Michael Harris: Trump’s Impeachment and the Imperial Presidency

The brutal spectacle of watching Republicans kill their nation’s founding principles.


“Trump is the first president in U.S. history to issue a blanket refusal to Congress, when asked to produce witnesses and documents germane to a formal impeachment inquiry — and then have the chutzpah to claim he has had less due process than the witches of Salem.” Illustration by Greg Perry.

Donald Trump was impeached today.

The news usually doesn’t get much bigger than that. It’s only happened to three presidents in U.S. history.

But that isn’t the big story.

The big story is far graver than the procedural comeuppance of a morally bankrupt individual, though impeachment does come with an eternal smudge on the old CV.

The big story is that Donald Trump is now the moral compass of the Republican Party. They have chosen empowered corruption over the Constitution, party over country.

And make no mistake about it, corrupt Donald Trump most assuredly is. Impeachment is just the latest entry on his political rap sheet.

There is the Access Hollywood tape, the Stormy Daniels payoff, rampant nepotism in the White House, ongoing violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, multiple sexual harassment allegations, nasty bromances with vicious dictators from Manila to Moscow, a handful of senior advisors convicted of crimes, and thousands of public lies since assuming the presidency.

And now this.

Out of his own mouth in a documented phone call to the President of Ukraine, out of the mouths of senior officials under oath during the impeachment inquiry, the incontrovertible evidence of a shakedown is there for anyone to see:

The president withheld military funds already approved by Congress for Ukraine, $391 million, until its president publicly announced a corruption investigation into Trump’s potential political rival in America in the 2020 presidential election — Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. You scratch my back, I’ll grease your palm — Goodfellas stuff.

Trump’s own Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that there was indeed a quid pro quo, that without the public announcement of the inquiry into the Bidens by Volodymyr Zelensky himself, there would be no White House phone-call, or chummy visit to the Oval Office so necessary to Ukraine’s national security — especially with the Russian bear at the door.

Sondland also testified that Trump ordered the quid pro quo through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and that Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s chief-of-staff, Mick Mulvaney all knew about it. But hey, get over it, right? Quid pro quos happen all the time.

Not according to Fiona Hill. The former U.S. National Security Council foreign affairs specialist testified before Congress that Trump’s National Security Advisor of the day, John Bolton, told her that he was not part of the quid pro quo offer to Ukraine which he described as a “drug deal.”

The new Republican Party cares more about sworn liars than sworn testimony. In the process, it all but disappeared today as the party of Lincoln. Abe freed the slaves; Trump locks up kids in cages.

Yet right there on national television, the GOP embraced the Liar-in-Chief, turned a blind eye to his documented abuse of office, walked away from its constitutional duty, and played to Fox News.

Fox is the network built on one of the three slogans in the dystopian masterpiece 1984: “Ignorance is strength.”

It doesn’t educate its viewers, it pushes their emotional buttons with ugly fictions.

The network doesn’t report the news, it makes it up.

Fox is the preferred destination of the fact-averse and the true-believers, the ones who saw Elvis just yesterday, and believe that Jesus is coming to Ohio.

And oh yes, who think that Trump is the Chosen One to protect them from the dusky hordes invading along the southern border — all those emaciated children and their hollowed-eyed parents.

Fox is the place where two and two is always five.

It is every bit as bad as that and worse. Here’s why:

What the House Republicans did today in overwhelmingly voting against articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, dismissing the factual evidence in front of them in an act of willful blindness, is nothing short of blowing up the Republic as Americans have known it up until now.

They have turned the presidency into a monarchy, and tried to transform their own institution into the rubber stamp of a self-seeking scoundrel. What Americans now have is a system of cheques and imbalances; lobbyists and lickspittles at the service of a tyrant. The country has undergone a sea-change.

Trump is the first president in U.S. history to issue a blanket refusal to Congress, when asked to produce witnesses and documents germane to a formal impeachment inquiry — and then have the chutzpah to claim he has had less due process than the witches of Salem.

Here are the facts.

Trump of his own accord chose not to be involved in the impeachment inquiry, advised witnesses under congressional subpoena not to testify, and turned down the invitation to have his legal representatives take part in the proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee. Does that sound like someone looking for the facts?

By voting against the article of impeachment dealing with Trump’s obstruction of Congress, the Republican Minority has relinquished its powers of oversight, reducing itself to a minion of the Executive Branch.

Bottom line? They voted against separation of powers today, which is the way America has rolled for two and a half centuries. They voted party, not country; self-interest, not national interest. They prostrated themselves in front of an imperial president.

The fix is in

Given that Trump was impeached by the Democratic majority in the House, why is that so terrible?

Because in a few months from now, Trump’s trial in the Senate will take place. It will be presided over by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, an appointee of Republican president George W. Bush.

