Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's Here

Because Donald Trump is who he is -- a man who operates on what Globe and Mail  columnist Lawrence Martin calls "a low information base" -- the United States is now facing a constitutional crisis. Eugene Robinson writes:

On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in.
The pretext Trump seized on is the revelation that FBI source Stefan A. Halper made contact with three Trump campaign associates before the election as part of the FBI’s initial investigation into Russian meddling.
With the full-throated backing of right-wing media, Trump has described this person as a “spy” who was “implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president.” This claim is completely unsupported by the facts as we know them. Trump wants you to believe a lie.

As Robert Mueller closes in, Trump gets increasingly paranoid. The shadow of Richard Nixon looms large:

Now that the Mueller probe has bored into Trump’s inner circle — and federal authorities have raided the homes and office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen — the president appears to be in a panic. The question is whether he sees this “spy” nonsense as a way to discredit Mueller’s eventual findings, or as a pretext for trying to end the investigation with a bloody purge akin to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.”

The Justice Department has declared that the Inspector General will look into the matter. But Trump won't stop until he shuts down the Mueller inquiry -- or until the Congress shuts down Trump. In Nixon's day, there were Republicans who had backbones. These days, the Party is populated by invertebrates.

Trump's manufactured crisis is here -- and he may get away with it.

Image: Nicholas Kamm/Agence France Press/Getty Images

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Fact Full Election?

Last week, Bob Rae told a crowd of distinguished dignitaries, "Facts matter. Our politics needs to understand and respect this." Robin Sears wonders if Ontarians do understand this:

Like travelling medicine shows and revival preachers of old, their caravan booms noise and angry rhetoric but leaves little behind as it heads for the next town. A fact-free campaign of glaring contradiction can work for an established front runner with deep party roots and a following wind. That is not Doug Ford, nor this campaign. So far, he has promised nearly $30 billion in slashed taxes and expenditures – and, unacknowledged, thousands of job cuts as a result. Not even remotely clear is how this snake oil will work. Facts, apparently, do not matter.

It is, indeed, a strange election:

To some political veterans, 2018 feels like 1985 trending to 1990. For the ’85 campaign, the Tories made an unwise leadership selection to defend their 42-year governing record, opening the door to David Peterson and Rae. Then Peterson, spooked for no good reason other than his fear of a tanking economy, called an early election in 1990. Voters were not amused. As much as his own victory, Rae’s triumph was a rejection of the Tories and irritation with Peterson’s presumption.
Today, it appears the Tories would have won safely under either of the two women candidates they rejected in favour of vacuous populism. Having chosen the angry option, they have given credence to the Horwath taunt, “You don’t need to choose between bad and worse, there’s an alternative.” The NDP slate is the most gender-balanced but also the least experienced. Success outside the party’s areas of traditional strength will be almost entirely on Horwath’s coattails.
But leadership coat tails delivered all of the big election victories from Peterson through Rae, Harris and Wynne. The May 27 debate will be pivotal as grumpy voters, deciding what kind of change they really want, will get their last chance to see the leaders do battle. On the strength of the first two debates — one amateurish show in the first week and then the Northern debate — the Ford debate team should be working overtime.

And everything will hinge on turnout.

Image: City News Toronto

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Time For A Basic Income

It's time to implement Guaranteed Basic Income Programs. However, Gwynne Dyer writes, there  is surprising resistance to the idea. Conservatives argue that giving people free money is fraught with moral hazard. But the projections suggest that, in the future, large numbers of people will be unemployed:

The famous 2013 study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne identified 47 per cent of U.S. jobs as liable to be automated in the next 20 years; a 2016 working paper from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that 33 per cent of Canadian jobs are highly susceptible to automation; Nicholas Eberstadt’s 2016 book Men Without Work showed that 17.5 per cent of American men of prime working age are already not working.

