Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Many Are There?


The United States has entered a strange new world. Americans have never been here before because they have never had a president like this before. Michael Harris writes:

In the wake of the Surrender Summit, the president was variously called: a bumbling ingenue; a psychiatric study; a preposterous liar; a useful idiot; a national disgrace; a Putin groupie; a Russian intelligence asset; and a presidential traitor.
Some of these epithets were hurled at him by members of his own party.

It was a real life play -- a  21st Century version of The Comedy of Errors:

Standing beside Vladimir Putin this week, Trump once again chose Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 election over the documented conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
Although Trump had been briefed in detail on the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers who hacked into the election, he spoke of Putin’s “strong” and “powerful” denial. He even said that he couldn’t think of any reason Russia “would” do such a thing, a deadly ad lib that clearly threw American intelligence under the bus.
Both Republican congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, rebuked their leader. Dan Coats, Trump’s national intelligence director, flatly contradicted the president in a statement not vetted by the White House: without doubt, and despite Putin’s lies, Russia had hacked the 2016 U.S. election. American intelligence, Coats said, was dead right in its assessment and would continue to burrow into Russia’s continuing attacks on the United States.
Thus was born the “double-negative” defence. Faced with wildfires raging in Congress and a curtain of smoke rising from his hitherto non-flammable base, Trump’s team made him read what they hilariously billed as a “clarification.”
Here’s how it worked. Where Trump had in reality said the word “would” in his Helsinki comments, the president now said he had actually meant to say he couldn’t think of any reason why Russia “wouldn’t” have done the hacking.
It was the full whiplash for Trumpland.

And the Republicans bought it. Conservative foreign affairs analyst Max Boot wrote in The Washington Post that the Republicans had gone from "criticising useful idiots to being useful idiots."

Which raises the question: "How many useful idiots are there in the United States?"

Image: National Review

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven . . .


Hugh MacKenzie writes that we should have had an adult conversation about taxes and public services long ago. But that conversation has never happened, despite the obvious connection between the two:

Tax cuts reduce fiscal capacity, driving reductions in public services and that if you want better public services, you need to increase the government’s fiscal capacity to generate revenue.
The alternative, from a 4-year-old’s perspective: if you go to the corner store with less money, you are going to come home with less candy.

In Ontario, the Wynne government began such a conversation -- then quickly gave up:

The closest we came in Ontario was the debate fostered by former premier Kathleen Wynne over how to pay for the massive investments in public transit infrastructure required in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
That got as far as a backgrounder prepared by Toronto’s city manager in 2012, followed by a formal options paper released by the transit agency Metrolinx in May 2013, which analyzed the revenue potential and impacts of a short list of options to raise money for transit funding.
It did not go well right out of the gate. Everybody wanted better transit. But everybody wanted someone else to pay for it.
And then the provincial government threw in the towel. The provincial government called a byelection in Scarborough and, all of a sudden, transit planning went out the window: the promise was promising Scarborough a three-stop subway instead of light rail at double the cost. And all of it for free.

Our other politicians have refused to go there:

Massive tax cuts were introduced by Paul Martin’s Liberals in the early-2000s coupled with a retreat by the federal government from public services in areas of jurisdiction shared with the provinces.
A cut in the GST rate by the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives led directly to the current federal deficit.

And we're living with the consequences:

The aggregate impact has been stunning. In 1992, the five-year average of total government expenditures as a share of GDP was 48.6 per cent. In 2016, the five-year average was 40.1 per cent — in the context of today’s $2 trillion economy, that’s worth $170 billion in lost spending on public services.
We see clear crisis indicators of decline everywhere we look:
Crumbling public infrastructure.
An elementary and secondary education system whose funding cannot meet the needs of today’s students.
Post-secondary tuition that is now more than triple what it was 25 years ago.
The lack affordable housing and the rise in homelessness.
A public health insurance system that excludes the fastest growing component of health care costs (pharmaceutical drugs) and that is straining to meet the needs of an aging population.

It's the age old conundrum: Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die. We have to pay for what we want.

Image: Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives

Friday, July 20, 2018

What Brilliance!


