Friday, January 10, 2020

Backroom operator Steven Del Duca as Ont Liberal leader will give huge boosts to both Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath...

Steven Del Duca, aka "The Automaton from Vaughan"
Steven Del Duca has been described ad nauseam by Robert Benzie at the Toronto Star as the "front runner" in the ongoing Ontario Liberal leadership race.

I actually knew Del Duca vaguely when he worked at Queen's Park for David Caplan.  I worked then for Michael Gravelle, and later the Liberal Caucus office.  Del Duca struck me then as nothing more than your typical backroomer, more in it for the game than for the people.

His campaign now has attempted to reinforce the "front runner" narrative with an ongoing "shock and awe" strategy that makes it appear that every insider Liberal in Ontario supports Del Duca.  The release of the specific number of "14,173" memberships allegedly submitted by the Del Duca campaign to the party adds a sense of inevitability to his ascendancy.  (37,831 Liberal members are eligible to vote in upcoming leadership delegate selection meetings in early February.  Those delegates will vote for the next leader at a Mississauga convention in early March.)

The Del Duca campaign is clearly trying to discourage all opposition to his bid to take over the party.  But opposition persists because the unlikeable, robotic Del Duca has got to be one of the worst front runners in leadership history.

I make that assessment not based on his inner value as a human being; I'm sure Del Duca is a great and friendly guy in person (and probably a lovely husband and father).  He's clearly skilled at working in the backrooms of the party and making thousands and thousands of friends in high places.  Clearly, this leadership race is the culmination of three decades of party machinations, currying favour with other insiders who are now lining up behind the guy they know well. 

Few Ontarians outside of Ontario Liberal circles know much about this obscure man, who was easily defeated in his riding of Vaughan in 2018, unlike Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau who held their seats in Toronto.

Further, Del Duca oozes that despicable insider Liberal vibe.  His robotic and monotone voice, his faked emotions, his oddly shaved head and uncharismatic looks, don't exactly scream "leadership material."  His record in government was spotty at best.

His decision as Transportation Minister to ignore the experts at Metrolinx and approve a proposed Kirby GO train station in his Vaughan riding was roundly criticized as the kind of self-serving decision Ontario Liberals got crucified for in 2018.  Ontario’s auditor general had little good to say about it.  Yet, Del Duca continues to defend his decision, saying data he's found since retroactively justifies it.  He never explains the data, of course, or how data can retroactively justify anything if you claim you only make decisions after consulting expert advice and data, not before.  If you don't believe Del Duca, he'll repeat this explanation about "data" using his monotone voice until you stop listening.

That may work on ineffective journalists who get tired of asking the same questions.  But it'll be fodder for Doug Ford's PCs and Andrea Horwath's NDP who will be able to paint Del Duca as the same old-style Liberal who wastes tax dollars just to benefit himself and his friends.  The fact that Del Duca looks the image of a sleazy backroom Liberal player will reinforce those attacks.

The new Ontario Liberal leader should be able to move away from the mistakes of the past and reach out to new voters.  That's why I'm supporting Mitzie Hunter in this race, who has a solid record in government and the private sector, actually won her seat in 2018, and is running a campaign now designed to reach new voters who abandoned the party in 2018.  Hunter will reach progressive voters the Ontario Liberals need to win back from the NDP in order to challenge the PCs for power.  Other candidates, like Michael Coteau, Kate Graham, and Alvin Tedjo, would also have great appeal with the kinds of voters the Liberals need to win back, I must admit.   

But not Del Duca, who's been saying Ontario Liberals need to move back to the centre (whatever that means), claiming things got too progressive under Kathleen Wynne.  With Del Duca as leader, progressive Ontario voters will be dispirited, likely stay home or vote for the NDP or the Greens, while the Grits go largely nowhere and get squeezed between the PCs and the NDP again. Say hello to another comfortable PC majority.  

This Liberal disaster is worth it simply because Del Duca knows the party and knows how to organize fundraisers?  Come on, Liberal insiders, what's wrong with you?  How can the "Automaton from Vaughan," as I've nicknamed him, be considered this race's front runner?

I can only explain Del Duca's strength so far in this race by pointing to the inherent flaws of the insider bubble.  And how personal connections and friendships can undermine decent judgment in people who should otherwise know better.  That seems to be what's happening here.