Unemployed workers helped put Donald Trump in the White House:

Mr. Trump blamed it on free trade and the resultant “off-shoring” of many good American manufacturing jobs to Mexico, China and other low-wage countries: Nationalism always pays good political dividends. But the real job-killer was automation, and the Rust Belt suffered first and worst because it specialized in assembly-line jobs that could easily be automated even with the dumb computers and simple robotic arms of 20 years ago.
One-third of all surviving American manufacturing jobs were eliminated in the first decade of the 21st century, and less than 15 per cent of them went overseas. Automation killed the rest. If Mr. Trump understood that fact, he never mentioned it, but he did know how neglected the victims felt and how angry they were.
He also knew that the official unemployment figures lied, because they only counted people who were actively looking for jobs, not the much larger number who have just given up. “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9-per-cent and 5-per-cent unemployment,” Mr. Trump said in his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary in February, 2016. “The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 per cent.”
He was exaggerating as usual, but the real number is 17.5 per cent, which is two-thirds of the way to the peak U.S. unemployment rate in the Great Depression of the 1930s. If the current level of unemployment elected Donald Trump, what would twice that level produce?

If mass unemployment elected Trump, what will happen to liberal democracies when mass unemployment becomes standard operating procedure?

That's why it's time for a Guaranteed Basic Income.

Image: Vanier College

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Horvath May Be The Next Premier

Andrea Horvath is on a roll. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

This time, unlike last time, the New Democrats are putting forward voter-friendly policies such as partial pharmacare and cheaper child care. While their platform has echoes of the Liberal program — with the notable exception of an NDP promise of dental benefits for all — the pitch is backed by a far more popular salesperson.
Like the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton, Horwath is casting herself as a happy warrior pitching hope, not fear or anger. But the prerequisite for the NDP’s high hopes is that the Liberals be seen as having no hope, that instead of a three-way race it’s strictly a two-way contest pitting New Democrats against Tories — with the Liberals disqualified from the start.

The Ford campaign stands accused of buying the stolen identities harvested from a hack of the company which manages Highway 407, the private toll road the last Conservative government sold off to reduce the province's deficit. Apparently, the party was planning to pay international students to vote under the stolen identities.

Kathleen Wynne is running in third place. Nevertheless, Horwath has her problems:

After nine years as leader, she is comfortable with reporters and practiced at the role of opposition leader, but can be less forthcoming under questioning — whether it’s her vague child-care plan, an impossible promise to magically buy back Hydro One, or how she’d balance labour disputes against the public interest.
Horwath remains mindful of keeping her union base happy. On the eve of the campaign, the NDP blocked a Liberal government attempt to legislate an end to a two-month strike at York University, as recommended by an outside labour investigator who concluded it was hopelessly deadlocked and required arbitration.
Asked at a campaign event whether an NDP government would ever legislate the striking York teaching staff back to work, Horwath changes the subject to government funding. Asked again about how to resolve the labour dispute that affected 50,000 students, she still won’t say. Asked a third time, Horwath insists she has answered the question, though of course she hasn’t.

How it will all shake out is unclear. The campaign began with Doug Ford looking unbeatable. Now it's beginning to look like the premier might be a woman -- who leads either a majority or a minority government.

Stay tuned.


Friday, May 18, 2018

From the Top On Down

Donald Trump's decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was utterly cynical. Michael Harris writes:

When Trump departed from longstanding American policy by moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he knew the consequences for Middle East peace — especially in the absence of an active peace process.
Trump knew that both Israel and Palestine saw Jerusalem as their national capital.
He knew the status of the city was supposed to be settled in final negotiations between the two parties.
He knew that having Christian evangelicals open and close the embassy ceremony would be provocative with Palestinians.

And one evangelical pastor, Robert Jeffress, was there to throw hand grenades:

Jeffress, a Baptist pastor from Texas, was on record saying that “the dark, dirty secret of Islam” is that “it is a religion that promotes pedophilia” and is “a heresy from the pit of hell.”
And this man is a spiritual advisor to the president.

