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The dismantling of the State since the 1980s: Brexit is the wrong diagnosis of a real crisis

Brexit is the last opportunity to radically dismantle the state-as-economic-referee as the window on the popularity of neoliberalism starts to close.

The Duran

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Authored by Abby Innes via The London School of Economics British Politics blog:


Abby Innes writes that the vote to leave the EU and the administrative chaos around it pull into focus the crisis we should have been talking about before: the failures of homegrown neoliberal policies and their dire implications. She argues that while Brexit has been heralded by supporters as a solution to a number of problems, what it will actually do is to accelerate to the point of ‘completion’ the already failed experiments to reform the state.

The Leave campaign in 2016 had a lot in common with the 1979 Conservative election manifesto. Both evoked the threat of a bureaucratic super-state and something approaching a conspiracy of that state against the public. Both promised to rescue a Greater Britain from the conspiratorial political forces that were holding it back. Both campaigns were a misdiagnosis of the real crisis at hand. This time we face a crisis of ungovernability potentially far more severe than that of the 1970s; but its roots are less in Europe than in the failures of the homegrown neoliberal reforms of the British state.

The ‘supply-side revolution’

The last three decades of state reform in Western democracies have aggravated rather than resolved the social divisions that emerged with de-industrialisation. Over the last thirty years, liberal market economies in general and the UK in particular have transformed the character of their states through privatization and outsourcing, through the development of quasi markets in welfare, and the rejection of industrial policies. At the same time, permissive tax and regulatory regimes have encouraged large corporations to opt out of their former social obligations in the name of maximising shareholder value.

The ‘supply-side revolution’ of the last thirty years was driven by the dominant New Right diagnosis of the economic crises of the 1970s and based on the radical public choice economics aligned with the Chicago and Virginia schools. According to this diagnosis it was the state that was primarily responsible for the end of the post-war ‘golden age of growth’ because of its inhibition of the market. Thus, according to the New Right and later New Labour too, it wasn’t technological change, or de-industrialisation in the face of emerging markets, it wasn’t the Nixon shock, or the end of Bretton Woods, nor rising exchange rate instability, it wasn’t stagflation or the oil crises that had confronted the country with a need to re-evaluate its production regime. It was the state. And so it was the state, above all else, that had to be transformed.

The first problem with the supply-side logic: the state as a firm

The supply-side critique of the state is profoundly flawed. It is rooted in abstract deductive logic derived from the first-principles of neoclassical economics uncalibrated against empirical reality. The public choice school based its understanding of politics on the assumptions of neoclassical economics that until the late 1950s had been applied only to decision-making in markets. Carrying over this methodology drove a devastating conclusion that is actually just an artefact of the method itself. To answer their questions around why the state had grown in the post-war era, public choice theorists simply asserted that politicians, bureaucrats and their voters are self-interested economic actors like any others in a marketplace.

By declaring that all public officials should be understood as homo economicus, the New Right could reconceive of democratic politics as a process in which politicians are effectively entrepreneurs who compete to gain control over the resources of a monopoly: the state. To increase their fiefdoms, both self-interested politicians and bureaucrats will generate policies most likely to appease self-interested voters in the market for votes. By this logic, according to the New Right, democracy is doomed to crowd itself out: the demand for state privileges by individually self-seeking voters will never be satisfied until the growth of the state has reached an unstoppable momentum towards totalitarianism. Bureaucrats, as in any monopoly firm, will tend only towards exploitative price-making and general budgetary greed. A responsible politician will strip the state of its powers to intervene in a ‘free’ market: the only ‘honest’ mechanism in a rationally selfish world.

The micro-foundations behind this thesis make it philosophically extreme. They assume a society populated by individuals who, in all contexts, deploy a clear and cold calculation of the costs and benefits of their actions, and do so with perfect information about their options. The supply-side diagnosis assumes that individuals are super-humanly rational around their immediate interests but completely witless about social or constitutional considerations and unmoved by ethics as distinct from material gain: implicitly, theirs is a voting population that can’t tell the difference between the NHS and communism. It is in this light that the European Union is viewed as no more and no better than a cartel of self-seeking monopoly enterprises. Clearly, if you conceive of the state in this way then the only rational solution is not to reform it but to break it.

