the ways in which can harness this learning. If you are a teacher it is a must read. It is truly inspiring.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has a book which pursued this same thinking in more depth. Antifragile looks at the basic components of resilience.
The philosopher Dieter Thoma of the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) has written a lovely book Troublemakers – A Philosophy of Puer Robustus. Through an exploration of particular lives of those who challenge society – Marx, Hobbes, Diderot and others – he outlines a framework for becoming and staying a troublemaker. Gave me lots of ideas!
On my desk now is A C Graying’s The History of Philosophy. It’s a big book – over 600 pages. But that’s my next long flight read (Paraguay next month).
Some of these I read as books – paperback or hardbacks – and others I read on my iPad through Kindle.
Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening.
Borish Johnson has been on a European jaunt. He insulted the French President by putting his feet on an antique table and insulted the EU by not listening to them. No change there. As he goes full steam ahead to no deal Brexit for 31st October, this pretense of “at least trying” to get a deal fooled no one. The Irish Backstop is not the only problem Borish has to deal with. He also has to come to terms with the reality that he cannot convince parliament to take his approach seriously.
In the US, President Trump explored the idea of buying Greenland. The Danish Prime Minister called such an idea “absurd” which, frankly, it is. Mr. Trump felt slighted, insulted and confused. So upset was he that he cancelled a State Visit to Denmark. Such a big hissyfit for such a silly idea. This came at the same time that he also claimed to be the second coming for the Jewish people who, it needs to be said, are still waiting for the first coming. There were other absurd things too from Mr. Trump this week, but this is all par for the course. While some suggested it was time to invoke the 25th Amendment which permits the Vice President to remove the President from office if he has the support from a majority of cabinet (never going to happen), Vladimir Putin was so disgusted by all of this he resigned from Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign team.
In Canada nothing of significance happened again for the 697th week in a row. So little news was around that the media got all excited about a $500 fine given to the Prime Minister for doing what every Prime Minister has done about SNC Lavalin – lobby on its behalf. The same media tend to ignore the $80,000 in fines (so far) that various members of the United Conservative Party of Alberta have had to pay for allegedly rigging the election of Jason Kenney as its leader. The RCMP continue to investigate. Andrew Scheer, who claims to be the Conservative Party of Canada leader, gets all excited about the Trudeau affair which, frankly, the rest of us acknowledge as “business as usual”. Some go as to far as to say, “he took his lead from the Stephen Harper playbook”.
In Brazil a bonkers bloke called Jair Bolsonaro, who seems to think he is its President, suggests that fires raging in the Amazon rain forest were started by environmental groups looking for funds. This is rather like saying that the English football team lost the world cup because it involved Catholics – i.e. its nuts. He sacked the head of the Brazilian Space Agency for publishing satellite images of the fires, suggesting that they were “fake”. This is a serious matter that has an impact on us all (the rain forest is a major carbon sink and its burning accelerates global warming). Jair Bolsonaro is replacing Putin on Trump’s re-election team.
A group of investors tried to buy Kentucky this week, but were surprised to find it had already been sold by Moscow Mitch to the Russians, along with the US Senate.
The G7 summit this weekend will be held in Biarritz, France. Key items on the agenda include big ideas about something or other and where to wash your trousers. As is reasonably obvious to anyone, it doesn’t really matter what the agenda is, the bonkers people are running the world and they will pay little attention to the items currently on the agenda – fighting against inequalities and women’s empowerment, climate change and oceans, digital transformation, Africa, trade rules and the taxation of multinational technology corporations. The meeting to discuss all these issues is scheduled to last at least six minutes. Then the world leaders will get into a slanging match and Trump will have a hissyfit and bugger off to Denmark.
My friend and colleague Ken Chapman suggests that we can no longer trust the established Canadian media as a source of truth. In part this is because of a concentration of ownership by a small number of right-thinking media companies, but also because some of the high quality journalist we could normally rely on are either no longer with us or no longer working.
Ken calls for active citizenship to share knowledge, information and understanding so that we can make better, more informed decisions as citizens, especially when it comes to elections.