Del Duca's campaign this year and the support he's received from Liberal insiders reminds me of a 2003 film called Shattered Glass.  Starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Chloe Sevigny, it detailed the story of Stephen Glass, a writer for the New Republic in the U.S. who completely fabricated several of his stories for the renowned current affairs magazine.  How did he get away with it?  He used his charm, his personal connections and friendships to win favour and eradicate doubt among his journalistic colleagues.  His word, as detailed in his reporter notes, was accepted at face value.  Even when it became clear he was guilty of fraud, his award-winning journalist colleagues were deeply reluctant to question him.  Their emotions trumped their reason. 

As Sarsgaard's editor character Chuck Lane says in the film:  "We're all going to have to answer for what we let happen here.  We're all going to have an apology to make...We blew it!  He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact.  Just because we found him entertaining.  It's indefensible.  Don't you know that?"

The fiction that Del Duca is handing in to Ontario Liberals is that he's the best candidate to lead the party back from the abyss.  And it does appear that many of his colleagues have fallen for it because they find him entertaining, or smart, or to be just such a great guy, blah blah blah.

Like I said, Del Duca may be a decent man.  But he wasn't much of a politician.  He wasn't good at keeping his own seat at Queen's Park.  He's connected with some of the worst decisions made by the previous government and he will wear them as leader.  And he looks like a robotic, unlikeable, uncharismatic, backroom, sleazy operator you can't trust with your tax dollars.

It's time for Ontario Liberals to come to their senses.  Anyone but Del Duca would be preferable in this race.   

Why am I so blunt?  Because the future of the province is at stake!  Steven Del Duca, woefully unqualified in my opinion, is using all the political tricks in the book to try to win the leadership of the one party I think can actually beat Doug Ford's PCs!  I must speak out and try to stop this fiasco from actually happening.   

Friday, January 3, 2020

My Favourite Films of 2019 - UPDATED AGAIN

Scene from Parasite
Sometimes making a list of one's favourite films for the previous year shortly after New Year's Eve can be a fool's game.  Sometimes movies need a bit of time to fester in my mind before their true greatness is realized.  Sometimes it takes the intense love expressed by others for me to truly open my eyes and get past my own initial hangups about a movie.  That happened to me this year with the masterpiece Parasite.

When I first saw it in November 2019, I was initially a bit disappointed with it.  I hadn't enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Boon Jong Ho's previous films including Okja or Snowpiercer.  It was that disappointment accompanied by a distrust of group consensus that prevented me from appreciating Parasite that much for several more weeks.

Yes, the Oscars refocused my mind, I must admit.  They so rarely do, but this year was an exception when the most inspiring, original and fearless flick took the top prize, not only for Best International Film, but also Best Picture.  Had I missed something?  Yes, apparently.  I re-watched Parasite a week later with a friend, accompanied with some booze.  And to my joy, the second viewing was as delightful a second viewing one could hope for.  I found myself loving all the fine details of the piece, laughing as it unfolded, then switched gears and genres half-way, and approached its astonishing and thought-provoking conclusion.  I was hooked.  A third viewing the next week with another friend made me realize I had made a mistake with my Top Ten Favourites list of 2019.    

I've finally gotten around to updating this post to accurately reflect, for posterity, what I truly think about the films of 2019.  Parasite is very much my favourite film of the year.  Yes, 1917 was astonishing, but also just a very good war flick, the sort of which we've seen many times before.  I still am very glad I put Ad Astra very close to the top of my list.  I do love it more than 1917, after all.  It will remain my guilty sci-fi pleasure of 2019 as well.  

I have always amended my Top Ten list in years past.  This year was no different, although I will admit that I've never changed my list this much, this long after the year's end.  Is it cheating as a film lover to only truly appreciate a film after the Oscars anoint it the best?  Maybe.  My changing mind about Parasite has been instructive to me: I should try to keep a more open mind when watching the films I do and try better to put aside all prejudices and simply let them wash over me.  Perhaps I would've loved Parasite much sooner.

Without further ado, here are my top picks of 2019:

1. Parasite: Superb and unforgettable social commentary and satire, so relevant to our times that it stings the senses while still feeling enjoyable and entertaining, this film portrays a working class family that gradually takes over the various "help" jobs in a rich Korean family home.  The plot twists are amazing.  The artistry is so impeccable, I'm slightly ashamed I didn't appreciate this masterpiece earlier than I did.  Yes, it took the Oscars to make me realize how I had erred not putting this flick higher on my own list.  After four viewings (with more planned), this is no doubt my favourite of 2019.  

