Monday, July 24, 2017

The Return To Salem



A large portion of Donald Trump's supporters, Chris Hedges writes, are Christian fascists. The data suggests that 81 percent of white evangelicals support him. And he has been delivering for them:

Trump’s moves to restrict abortion, defund Planned Parenthood, permit discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “religious liberty” and allow churches to become active in politics by gutting the Johnson Amendment, along with his nominations of judges championed by the Federalist Society and his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, have endeared him to the Christian right. He has rolled back civil rights legislation and business and environmental regulations. He has elevated several stalwarts of the Christian right into power—Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Jeff Sessions to the Justice Department, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education, Tom Price to Health and Human Services and Ben Carson to Housing and Urban Development. He embraces the white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, greed, religious intolerance, anger and racism that define the Christian right.

If it seems strange that folks who call themselves Christian support Trump, Hedges suggests that an examination of the movement and its leaders reveals  many similarities between Trump and his "Christian" supporters:

On the surface it appears to be incongruous that the Christian right would rally behind a slick New York real estate developer who is a very public serial philanderer and adulterer, has no regard for the truth, is consumed by greed, does not appear to read or know the Bible, routinely defrauds and cheats his investors and contractors, expresses a crude misogyny and an even cruder narcissism and appears to yearn for despotism. In fact, these are the very characteristics that define most of the leaders of the Christian right. Trump has preyed on desperate people through the thousands of slot machines in his casinos, his sham university and his real estate deals. Megachurch pastors prey on their followers by extracting “seed offerings,” “love gifts,” tithes and donations and by selling miracle healings along with “prayer clothes,” self-help books, audio and video recordings and even protein shakes. Pastors have established within their megachurches, as Trump did in his businesses, despotic fiefdoms. They cannot be challenged or questioned any more than an omnipotent Trump could be challenged on the reality television show “The Apprentice.” And they seek to replicate their little tyrannies on a national scale, with white men in charge.

And what do they want?  They want to takeover the U.S. Government and promote what Hedges calls "an ideology of death:"

It promises that the secular, humanist society will be physically destroyed. The Ten Commandments will form the basis of our legal system. Creationism or “Intelligent Design” will be taught in public schools. People who are considered social deviants, including homosexuals, immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims, criminals and those dismissed as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace the Christian right’s perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible—will be silenced, imprisoned or killed. The role of the federal government will be reduced to protecting property rights, “homeland” security and waging war. Church organizations will be funded and empowered by the government to run social-welfare agencies. The poor, condemned for sloth, indolence and sinfulness, will be denied government assistance. The death penalty will be expanded to include “moral crimes,” including apostasy, blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft, as well as abortion, which will be treated as murder. Women will be subordinate to men. Those who practice other faiths will become, at best, second-class citizens and eventually outcasts. The wars in the Middle East will be defined as religious crusades against Muslims. There will be no separation of church and state. The only legitimate voices will be “Christian.” America will become an agent of God. Those who defy the “Christian” authorities will be branded as agents of Satan. 

They want to return to Salem. And the longer Trump is in office, the more convinced they become that the return is just around the corner.

Image: You Tube

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reality Catches Up With All Of Us



Benjamin Hart writes that Republican propaganda against the Affordable Care Act has turned out to be what it always was -- hot air:

Once a Republican Congress and president possessed the power to actually destroy Obamacare, the party’s health-care hypocrisy was finally revealed for all to see. With its bumbling, bad-faith effort to take away health care from millions, the GOP has managed to do what Democrats never could — make the Affordable Care Act popular.

Ever since health-care legislation leapt to the front burner in 2009, Republicans have chosen to oppose the law in almost complete lockstep — not just as a policy difference, but as an affront to their sensibilities. (Several GOP governors have avoided this path, to their states’ benefit.)

As even enthusiastic supporters of Obamacare are happy to testify, the law has some significant problems, from too-high premiums to the too-limited selection of doctors and hospitals for many patients who buy insurance on the exchanges. (This is in large part because of the Republican opposition, which forced Democrats to create a system with a lot of moving parts.)

But most Republican lawmakers and officials have never engaged with such complications on the plane of reality. They pushed the fiction of “death panels,” brushed off complaints about the pre-Obamacare status quo by proclaiming that the American health-care system was the best in the world (a claim you don’t hear so much anymore), and then, once the law was in effect, moved on to other false narratives — for example, that the exchanges were perennially on the verge of imploding. They never dared admit the conservative roots of the Affordable Care Act, to the point that their 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, had to painfully contort his position on the matter after having passed an Obamacare-like law when he was the governor of Massachusetts.

But simply, Republican propaganda -- like all propaganda -- was unmoored from reality:

The relentless news coverage around health care has finally revealed Republicans’ philosophy on the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for wealthy Americans.

And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent a year ago.

One can argue that Republicans -- like their president -- have been unmoored from reality for a long time.  But, eventually, reality catches up with all of us. 