The second problem with the supply-side logic: the state as a standard economic agent

But what if this metaphor is just wrong? What if it was always a normative assertion by a faction of academic theoreticians on a roll rather than an argument based on the historical evolution of actual states. What if the theory was an irresistible platform for large corporations who preferred to return to the good old days of laissez faire over a wise or sustainable political economic strategy? What if a failed firm enforces a limited reallocation of labour and capital, and a failing state collapses the effective mechanisms for democratic representation, the stability of capitalism, social integration and public order as such?

Not only does the supply-side revolution reintroduce market failures where they had always, historically, failed, it introduces state failures where they hadn’t previously existed.

As the economic theories of contract and property rights make clear, the higher the complexity of a good or product, the higher the risk of so-called ‘asymmetrical’ contracts in which the seller has more information than the buyer and hence can exploit that buyer. This is a fundamental problem when the state becomes that customer at the taxpayers’ expense. Transaction cost theory shows that trying to manage such asymmetrical contracts leads to massively increased costs. And these costs can never be rendered efficientbecause of the intrinsically unbalanced nature of the original contract, because of the complexity of the good. After thirty years the evidence suggests that introducing businesses into the UK state and competition between states produces the worst of both public and private regimes.

In the case of welfare reforms, the UK norm has become one of profit-seeking firms engaged at the tax-payers expense but in thoroughly non-competitive conditions. The resulting failure to produce either high quality services or lower costs has forced the state into doomed games of ever more Kafkaesque remedial action because of its continuing statutory responsibility for outcomes. Thus, in the name of this continuing supply-side experiment our schools, health service, prisons, transport services and social care institutions have become text-book case studies for ‘moral hazard’, in which private providers have few incentives to avoid risky or perfunctory behaviour because of the de facto insurance of continued public payment.

Private provision and its effect on government accountability

And this is before you consider the conflicts of interest that increasingly run through UK policymaking structures like a stick of rock. A relatively hidden dimension of today’s crisis of state failure is the increasingly pervasive role for private businesses throughout the entire state administration. After a sabbatical in the Cabinet Office Matthew Flinders reported that UK central government had lost the capacity to operate ‘meta-governance’ over state authority. That was in 2005. Since then that authority has increasingly been gifted into private hands. This process of dis-integrating state capacity was intensified after 2010 under the renewed supply-side zeal of the coalition and Conservative governments.

In 2015 Ruth Dixon and Christopher Hood found that reported administration costs in the UK had risen by 40% in constant prices over the previous thirty years, despite a third of the civil service being cut over the same period, whilst total public spending doubled. Running costs were driven up most in the outsourced areas. Deep failures of service, complaints, and judicial challenges had soared. This was in no respect the ‘better government for less money’ promised by governments of left and right. These reforms have also undermined the accountability of government because the more the state has become structurally dependent on private provision the harder it’s become to reverse even openly failing policies: the state capacity that used to be there has frequently been destroyed. The administrative chaos around Brexit demonstrate to the wider public the dysfunction that those who depend on the state have suffered for years.

The democratic principle of fiscal consent is that people are willing to pay their taxes because the liabilities are fair and the revenues never confiscated. But that principle is severely stretched. The wealthiest firms have escaped their side of the fiscal contract through an international race to the bottom on tax rates, standards, and enforcement. In the meantime the burden of continuing taxation has been pushed onto less mobile factors such as labour, consumption, and small and medium-sized businesses.

And all of this might have been worth it had we gained the promised renaissance of investment, innovation, higher quality employment, and growth that was supposed to occur spontaneously when the state was got out of the way. But what we have seen instead is the transformation of post-war democratic capitalism from a system of wealth-creation to one of wealth extraction.

A process of financialisation has occurred on three levels: financial markets and institutions increasingly displace other economic sectors as the source of profitable activity. Non-financial corporations are becoming financialized through a regime of maximizing shareholder value, wherein profits are increasingly extracted for higher executive pay through share buy-backs and dispersed through higher share dividends rather than reinvested. Finally, finance has penetrated into every aspect of life as people are increasingly incorporated into financial activity, and to a degree that significantly increases the systemic risk inherent in the boom and bust cycles of poorly regulated financial markets.

The existing structural divisions and the EU referendum

For a doctrine to require a super-human rationality to function as promised makes it totalitarian, whether that rationality is social, as in Marxism-Leninism, or utilitarian, as in neoliberalism: it requires a perfect consistency of human character. But it’s also in the nature of such ideologies that in the face of often terrible social consequences their dogmatism encourages the doubling down on their projects in the belief that the validity of the programme will be finally proved at the point of completion. As a result, the energy of these doctrines only becomes fully unspooled once the disorder that they create has spread to every single part of the polity. Hard Brexit is an invitation from supply-side zealots to enter the full disorder of a ‘liberated’ market.