The same court, by the way, will decide whether Americans ever get to see Trump’s tax returns. Trump has already appointed two members to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. As with everything else, the president has done his best to politicize the third branch of government — the judiciary.

Trump’s impeachment jurors will be the Senators themselves, the majority of whom are Republican. It would take two-thirds of the chamber’s 100 members to convict and remove the president.

That will never happen.

How do we know that?

Because the guy MSNBC calls Moscow Mitch, otherwise known as the Senate Republican Majority Leader, has already said so. Mitch McConnell says there is no chance the president will be convicted and removed from office; and he doesn’t want any witnesses called.

You read that right. Before the “trial” has begun, or the Majority has even sorted out matters of procedure with the Minority, Mitch McConnell has already announced the verdict.

In so doing, McConnell has completed the destruction of the Republican party begun today by the Republican minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy. These two men are the framers’ worst nightmare, lackeys of a corrupt executive branch. As a result of their handiwork, the U.S. Constitution will be left in partisan tatters, perhaps for good. And nothing will change in the White House.

All because a guy named Trump has every office-holding Republican in the land, and more than a few Democrats, shaking in their boots. They know Trump is vengeful and takes down numbers. They fear his reprisals. And should the president prove as popular with the base as he boasts ad nauseam, they fear losing their districts. If fear can turn a Lindsey Graham into a Trumpian Uriah Heep, what can it do to an entire country?

As with much in America, the movies provide some resonance on that very subject.

Jack Nicholson played George Hanson in the iconic 1969 film Easy Rider. Sitting around a campfire, Hanson had this to say to a biker-character named Billy, just before they were beaten by rednecks for being longhaired, dope-smoking, hippies:

“This used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.”

“Man,” Billy replies, “Everybody got chicken, that’s what happened.”

Mike Harris: And Now, the Harper Comeback. Just Read the Signs

All the ways he’s campaigned for leader almost as soon as Scheer won.


Laughing and waiting? Former Tory PM Stephen Harper has sent many signals he wants back in the role of Conservative leader. Photo by Adrian Wyld, the Canadian Press.

For months now, sources within the Conservative party have been telling me of an internal faction eager to see Andrew Scheer gone in order to make way for the return of Stephen Harper as party leader.

Nothing we’ve seen in recent weeks, and now today, argues against this. In fact, Scheer’s doomed attempt to hang on to the CPC leadership has been like watching a puppy running around on a six-lane highway. And now he’s roadkill.

So who might be next up? As the Christmas ditty goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Harper, everywhere you go.

As one Senator put it to me on background, “While the avalanche of criticism mounts, no one is talking up a successor. Who is waiting in the wings, ready to go, straight out of the box? Only one person is ready. Stephen Harper, come on down!”

It may not be as glitzy or cut and dried as that. There are certainly other leadership assets within the CPC, including Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, and Rona Ambrose.

Each of them might be able to move the party closer to millennials, urban voters, and environmentalists — if that is where the CPC decides it needs to go in pursuit of power. A speculation, by the way, that is far from a sure bet.

But each also has their fair share of drawbacks.

Raitt, Chong, and O’Toole were rejected by Conservatives in the 2017 leadership race — and then Raitt went on to lose her seat in parliament in the recent election.

MacKay is blamed by some for betraying the old Progressive-Conservative party when the CPC was created. The PCs were submerged by, rather than merged with, the Canadian Alliance led by Harper.

Although Ambrose got good reviews for her interim leadership, the full-time Big Job is another matter. Nor is it at all certain she wants to leave private life where she seems to be enjoying herself.

There is also something else.

Despite their various talents, none of these potential candidates has anything like the network that Harper maintains to this day within the CPC. That includes a coveted spot on the Conservative Party Fund. Perhaps that’s why Harper himself had this to say to an audience at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in February 2018, less than a year after Scheer became leader:

“I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m the de facto founder of my party.”

Hubris or honesty? Both actually.

A guy named MacKay had a little to do with creating the CPC back in 2003. But Harper’s vaunted opinion of his leadership prospects may be accurate. It gained major traction from a November 2019 Abacus Data poll that asked 3,000 respondents over the age of 18 this question: Andrew Scheer or Who?

Across the country, and in vote-rich Ontario, where the Scheer campaign sputtered, Stephen Harper did very well. But there was one measurement in the poll where the former PM was in a class by himself.

“Our test of potential alternatives to Mr. Scheer finds none, except for Mr. Harper, are preferred over Mr. Scheer among those who voted Conservative in the last election,” wrote David Coletto, one of Abacus’s founding partners.

If a Harper comeback seems impossible, history offers reminders of people who got an unlikely second kick at the can.

There is of course the famous return from the political dead of Richard Nixon. After crushing defeats in 1960 and 1962, Nixon rebounded to become President of the United States.