Ken is right, but there are sources of sensible media reporting that are always reliable. One example is the work of Markham Hislop and his colleagues at EnergiNews. This is where I turn to for intelligent reporting on oil, gas and energy (especially future focused work). Project Syndicate – a collaborative co-operative of scholars and thinkers (including Nobel prize winning economists) is another source, though its focus is more global than local. But Ken is right – finding unbiased, focused and intelligent analysis about issues and concerns in Alberta is difficult.
Alberta Views is one source – biased leftwards – and Troy Media provides a good counterbalance (I make the “odd” contribution). But one source whih has some solid analysis is The Conversation. Authors must be affiliated with a university or research centre, all contributions are fact checked and edited (I can attest to the veracity of this work) and the result is some excellent, focused and succinct analysis. Take for example a look at Jason Kenney’s approach to education by Cory Wright Maley. Lots of links to data, solid analysis and a critical approach.
We need more such writing podcasts and sharing for us to improve our citizenship.
Two years ago my average nights sleep was around 4.5 – 5 hours. Now its closer to eight, which is the recommended sleep for a person of my age (fast approaching 69).
The secret – well one is to systematically track the sleep. Thanks to my trusty Apple Watch, I can using an app called AutoSleep. It shows me that, for example, I did 7:40 hours yesterday, with 3+ hours of this deep (REM) sleep. I can also look, via the app., at patterns over time and my heart rate during sleep.
The second is a weighted blanked – the good lady calls this “the elephant” he sleeps with! Mine weights 25lbs. The recommended weight is 10% of your body weight. It keeps me stiller, warmer and (for some reason) relaxed.
The third is to try and keep regular hours – 9pm – 5pm is my target sleep time. Some nights I am earlier (8:30 ish) and get up later (rarely after 6).
The final one is no screens or, if I am reading on the Kindle, I use my special glasses (Swanwick’s).
Seems to be working.
Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening.
Following meeting Justin Trudeau, Borish Johnson has prorogued parliament. It is widely thought that he misunderstood Trudeau, who simply advised him to “try perogies”. By suspending parliament, Borish hopes to be able to push for a no deal Brexit but will likely be forced to call an election in which the theme will be parliament versus the people. Neither will win.
(Perogies are made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooking in boiling water, or pan-frying, or both. Big deal in Eastern Europe and in Edmonton, Alberta).
In the United States, it is gradually dawning on democrats that Joe Biden is a dreadful choice to run against Trump in 2020. So too are most of the candidates running (though one dropped out today – Kirsten Gillibrand). Not only does he not have much to say, he can’t remember what to say or when to say it. Elizabeth Warren is looking increasingly like a front runner – a thing she learned from her tribal ancestors.
As journalists and policy analysts try and make sense of the G7 summit in France last weekend, their task is made more difficult by the accounts of the event provided by Donald Trump. Incoherent at the best of times, he turned out just to lie more often in a weekend than he had been doing all of the previous week. For example, he claimed he couldn’t get to the climate change conversation because he was meeting with Modi (India) and Merkel (Germany) – would make a good folk band “and now, ladies and gentlemen, Modi and Merkel. Sadly, as the camera showed, both Modi and Merkel were at the G7 talking climate change (and chanting “liar, liar, pants on fire!”). He also claimed that China called late at night and begged him to open up trade talks again (they didn’t call at all).
Canada is drifting towards a truly dull election in October. While some are getting all worked up and excited (I met both of these people last week), most of us remind ourselves “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in”. Trudeau is spending like a wedding planner and Andrew Scheer is going around telling half-truths, untruths and speaking bullshit. Maxime Bernier’s supporters’ anti-immigration billboards have been taken down and the NDP are nowhere to be seen. La di da. Wake me up an hour before the polls close.
In Brazil, the Amazon is being deliberately burned so as to enable development. The President of Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro) – who is more bonkers than Trump – rejected an offer from the G7 of $20 million to help because he felt “insulted” by Macron, who in turn felt his wife had been insulted by Bolsonaro. Borish Johnson, seeking to calm this dispute, offered both perogies.
Borish Johnson has prorogued the UK parliament. Jacob Rees-Mogg – the only remaining member of Queen Victoria’s government – asked the Queen to consent to this and she agreed to do so yesterday. In doing so, the Queen was following parliamentary procedure.