2. Ad Astra: I'm a sucker for artsy, philosophical sci-fi flicks.  With gorgeous cinematography, uber cool art direction, plus haunting, soothing, symphonic music, stellar visual effects (which here easily best those of the recent First Man), and a lovely performance by its beautiful, likeable, but complicated lead (in this case, Brad Pitt), this film takes its place among the best in the genre, in my opinion.  This is magnificent work by writer-director James Gray, whose last film, The Lost City of Z, I loved and recommend as well.

3. 1917: I'm also a sucker for great, historical war films, especially those with tremendous heart.  Throw in some handsome young leads, including George MacKay, and breathtaking cinematography, and it's cinematic ecstasy for me.  Roger Deakins' work in this film as DOP is a must-see.  The continuous, long shots are awesome to behold.  The acting is stupendous.  The direction by Sam Mendes among his best accomplishments.  I liked this one better than Dunkirk, which says a lot.

4. Us: Better than Get Out in many ways, this stunningly original, chilling story, also by writer-director Jordan Peele, about a family stalked by mysterious strangers who look exactly like them is not one I'll ever forget, including its sensational, jaw-dropping ending.  Lupita Nyong'o plays both mothers to perfection.

5. Once Upon a Hollywood: I must admit I love most of Quentin Tarantino's films.  I don't usually mind the extreme violence he indulges in as long as it's brief and serves a purpose, typically comedic.  Who could really object to seeing Hitler blown to bits in Inglourious Basterds, after all?  This is a sweet masterpiece, in typical Tarantino style, but also very heartfelt.

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire: The queer film of 2019, without a doubt.  I caught this film at TIFF and was thankful I chose it.  The story follows the slow-burning romance between an 18th century young French female painter and her muse, a young woman whose wedding portrait she is commissioned to create.  Beautifully directed by Celina Sciamma, watching this story unfurl was a delight, especially the final scene at the orchestra with Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto No 2 in G minor.  Wow.


7. Jojo Rabbit: Great historical satire about the banalities of hate.  Unforgettable.

8. Captain Marvel: Brie Larson kicks ass in this super hero origin flick that is totally original and extremely funny.  The special effects used to make Samuel L. Jackson look like a 30-something are far better than anything seen in The Irishman.

9. Harriet: Stunning and urgent historical drama about Harriet Tubman, one of America's greatest heroes of the Underground Railroad.  Cynthia Erivo is sensational in the lead role.  Definitely a masterpiece.

10. Marvel's Avengers: Endgame: A perfect finale to this saga. I've hesitated to elevate super hero films to my top ten list in the past.  But screw it: I'm a nerd who loves these flicks.

11. Spider-Man: Far From Home: The most entertaining Spider-Man flick I've seen. Plus Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal make the perfect onscreen duo, even though all the homo-eroticism was definitely in my head.

12. The Best of Enemies: An expertly acted and crafted story that proves even the worst racists among us are capable of changing and the best way to bring somebody over from the dark side is not to insult and castigate them, but reach out to them with compassion.  Even if compassion is the last thing you think they deserve.

13. Pain & Glory: A lovely and inspiring addition to Pedro Almodovar's repetoire, with a superb performance by Antonio Banderas.

Little Women
The Two Popes
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
The Report
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Lucy in the Sky
Marriage Story
The Irishman
Knives Out
Terminally In Love (a short film I saw at the Inside Out film festival in Toronto, mesmerizing, trippy, funny, unforgettable)
War Movie (another short film I saw at Inside Out)
Thrive (another short film I saw at Inside Out.)
The Blonde One
Just Mercy
My Zoe
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Apollo 11
Queen & Slim 
The Lighthouse
The Aeronauts
The Laundromat
The Farewell

On the Basis of Sex
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Will we be celebrating the end of the horrid Trump era one year from now?

Happy New Year to all! 

Politically, I couldn't help but think last night as the clock struck midnight that 2020 will be a pivotal year for the world.

Much hangs in the balance.  In 2020, a key question will be answered: Is this a world where a narcissistic criminal who plays on fears and the worst of human instincts for personal profit is rewarded and strengthened?  Or is this a world where such a criminal gets his first taste of justice and deserved defeat?