But there is a better example closer to home, the prime ministerial resurrection of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. After being defeated by Joe Clark in 1979, Trudeau won back his old job in 1980 — and stayed on for another four, improbable years.

Would Harper want to duplicate that? No one knows. But judging from how hard he has worked to keep his name out there, often at Scheer’s expense, it certainly looks like it.

Harper’s self-marketing blitz

Despite being chairman of the International Democratic Union, a secretive group dedicated to helping elect right-wing governments around the world, Harper has sought out the limelight as a retired politician in a way he never did as PM.

He has undergone a transformation. The lone wolf has become a publicity hound. A few examples:

In July 2018, Harper made big news with a visit to the White House, where he met with Donald Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton. He did that without observing the small courtesy of informing Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Embassy, or the Privy Council Office about his trip. It is not everyone who can walk into the West Wing. When they do, it is big news, especially when that person is a former PM.

At around the same time, Harper stuck a competitive and very public elbow in Justin Trudeau’s ribs over the NAFTA talks. The former PM accused the Liberals of dragging their heels on the deal, preferring to score political points in Canada by fighting with the deeply unpopular Donald Trump.

After the deal was struck, Harper went on Fox News to say that Trump had driven the best deal in the new USMCA agreement to replace NAFTA, adding at a later geopolitical summit in India that a smart Canadian leader would get along with Trump. Millions more eyeballs on the former PM, and another major news story that eclipsed anything Scheer was doing.

On a visit to the U.K. at the height of the Brexit chaos in late September 2019, Harper castigated the country’s Supreme Court for ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had illegally shut down Parliament.

When Harper was in office and trashed his own chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, it became a national story. Now he was dumping on the justices of another country’s highest court in the middle of a national crisis, and that became an international story. Once again it featured Stephen Harper, ex PM, playing in the big leagues.

And then there was Harper’s high-profile apology to Tabitha Speer, the widow of the U.S. medic allegedly killed by former child soldier Omar Khadr. Harper’s move came after the Trudeau government paid out $10.5 million to Khadr, and offered an apology for violating his charter rights while he was a prisoner at Guantanamo.

Since Scheer had just become leader, Harper might have advised the new leader to be the one to make that apology. There were political points to be scored, since PM Trudeau didn’t reach out to Speer. And there was a fierce public backlash over the payout. Instead, Harper did it himself, once again copping the headlines and leaving Scheer in the shadows.

Harper yet again won the spotlight while putting his thumb in Trudeau’s eye regarding another item of Canada’s foreign policy. The former prime minister added his name to a full-page ad in the New York Times praising President Trump for walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran. The same man who had apologized to Americans because PM Chretien didn’t follow the U.S. into the Iraq War was doing it again. And getting the media bang for his buck.

The cherry on the sundae of his self-promotion? Harper published a new book in 2018. Coincidentally, the subject of Right Here, Right Now is political leadership, and what it takes to provide it in an age of “disruption.” Harper knows that he is the only Conservative leader in Canada to actually win power since the post Mulroney debacle of 1993, the only one with the right stuff.

It could be argued that the publicity seeking is just part of doing a good job for the International Democratic Union. Fair enough. But what about all those clickbait ads and paid Google polls promoting Harper-the-politician that have run while Scheer has been leader?

In one of them, Harper is pictured in a dark jacket and tie, looking off to his left. The caption reads Miss Me Yet? Viewers get this instruction: “Hit the button if you think Stephen Harper was the best Prime Minister. And sign the thank you card.” That one was put up by Strong and Free.

Harper post
Among those trolling for a Harper comeback is the right-wing group Strong and Free.

In another, there is a split-screen, featuring Harper on one side and Scheer on the other. Both men are holding their hands in the same position, palms upward, emphasizing a point. But the image of Harper is bigger and more forceful, while Scheer looks relatively puny.

Viewers are asked to vote on this question: “Would you vote for Harper as the Conservative leader now? There is an orange “Vote Now” button and the option to share it on Facebook and Twitter. In one screen shot of results, Harper gets 2,077 votes, and Scheer 892, a 70-30 split.

Who’s put Scheer on the plank?

So Harper, with help from others, has self-promoted and kept his image as a strong political leader alive and well all through Scheer’s tenure as Conservative leader. Has anything else happened that would suggest he might be thinking about a political comeback?

There is.

Consider the people who wanted Scheer to walk the plank before the party’s leadership review in April. Almost all of them are one-time acolytes of Harper:

Kory Teneycke, Harper’s former director of communications, who now heads Conservative Victory, a group that was dedicated to dumping Scheer; Jenni Byrne, Harper’s former deputy-campaign manager and long-time loyalist; Sara MacIntyre, Harper’s former press secretary, who is now spokesperson for Conservative Victory; and former member of the Harper administration Jeff Ballingall, the co-founder of the Ontario Proud and Canada Proud websites — the “king of Canadian Conservative Shitposting” according to Canadaland.