Image:Thesaurus.Plus

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No Longer A Target



The Spicer Show has been cancelled. No one is cheering and no one is mourning. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star's Washington correspondent, writes:

Spicer had become an improbable celebrity, an afternoon sensation whose televised briefings produced almost no useful information but drew more viewers than General Hospital. Trump, a television obsessive who often watched The Spicer Show himself, bragged about Spicer’s ratings as if they were evidence of his own popularity.

Viewers were tuning in for the political equivalent of the four-alarm-fire coverage on the local newscast, and other aides knew the briefings were going badly even if the president didn’t. When new communications director Anthony Scaramucci and new press secretary Sarah Sanders took the podium after Spicer’s resignation, it was the first on-camera briefing in three weeks.

The cause of the fire was Spicer's painful willingness to be Donald Trump's official liar:

Spicer’s first post-inauguration briefing set the tone for the rest. Slamming the news media for alleged unfairness, he declared that Trump’s inauguration had drawn the largest crowd of all time, “period.” It was not even close.

The performance was aimed, as many of Spicer’s future deceitful performances were, at an audience of one. Spicer often appeared to be striving to please Trump rather than serve any particular strategic goal. 

And, regardless of what Spicer said, Donald Trump regularly undermined him:

His attempts at spin were regularly undermined by Trump himself. After Spicer insisted that Trump’s policy on travellers from seven (later six) Muslim countries was “not a travel ban,” Trump tweeted: “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” 

Yesterday, Spicer told Trump to go to hell. His declaration will have no effect on Trump. But, at least, Spicer will no longer be a target on Saturday Night Live

Image: CNN

Friday, July 21, 2017

Still Neanderthals


The Conservative Party of Canada is still the same venomous bunch they were under Stephen Harper. Michael Harris writes:

The truth is the CPC still thinks that the Highway of Hate is the road back to power. They believe that the Omar Khadr case is the perfect, partisan political issue — both to punish the Liberals and to raise money from their base.

What is that hardcore after following the crushing defeat of 2015? These are the people who liked the idea of banning the hijab, loved the Barbaric Practices Act and wanted to see Omar Khadr rot in jail for the rest of his life — his child soldier status, his experience of torture, Supreme Court rulings and Charter of Rights be damned.

Of course, CPC HQ denies that cashing in on Khadr had anything to do with setting up a special website dedicated to whipping up public fury about the apology and payment to Khadr by the Trudeau government.

In fact, when the Khadr settlement was announced, it was Harper who led the charge:

It was the former PM who telephoned the American “victims” of Omar Khadr in order to apologize for the fact that the government of Canada paid Khadr $10.5 million.

Then Michelle Rempel appeared on Fox News:

The first duty of anyone appearing on Fox News is to say something really stupid. Rempel was quick to oblige. She told the Fox-struck nation and host Tucker Carlson that the Omar Khadr case was “not a partisan political issue”.

She was followed by Peter Kent, who took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal with the headline, "A Terrorist’s Big Pay Day, Courtesy of Trudeau."  Like Harper before him, he informed the Journal's readers that the Conservative Party was onside with Republican policy -- whether it be about Gitmo or the Iraq War.

One can only conclude that the Harperites are in charge. They were Neanderthals in office. And they're still Neanderthals.

Image: Breaking Science News

Thursday, July 20, 2017

From Enligthenment To Chaos



Jonathan Manthorpe writes that The Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. It was ushered in by the Peace of Westphalia:

The primary task of this bundle of treaties signed nearly 400 years ago was to end the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in the tattered remnants of Europe’s Holy Roman Empire. In addition, they drew a line under the Eighty Years War of the Dutch Republic seeking independence from Spain.

As they did so, the draughtsmen of these treaties also produced the European concept of the nation state, and created rulers who were increasingly answerable to — and, eventually, chosen by — their citizens.

In seeking to end the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, the treaties enshrined freedom of religion into law. The idea was imperfectly applied, as the world knows full well, but it played its part in the later creation of egalitarian societies and, eventually, modern liberalism.
Many historians argue that freeing Protestantism from persecution embedded the concept of individual judgement and responsibility in mainstream society, which led directly to the birth of capitalism. Capitalism is a harsh creed, but it has created vast wealth and extended it across the globe.

But our new age is one of wars between religions and religious hysteria. And globalization is putting an end to the nation state and political liberalism. No nation illustrates these changes more than the United States under Donald Trump:

At the meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, were also senior representatives from Mexico, Japan, China and Vietnam. The clear message was that governors, of whatever political stripe, no longer have confidence in the self-destructive muddle now passing as the Washington establishment being able to function as a national legislature going forward.

The governors now have to defend their own interests, and those of their citizens, by pursuing their own foreign policies. They need to maintain their own strong relationships with Canada and Mexico to try to ensure there is only minimal damage from the ignorant blather coming out of Washington about the North America Free Trade Agreement.

