Winter in Weenieville

Must-reads: Richard Gwyn on immoral economics; David Olive and Margaret Wente on Eliot Spitzer; John Ivison on Mexican justice; James Travers on Stéphane Dion’s big green disappointment.

Thumbs down in Ottawa
The environment’s buggered, it’s cold and snowy, we’re a bunch of wusses, and our foreign service is hopelessly ineffectual. On the plus side, the patently unethical offer to Chuck Cadman may not technically have been illegal!

The “detailed plan” on the environment unveiled yesterday by John Baird was conspicuously short on details and plans, Don Martin argues in the Calgary Herald. “[T]he documents … were supposed to impose greenhouse gas discharge limits on 17 categories,” he notes, “but only delivered firm targets for two sectors, without including penalties for non-compliance.” The oil sands emissions targets, meanwhile, entail a doubling of carbon output by 2018. Martin concedes the Tory plan “may well be the best balance” between the environmental and economic brands of Armageddon, but as he says, Baird promised to “get tough.” And he hasn’t.

And with the drawbridge of Fort Baird thus lowered, surely we can finally expect Stéphane Dion to lead his backpack-toting enviro-warriors into battle. Still no, says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers—and he says there’s no small degree of befuddlement within the Liberal army as to how they “skidded past” that easy “point of departure” from the Tories. The explanation? First, says Travers, Dion’s enviro-cred was always stronger within the party than among Canadians at large. And second, those dastardly Tory spin doctors had the gall to mention “the sorry record of Liberals who signed Kyoto but did next to nothing to rise to its challenges.”

Sun Media’s Greg Weston outlines an exceedingly complicated scenario in which the Conservatives might have offered Chuck Cadman a loan of roughly $90,000, which he then could have turned around and used to shore up his pension roughly to the tune of $1 million in payouts to his wife and children. In Cadman’s mind, Weston suggests (at which point we furrow our brows in skepticism), this might have amounted to “a $1-million life insurance policy.” The Tories say the loan offer was legit, for campaign expenses, which sounds improbable given Cadman’s terminal cancer—but, says Weston, “[h]ow Cadman actually spent the money would have been up to him.” While plausible, and ostensibly above-board, this still sounds very dodgy to us.

Andrew Cohen, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, files an eloquent if somewhat hoary ode to the winters of his youth, when he and his chums gambolled about Westmount to and from school, through whatever fury Old Man Winter could throw at them, and were happy to do it—before we turned into “molly-coddled couch-potatoes [who] tremble at the first flake of snow,” in other words. We sympathize. But considering we’ve apparently already thrown away the joy of winter, we’re not totally sure why the “prospective disappearance of winter to global warming” should “worry us … for existential [reasons].”

Ay, she’s been a bitter one, the winter o’ 2008. But you’ll not find John Ivison fleeing to a Mexican beach as a result—not while Canadian Brenda Martin languishes in a Guadalajara jail, in violation of several international justice agreements, awaiting trial on what he paints as thoroughly dubious money laundering charges. “The political blame for this disgrace lands squarely at the feet of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Helena Guergis,” he writes, calling her tepid advocacy on Martin’s behalf “right out of the consular playbook.” As with the case of William Sampson, he says, “Canada’s quiet diplomacy has been found lacking.”

Lust, caution. Also greed, stupidity and schadenfreude.
In the National Post, Terence Corcoran imagines the glee that must be consuming the executive floors at Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, UBS and the other firms Eliot Spitzer made a career out of hounding. After all, he suggests, many of Spitzer’s “corporate victims … were acquitted or forced to settle for crimes that were not much more morally questionable — if they existed at all — than moving prostitutes across state borders.”

From the other end of the political spectrum, the Star‘s David Olive laments that Spitzer’s proud legacy of good works on Wall Street will be tainted by “the most spectacular political flameout in U.S. politics since then-president Bill Clinton’s similar self-inflicted wounds from the Lewinsky affair.” Spitzer was largely responsible for today’s “higher standards of transparency and CEO accountability for the authenticity of corporate financial reporting,” Olive writes. And yet, today, “masters of the universe forcibly retired by Spitzer and obliged to surrender the keys to their leased Porsches will rejoice that the short-tenured governor of the Empire State has no clothes.”

The Globe‘s Margaret Wente feels for Silda Wall Spitzer, the Governor’s wife, who despite “the hypocrisy, the recklessness and the phenomenal stupidity” of her husband’s acti
ons—and despite the progress women have made since the days “Pat Nixon stuck by Tricky Dick in her good Republican cloth coat”—still has to “play the part.” “[S]he assumed the standard position,” Wente writes of yesterday’s press conference, “one step back and to the side. … She looked as if she hadn’t slept in days. It was a stalwart performance, considering that she probably wanted to tear him limb from limb.”

Adam Smith may have been right, Richard Gwyn writes in the Star, that while selfishness drives economic growth, human beings have enough innate interest in the welfare of others to keep the whole system civilized. But Smith couldn’t have foreseen the money American CEOs now pull in, or the speed and anonymity with which a billion dollars “zips around the world.” And he’d likely shake his head, Gwyn suggests, at the Federal Reserve’s decision “to pump $200 billion in fresh capital into the market so [subprime lenders] could be propped up by the banks to which they owe money.” The message to the banks, says Gwyn, is “go on being greedy”—which “makes a mock” of whatever “moral sentiments” we might have.

Duly noted
While other pundits foresee a face-saving alliance between the two Democratic frontrunners, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington sees a very real problem in that scenario—namely, Barack Obama’s commanding lead in the race. “It’s doubtful to inconceivable that Obama would choose Hillary as v-p — and get Bill too,” he writes. Expect a public “knifefight” at least until the Pennsylvania primary, Worthington advises, and “perhaps beyond, to the August convention.”

Upon the occasion of Gary Gygax’s death, the Post‘s Jonathan Kay explains his erstwhile fascination with Dungeons and Dragons—which to him was less about slaying dragons than it was about “simply living, for a couple of hours at least, in a different world, one entirely separate from the tedium and social agonies of my own schoolboy life.” But ultimately, he found himself unable to create a world sufficiently more interesting than his own to sustain interest in D&D—and he sees the same phenomenon afoot in Second Life, where he finds people “just kind of … hanging out, aimlessly mimicking the activities they enjoy in real life.” The lesson, he concludes, is that “[w]riting the next Lord of the Rings is hard.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.