Other disses of Scheer’s leadership have been offered by former Harper cabinet ministers. Former trade minister Ed Fast turned down a post in Scheer’s shadow cabinet. Former MP and one-time Harper campaign manager John Reynolds joined Conservative Victory to force out Scheer. And Peter MacKay famously referred to Scheer’s social conservative values as a “stinking albatross” that the Liberals adeptly hung around his neck.

And who was doing the assessment of Scheer’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Trudeau? None other than former Harper cabinet minister John Baird. You may rest assured that Baird’s assessment would have been unflattering, from Scheer’s sneakiness about his dual citizenship to the hiring of Warren Kinsella to “seek and destroy” the People’s Party of Canada led by Maxime Bernier.

The crowning irony of Scheer’s fate resting almost entirely in the hands of Harperites? The very campaign Conservative activists and insiders are now trashing was devised by Hamish Marshall — the former director of strategic planning for PM Stephen Harper.

Place your bets

So will Harper seek a re-match with Trudeau and go for a Rocky moment?

No one knows of course. But it’s already humming on the telegraph wires. Here are the words of columnist Graham Lane appearing in the Winnipeg Sun and the Province newspapers:

“With Scheer providing a gracious timely retreat, Conservatives would be free to find a well-tested winner to step up to the plate. Perhaps Stephen Harper, a well-known skeptic of ham-handed, ever-expanding federal state, could be persuaded to return. With the knowledgeable and effective Harper back in the saddle, Canada could begin healing — economically and politically.”

The only thing that has changed is the takeover date. The Conservatives thought Trudeau would win another majority in 2019, but he was damaged by the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the blackface episodes.

Scheer has now resigned. There are allegations he used Conservative party funds to send his kids to private school. Harper would have been privy to that information.

Harper redux should surprise no one.  SOURCE


Lying Politicians Are Killing Our Democracies

Weak watchdogs and lax social media bred a pandemic of dishonesty. We need new laws.

Liar inspo. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0.

If anything takes us out before climate change, it will be the triumph of lying in government.

Having spent a lifetime digging out facts to reveal the truth, I have to acknowledge it — the compulsive liars running countries are winning the communications war.

The only issue now is whether the liars can be stopped. If Canada wants to side with truth, it should start by regulating political advertisements. We know Facebook won’t do it. And that the nation to our south has become a laboratory for mad scientists of propaganda.

But if a Canadian finds a straight-up whopper in a political ad from a politician or party, there is nobody to file a complaint with. Politicians here can lie with immunity and impunity.

Which makes us part of a global pandemic. Official government lying from the top has gone viral. It kills democracy as surely as the Spanish flu, which in 1918 claimed 50 million lives and afflicted 10 times that number. False, weaponized and dysfunctional information will wreak even more havoc, literally affecting everyone on the planet.

This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freshly indicted on criminal counts of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, accused police and prosecutors of staging a “coup” against him. U.S. President Donald Trump used the same word to describe his confrontation with the constitution and the law. Like Trump, Netanyahu is accusing his accusers — without evidence — and whipping his followers into a frenzy against the justice system. The key prosecutors on the case now have bodyguards.

Though the phenomenon is global, Trump is ground zero for the contagion of official mendacity. He tells booming lies out of the presidential bully pulpit.

Everyone knows Trump’s pants have been on fire since the day he lied about his “landslide” victory in the electoral college after the 2016 election. He boasted on Twitter that it was the “biggest since Reagan.”

Actually, it was the biggest since Barack Obama. Obama won 332 electoral college votes in his last presidential win in 2012 — 28 more than Trump ultimately received in 2016. According to the New York Times, 45 of 57 winners in previous presidential elections got more electoral college votes than Trump.

Since that inauspicious day when the new commander-in-chief ushered in the Bullshit Presidency with a lie, Trump has told thousands of them.

How many thousands depends on which gatekeeper you cite. Daniel Dale, formerly of the Toronto Star and now with CNN, put the number at 5,276 this summer; Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post says the lies and misleading statements stand at 13,435; and the New York Times reports that there are 1,700 tweets using “conspiratorial language” on Trump’s Twitter feed.

Trump has lied about everything — people, countries, events, institutions and issues.

The people have included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Scott Pruitt, Justin Trudeau, Meghan Markle, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. (Despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump said the prince was doing “a really spectacular job.”)

Trump has lied about Ukraine, Iran, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, Singapore, China, Germany, Venezuela, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. He’s lied about events like the Charlottesville racist protests, Hurricane Maria, climate change, the California wildfires, the presidential election and Russian intervention in the 2016 election, and institutions like the Supreme Court, Congress, NAFTA, NATO and the NFL. Not to mention issues like immigration, infrastructure and the size of his own inaugural crowd on day one of his presidency.