Capitalism is alive and well, Gerry Caplan writes, thanks to kids:

I've been stressed worrying that all those little kids stolen by Donald Trump's goons from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border were throwing a wrench into American capitalism. Don't be silly. Capitalism abides, Dude.
Government payments for shelters and other child welfare services for those children cost $958 million last year, and counting. "The recipients of the money run the gamut from nonprofits, religious organizations and for-profit entities," says the article. But even a non-profit like Southwest Key Programs owns another company that is itself a for-profit holding company "made up of several businesses," according to its annual report. These separated infants and toddlers may be traumatized for life, but they're great for business.
It's somehow reassuring in a tumultuous world to learn that capitalism is still alive and well. With so many despicable villains abounding everywhere, some wondered where simple, cruel, exploitative capitalism might have slithered to. In fact, thanks to kids everywhere, it's thriving.

Want another example.? Look at Big Tobacco:

True, the tobacco companies need help figuring out how to sell more cigarettes. In the western world, smoking has finally become the thing not to do, after generations of gullible kids were persuaded they were cool by lighting up. I was once one of them, and my ancient throat and lungs still pay the price every day.
Luckily, the underdeveloped world has once again come to the rescue of western capitalists, this time the tobacco titans. There they are, blasting young people  with massive advertising campaigns to make smoking hip, like the ones that worked their deadly wiles on the west for so long. These canny entrepreneurs are making sure that millions of poor people around the world will dramatically increase their chance of getting extremely sick and dying early in excruciating pain.
According to sources such as the U.S. Department of Labour and Human Rights Watch, somewhere around 20 countries have children as young as 13 working in their tobacco fields. Naturally, those who made their living denying that tobacco is addictive and deadly have no trouble denying the proved existence of child labour.

And then there is the case of Nestle, which is trying to stamp out breastfeeding:

Nestle is the world's largest food and beverage company in an industry worth a cool $70 billion, and as its very own website reassures us, it's "Committed to enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future."

The facts tell a different story: "smoking causes 6 million deaths a year, while 800,000 children's deaths could be prevented annually with breastfeeding."

Each time capitalism comes under attack, it seeks out and finds a new population of vulnerables.

What brilliance!

Image: Nascent Solutions

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What's Around The Corner


Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet yesterday. He's getting ready for the next election and for more immediate battles. And the most pressing battle will be with Doug Ford. Susan Delacourt writes:

The more you look at this so-called pre-election shuffle, the more you see Doug Ford’s victory rippling through the some of the biggest changes to the federal Liberal ministry. If shuffles had ad slogans, this one would be: Built Ford Tough.

It's of considerable interest that Trudeau has raised former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's profile:

There’s Bill Blair, an old enemy of the Ford brothers, in a job that will inevitably put him soon on a collision course with the new premier. Or as the Conservatives’ deputy leader Lisa Raitt predicted at her post-shuffle news conference, a relationship bound to be “fraught” with difficulties.

But Donald Trump is also not far from Trudeau's musings. Jim Carr is now the Minister of Trade Diversification. And, by establishing a new ministry for seniors, Trudeau will be making a pitch for those of us over 65 who can be reliably counted on to vote Blue. Still,

Blair’s promotion may actually be one of the most interesting features of a shuffle that was altogether fascinating for what it says about the Trudeau government a little more than a year away from seeking re-election. Eighteen months ago, the deck was shuffled to deal with Trump. That’s still a big concern — witness Jim Carr’s transfer to minister of international trade diversification, which you could call Plan B for potentially faltering NAFTA talks. But Ford has clearly joined Trump on the list of shuffle-worthy worries for the Trudeau team. How do you deal with the Fords? Call the cops.

The battle will move to the courts first. By breaking a contract to build a wind farm in Prince Edward County, by breaking another contract with Brewers Retail and by challenging the Trudeau government's carbon tax, lawyers for the Ontario government will be kept very busy.

But, in the next election, Ontario will be Ground Zero. The cabinet shuffle is a signal that Trudeau knows what's around the corner.

Image: Huffington Post Canada

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Is At Stake


Mark Kingwell writes in The Globe And Mail that now is the time to impeach Donald Trump:

Historian Simon Schama, articulating the thoughts of many, called it “Trump’s Neville Chamberlain moment,” referring to the hapless British prime minister who claimed “peace in our time” by appeasing Adolf Hitler. Mr. Schama went on: “America sold out by its President. A violation of his oath of office. If this isn’t impeachable what is?”

