How Russia could determine our next prime minister

Did you hear about the Canadian commandos who slipped into the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine in 2016? The commandos were targeting the new Republic which, with the help of Russia, was seeking independence. It was a surgical strike to incapacitate the breakaway region.

image: Unian

While it was widely circulated on social media, it’s not true. An English translation of the story was shared over 3,000 times on Facebook alone. A similar story blew up on pro-Russia websites this last May. The new iteration, which spread even more widely, suggested that three Canadian soldiers were killed after their car hit a land mine while they were being escorted by the Ukrainian military (Walrus magazine, December, 2018).

It’s part of Russia’s disinformation campaign to discredit the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and sow general discontent and division -a sophisticated drive in which lies are mixed with truth.

It works. Russia’s Internet Research Agency managed to affect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. It microtargeted Facebook ads to stir up conflict in an appeal to patriotism, honour, inequality, race, nationality, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Russia’s propaganda is not dogmatic; it’s an attempt to destabilize Western governments. Moscow is in for the long game –discontent leading to civil unrest and the disintegration of democracies. It’s Putin’s revenge for the collapse of the USSR and economic sanctions against Russia from Western nations including Canada.

The Internet Research Agency is always looking for wedge issues and none is more volatile than immigration. The UN Compact on Migration has recently become a focal point with Prime Minister Trudeau supporting it and Opposition leader Andrew Scheer against it.

Scheer recently rose in the House of Commons recently and stated that signing the compact would mean that “foreign entities” would be able to dictate Canadian immigration policies.

While Scheer’s comments are not true, it does play into Russia’s disinformation campaign. The pact’s preamble states explicitly that it “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy,” meaning governments will not sign away their rights to design their migration policies by signing onto the pact. Former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander has called Scheer’s comments “factually incorrect.”

Scheer is nervously looking over his shoulder at Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada and worries about them stealing right-wing votes.

Inspired by the “Yellow Vest” protests in France and fueled by Social media, demonstrations have spread across Canada. In Calgary one protester yelled through a megaphone: “They hate our country and they hate our way of life,” to cheers and whistles, not specifying who “they” are.

Professor Fenwick McKelvey at Concordia University has studied social-media manipulation. He believes there are plenty of other domestic pressure points Russian bots could exploit. “You’ve got language, Indigenous issues,” he says.

When you see how effective Russian was in the 2016 U.S. election, it’s not a stretch to think to see how Bernier could ride a wave of political instability. Immigration fears, Alberta’s anger on one side of pipelines and Indigenous conflict on the other, Right-wing governments in Quebec and Ontario -all provide fertile ground.

McKelvey says Canada is vulnerable to this kind of exploitation, if it isn’t happening already. If the thought of Prime Minister Bernier seems improbable, so did President Trump.

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The rise and fall of globalization

As the sun sets on globalization, what will a new day bring? The new era will face challenges of rampant parochialism, environmental destruction, inequality and greed.

image: Timetoast.com

The dawn of globalization was unremarkable. Yanis Varoufakis, professor economics and former finance minister of Greece gives the date:

“On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day (Globe and Mail).”

Before Globalization, it was the dawning of a New Deal (1944). A clever plan, it gave America’s former enemies the resources to rebuild through arrangements such as the Marshall Plan. As an industrial power, the U.S. had shiny new things to sell; now Germany and Japan had money to buy them.

The New Deal ushered in a Golden Age of prosperity. Well-paying jobs, unionization, opportunity grew.  The middle class expanded and inequality shrank.

As a baby boomer, I remember that era. After I graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Electronics, I had a choice of well-paying secure, jobs. After I quit one job and traveled around the world, I easily found another.

The era of globalization in the 1970s promised to reduce global poverty. Before it began to rot at its core, it blushed with ambition.

“Mr. Nixon’s decision was founded on the refreshing lack of deficit phobia particular to American decision-makers,” says Varoufakis. “Unwilling to rein in deficits by imposing austerity . . . Washington stepped on the gas to boost them.”