Trump claims that the towering concrete wall he promised on the border with Mexico is underway and progressing quickly, a lie he has repeated 146 times. In reality, repairs are being made to existing barriers — it’s definitely not the “big beautiful wall” that Trump has harped on since he first called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers when trolling the shoals of American bigotry for votes.

Taking political lies global

Trump has inspired an international Liars Club of world leaders that has already had a profound effect on humanity. All arrived roughly on the same schedule — Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time in 2014, and then again in 2018; the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016; the Brexit liars, including Boris Johnson, a month after that, and Trump himself in November 2016.

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Boris Johnson, one of the biggest Brexit liars. Photo via Shutterstock.

Back to Boris Johnson. Brexit succeeded because of the Leave Campaign’s outrageous lies. Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who now says he regrets not standing up to all the disinformation, adds that Johnson was one of the biggest of the Brexit liars.

Johnson’s most infamous whopper was that the U.K. would have an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend after leaving the EU, money that would have gone to Brussels. That windfall would have been great news for the U.K.’s beleaguered National Health Service — had it been true. But the real number was at least 100 million pounds a week lower, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Others put the savings at less than half the amount Johnson claimed.

Johnson lied. He left out money the U.K. received back from the European Union, and his claim was grossly deceitful and grossly calculating. It was also effective, just like other lies told by Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage that Turkey was about to join the EU and Britain would soon be overrun with Muslims.

Duterte has deconstructed democracy in the Philippines by putting out a steady diet of disinformation and persecuting the media and anyone else who questions his lie-driven policies. No wonder his nickname, according to National Public Radio in the U.S., is “Duterte Harry,” after the iconic Clint Eastwood character. At one point, Duterte even boasted about tossing a Chinese drug dealer out of a helicopter, a claim he later said was a “joke.”

What is not a joke is Duterte’s policy of empowering police to shoot suspected drug dealers without arrest or trial. It has been reported that 7,000 people died under that policy in a six-month period.

Yet Trump still made Duterte one of the first world leaders he invited to the White House, and then said he was in favour of the death penalty for drug dealers.

And who does Trump bring to the White House on the day the impeachment inquiry into his presidency begins? None other than Turkish tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan is the man who ordered his army into Syria against the Kurds after Trump obligingly withdrew U.S. forces. At home, he jailed political opponents and members of the media; assumed extraordinary powers more suited to a sultan than a secular democratic leader; detained 50,000 people after an attempted coup; and declared that women in his country would be defined by “motherhood” — feminism be damned.

And he’s the same man that Trump said has “a great relationship with the Kurds,” the very people his invading forces have been killing in Syria.

How did we get here?

Public life hasn’t always been a liars’ paradise. In fact, lying used to be a short-cut to political Boot Hill. Now it is a turnpike to power. There are a lot of good reasons the Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” 2016’s word of the year.

One reason political leaders lie with impunity is that there is no longer even a reputational penalty for doing it, let alone a real sanction.

There is something bizarre about that. If a witness lies in a courtroom, he is guilty of perjury. If a person like Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn lies to the FBI, that is a crime. If a company runs a false ad, it faces consequences under truth-in-advertising laws. Hell, if kids lie to their parents, they at least get a timeout.

But when a politician lies, and lies big, there is a minor skirmish between his detractors and supporters, the media bloviates about whose tactic will impress voters, the dust settles, and nothing happens until the process repeats itself with the next lie. Post-truthiness, yes?

Fortunately, this didn’t happen in the Nixon era, though Tricky Dick gave it his best shot. “When the president does it,” he famously said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Nixon’s brazen misdeeds were punished in large part because all three television networks and print outlets followed the same code back then: journalists were the gatekeepers, the ones who held politicians accountable when they strayed from the facts or uttered intentional lies.

People like Jennings, Brokaw, Donaldson, Woodward and Bernstein spoke truth to power — and to their audiences. In those days, Walter Cronkite was the Buddha of News. He signed off every newscast by saying “And that’s the way it is” — and America believed him. Now Sean Hannity tells Fox viewers the way it isn’t, and millions tune in for his alternate universe.

A sign at 2010’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity.’ Photo via Shutterstock.

Fox News didn’t exist in Nixon’s time. It repeats Trump’s lies as true, attacks his critics as partisan assassins and even offers Trump conspiracy theories which he uses to distract his critics. It operates as the de facto press office of the White House.

But Fox News isn’t alone in creating the fog of lies that is slowly choking democracy. Study after study shows that readers and viewers have been abandoning mainstream news and shedding their respect for the journalists who produce it. Consumers have become their own fact-checkers, getting more and more of their information from social media and internet websites.