These state officials are closer to the concerns of their constituents than the absentee partisans in Washington — which explains why many of them are bypassing the federal government and making their own commitments to important international initiatives, like the Paris accord on climate change.

Europe is going through the same kind of ferment:

In Europe, the irony is that the continent already realized the the traditional nation state was incapable of dealing with the challenges of the modern world. Its answer was to go back to before Westphalia for a solution — to effectively recreate the Holy Roman Empire.

In theory, the European Union is a secular, non-religious version of that empire, albeit with major territorial additions. But it is evident that common Christian culture — even if it doesn’t involve the daily devotions of the pre-Westphalian Middle Ages — remains a binding European force.

The inability to effectively integrate Muslim immigrants has opened a rift — often a violent one — in several EU countries. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has for years been outspoken in his objection to Turkey joining the EU. Sarkozy has usually been careful to couch his objection in geographic terms, characterizing Turkey as being more of the Middle East and Asia Minor than of Europe. But the silent subtext behind Sarkozy’s position was that Turkey is a majority Muslim country.

The legal religious tolerance written into the Treaty of Westphalia is having a rough time worldwide, not just in Europe. Christian Copts are being slaughtered in large numbers in Egypt. Violence between Muslims and Hindus is a fact of daily life in India, as it is between various branches of Islam in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Buddhists and Muslims are at loggerheads in Burma and in southern Thailand.

The Peace of Westphalia was hard won and it took centuries to accomplish. But the whole edifice is quickly being destroyed.

Image: SlideShare

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Knows?




NAFTA will be renegotiated. But, Tim Harper writes, the negotiations will not be a disaster:

Robert Lighthizer [Donald Trump's Trade Representative] released his 18-page list of priorities for coming NAFTA negotiations, and there was none of that lightning and thunder. Reaction from Ottawa and Canadian trade experts was a polite smile and a readiness to get to the table.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already laid out Ottawa’s low-key resolve in his pre-NAFTA speech to U.S. governors in Rhode Island: “While you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose. Strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed. So we have to work harder to make our points.”

When formal NAFTA talks begin next month, Canadians, Americans and Mexicans will largely tune out until there is drama. And, make no mistake, any negotiations involving Trump will inevitably include drama.

At some point in the negotiations, Trump will become loud and bombastic -- because that's what he does. But it's Congress that holds the cards:

Although Trudeau has been at great pains to reject any claim that the Canadian “strategy” is to go around Trump, the trade agenda will be driven by the U.S. Congress, not the president.

It is also a Congress which can read poll numbers — one this week showed Trump with a 55-per-cent disapproval rating — with the U.S. midterms just over the next hill.

And, as the failure of Trumpcare proves, even though the Republicans control all three branches of government, Trump is Colonel Blimp -- full of hot air but not someone they respect.

Of course, someone else could throw a spanner into the works. Who knows? Stay tuned.

Image: CNN Money

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It Makes Them Worse



A recent study in Britain confirms that austerity has serious consequences. Owen Jones writes:

Let us take a moment to reflect on what the Tories have done to this country. They made apocalyptic warnings of what would happen if they did not eliminate the deficit by 2015; they didn’t get close, and now that target has vanished off to the distant mid-2020s. They added more debt then every Labour government. They battered disabled people with cuts and slashed support for the working poor. They presided over the longest squeeze in wages since the 19th century, and the worst peacetime record of housebuilding since the 1920s. And now we know they have presided over a fall in the rate of increase in life expectancy.

And yes, the combined effects of the bankers’ crash and austerity did kill in Britain. Until Lehman Brothers came toppling down, the number of men taking their own lives was steadily falling. Then it began to climb again: hundreds of people died who – if the previous trend had continued – would still be with us today. And at the end of 2015, Britain endured the biggest jump in mortality rates for nearly half a century. As Liverpool University’s Dr Mark Green put it: “It is plausible that the impacts of cutbacks in public services are beginning to materialise.”

The mantra was "short term pain for long term gain." But the results are in. And it's clear that austerity has not resulted in progress:

And yet new research by an ex-government adviser, Sir Michael Marmot, suggests that the rise in life expectancy – a constant trend for a hundred years – has stalled since 2010. What happened that year, exactly? Was that not when David Cameron, George Osborne and their Lib Dem stooges began slashing public services with a false economic pretext?

No, it’s not that life expectancy is declining. That really would be the sign of a social calamity in a country as advanced as this. But we are still talking about the robbing of life. People’s lives have been truncated, because they are not living as long as they should have done if the rate of increase had continued. And terrifyingly, this rate of increase is “pretty close to having ground to a halt”, says Marmot. He is “deeply concerned” and “expected it to just keep getting better.”

Marmot does not make the claim that cuts are responsible. What he does say is that, in 2010, ministers made a “political decision” to cut spending; and he highlights the “miserly” recent spending on health and social care.

What's the bottom line? Austerity is not a cure to society's ills. It's a catalyst. It makes them worse.

Image: Common Dreams