The Israeli reaction to the Palestinian protests involved more than throwing one hand grenade:

60 human beings [were] gunned down in cold blood . .  a doctor [was] shot while tending to wounded civilians, and  2,800 people [were] hit by live fire or tear gassed by drones for protesting an illegal occupation.

And Trump's special envoy to the Middle East -- his clueless son-in-law -- said that moving the embassy was a step toward peace. It was no such thing. There is an election coming up in November, and Trump was playing to his base back home.

Like everything else  Donald Trump does, moving the American embassy was utterly cynical. It was a bloody reminder of the total rot that permeates the Trump administration -- from the top on down.

Image: Palestine Chronicle

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Donald Trump has once again called undocumented immigrants "animals." Juan Cole writes that Trump's use of the word has uncomfortable echoes of Adoph Hitler's use of the term  untermensch or "underman:"

“Animal” functions similarly in this regard to the Nazi technical term “Untermensch” or underman, subhuman.
Richard A Etlin in Art, Culture, and Media under the Third Reich translates passages from the infamous SS pamphlet of 1941, entitled Der Untermensch:
“It is a frightening creature, a mere shadow of a man, with humanoid racial features, yet spiritually and psychologically more base than any animal. Within this being rages a vile chaos of wild, uncontrolled passions, a nameless desire for destruction, the most primitive desires, and naked vulgarity.”
The pamphlet goes on to be more specific about the identity of this horrible category of apparent human beings, who are actually animals or worse. It specifies eastern Slavs (Russians and Poles) and Jews, among others. Not even some members of those groups, but all of them. The pamphlet functioned as a call for and a justification for the genocide against the Jews, Gypsies, gays and other groups as well as the slaughter of Russian boys at the eastern Front.
That is, denigrating people as less than human is a step toward permitting their elimination.

It is, perhaps, too easy to use the Hitler analogy these days. But make no mistake. Like Hitler, Trump believes there are certain groups of people who are subhuman. Once there is growing public acceptance of  that notion, it is only a small step to making their elimination government policy.

Image: Exceptional Delaware wordpress.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hell Hath No Fury

Lately, Stephen Harper has been showing his true colours -- he's a nasty conservative who is equal parts bully and bile. Andrew Cohen writes:

In February, he was elected chairman of the International Democratic Union (IDU), an organization of ”centre-right” parties. In April, he saluted the re-election of Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, the most authoritarian of them. This month, he applauded U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran anti-nuclear agreement, isolating the United States and alienating its allies.

While in office, he restrained himself.  Now he no longer has to compromise with anyone. But why is he so disagreeable? Cohen suggests that he has seen most of what he tried to do undone:

Mr. Harper has little to show for the past decade in power. His failure to act boldly then – to follow his instincts as a conservative – bothers him. To compensate for his incredible shrinking legacy, he embraces, with the impunity of a former politician, an uncompromising moral clarity.
As prime minister, Mr. Harper avoided the conservative social agenda on abortion, gay marriage and capital punishment. He rejected country-building – no pipelines or big projects, no abolition of the Senate, no electoral reform or strengthening of Canada’s economic union. The monarchy, which he lionized, is no more popular in Canada today than it was.
Many of his policies are gone. Balanced budgets – his Holy Grail – have been buried under deficit financing. Taxes have risen and the age of retirement lowered from 67 to 65.
The Conservatives muzzled scientists and cancelled the long-form census; the Liberals reversed both. Ministers and diplomats can talk again. Ottawa’s Memorial to the Victims of Communism, having been moved and made smaller, is less memorable.
The Court Challenges Program cancelled by Mr. Harper has been reinstated. His anti-terrorism bill will be amended. The Supreme Court has struck down his laws on minimum sentencing for drug offenders.

Hell hath no fury like a former prime minister whose legacy has shrunk to almost nothing.

Image: National Post