The Global Financial Crisis was also used as a pretext by George Osborne for an acceleration of the supply-side project but that same government was heedless enough of the social consequences to offer an opportunity for a public judgement on the current direction of travel: the 2016 Referendum. The findings on subjective attitudes are telling. Those most likely to vote Leave were:

  • Those finding it difficult to manage financially (70%) or just about getting by (60%);
  • Those who believed Britain has got a lot worse in the last ten years (73%);
  • Those who think things have got worse for them rather than other people (76%);
  • Those who perceive themselves as working class (59%). Those who see themselves as English rather than British (74%) or more English than British (62%).

These are constituencies built by the supply-side revolution. They were unlikely to be persuaded by a Remain campaign that spoke only of the economic joys of the status quo. The voting split for Remain versus Leave is between the centres of the new knowledge economy – rooted in ICT and services – and those of the rural, industrial and mid-range technology economies, abandoned by a state no longer understood by government as the historical midwife of development.

These trends support the worrying thesis that there are deepening structural divisions in advanced capitalist economies between those higher educated voters who prefer the labour market dynamism of highly liberalised economies, versus those with little hope of achieving a stake in any such system.[1] The rising emphasis on English national identity follows as a reaction to the unmanageable pace of globalisation: the scale of displacement of manufacturing activities by imports into a region drove perceptions around the risks of immigration more than the scale of immigration as such. This is hardly a trajectory compatible with democracy.

It was under these conditions that the referendum was heralded by Leave as the solution to the collective pain and frustration of an already divided society. Under the UK’s constant leadership the EU had often become a champion of neoliberal policies. More often, however, it had acted as a brake on the more extreme preferences of UK supply-sider governments. It was the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties in government that made of the British state both an inefficient public regime and an increasingly extractive private regime dominated by large corporations. The historical irony is that the supply-side revolution has effectively built the state that haunted the fever dreams of the public choice theorists.

Brexit as the last chance saloon

So why are we leaving the largest trading block in the world rather than having an empiricist public debate about the systemic crisis of the domestic political economy? One reason is that this crisis creates no neat division between party lines as it did in 1979: no party but the Greens gains from discussing their role in these developments. For Labour it is the deepest ideological division between its right and left. The expressive function of parties is further discouraged when the most powerful actors across the political economy are likewise implicated, from the City to the CBI. Even if supply-side reforms hadn’t built so powerful a large business constituency for their extension, it would be awkward for mainstream elites to call for the renewal of central and local state capacity after so many years of insisting its relative incompetence.

The entire history of empiricist political economy tends to teach us that both states and markets have their virtues and their vices. The virtues are typically interactive. Cooperative solutions tend to be more efficient than markets at solving problems characterised by complexity and uncertainty: Germany’s stakeholder production regime is exceptionally functional. Given the urgency of climate change the debate we ought to be having is about how to develop a political economic strategy with ecology at its very core. Even were we not dangerously behind on climate mitigation it is unclear how the trend towards increasing social polarisation driven by a doctrinally and practically corporate-captured state could be reversed without a radical shift in the political economic paradigm.

But in the face of these realities the strategy of the hard Brexiteers is uniquely unwise: it is to accelerate to the point of ‘completion’ the already failed supply-side experiments of the last thirty years and to deny climate change, all in pursuit of arrangements that exist nowhere but in the pages of the economic utopias of the 1960s. Brexit militants have offered no precise strategy for free-market greatness because it exists in no realisable place: the days of the British Empire are mercifully finished, a democratic free market is a fantasy. For its leadership, Brexit is the last opportunity to radically dismantle the state-as-economic-referee as the window on the popularity of neoliberalism starts to close. It is the hard right equivalent of rallying for Soviet Communism in 1989. As Arthur Koestler wrote of his former ideological zeal, “Gradually I learned to distrust my mechanistic preoccupation with facts and to regard the world around me in the light of dialectic interpretation. It was a satisfactory and indeed blissful state.” Koestler was talking about communism, but it sounds familiar for a reason.

When it comes to history repeating itself, it is both tragic and farcical that it is the most militant supply-siders of all who were crowned by the 2016 Referendum. It is this faction above all that gets the diagnosis of our current condition most exactly wrong. It is their idea of a cure that would be most lethal to the British body politic.