Nothing blows smoke like the internet. And as Republican political guru Arthur Finkelstein once observed, it is very difficult to tell what is true and what is false in social media.

Pushing back against the lies

The spread of misinformation and lies has inspired some resistance. The Pro-Truth Pledge movement is gaining traction in the U.S. This group of behavioural scientists and ordinary citizens is trying to fight political lying in two ways.

It asks participants to fact-check any article before sharing it with their social networks. The hope is that when someone receives a verified post, they’ll be encouraged to take the same steps.

And it encourages people who sign the pledge to challenge others who share false news, urging them publicly to take it down.

But their task is daunting.

Thanks to social media platforms with billions of users, lies travel as far and wide as truths. In the final months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, the top 20 false stories snagged more Facebook shares, reactions and comments than the top 20 factual articles, according to Scientific American. Facebook is the new Trojan Horse that 2.5 billion people have dragged into their lives at their peril.

It’s hard to tell if a political ad on Facebook is true or false, because the corporation has confused lying with free speech.

Mark Zuckerberg decided to run all political ads from candidates without determining the accuracy of their content, making him the patron saint of political unicorn hucksters around the world. By comparison, Twitter has banned all political advertising to avoid enabling the mass deception of voters.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, ‘the patron saint of political unicorn hucksters around the world.’ Photo via Wikimedia.
Attacks on the media and sleeping watchdogs

The Liars Club gets help from another direction — the steady, increasingly vicious attack on traditional reporters.

Thanks to leaders like Trump, these fact-checkers of record have been demonized as dirtbags of dishonesty, even enemies of the people.

And David Mitchell added another factor that helps the Liars Club, writing in the Guardian about “the financial degradation of the old-media investigative institutions that used to provide the truth… and the incalculable long-term effects of social media, bristling with virtue-signalling, selfies and revenge porn, on all our brains.”

To be fair to Zuckerberg and Facebook, they are not the only ones who have used an appeal to free speech to hand a digital megaphone to the Liars Club. There is an equally powerful offender — the courts.

Twenty-seven U.S. states have run into problems when they tried to mandate truthfulness in political advertising. The bottom line? A dissenting judge put it best after his colleagues ruled that one such state law was unconstitutional. He noted that the First Amendment now offers protection for “calculated lies.”

A case from Ohio makes the point.

Stephen Dinah reported in the Washington Times that the state passed legislation making it illegal to publish or broadcast a false statement about the voting record of a candidate. In a dispute, it was up to the state’s Election Commission to decide the facts.

But the law was struck down by federal district court Judge Timothy S. Black, who ruled that he didn’t want to have the government decide what was politically true and what was false. That, he concluded, was up to the voters.

There is a gigantic flaw in Black’s reasoning. How can voters determine whether a politician is telling the truth or lying if all they receive is a steady diet of lies from their leaders, endlessly repeated on social media, and backed up by false advertising?

Lest anyone imagine things are better on this side of the border, they are not. Canada’s Ad Standards has a code for truth in advertising, but it exempts political ads. The Competition Act also prohibits false advertising, but it too exempts political ads. As for the Canada Elections Act, it registers political ads online, but does not regulate their content.

Here is what that means. As I noted at the top, if a Canadian finds an outright lie in a political ad from a politician or party, there is no authority to file a complaint with. Politicians can get away with just about any bullshit.

The threat to democracy

You can’t lie in court without being charged with perjury. You can’t say a product will melt away fat if it doesn’t, as four U.S. companies peddling weight-loss products learned after the Federal Trade Commission fined them US$26.5 million.

So why should we expect to have a democracy, which needs truth to function, when unbridled lying from political leaders is viewed as less harmful than dubious claims about a diet product?

It is past time to regulate truth in political advertising and what comes out of leaders’ mouths. Assuming, of course, that we actually care about democracy.  SOURCE

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing About Access to Trump

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing About Access to Trump
United States Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. (Bureau of Reclamation / Flickr)

Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside Ritz–Carlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America, or IPAA, already had watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines – rules concerning smog, hydraulic fracturing and endangered species protection.

Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of the department.

“We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.”

But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

“It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week, I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week, we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks, we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules.

“Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”

Now, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: The former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be the interior secretary. MORE

How Would Our Wartime Conservative Leaders Have Acted on the Climate Crisis?

Real emergencies call for real plans.

The scale of Canada’s wartime production was nothing short of stunning, and it completely retooled our economy. We could do it again, this time to address the huge challenges of climate change. Photo of worker Veronica Foster inspecting a lathe at an Ontario gun plant, May 1941, via the National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, PA-129380.

…Yet today’s Conservative “leaders” say we can’t transition our economy to meet the greatest existential threat of our time. Where is the courage and imagination of their predecessors?

