February 1st, 2017

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • At Apostrophen, 'Nathan Smith writes about the status of his various writing projects.

  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling links to an article examining pieces of software that have shaped modern music.

  • blogTO notes the expansion of the Drake Hotel to a new Junction site. Clearly the Drake is becoming a brand.

  • Citizen Science Salon looks at how Internet users can help fight illegal fishing in the Pacific.

  • Crooked Timber asks readers for new Doctor Who candidates.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper finding that the presence of Proxima Centauri would not have inhibited planetary formation around Alpha Centauri A and B.

  • The LRB Blog notes the growing fear among Muslims in the diaspora.

  • The Map Room Blog shares a reimagined map of the Paris metro.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy and Towleroad have very different opinions on the nomination of Neil Gorusch to the US Supreme Court.

  • Transit Toronto reports on the reopening of the TTC parking lot at Yorkdale.

  • Whatever's John Sclazi responds to the past two weeks of Trump-related chaos, and is not impressed.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that the Russian Orthodox Church carries itself as an embattled minority because it is one, and looks at the future of Russian federalism in regards to Tatarstan.

[URBAN NOTE] On London, Ontario, declaring itself a sanctuary city

The National Post carries Patrick Maloney's Postmedia News report about how the southwest Ontario city of London has just declared itself, by unanimous vote of city council, a sanctuary city for refugees and migrants.

City politicians in London, Ont. unanimously backed a call to make London a so-called sanctuary city, prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees from seven predominately Muslim countries.

But the proposal — now going to city staff for study before final approval — drew hesitant support from some council members, who questioned exactly what such a designation would mean for London.

[. . .]

Toronto has already adopted the policy, which news reports have described as allowing non-status residents to access city services without fear of being turned over by municipal employees to border officials.

Municipal services are limited, and do not include things like education and health care, for which the province shoulders the cost.

But Coun. Tanya Park pushed forward the motion — just one day after the deadly shooting at a Quebec mosque that killed six people and left 19 injured — in response to the Trump ban on refugees from seven nations.

[LINK] "Trump's Ban Undermines Iraqi Cooperation Against Islamic State"

Meghan L O'Sullivan writes for Bloomberg View about how the ban on Iraqis' entry specifically, by demonstrating a lack of American trust, undermines the US-Iraqi relationship more generally.

There are many good reasons to object to the Trump administration's new ban on allowing people from seven predominantly Muslim Middle East countries to travel to the U.S. and halting the acceptance of Syrian refugees. I am among the many Americans ashamed that our great country could so easily push aside its history of caring for people with the most desperate needs in the world. I also am among the national security analysts who don't see how this helps deliver on the promise of protecting the U.S. from terrorism, and worry that they will inflame the resentment and anti-Americanism that fuel attacks against our citizens at home and abroad.

But, most tangibly and practically, I am among the millions of Americans who served as soldiers, diplomats or humanitarian workers in Iraq or Afghanistan, and therefore have insights into how the immigration ban has made Defense Secretary James Mattis's job of devising a plan to eradicate Islamic State a whole lot more difficult.

On Saturday, Trump issued a national security memo giving Mattis and the Pentagon 30 days to “develop a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS.” Yet the immigration ban seriously complicates that task by jeopardizing the cooperation of Iraqis. Iraqis are among the most important partners we have in fighting the Islamic State. While the U.S. and its allies are providing critical air, intelligence and logistical support in northern Iraq, it is Iraqi forces -- both Arab and Kurd -- that are pushing Islamic State out of Mosul, the nation's second-largest city.

As evidenced by Mattis’s efforts to get exceptions to the immigration ban for Iraqis who worked alongside American forces, we rely heavily on Iraqis willing to risk their lives, and those of their families, to work with us. Such cooperation has cost many Iraqi lives. Signaling that we may need them while we are operating in Iraq, but see them as a security threat in the U.S., will have an immediate chilling effect. This distrust will not be limited to those Iraqis who want to become U.S. residents or citizens, but will permeate all of our relationships there.

[LINK] "Goldman Sachs Breaks With Government Sachs on Immigrant Ban"

Dakin Campbell and Hugh Son write for Bloomberg about how Goldman Sachs, an iconic company of transnational American capitalism, has come out against the visa ban. The upcoming shifts in American politics, as old allies break apart, will be interesting to watch.

In a sharply worded message to staff, Lloyd Blankfein, the bank’s long-time head, broke with the Trump administration over its controversial attempt to crack down on immigration. The voicemail, sent Sunday to the firm’s 34,400 employees, pits Blankfein against an administration stocked with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. veterans, including his former No. 2, Gary Cohn, and key Trump adviser Steven Bannon.

