Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Mad King

Robert Reich is a little guy who speaks with a big voice. He wrote two days ago that Donald Trump has become a mad king:

Before, he was constrained by a few “adults” – Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly – whom he appointed because he thought they had some expertise he lacked.
Now he’s either fired or is in the process of removing the adults. He’s replacing them with a Star Wars cantina of toadies and sycophants who will reflect back at him his own glorious view of himself, and help sell it on TV.

He's more than a narcissist. He's also a megalomaniac:

The man who once said he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and still be elected president now openly boasts of lying to the Canadian Prime Minister, deciding on his own to negotiate mano a mano with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, unilaterally slapping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, and demanding the death penalty for drug dealers.
For weeks, Trump has been pulling big policy pronouncements out of his derriere and then leaving it up to the White House to improvise explanations and implementation plans.

For the moment, Congress and the world seem to be ignoring him:

The Republican tax bill bore almost no resemblance to anything Trump had pushed for. Trump’s big infrastructure plan was dead on arrival in Congress. His surprise spending deal with “Chuck and Nancy” went nowhere. His momentary embrace of gun control measures in the wake of a Florida school shooting quickly evaporated.

But Trump Unbound is far from benign:

Trump could become so enraged at anyone who seriously takes him on that he lashes out, with terrible consequences.
Furious that special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his investigation, an unbridled Trump could fire him – precipitating a constitutional crisis and in effect a civil war between Trump supporters and the rest of America.

As I recall, the American Revolution was all about getting rid of a Mad King.

Image:The Smirking Chimp

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Conspiracy, Not Collusion

Donald Trump  keeps claiming that there has been no collusion with Russia. But Robert Mueller isn't investigating collusion. He's investigating conspiracy. Christian Farias writes:

Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager and a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, became the first person in Mueller’s crosshairs to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. This curious, catchall offense also appeared in the February indictment of 13 Russian trolls, all of whom were charged with “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

And, the more Mueller interviews individuals, the more conspiracy charges appear to be on the horizon:

Which brings us to this past weekend’s revelations about the role Cambridge Analytica, the data-analytics firm closely associated with Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign, played during the presidential election. Twin reports in the New York Times and The Guardian shed light on a staggering data-mining operation that resulted in the firm improperly obtaining tens of millions of Facebook profiles, which it then exploited for political micro-targeting. Or as Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower who leaked this information put it, the technology he helped create with Cambridge Analytica was “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”
There’s nothing criminal about swaying voters, and neither the Times nor the Guardian account is conclusive as to how Cambridge Analytica may have aided Russia’s election meddling, if at all. But this bit in the paper of record suggests the special counsel is already on to something: “While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by the Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine.” Mueller, for his part, has already asked the firm for the emails of any employees who did work on behalf of the Trump campaign. And even Julian Assange has accused Cambridge Analytica’s CEO of attempting to obtain from WikiLeaks damaging emails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Based on the precedent Mueller has already set, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect his office to bring a fresh round of federal conspiracy charges against actors — whether that be Assange, executives at Cambridge Analytica, or other intermediaries — who attempted to impair the lawful functions of the government by concealing activities that they should’ve disclosed to, say, the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department. “A method that makes uses of innocent individuals or businesses to reach and defraud the United States is not, for that reason, beyond the scope” of the law of conspiracy, the Supreme Court said some 30 years ago.

I suspect that Mueller has a strong case about Trump's money laundering. But when it comes to Russia, the big word is conspiracy.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The Wrong Side Of History

Things are starting to get nasty out in British Columbia. Michael Harris writes:

In the last few days, approximately 30 Canadian citizens have been arrested for opposing Kinder Morgan’s pipeline extension in British Columbia.
Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck granted the U.S. oil company a permanent injunction to keep protesters away from the construction zone.
A day after that, the Mounties moved in and arrested an unlikely group of villains — Indigenous leaders and “water protectors.” These are middle-aged moms and housewives worried about native rights and the environment, and the odd university student.

The painful truth -- and it is painful -- is that Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley are on the wrong side of history. They are "a little like the mayor of Asbestos, Quebec before the Jeffrey mine closed — desperately trying to market a product headed for the ash heaps of history."