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When we voted for Brexit we knew it would cause hardships, but the main aim is to destroy the status quo, and rebuild a new political reality as a sovereign nation, most Brit’s today don’t care or remember the Empire we just want decent lives for ourselves and our family! Richard Branson said on morning TV that if they hold a new referendum in 5 years the remainers would win as most Brexiters will be dead from old age, which just goes to show how out of touch he is, all young hard working (non University indoctrinated/eductated) voted leave, also… Read more »

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Trump witch hunt dots connected: CNN to Steele to John McCain (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss documents released which show that Christopher Steele admitted to using posts by ‘random individuals’ on the CNN community website ‘iReport’ in order to back up his fabricated Trump dossier.

President Trump took note of Steele’s use of CNN citizen journalist posts, in a twitter tirade that blasted the British ex-spy for running with unverified community generated content from a now now-defunct ‘iReports’ website as part of his research.

Trump the proceeded to rip into late neocon Arizona Senator John McCain, tweeting that it was “just proven in court papers” that “last in his class” McCain sent the Steele’s dossier to media outlets in the hopes that they would print it prior to the 2016 US election.

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Via The Daily Caller

A federal court unsealed 43 pages Thursday of a deposition that former British spy Christopher Steele gave as part of a lawsuit over his infamous anti-Trump dossier.

To the disappointment of many observers, the full deposition was not unsealed in Thursday’s motion. Instead, portions of Steele’s interview, which he gave in London on July 13, 2018, were unsealed in separate court filings submitted in the lawsuit.

Steele’s full deposition totaled 145 pages. The portions published Thursday focus mainly on questions about the dossier’s claims about Aleksej Gubarev, a tech executive who Steele alleges took part in the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems.

Gubarev has vehemently denied the claim and sued Steele and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who handled the lawsuit, ordered a slew of previously sealed documents to be made public Thursday. Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 19 but did not weigh in on whether the dossier’s claims about Gubarev were accurate.

It is unclear whether Steele’s entire deposition will be released. A source familiar with Steele’s interview tempered expectations of any bombshells in the document, saying that Steele avoided going into detail about his efforts to create the dossier and his sources.

A deposition given by former State Department official David Kramer was perhaps the most enlightening document contained in the dump.

Kramer, a longtime associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, was BuzzFeed’s source for the dossier. Kramer shared the dossier with at least 11 other reporters, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein. (RELATED: John McCain Associate Gave Dossier To A Dozen Reporters)

Kramer obtained the dossier in late November 2016 after visiting Steele in London. Steele acknowledged that Kramer and McCain were picked as conduits to pass the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey. McCain met with Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 and provided all of the dossier’s memos that had been written up to that point.

“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said in the deposition when asked why Steele and his business partners at Fusion GPS wanted McCain to meet with Comey.

Via Washington Examiner

Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the “Trump dossier,” which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation into Trump.

According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN’s iReport website and said he wasn’t aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy.

web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.”

In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.

When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” Steele said when asked what was his understanding of how the iReport website worked.

When asked if he understood that content on the site was not generated by CNN reporters, he said, “I do not.” He was then asked: “Do you understand that they have no connection to any CNN reporters?” Steele replied, “I do not.”

He was pressed on this further: “Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” Steele replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

When asked about his methodology for searching for this information, Steele described it as “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the Internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”

Steele said his dossier contained “raw intelligence” that he admitted could contain untrue or even “deliberately false information.”

Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Fusion GPS was receiving funding at the time from the Clinton campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm.

The series of memos that Steele would eventually compile became known as the “Trump Dossier.” The dossier was used in FISA applications to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

When asked whether he warned Fusion GPS that the information in the dossier might be “Russian disinformation,” Steele admitted that “a general understanding existed between us and Fusion … that all material contained this risk.”

Steele also described his interactions with Sen. John McCain’s aide, David Kramer, whose own deposition showed that he provided BuzzFeed with a copy of the dossier and had spoken with more than a dozen journalists about it.

“I provided copies of the December memo to Fusion GPS for onward passage to David Kramer at the request of Sen. John McCain,” Steele said. “Sen. McCain nominated him as the intermediary. I did not choose him as the intermediary.”

When asked if he told Kramer that he couldn’t “vouch for everything that was produced in the memos,” Steele replied, “Yes, with an emphasis on ‘everything.'”

When asked why he believed it was so important to provide the dossier to Sen. McCain, Steele said: “Because I judged it had national security implications for the United States and the West as a whole.”

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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