While the threat today may move in slower motion than war, the climate crisis we face isn’t really all that different. Only now, we need governments that can lead us not into battle against other nations, but rather, into the fight for our collective future.

Today’s extreme weather events — the floods, fires, forest epidemics and hurricanes — are attacks on our soil, and they will only get worse. It’s time we adopted a wartime-scale response to confront this emergency.

In the economic and societal transition that is now urgently needed to shift our country off fossil fuels, the Conservative Party of Canada has, sadly, taken itself out of the game. This despite a recent Abacus poll indicating that a majority of conservative voters believe climate change to be a serious problem that represents “a major threat to the future of our children and grandchildren.”

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the former Progressive Conservative party could legitimately claim to have climate leaders among its top ranks. No more. Today’s Conservatives have chosen to opportunistically campaign against genuine climate policies, and to conspire with those who would block real action. They are scoundrels who would put your children at risk for electoral gain.

Upon the release of the Conservatives so-called “climate plan” in advance of this federal election, the National Post’s Andrew Coyne described it as “a prop” rather than a plan — “a work, essentially, of mischief — an intentionally pointless bit of misdirection.” The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason described the plan as “a sad joke.”

As many noted, the Conservatives offered no estimates of how much greenhouse gases would actually be reduced as a result of any of the policies promised (few as they were). Perhaps with good reason. Leading environmental economist and emissions modeller Marc Jaccard predicted the Conservative plan would actually result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

When crises, such as a war, call for real plans, we see clear actions and timelines and expected outcomes. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s climate document contains no such thing.

Your grandparents’ Conservative leaders, in the face of an ominous existential threat, rallied us and declared, “We can do this!”

In the face of today’s clear and present emergency, these man-baby Conservative leaders whine, “Don’t make me do it!”

You’re better than them. MORE


Andrew Scheer’s Real Bad Climate Plan

An Early Voter’s Guide to Trudeau (Bad) and Scheer (Worse)

“Voters may suspect the Shiny Pony is phoney. But if they think that makes Andy dandy, they have forgotten something. Answered prayers are often a special brand of nightmare. Could it be time for change with risk? Could it be time to elect a government committed to saving the planet, rather than four bucks on a fill-up of gas?”

Don’t let negative partisanship trick you into backing Harper lite.

ScheerPlatformComic.jpgCartoon by Greg Perry.
Nothing the Conservatives have done so far has been remotely as effective in that cause [to elect a Conservative federal government this October] as Trudeau’s remarkable, and mystifying, blundering.

Take the environment. Everyone wants to claim this baby, but no one wants to raise it. Trudeau began as the champion of the blazing issue of our times. But these days, the prime minister looks less like the climate guy from Paris than he does a Texas oil man with gushers on his mind. When he gives the green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline in June, that impression will only deepen.

Apart from his much-ballyhooed carbon tax, there is not much to celebrate on this file, despite all the right words and excellent photo-ops. As Canada stumbles towards missing the modest emission targets of Paris, Stephen Harper’s targets, this PM acts more like Jason Kenney than David Suzuki.

 As disappointing as Trudeau has been to many voters, the traditional alternative, the official Opposition, is far, far worse.

Trudeau overpays for a pipeline carrying dirty oil through pristine rivers and forests in British Columbia;

He exempts certain tarsands projects from new environmental assessment rules in a crude trade-off with Alberta;

He considers loosening restrictions on the pollution of major rivers with toxic effluent from tarsands tailing ponds;

He allows the unregulated use of seismic blasting to explore for oil and gas on Canada’s east coast, right whales be damned;

And he has nothing to say about a pulp and paper mill building a 10-kilometre pipe to carry and dump hastily treated toxic effluent into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait. MORE

Even With Fewer Seats, Justin Trudeau Should Try To Form Minority: Elizabeth May


Image result for elizabeth mayGreen Party Leader Elizabeth May says not enough is being done to tackle climate change, and the future is at risk if that doesn’t change.(Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Elizabeth May has high hopes for the 2019 federal election.

OTTAWA —  If the 2019 election ends up in a minority situation but the Tories have the most seats, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May thinks the Liberal government should try to form a new  government with support from other parties.

In an interview with HuffPost Canada’s politics podcast ‘Follow-Up,’ May said that if the campaign results in a hung Parliament, “yes, of course” the party in power should try to convince the governor general that they can hold the confidence of the House.

“We’re now up to 17 elected Greens across Canada. And that’s pretty cool.”

May thinks the party’s support is due in part to the public’s increasing concern over climate change but also to “a general disillusionment with the idea that any of the old three parties tend to disappoint and will say one thing in an election and something else afterwards.”

