Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Small, Cautious Budget



Kevin Page writes that yesterday's budget was not a history making event:

From a fiscal vantage point, Budget 2017 was a very small event. There’s about $6 billion in new federal resources cumulatively planned for the next six years. By comparison, Budget 2016 allocated about $11.5 billion in new resources in year one, rising to $14.5 billion in year two.

The Liberals are still going to run deficits, but they're investing in nothing new and nothing big. And there's not much of a plan:

What will we get for the $140 billion addition to our stock of debt over the next 6 years?
We are doubling infrastructure spending over the next ten years. Budget 2017 lays out where this money will go. Still, there is no national needs assessment — no national or sectoral plan. If there is no plan, how can we hold the government to account?

Budget 2017 lays out a strategy to strengthen skills and innovation. It may be a good strategy but it’s not a plan. There are commitments to review existing programs and to work with the provinces to strengthen labour market agreements. This is all good — but why did we not do the spending review before Budget 2017, so that we would have resources to fund new priorities and programs?

Why the caution? The reason, we're told, is that Donald Trump -- ever the disruptor -- hasn't laid out his plan. And, until he does, we are going to tread water.

Like the rest of the world, we're waiting for Donald. But perhaps. like Godot, he'll never show up.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Pivotal Moment



Last week's meeting between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel was -- to put it mildly -- awkward. Joseph Ingram writes:

Take a close look at the body language on display at that press conference. What we saw was not the courteous warmth typical of a first encounter between two world leaders with common interests and similar world views. Rather, we saw what looked like an encounter between a wiser, more confident, more mature leader and a petulant, scornful child. And no handshake. No doubt, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his erstwhile populist allies in France, Germany and Italy were heartened.

As Trump pursues his American First agenda, he diminishes his -- and his country's authority throughout the world:

Already we see the baton of global leadership being pulled from America’s grip. President Trump’s criticism of trade alliances, and his subsequent withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to suggest that the partnership be resurrected — with China replacing the U.S. as the pact’s lynchpin. The Latin Americans are not far behind him.
There is a growing recognition out there that the Trump/Bannon world vision is one of tightly-controlled European nation states, which — along with Russia — could serve as a white Christian bulwark against Islam and the ‘invasion’ of those job-stealing non-white hordes arriving from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In the minds of those now running the White House, the West should be dominated by strong Christian nations — the U.S. and Russia, through their respective spheres of influence — with South Asia dominated by an emerging Hindu-run India, and East Asia by China, tempered in its ambitions by an emboldened Japan.

Which means that Canada has to rethink its role in the world. And, as unnerving as that world is, Canada may have a new place in it:

Because of these developments, Canada — as the United States’ racially and religiously diverse neighbour to the north — finds itself today in a critical geo-strategic position, linked as it is (economically, culturally and militarily) with the U.S., while simultaneously reflecting many of the core liberal democratic values of today’s EU. And if Europe continues to reject alt-right populism, as it has in Austria and the Netherlands (and may well do in France and Italy), President Trump and the U.S. will find themselves even more isolated.

Canada needs to walk a very fine line here. It must balance its economic and security relationship with the United States (one which, in any case, needs to be diversified) with the interests of its partners in Europe, the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. To ensure the long-term survival of our liberal democracy and economic security, Canada must establish a more symmetrical balance — one guided not just by American economic imperatives but equally by the core progressive values it holds. Values like openness and transparency in the electoral process, ensuring the tools for economic success are widely available to all citizens, defending cultural tolerance and diversity and fighting climate change.

This is a pivotal moment. We will have to decide how to handle the pivot.

Image: puresurethoughts.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

With A Capital L



Yesterday was a bad day for Donald Trump. If there was one thing that yesterday's hearing made clear, it is that Trump is a Liar --with a capital L. David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:

I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about — among many other things — Obama’s birthplace, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.

The question is, how long will he be able to get away with it? Apparently, he'll be able to avoid accountability for quite awhile. The Republicans on the committee focused on the leaks, not the lies. And Sean Spicer

went before the cameras and lied about the closeness between Trump and various aides who have documented Russian ties. Do you remember Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s campaign, who ran the crucial delegate-counting operation? Spicer said Manafort had a “very limited role” in said campaign.

Lies. With a capital L.