Blankfein told employees that President Donald Trump’s executive order, parts of which were blocked by federal courts, is at odds with the firm’s long-held policies on workforce diversity and could disrupt Goldman Sachs’s business. “This is not a policy we support,” the chief executive officer said.

Blankfein joined a growing chorus of executives, notably from the technology industry, expressing displeasure about the order halting immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries. Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai slammed Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, while Microsoft Inc. on Sunday described the order as “misguided and a fundamental step backward.”

Blankfein’s comments put Goldman Sachs, one of Wall Street’s most influential firms, in the unusual position of standing against a signature effort of the new administration. Since former Chairman Sidney Weinberg served in Washington during both World War II and the Korean War, the firm has sent executives into government service, earning it the Government Sachs moniker. It seldom takes a public stand against a sitting president.

[URBAN NOTE] "Plan for Honest Ed's site revised to save more heritage buildings, add extra park spac

CBC News' Kate McGillivray reports on how the latest plans for the Honest Ed's site will retain something, at least, of the old character of Mirvish Village.

Revisions to the plan for the site of iconic department store Honest Ed's will see more heritage buildings saved and feature a larger public park, according to the city's planning website.

A fresh batch of revisions were submitted to the city's planning division by the developer, Westbank, in mid-January, which, along with the park and heritage buildings, also promises to reduce the development's density.

In the original plan submitted by the developer, only 15 heritage buildings were safe from demolition and there was no park.

At this point, 23 of the 27 listed heritage buildings on the site, which is bordered by Bathurst Street, Markham Street, Bloor Street and Lennox Street and also includes some parts of the west side of Markham Street, will be saved. The park is set to be 1,150 square metres.

Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez, who is leading the design team, told Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the plan is to "build a series of smaller buildings that together form a new village" rather than "one large mega-complex, which is what you see a lot of in Toronto."

[URBAN NOTE] "How to Turn the Province’s Rejection of Tolls on the DVP and Gardiner Into an Opportun

At Torontoist, Tricia Wood argues that, if we try, the rejection by the Ontario government of Toronto imposing tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP can inspire creative thinking abut the future of the city.

The Premier is right to say, in her decision not to approve road tolls, that Toronto residents need better transit options. But under the Liberals’ watch, sound transit-planning practices have been more talk than walk. Every development decision is a transit decision. The recent siting of two new hospitals in St. Catharines and Windsor in suburban locations is straight out of 1950s planning around the automobile.

More importantly, Toronto’s own goals are still murky on the question of the future of the car in the city. Too frequently, we lack vision, and we lack political leadership. The Mayor’s random revenue-generating ideas encourage narrow, limited thinking. We are implicitly encouraged to think small, to accept compromises that are not real compromises. We should resist this.

I don’t include the mayor among progressive city-builders. The Tory road toll proposal was not a city-building idea, nor a good plan. Its only achievable goal was to raise money, most or all of which would have gone towards roads, not transit. As a revenue tool, it was unfair, and as a city-building plan, it was auto-centric. It was trying to make money off the status quo instead of building towards something better.

Road tolls on the DVP and Gardiner would not have improved mobility in the city, nor would they have brought about significant mode change—namely, getting people out of cars.

So let’s take the opportunity to shed ourselves of a weak plan and imagine what could be done with the Toronto-owned highways to build a better city, one that isn’t oriented around the automobile. We should talk about rethinking how they are used, or even getting rid of all of them.

Our three inner-city freeways were the brainchild of the Metro Toronto government in the 1950s. There were even more expressways planned that were never built. They are the epitome of auto-centric city-building that cuts the city in pieces and envisions it as a place to get through, rather than a place in which we live.

[URBAN NOTE] "Wynne’s U-turn on road tolls dangerous for Tory"

Spacing Toronto's John Lorinc writes about how Premier Kathleen Wynne's decision to not let Toronto impose tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway weakens John Tory's position.

What she did, in a way that breaks from her mostly civil approach to politics, was to play Mayor John Tory for a fool. Whatever else you might think about Tory’s policies — and there’s plenty to criticize — he’s been a respectful and accommodating dance partner for Wynne. She could have done better.

But you’ve seen this film before. Last week’s U-turn reminds me of that moment in the spring of 2010 when Dalton McGuinty double-crossed David Miller and withdrew a $4 billion tranche of promised funding for Transit City.

It’s easy to say that all this is just politics. But you didn’t need to be a polling genius to anticipate the electoral risks for Wynne in backing tolls, so it’s not clear why the premier didn’t offer Tory options in the first instance, including the now transparently political pledge – increasing the gas tax transfer to municipalities from $321 million to $642 million — she served up on Friday in Richmond Hill.