It's not just an academic question.  Our ability to survive and endure the effects of climate change rests on if Americans will play ball with the rest of the civilized world in time for 2030.  So much is wrong with the world right now and Donald Trump is making all of it worse with the biggest and most damaging vanity project ever produced.   It's got to come to an end this year.

But will it?  Will this be an unfortunate four-year blip, a stark reminder of the darkness that exists in many parts of America and the world, but luckily can be beaten back?  Or will eight years of our lives, almost an entire decade, be dominated by this pathetic, narcissistic, low-life monster?  And confirm our downward spiral as a species on this planet?  I'm not sure I can take another four years of this torture.  I know the world cannot. 

Efforts by Democrats to challenge Trump with impeachment were just and the right thing to do.  The guy is a brazen criminal who must be challenged.  Yet despite this, Trump's base remains as solid as ever.  It's despicable.

But there is much hope.  In 2018, 53% of Americans came out to support the Democrats in mid-term elections, giving that party its biggest mid-term vote percentage victory in generations.  Despite the strong economy, most polls have given Trump disastrous approval ratings since 2017, the likes of which typically precede electoral defeat.   While Trump's supporters were more motivated by far to turn out and vote in 2016 than Democrats, collective disgust and fatigue with Trump's antics could produce voter turnout this year for the Democrats that could make the difference in swing states and send the monster packing.  

But the Democrats have to play this right and not make the same stupid mistakes that got us here.  Sadly, it's quite plausible that they will screw it up.  There are too many comfy, privileged centrists, who are doing very well thank you with the current power structures in society, who clearly haven't yet learned much from 2016.  I've had many discussions with well-meaning but deluded or misguided folks who think Trump can be beaten simply by nominating someone aligned with the elite establishment but just slightly more likeable than Hilary Clinton.  Easy peasy.

Nonsense.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  I'm done with insanity.

No, Trump's victory in 2016 exposed an anti-establishment anger that was so fierce it was willing to put someone as inappropriate as him in office just to send a message to the elites of America.  They rushed to the polls to elect a guy who would throw a wrench into the machine against a weak and uninspiring Democrat like Clinton.

Nominating a safe and flawed centrist like Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg this year will likely accomplish the same thing: it will fail to inspire the Democratic base and will fail to boost voter turnout needed to boot Trump from office.  It would suck to turn our backs on better and more progressive candidates, and still lose to Trump. 

I'm in full agreement with this great piece by Adam Jentleson about the best way for Democrats to retake the White House.

Whoever the Democrats nominate, that person is going to face an onslaught of hate and lies from Trump, desperate to defend himself from defeat and the possible criminal prosecutions and jail time that could follow. 

Democrats need someone they can believe in, who will unite their party, and inspire new voters to get out and vote.  You can't do that with a milquetoast, career politician with a mixed record who embodies the insider establishment of Washington when he's not sounding lost.  You can't do that with a smooth-talking centrist who's changed positions on key issues in this race to appease the billionaire donor class behind closed doors.

Democrats need to nominate someone who is clearly on the side of the little guy or gal.  Someone the average person angry at the establishment can trust to go to bat for them.

For me, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren best fit that description.

I do worry about Bernie's electability and ability to withstand the onslaught of attacks that will come his way should he get anywhere near the Democratic nomination.  I worry that Sanders's communication skills won't be up to the task of convincing voters he can run the whole country.  Trump would take full advantage and use every corrupt trick in the book to paint Sanders as a "crazy socialist" who will increase your taxes and destroy the economy.  Would it work?  Probably.  I can see Wall Street voting for Trump to stop Bernie.  Sure, Bernie's base would be electrified by his candidacy.  But I've seen too many elections lost by well-meaning socialists who had no idea they were headed for crushing defeat.    

I do also worry about Warren's ability to withstand the attacks coming her way too, as well as sexism in America.  But I think she would overcome these, persist and thrive as a candidate.  With the help of a great running mate, I do think Warren will manage to both inspire the base to turn out in droves, but also capture all of the anti-Trump sentiment in ways that Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg and all others could never do.  She may be the best hope we've got. 

I could live with Bernie as the candidate.  I could even live (with great trepidation) with Biden as the candidate.  But I'm still with Warren.  This time next year, I hope we're all giddy with anticipation of the first days of the first elected female president of the United States.  That would be a future to look forward to.