Archive for the Blog Category


Canada has found itself, reluctantly, in the midst of a major diplomatic row with China.  Acting in accordance with its extradition treaty obligations, Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she was connecting to another flight at Vancouver Airport.  After 11 days in detention, she has received bail, but not before, in a remarkable coincidence, Michael Kovrig, a Canadian citizen and former diplomat and current Senior Advisor to an international NGO, has disappeared in Beijing.  Chinese officials have not confirmed his arrest but have cryptically observed that the NGO for which he works is not registered in China and therefore any activity on its behalf would be illegal.

So what is this all about?  It seems that the US Justice Department has determined that HSBC cleared transactions through the US banking system that included proceeds from sales of cell phones to Iranian interests in contravention of the recently re-imposed US trade sanctions.  That the US takes this sort of breach seriously is evidenced (sort of) by the severe economic sanctions placed upon another Chinese technology company, ZTE, in the context of similar activity a year ago.  I say sort of because in the end ZTE was rescued from extinction by President Trump in the context of a softening of Chinese positions in the still-ongoing trade war with the US.

So what do HSBC’s breaches have to do with Meng Wanzhou?  It sounds like the transactions that gave rise to the breach by HSBC were conducted by Skycom, a Hong Kong-based entity doing business with Iranian interests.  Meng Wanzhou was at one time on the board of Skycom, but not at the time of the impugned sales transactions.  However, it is alleged that Meng Wanzhou made representations to HSBC and other banks operating in the US that Huawei was not related to Skycom, and it is these fraudulent representations that give rise to the extradition request from the US.  As a strictly factual matter, things look bad for Meng Wanzhou; journalists have already discovered that Skycom’s registered office shares an address with Huawei’s Hong Kong office and that Skycom’s e-mail addresses are on Huawei’s internet domain.

Now the fact that these two damning facts were so quickly discoverable by mere journalists suggest that whatever deception Meng Wanzhou may have subjected HSBC to, they might in fact be guilty of a certain laxity in their own independent due diligence.  Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the reality of Huawei’s effective ownership of Skycom could have excused any alleged breach by HSBC in clearing transactions effected in breach of the US sanctions on Iran.  One could even speculate that the far more practically relevant fact underlying Meng Wanzhou’s arrest is not these alleged misrepresentations or her role as CFO of Huawei, but rather the fact that she is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei with a history as replete with achievements within the Communist Party and Chinese military as it is with business triumphs.

But never mind that for now.  The US has until January 9th to clear up these gaps in support of their extradition demand.  In the meantime, Meng Wanzhou will suffer in one or both of her Vancouver mansions with the indignity of an electronic ankle bracelet while President Trump presses whatever leverage he can out of this affront in the context of his increasingly fraught trade negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Smart money says the resolution of the trade dispute will be happily concluded by January 9th, Meng Wanzhou will have a pleasant holiday in her one-time home city of Vancouver and will in the New Year return to China and to Huawei with nothing more than a little ankle chafing.

Let’s hope the whole experience is as transparent, pleasant and quickly resolved for Mr Kovrig.  Somehow I doubt it will be.

Merry Christmas!


“Why do you support Fascists?”

That was the question you asked me when our eyes met outside Roy Thomson Hall on the evening of November 2nd.  We had both been standing in the cold for over two hours, I to get past the security checks before going inside to attend the Munk Debate between former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and former Bush speechwriter David Frum on the topic of the future of Populism versus Liberalism as the overarching ideology animating the future of Western politics and you to voice your opposition to those who would give a platform to the ideology that has emboldened the supporters of Donald Trump and many other Far Right populist movements in both Western and Emerging democracies.

You asked me a question, and a reasonable one.  After two hours of chanted insults, it was actually rather welcome.  Given that we were now in the slowest moving portion of the line just prior to entrance, and at the point at which the margin between the barricade holding back the protestors and the line was the narrowest, I both wanted to answer and felt you deserved an answer.

What I wanted to say was that I do not support Fascists, nor do I support those that knowingly curry favour with Fascists for political ends.  I can tell you that in the debate that I did eventually get in to see, Steve Bannon denied the former but conceded the latter.  That he added that he would also gladly curry the favour of the fervently anti-globalist branch of Bernie Sanders supporters did not persuade me that his expedient tolerance of Nazi-inspired White Supremacists was harmless.

If I was there in support of anyone, it was in support of David Frum, and I admit my support was at least 50% personal as opposed to political.  You see, David Frum and I were classmates in a small Toronto high school, and while we might not have then or since been the closest of friends, I have respect for his intellect and decency even if we disagree politically (interestingly, in high school his politics would have been too Left for my liking, and as an adult too Right for my extreme centrist inclinations).  Yes, he does claim authorship for the “Axis of Evil” speech and he did support the Iraq War for which it served as the cri du couer, but despite the horrible chain of events that that misguided policy initiated, it was sadly the product of very traditional US foreign policy and not the first spasms of American Fascism.