The operative words in Wynne’s press release are, “beginning in 2019,” which is to say, after the election the Liberals will lose resoundingly. Ignore all the calculations about how much Toronto’s going to get a few years out. The city is going to get nada, because Tory leader Patrick Brown will win handily on pocket-book issues, of which this new gas tax will be merely one.

All of this puts the fiscal ball squarely back in Toronto city council’s court, and marks, in a very important way, an unavoidable turning point moment for Tory. It is now quite clear that important anticipated sources of capital support for major infrastructure are drying up, and this is happening at a time when several of these projects are seeing dramatic cost escalations.

[URBAN NOTE] "GO expansion could boost GTA property values"

The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski notes a study suggesting that real estate prices outside of Toronto are likely to spike if the GO Transit train system expands its services outside of Toronto.

The plan to expand the GO train system to 15-minute, all-day two way service could increase some Toronto area property values up to 12 per cent.

It could also make housing up to 18 per cent more affordable in some areas of the region, according to a study of 773 communities commissioned by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).

But maximizing those benefits depends on local municipalities making it attractive for commuters to get to the station, said the president of a data analytics company that studied the impact of GO’s Regional Express Rail (RER) expansion on Toronto region housing prices and affordability.

“While the GO station may be close to people it may not be accessible to them,” said Paul Smetanin, president of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA).

Areas that stand to gain the most in terms of affordability from RER are those outside the city, places such as Barrie, Guelph, Hamilton and King.

“A household in Barrie commuting by car could shift their affordability by up to 18 per cent,” he said.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto realtors predict another price surge in 2017"

The Globe and Mail's Tamsin McMahon and Brent Jang report on predictions of another record year in Toronto real estate. Some of the sources quoted suggest that foreign investment plays only a marginal role in this boom, though I would note that even margins can be deciding factors in the right places and times.

Despite mounting concerns that international investors may be contributing to the soaring prices and a shortage of homes for sale in Toronto, TREB said any plans by policy makers to introduce a foreign buyers’ tax in the GTA would be “misguided.”

Last year, the board commissioned Ipsos to poll local realtors about foreign-buying activity. Realtors told the polling firm that fewer than 5 per cent of home sales involved international buyers, and just 2 per cent of realtors said they had acted for clients who disclosed that they were buying property in the Toronto area because of B.C.’s tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver.

Tim Hudak, the Ontario Real Estate Association’s chief executive officer, said lack of housing supply is the driving factor behind rising prices in the GTA and “it is easy politics to scapegoat foreigners for increasing housing costs.”

Mr. Hudak, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, has urged Ontario’s Liberal government to reassess its plans for expanding the Greenbelt – protected land on the fringes of the GTA. “Government-imposed barriers are restricting builders from bringing more housing supply online,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Douglas Porter, chief economist with Bank of Montreal, said limited supply and robust demand have led to the GTA’s affordability issues. “Toronto would have been strong in any event, but I think foreign interest has contributed to the market that we’ve seen, especially in the last six months,” Mr. Porter said in an interview.

[. . .]

Mr. Porter said that if the Ontario government wants to get serious about cooling off the GTA’s housing sector, it needs to address demand, too. “Why not try to control demand, especially demand that isn’t coming from domestic buyers, at the same time as strengthening supply? We need to work on both sides,” he said in an interview.

[LINK] "Opposition accuses Trudeau of 'betrayal' as Liberals abandon promise of electoral reform"

CBC News' Aaron Wherry reports on the Liberal federal government's abandonment of the idea of electoral reform. In an era of Brexit and Trump, I certainly see ways this could rebound badly on enthusiasm for conventional politics.

A new mandate letter issued to Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, released publicly on Wednesday, says "changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate."

[. . .]

​"There has been tremendous work by the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, outreach by Members of Parliament by all parties, and engagement of 360,000 individuals in Canada through mydemocracy.ca," Trudeau writes in his letter to Gould.

"A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada's interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate."

Gould was appointed minister last month, replacing Maryam Monsef.

"Our view has always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians," Gould told reporters at a news conference convened to comment on her new mandate letter.

"It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist."

[LINK] "In a 'humiliating' and 'threatening' tone, Trump lambasted Mexico's president during a phone

Business Insider's Christopher Woody reports on what sounds like a disastrous first phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, filled with insults and threats up to and including a threat to invade Mexico. I would hope that someone around Trump would prevent him from going nearly so far, but I fear that some people around him would want something catastrophic to happen to US-Mexican relations for their own purposes.

During a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday, US President Donald Trump disparaged Mexico and threatened to use military force against the drug trade, according to Dolia Estevez, a journalist based in Washington, DC.

In an interview with the Mexican news outlet Aristegui Noticias, Estevez, who cited sources on both sides of the call, said, "It was a very offensive conversation where Trump humiliated Peña Nieto."