The answer, writes Kingwell is obvious. And the way is clear:

Grounds for impeachment, as set out in the U.S. Constitution, include “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours,” as Mr. Brennan indicated. More specifically, Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 says that treason “shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
Adhering to or giving aid and comfort to an enemy – check. More than two witnesses – check, by a very large factor.
Immediate responses to calls for a Trump impeachment are usually twofold: 1) There is no way Congress will even consider impeachment proceedings against a reckless leader who has nevertheless benefited them materially; 2) Impeachment of Mr. Trump will prove so divisive that it is impractical, especially given the spin the President and his supporters would likely adopt, namely that it is a take-out orchestrated by elite interests.

But those objections no longer carry any weight. The issue is whether the Congress has the constitutional fortitude to to the job.

If indeed Congress lacks the moral fortitude to pursue impeachment, they deserve to be judged as harshly as he. And if the country as a whole cannot weather the fallout from some disgruntled Trump hardliners, it scarcely merits status as a liberal democracy. Robust nations are not held hostage by their own extremists.

What's at stake is American democracy.

Image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

American Stupidity



America is a very stupid country. That statement must be true, Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post, because Donald Trump keeps repeating it:

He offered this opinion on at least nine occasions since he launched his campaign for the presidency — and he should know.
It is furthermore the president’s highly intelligent opinion we have been led by “stupid people” and “our laws are so corrupt and stupid.” We have been stupid about trade. We have been stupid in dealing with Iraq, Iran, China, Mexico, Canada, Europe and Muslims. We have the “dumbest” immigration laws. Among the many stupid things Trump has identified: White House staffers, the FBI, the National Football League, Democrats, the filibuster and journalists.

But Exhibit A for Trump is his country's relationship with Russia:

We are at our most imbecilic when dealing with Russia. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity,” he tweeted before meeting Monday in Helsinki with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs retweeted Trump’s assessment of his own country’s stupidity, tacking on the words “We agree.”

And, at home, Trump is besieged by morons:

The CIA’s ignorance is as nothing compared with the ignoramus Robert S. Mueller III and his special counsel investigation (“we have this stupidity going on — pure stupidity,” Trump said in Britain), which on Friday indicted 12 Russians in the hack of the Democratic National Committee. The dunces of the DNC “should be ashamed of themselves” for being hacked, Trump said.

By way of contrast, Trump claims that he is "a very stable genius." However, with each passing day, he validates Mark Twain's observation that, "it's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt."

Image: Imgflip

Monday, July 16, 2018

Less Than Honourable Men


Four British Foreign Secretaries have resigned since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Three of them, William Keegan writes, were honourable men:

[Lord] Carrington resigned over the way the Foreign Office had mishandled the prelude to the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina in 1982 by sending misleading signals about our attitude towards retention of those remote islands in the south Atlantic.
Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in 1989 on the not unreasonable grounds that Thatcher’s attitude to – guess what – Europe had rendered his job impossible. Entering into negotiations was, he declared in a scintillating resignation speech, “like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”.
Robin Howe  resigned over British participation in the invasion of Iraq. He had the odd misadventure while foreign secretary, and in fact had moved on to become leader of the house when he resigned. His was an honourable resignation on an extremely important issue.
He died young, but his resignation speech still reads like one of the great political speeches of the postwar years, and he goes down in history with his reputation intact. By contrast, Tony Blair’s reputation looks as though it will never recover from his having misled the nation with the “dodgy dossier”. This is a tragedy on several levels, the most recent manifestation being that few people take his pronouncements on Brexit seriously, although he talks perfect sense when saying that the best Brexit deal is to remain where we are, and forget the whole idea.

Not so with Boris Johnson. He wreaks of ambition, not principle:

Johnson put his crazed ambition to be leader of the Conservative party and prime minister above the national interest. Taking advantage of his charismatic appeal to the nation – which has always amazed me: he is basically what we used to call a twerp – he opted, against what we are told was his better judgment (always assuming he has any), to be the most prominent leader of the Leave campaign, during which, characteristically, he lied continually.

We are cursed these days with more than our share of men like Johnson. Something to think about as Trump meets Putin.