But maybe I am taking your question too literally.  Maybe you are asking why I would support a debate between an arguable Fascist and an arguable Neo Con.  Is that really what constitutes the breadth of the political spectrum for comfortable white males these days, you might ask?  Fair question, and despite the ability to fall back on my high school relationship with David Frum, I thought about that as well.  Although a debate between Elizabeth Warren and Steve Bannon would undeniably be a fairer representation of the chasm of American political discourse these days, it would be certain to be one in which there would be much heat and no light, with those in the critical centre of the political spectrum left feeling abandoned.  The rise of the Populist Right is too worrisome to be left to the hilarious polemics of Bill Maher panel.  Seeing the ideology of the Populists rejected by the Neo Cons should be both telling and comforting.  The fire that burns so hot on the extreme Right burns out before it even reaches the middle.  And on that score, both you and I should take comfort from the result of the debate.  Even a crowd of Toronto’s finest Fascists (including noted Nazi firebrand Rick Mercer) rejected Bannon’s projection of a Populist future 72 – 28 % both before and after the debate.

But perhaps by “support” you meant financial support.  At a hundred Canadian dollars a ticket, the event undoubtedly put a few American dollars in Steve Bannon’s pocket.  But from what I read, Steve doesn’t need the money, and besides, according to Wikipedia, Bannon owns a slice of Seinfeld residuals that he received in his prior life as a Hollywood producer.  If true, the energy invested in denouncing the Munk Debate appearance fee might have been better directed to a boycott of Seinfeld reruns.

I guess there was a lot I would have wanted to say, and I doubt we would have had time to exchange views on all of that.  But then again, we never even started to exchange views.  When I moved toward you to answer, you yelled “F*** off, Nazi” and gave me a double middle finger salute.

I guess the question was rhetorical.


We have all heard about confirmation bias, the natural but generally unhelpful tendency that we all have that leads us to interpret new evidence with respect to any topic as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Too often these days, confirmation bias is the principal driver of an increasingly polarized political culture.

The animus of confirmation bias undoubtedly had much to do with Brett Kavanaugh finding himself before the US Senate Judiciary Committee addressing events that had allegedly occurred 36 years ago when he was a seventeen-year-old high school student.  With very few exceptions, those that believed Dr. Ford’s account of the events of that night so long ago were those who most feared the implications for the advancement of progressive issues in the context of a Supreme Court that included then Judge Kavanaugh.  Those that were most willing to accept his denial of Dr. Ford’s account were those most buoyed by the prospect of a court that was more restrictive in their interpretation of the Constitution.  In the absence of corroboration of the facts of the allegation, confirmation bias was really all that prevailed.

In applying their confirmation bias, commentators on both sides found much in the manner of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony to buttress their support of one or to dismiss the other.  Dr. Ford was too doe-eyed and vague; Judge Kavanaugh was too aggressive and indignant.  But wouldn’t one be expected to be a little uncertain as to detail recounting events from so long ago, even, or perhaps especially, if they had been so traumatic?  And in the case of Judge Kavanaugh, if he believed the allegations to be wholly untrue as he emphatically stated, the vehement tone of his denial of those allegations was understandable, and not without precedent.

In 1991, then Federal Court Judge Clarence Thomas was faced with allegations of sexual harassment by former aide Anita Hill during the confirmation proceedings for his own ultimately successful appointment to the Supreme Court.  The facts in dispute between Justice Thomas and his accuser were similarly uncorroborated but related to interactions far more recent and related to Justice Thomas’ behaviour as an adult in a professional context.   Justice Thomas was no less indignant than Justice Kavanaugh in his denial of the accusation, likening it to “a high-tech lynching” and clearly tying it to underlying racist opposition to his elevation to the Supreme Court.

However, what distinguishes Justice Thomas’ emotional retort to the accusation and Justice Kavanaugh’s equally intemperate utterances to his accusers lies in the substance of what each candidate alleged.  Racism, Justice Thomas argued, was what underlay the effort to discredit him.  For Justice Kavanaugh, it was “a political hit” motivated by “pent-up anger over the results of the 2016 election” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and funded by “left-wing opposition groups”.

Interestingly, one could argue that Justice Kavanaugh’s analysis is likely more accurate not only in the context of his situation, but also that of Justice Thomas 27 years earlier.  Racism, no doubt, was a factor of some people’s willingness to weigh in favour of Anita Hill’s recollection of her interactions with Justice Thomas, but it is certain that far more were swayed by their political affiliation.  After all, in both cases, the final Senate vote count for confirmation fell almost entirely along party lines.

But Justice Thomas did not aim his angry rebuke of his opponents at political partisanship, although it is highly unlikely that the thought didn’t occur to him.  Far more likely is that he recognized that if his candidacy was to be confirmed, he could not compromise his impartiality as a jurist in the highest court in the land.  Little harm can be done to the concept of judicial impartiality if racists fear that they and their causes will face a biased adjudicator should they seek redress in the courts.  But what of the Clintons, their friends and allies, or Democrats in general, appearing before a Supreme Court that includes Justice Kavanaugh on its panel?

Candidates nominated for elevation to the Supreme Court in both the US and Canada will inevitably reflect the ideological bent of the government that has advanced their nomination.  It is always incumbent on those nominees to convince those confirming their nomination and the country itself that those inclinations are rooted in reason and knowledge and not pure partisanship.  Whatever his failings, then Judge Clarence Thomas understood this requirement.  Justice Kavanaugh did not.  His response to confirmation bias was confirmation of bias, and for this reason alone, his candidacy should have failed.