While uncommon in the UK, prorogation been a “thing” here in Canada. Jean Chretien did it in 2002 when faced with a bit of scandal. Stephen Harper did it twice in 2008 and 2009 and even young, smiling Premier Dalton McGuinty did it with the Ontario legislature when facing a major inquiry into a scandal over the closure of two gas plants. In fact, prorogation in Canada has occurred 125 times since 1896.
John Major (remember him?) prorogued the British parliament in 1997 so as to delay the publication of a select committee report until after the General Election. Widely criticized at the time – he could have merely recessed parliament, which would have permitted the report to be published – but chose instead the nuclear option.
The question that has to be answered when the Queen considers the request is not a political one – “is this the best way to solve the Brexit issue?” – but a constitutional one: “will this have an impact on the legislative program laid out in the Queen’s speech (or equivalent at the provincial level)?”. Prorogation is a routine action, especially in “situations where governments need to stop and refocus.”
Boris Johnson’s letter to MPS outlining both the rationale and the time-table makes it clear that this is not an unreasonable thing to do constitutionally. The politics of this are a totally different thing, as Rees-Mogg’s Daily Telegraph article of today makes clear. Parliament will likely return to a confidence vote which Johnson may then lose, forcing (if he follows normal process) a general election. If this does occur – a people versus the parliament election – then the challenge for those who oppose a no deal Brexit will be to offer an alternative. The only realistic one, given the timing, is the revoking parliaments approval of Article 50 (the one that triggered the whole withdrawal process).
The dilemma for those known as “remainers” (those who do not want to leave the EU) and those who oppose a “no deal” exit is what to offer as an alternative. Some are suggesting a second referendum while others propose a straight “let’s call the whole thing off and stay in the EU” vote.
Using prorogation as a delaying tactic is perfectly legitimate. In these parliamentary disputes, sometimes the Government gains the upper hand over the Commons, and sometimes the Commons gains the upper hand over the Government. In any event, John Major’s final prorogation did not pose any constitutional problems and did not prevent Labour from winning by a landslide in 1997. In this case, it has to be remembered that Johnson’s conservative party has a majority of one in the house and is “propped” up by the DUP – an Irish party of conservatives. He is playing poker.
Part of his game seems to have paid off. According to reports in the Daily Express and elsewhere, urgent talks within the EU began yesterday with France and Ireland leading the way. The signal sent has been received.
But he is also losing. One of the smartest people in British politics, Ruth Davidson (Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland) resigned. A focused, articulate and funny lady who has done much to revive the fortunes of the Tories in Scotland, gave a powerful resignation speech which cited Brexit and Johnson as the primary reason for saying “enough’s enough”. Over 1.4 million have signed a petition opposing prorogation – basically seeking a return to the rules of the Long Parliament which were that only parliament itself could suspend its business – and others have resigned too (Lord Young, a Tory whip in the Lords). Legal challenges are occurring in England, Ireland and Scotland.
“We live in interesting times” is both a proverb and, in this case, a curse.
As I have said before, music is of vital importance to my life. It inspires, encourages, enables, empowers, engages. It is as important to me as food or water or scotch.
One specific group of musicians – the Kronos String Quartet (picture above) – is truly inspirational. Not just because of the quality of their playing, but because of the way they embrace music as life. Last night I attended a “live documentary” – film + in person commentary by the producer + live playing by Kronos – about their life and work. It included music by Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, George Crumb, Ken Benshoff, John Zorn and many others that truly showcased their talents. But most of all it was about their humanity, energy, passion and commitment to music as an agent of compassion and change.
Powerful stuff. David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and the talented cellist Sunny Yang belong together. Quartets go through many seat changes – people move on, get sick, pass on – but the current line up is so strong, so creative, so talented.
I have almost all of their CD’s (over 43 studio albums and then soundtracks and…well a lot). They have commissioned music from over 1,000 composers and played music that is both very classical and very contemporary, embracing world music and adding instruments, sounds and vocals not normally found on a string quartet album. They are remarkable.
Amongst my favourites are Night Prayers, Nuevo, Uniko and Pieces of Africa. A couple of years ago at the Banff Centre they did a seminar on why Haydn’s string quartets are so important and they played Haydn. I own several complete sets of Haydn strong quartets and its a go to body of music for me, but they added lyricism and power that was refreshing.
Long may they play and long may they challenge is to listen anew to music from around the world and across genres. Kronos. We have your back.