World-wide prosperity also produced global industrialization. Americans went into debt to buy exports from Germany, Japan and later, China. The American administration didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that cheap global labour was at the heart of industrial decay at home. Why should they care when money was pouring into the U.S. as well as cheap goods?

The flow of global money into the U.S. seems counterintuitive. If Americans were buying global goods, it would seem that the money should be flowing the other way. The magic of Wall Street made it happen.

The deregulation of banks was a catalyst for the financial wizardry of Wall Street. Global investors were attracted by higher interest rates generated by mystical, incomprehensible, investment devices such as derivatives. A lot of the investments went into loans to home-owners who had no way of repaying them.

Then, in 2008, the rabbit no longer emerged from the magician’s hat and the whole financial edifice fell apart.

All that remains of the sad tatters of globalization is massive inequality and loss of jobs in the Western world. Most money sits idle in the hands of the rich while the poor struggle without. Varoufakis characterizes it:

“Its crisis is due to too much money in the wrong hands. Humanity’s accumulated savings per capita are at the highest level in history.”

As globalization sinks below the horizon, two options emerge. One is the walled-state proposed by President Trump and the Brexiters in the U.K. The other is a Universal New Deal that redistributes global wealth, creates new jobs, and lifts the burden of consumer debt.

If such a new deal seems unlikely, it’s worth remembering that the first New Deal and globalization were as well. And if we need an issue to rally around and mobilize action, as World War II once was, we need look no further than the biggest threat to humanity: climate change.

Conservatives can increase chances by decreasing happiness

The antics of some Conservative leadership hopefuls are pathetic. Chris Alexander at a rally bobs his head in rhythm to the chants “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, tone deaf to the toxic implications; Kellie Leitch calls for immigrants to be tested for “Canadian Values” even though no such test exists and if it did, she would probably fail.

Huffington Post

Huffington Post

Trump-style populism into will not succeed because Canadians are not ripe for such politics –we need more inequality and the resultant unhappiness for this approach to work.

Inequality creates a sense of injustice and anger that manifests itself in a variety of ways. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nattavudh Powdthavee researched the effects of inequality for the Harvard Business Review (January, 2016). They found that anger and stress increased in countries where the richest 1 per cent controlled the greatest share of wealth.

“In societies where the richest hold most of the country’s income, people were more likely to report feeling ‘stressed,’ ‘worried,’ or ‘angry’ on the day before the survey.”

Angry politicians appeal to angry voters. Trump’s anger is what propelled him into power; that’s why his racist and misogynistic views were largely overlooked. He was as mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more.

It’s not just anger that is affected. As anger went up, life satisfaction went down.

“We examined data from the Gallup World Poll and the World Top Incomes Database and found that the more income is concentrated in the hands of a few, the more likely individuals are to report lower levels of life satisfaction and more negative daily emotional experiences.”

Life satisfaction exacerbates unemployment. For every 1 per cent increase in the share of income of the top 1 per cent, unemployment rises by 1.4 per cent. There are a couple of factors involved –exporting jobs to areas of cheap labour increases profits; unhappy workers tend to be less productive, take longer sick leaves, and quit their jobs.

At the other end of the scale, greater wealth also creates unhappiness. Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton calculated that day-to-day happiness peaks at an income of $75,000 a year, after which it plateaus. Inequality creates unhappiness at both ends of the wealth spectrum.

Canada is the sixth most happy country in the world according to the World Happiness Report behind the Scandinavian countries but ahead of the U.S. at thirteenth. Can you guess how these counties rank in equality? Right, the Scandinavian countries are the most equal followed by Canada and then the U.S.

Inequality is rising fastest in the U.S. where the top 1 per cent increased their wealth from 8 per cent of total wealth to 19 per cent in just thirty years (Scientific American, September, 2016).

Equality and satisfaction of life can be increased, and anger reduced, through fair taxes and benefits to the poor: like minimum wages, child care, job security, employment insurance, and an affordable education.

Conservative leadership hopefuls can increase their chances by increasing inequality and decreasing the happiness of Canadians by lowering taxes, increasing tuition, resisting wage hikes, and reducing job security.