As someone who used to live half an hour away from Asbestos, and whose job depended on a student population which partially came from there, I can testify that what hit Asbestos was an earthquake. Asbestos is now known for its huge empty hole in the ground -- and we no longer live there.

Either way, an earthquake is coming.  But it will be bigger if Kinder Morgan goes through. The danger to BC's coastline cannot be overstated -- not if you pay attention to the science:

In fact, the science is not on anyone’s side, as internationally acclaimed Canadian scientist David Schindler wrote last week in the Vancouver Sun.
This is how complete the government’s ignorance is on the question of the impact of a major spill of diluted bitumen on the B.C. coast. According to Schindler, no one really knows if the stuff would sink or float. No one knows the actual effect on marine life. No one knows how long it would hang around in the event of a major spill. There is a reason. No one has conducted the ocean research.

Trudeau and Notley are caught between a rock and a hard place. When that happens, history shows it's wise to err on the side of caution. And, as Harris says, the prime minister and the premier are on the wrong side of history.

Image: The Council Of Canadians

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What Goes Around

Max Boot is no liberal wingnut. He was on the conservative side of the political spectrum long before Donald Trump got there. Boot writes that Trump is perfecting the Big Lie:

The Post reports that he began his presidency by making an average of 4.9 false or misleading statements a day. Lately, like a Stakhanovite, he has ramped up production to an average of six falsehoods a day.

He refers to the lie Trump told Justin Trudeau, then he moves on to other lies:

Like Trump’s claims that Gen. John J. Pershing slaughtered Muslims, or that his inauguration drew record crowds, or that he would have won the popular vote if millions of illegal immigrants had not voted, this is another example of a would-be dictator’s desire not just to sneak lies by us but to shove them down our throats. Trump is signaling that he doesn’t care what the truth is. From now on the truth will be whatever he says, and he expects every loyal follower to faithfully parrot the official party line.

There was the lie about Rex Tillerson's firing:

The White House initially claimed that Tillerson had been notified the previous Friday that he was being let go, but on Tuesday Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, contradicted that spin by telling reporters that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his firing and had just found out about it. Goldstein was immediately canned and, in a significant bit of symbolism, replaced with a former host of “Fox & Friends,” Trump’s favorite TV show. 

And, on Friday, Trump fired Andrew McCabe:

The same vindictiveness was apparent in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision Friday night to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe after 21 years of service, just more than 24 hours before he was due to receive his pension. The excuse apparently was McCabe’s supposedly unauthorized communications with the media about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, followed by alleged attempts to mislead investigators. But Trump’s gloating tweet makes it obvious this was punishment for telling the truth about the Maximum Leader’s attempts to obstruct justice and end an investigation into his links to the Kremlin.

Apparently, Mr. Trump has never learned one of life's first maxims: What goes around comes around. Rest assured it will.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Not The Man

The latest poll suggests that Doug Ford will be the next premier of Ontario. Alan Freeman hopes the poll has it wrong:

The new Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and would-be premier of our largest and most powerful province, gave an interview this week to CBC Radio in Ottawa. It was frightening, not so much because of his lack of ideas or his ideological bent but his ignorance of what’s actually going on in Ontario, his lack of any policy knowledge or basic facts.
What he did demonstrate, like Donald Trump, was an ability to repeat slogans that appeal to people who feel they’re being over-taxed, over-regulated and generally abused by elites, in this case the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne.

Like Trump, Ford is a fraud. He poses as a regular guy. He's not:

First off, it’s important to remember that Doug Ford is not everyman. He’s a wealthy businessman whose father was a Conservative politician and legislator. Yet Ford wears his apparent cluelessness like a badge of honour.