[. . .]

"I don't need the Mexicans. I don't need Mexico," Trump reportedly told the Mexican president. "We are going to build the wall and you all are going to pay for it, like it or not."

Trump hinted that the US would force Mexico to fund the wall with a 10% tax on Mexican exports "and of 35% on those exports that hurt Mexico the most," Estevez wrote in Proyecto Puente.

Before the call, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was considering a tax on imports from Mexico to pay for the wall.

[. . .]

Trump "even suggested to [Peña Nieto] that if they are incapable of combatting [narco trafficking] he may have to send troops to assume this task," she said.

[LINK] "No ‘G’day, mate’: On call with Australian prime minister, Trump badgers and brags"

In the Washington Post, Greg Miller and Philip Rucker report on the train wreck of the first phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. If he can't manage a functional conversation with one of the United States' closest allies, I think I'm justified in fearing for Canada.

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “This was the worst call by far.”

[. . .]

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center. Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia — countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[LINK] Slate on China as a big winner from the Trump presidency

Isaac Stone Fish's "Confronting Chairman Trump" looks at the many ways in which the People's Republic of China, as an apparently stable power capable of enacting non-zero-sum policies, could really benefit from the destabilization of the United States under Trump.

More than 40 years ago, Mao Zedong reportedly said, “All is chaos under heaven, and the situation is good.” It’s as good a description as any of Donald Trump’s governing strategy. In the 10 days he’s served as president, Trump has demonstrated, through his attacks on the media, his disregard for international and constitutional norms, and his pathological obsession with his own reality, that like the Communist revolutionaries of yesteryear, he is more interested in transforming America than running it. It’s a “shock to the system,” as spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway tweeted on Saturday. “And he’s just getting started.” Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump adviser Steve Bannon once proudly described himself as a Leninist. “Lenin,” Bannon told the former Marxist intellectual Ronald Radosh in 2013, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

All this puts the People’s Republic of China in a strange position. Though the modern Chinese state may have been founded on revolutionary chaos, after Mao’s death in 1976, China moved away from a chaotic authoritarianism and toward one predicated on order, internationalism, and fealty to the state. In the years since taking office in November 2012, China’s Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping has shown that he wants to preserve the system that brought him to power. “China took a brave step to embrace the global market,” Xi said in a well-regarded speech at Davos earlier in January—the first time a Chinese president attended the international elite gathering. “It has proved to be the right strategic choice,” he added. All the very recent debates over how China’s rise would disrupt the international system now seem positively quaint. In the age of Trump, it’s America that’s disrupting international norms while China positions itself as the defender of the status quo. This strange entwining of history—Trump adopting anarchic anti-establishment policies formerly associated with Communist leaders, while Xi burnishes his global liberal credentials—will benefit China’s international interests at the expense of the United States.

In the months since Trump’s election victory, there’s been a widespread assumption that Russia would be the big global winner in the Trump era. After all, the U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of meddling on Trump’s behalf in the election, and the candidate has spoken openly about his skepticism of NATO, his desire to partner with Russia to fight ISIS, and his fondness for Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Trump bashed China consistently on the campaign trail, saying, “What China is doing is beyond belief” and that its unfair trade policies “rape” the United States. Even before taking office, he enraged Beijing with his provocative December phone call with the president of Taiwan. Trump has also surrounded himself with outspoken China hawks. The director of his newly created National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, has long argued that China’s handling of its currency, the yuan, “is threatening to tear asunder the entire global economic fabric and free trade framework.” Trump’s nominee for the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has called for a “much more aggressive approach in dealing with China.”

But the events of Trump’s presidency so far, and many of the policies he’s laid out, serve to strengthen China and its place in the world. The new U.S. administration is—seemingly inadvertently—giving Beijing wide latitude to create policy in Asia and strengthening the global appeal of China’s political system.

The biggest win for China so far was Trump’s decision to cancel the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, gifting China a far freer hand to dictate trade policy in its backyard. The TPP—a proposed 12-nation trade pact representing roughly 40 percent of the world’s economic output—would have lowered tariffs, simplified international regulations, and cut red tape for cross-border trade and investment for American companies and companies from member states. Beijing understandably hated the TPP: Not only did the agreement pointedly exclude China and reportedly emphasized environmental regulations and intellectual property, but it competed with two Chinese-led trade strategies—One Belt, One Road, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The former is a grand global strategy meant to link China with the rest of Eurasia, while the latter is a 16-nation trading bloc that pointedly excludes the United States. China benefits from the RCEP in much the same way that the United States would have benefited from the TPP: lowering the price of goods for Chinese consumers and expanding the market reach for Chinese companies.</blockqutoe>