“I don’t think that, you know, adherence to ignorance is really something that encourages voters to support you.”
—Elizabeth May

She remains concerned that support for her party could swing back to the Liberals or the NDP during a campaign when voters are told a vote for the Green candidate would indirectly help elect a Conservative member. But she’s hopeful “fear factor voting” has prompted enough voter remorse that Canadians will feel free to vote for candidates they believe in.

What’s more, May said, is that while Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer may represent the same policies as former prime minister Stephen Harper, he is less polarizing a figure. Not that she thinks he should become prime minister. She calls him “unfit to govern” due to his position on climate change. MORE


History will judge ‘reckless, even criminal’ politicians ignoring climate change crisis: Elizabeth May

Fighting for Climate Credibility

Now is the time to encourage political leaders to move beyond recognition of our climate emergency and commit to reducing emissions to at least 1.5 degree C as quickly as possible

Canada’s political parties are competing for climate credibility

With five months to go before the next federal election, Canada’s political parties are competing for climate credibility, seemingly engaged in a battle to show they care more about the environment, reports The National Observer.

This is a climate activist’s dream. Not only will climate be the top issue in the October election, but having politicians compete for climate action supremacy is dizzying. I frankly did not see this coming.

Climate Credibility

Fighting for Climate Credibility, Below2CImage credit: Bernd Hildebrandt, Pixabay

Liberals are poised to declare a climate emergency

The Liberals have filed a motion which asks Members of Parliament “to recommit to the Paris climate-change accord by meeting the existing targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and toughening them as is required to meet the accord’s stated objective of keeping global warming as close to 1.5 C as possible,” writes Mia Rabson of The National Observer.

The Liberal motion …brings Canada closer to a declaration of climate emergency following the U.K., Ireland and Switzerland. This is precisely the kind of climate leadership activists and environmentalists have been calling for since the Liberals came to power in 2015.

NDP goes much further than Paris targets

The NDP motion (full text found below) also seeks to reach the Paris targets but goes much further by calling for the cancellation of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says “pipelines and fossil-fuel subsidies are not congruent with climate-change action.” However, he will not go so far as to oppose the LNG project in his NDP-led home province of British Columbia.

Greens would double the emission-reduction targets

Meanwhile, the Green Party is calling for a 60% cut in greenhouse gases based on 2005 levels, in effect doubling Canada’s 30% reduction promised in the Paris Accord. Elizabeth May is very emphatic that Canadians need to heed the warnings of the IPCC 1.5°C report and Canada’s own Canada’s Changing Climate report that shows we are warming twice faster than the global average.

Somewhere below two degrees is the tipping point to where we run into something (that) scientists call runaway global warming—a self-accelerating irreversible global warming that could lead to temperatures that call into question the survival of this biosphere.

In order to ensure that action follows rhetoric, the Greens would create a non-partisan ‘war cabinet’ modeled after Winston Churchill’s during WWII to tackle the existential threat of climate change.

Click here for the transcript of a recent E. May interview on The Current, CBC Radio. “And an increase of two degrees would be catastrophic,” says May. MORE

Jagmeet Singh’s call for fossil fuels ban leapfrogs the Leap Manifesto

“The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front? We shall see.” – Thomas Walkom

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on May 7 in Ottawa. “The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front?” asks Thomas Walkom.
Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats have discovered climate change. 

The party had been reluctant to take too uncompromising a stand on global warming for fear of alienating potential voters. That reluctance has gone.

Now the NDP is calling for an end to the entire fossil-fuel industry in Canada.

“The future of our country cannot involve fracking,” Singh said Monday in Ottawa, referring to a controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas. “It cannot involve the burning of any fossil fuel.”

He said Canada must adhere to carbon reduction targets that are much stricter than those proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government if it to seriously fight climate change.

And he declared that he now opposes ambitious plans by British Columbia’s NDP government to build a massive liquefied natural gas project in the province’s north.

[In the past] the Leap Manifesto’s call to ban any new fossil-fuel energy projects, from pipelines to fracking, was seen as too radical. No more. Now, with his call for a Canada free of fossil fuels, Singh has outleapt the Leapers. MORE


New dollars, sure, but same political game

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p><p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau speak as they walk to the House of Commons to present the new budget in Ottawa, Tuesday.</p>

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau speak as they walk to the House of Commons to present the new budget in Ottawa, Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In November 2005, in the waning days of a Paul Martin-led Liberal federal government, the Kelowna Accord was forged.

It was the result of an unprecedented 18-month consultative process between the federal government, provincial and territorial governments and all five major national Indigenous organizations.

The result was a $5-billion commitment over five years, aimed at addressing massive inequities in Indigenous health, education, housing and infrastructure, economic opportunities, governance and the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous nations. Just to close the gap between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.

Four days after forging this landmark agreement, Parliament was dissolved, with Martin eventually losing the next election to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. MORE


Trudeau government budget proposes billions to improve living conditions for Indigenous communities