The ordinary guy is not clueless. He may be angry. He may feel that his options are limited. It's true that some of his friends are clueless. Problems arise however, when we elect clueless people. Ford says that Ontario is "a disaster." His conclusion betrays his ignorance:

Now, it’s true that hydro rates in Ontario are too high but they’re not the highest in North America. According to an annual survey by Hydro-Quebec, average rates for residential customers in Toronto in 2017 were 16.3 cents per kilowatt hour, more than double the cost in Montreal but a lot lower than the 29.67 per kilowatt paid by residents of New York City. Likewise, large-power customers paid a lot more in Ontario than Quebec but less than in Boston.
And Ontario is hardly an economic disaster. There are plenty jobs around. In fact, Ontario’s jobless rate in February was 5.5 per cent and economic growth in 2017 was an impressive 2.7 per cent.
Last year’s average unemployment rate in Ontario was the lowest since 1989 and TD Bank recently reported that one of the province’s major economic challenges is the scarcity of labour. And what does Doug Ford promise? “We’re going to start creating jobs,” he said. To be filled by whom? Does he have any clue about the true state of the province’s economy?
In fact, many of the economic problems facing the province result from that economic dynamism, growth that has been too concentrated in the Toronto region, leading to housing costs that are out of the range of middle-income families and congestion that risks strangling the economic engine of the province.
Ignorance will solve none of these problems.

And that's precisely the point. And, because Ford would bring preening ignorance to the premier's office, he's not the man for the job.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Trudeau And Trump

Lately, things have not being going well for Justin Trudeau. He's still trying to recover from his gaffe filled trip to India. But, thanks to Donald Trump, he has the opportunity to burnish his bona fides. Lawrence Martin writes:

The U.S. President has upped his reputation for running a gong show with his admission that he had no idea what he was talking about when telling the Prime Minister the United States runs a trade deficit with Canada.
He just made it up, the President admits on an audio feed from a private fundraiser on Wednesday. Didn’t know what he was talking about.
The confession, a rather unique one in the annals of relations between presidents and prime ministers, is a big boost for Ottawa negotiators in the trade debate, undercutting the credibility of the American posture. The Canadian side has been making the point about the U.S. having a surplus repeatedly over the last year. Washington has twisted statistics and data to claim otherwise.

Canadians have long suspected that Justin doesn't have his father's backbone. But Donald Trump is the perfect foil.  And Trump's economic advisor can also give Justin a boost:

In fact, Mr. Trudeau has the upper hand and it is getting stronger. Larry Kudlow, the President’s newly appointed director of the National Economic Council, says it makes no sense to go after Canada. While alleging that Mr. Trudeau is “a left-wing crazy guy,” Mr. Kudlow added that exiting NAFTA “would be a calamitously bad decision.”
Mr. Trudeau has been right it to make it clear to the President there won’t be any capitulating on trade negotiations in order to avoid tariffs. If a trade war breaks out, Canadians are likely to support their PM. Standing up to presidents when there are grounds to do so has worked in the past. It will likely work with this drama king.

Of course, Justin could step in it. But make no mistake. He knows Donald Trump can serve his interests.

Image: MTL Blog

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Newsflash: Donald Trump Is A Liar

Donald Trump is a liar. And he brags about it. The Canadian Press reports that:

U.S. President Donald Trump boasted in a fundraising speech in Missouri on Wednesday that he made up information about trade in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to a recording of the comments obtained by The Washington Post.
The newspaper said in a report posted on its website that Trump had insisted to Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbour to the north without knowing whether or not that was the case.
Trump said on the recording that after Trudeau told him the U.S. does not have a trade deficit with Canada, he replied, “Wrong, Justin, you do,” then added, “I didn’t even know … I had no idea.”

The only true statement in the speech was "I had no idea." But that doesn't matter. For Trump, the lie is more important than the truth:

Trump regularly bemoans a trade deficit with Canada and complained about it in late February by saying: “We lose a lot with Canada. People don’t know it. Canada’s very smooth. They have you believe that it’s wonderful. And it is, for them. Not wonderful for us.”

This even though a document he himself signed says exactly the opposite:

A different story is told in the recently released 2018 White House “Economic Report of the President” — an annual document prepared by Trump’s own team which bears his signature and contradicts a number of trade statements and policies already articulated by him.
One example involves the supposed trade deficit with Canada. Trump keeps insisting it exists, but the document he signed states Canada is among the few countries in the world with whom the U.S. runs a surplus.
The document states: “The United States ran a trade surplus of $2.6 billion with Canada on a balance-of-payments basis.”

As a former deputy mayor from New York City said long ago, "I wouldn't believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized."

Image: Time Magazine