Image: Pinterest

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Koch Party


When David Koch was the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980, he and his running mate, Ed Clark, advocated the abolition of public schools, social security and taxation. They garnered one percent of the vote. Koch took the appropriate lesson from the experience. Third parties in the United States are non starters. If you seek political power, you have to capture one of the two major parties. And so, Linda McQuaig writes, Koch and his brother Charles set out to take over the Republican Party:

Operating mostly behind the scenes, and driven by an abiding hatred of government and anything that smacked of distributing wealth more broadly, the Kochs invested massively over the next few decades in creating a vast network of think-tanks, academic programs, front groups, political action groups and campaigns, lobbyists and politicians, as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer documents in her powerful book Dark Money.

With the election of Donald Trump, they have achieved their objective:

Trump's independence may be overstated; his vice president, Mike Pence, has been a major recipient of Koch money and was Charles Koch's first choice for president in 2012. Pence has brought Koch operatives into the White House and shows signs of becoming a Dick Cheney-style puppet master. For that matter, the Kochs are only an impeachment away from having their guy running the free world.

The role of Koch money in shaping Republican politics gets surprisingly little media attention. But it helps explain the otherwise baffling behaviour of Republican politicians scrambling to justify stripping health coverage from their constituents and using the savings to pay for $600 billion worth of tax cuts for the rich. Awkward.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in the "freedom caucus," who've been heavily funded by the Kochs, consider the proposed reform too generous to the disadvantaged.

Who says you can't buy a government?

Image: rabble.ca

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Disappearing President



Maureen Dowd's analyses of presidential character are always interesting. She uses Freudian and Shakespearean analogies and, for students of literature like herself, she makes interesting reading. She cottoned on early to Oedipal issues in George W. Bush, as the son vainly tried to live up to his father's expectations. In yesterday's New York Times she turned her attention to Donald Trump. She wrote:

Consumed by his paranoia about the deep state, Donald Trump has disappeared into the fog of his own conspiracy theories. As he rages in the storm, Lear-like, howling about poisonous fake news, he is spewing poisonous fake news.

He trusts his beliefs more than facts. So many secrets, so many plots, so many shards of gossip swirl in his head, there seems to be no room for reality.

His grandiosity, insularity and scamming have persuaded Trump to believe he can mold his own world. His distrust of the deep state, elites and eggheads — an insecurity inflamed by Steve Bannon — makes it hard for him to trust his own government, or his own government’s facts.

Trump's disdain for facts is particularly disturbing: 

According to CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Trump got furious reading a Breitbart report that regurgitated a theory by conservative radio host Mark Levin that Barack Obama and his allies had staged a “silent coup.”

It is surpassingly strange that the president would not simply pick up the phone and call his intelligence chiefs before spitting out an inflammatory accusation with no proof, just as it was bizarre that Trump shrugged off the regular intelligence briefings after he was elected. He preferred living in his own warped world.

And Trump's minions -- who were hired for their loyalty, not their brains -- make fools of themselves trying to explain Trump to the world:

Sean Spicer offered a shaky Jenga tower of media citations to back up the president, including the contention of Fox’s Judge Andrew Napolitano that Obama had used GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, to spy on Trump.

But the world isn' t buying what they're selling:

In a rare public statement, the GCHQ called the claim “utterly ridiculous.”
Fox News also demurred, with Shepard Smith saying it “knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.”

Even Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, gave up the Sisyphean effort of defending Trump’s tripe. He said that if you took Trump’s remarks “literally” — as we expect to do with our commander in chief’s words — “clearly the president was wrong.”

Only those who live in Trumpworld believe him. And, as the believers fall away, Trump diminishes himself with each passing day. He is the disappearing president. 

Image: Pinterest

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When We Lose Our Memories



Henry Giroux writes that, if we are looking for a way to explain the rise of Donald Trump, we should look to our memories -- which Giroux believes we have lost:

Trump is the fascist shadow that has been lurking in the dark since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, pursuing new avenues to spread its toxic ideology of bigotry, cruelty, and greed into every facet of society. Its legions of “alt-right” racists, misogynists, and xenophobic hate-mongers now expose themselves publicly, without apology, knowing full well that they no longer have to use code for their hatred of all those who do not fit into their white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.

Trump’s victory makes clear that the economic crisis and the misery it has spurred has not been matched by an ideological crisis– a crisis of ideas, education, and values. Critical analysis and historical memory have given way to a culture of spectacles, sensationalism, and immediacy. Dangerous memories are now buried in a mass bombardment of advertisements, state sanctioned lies, and a political theater of endless spectacles. The mainstream media is now largely an adjunct of the entertainment industries and big corporations. Within the last 40 years training has taken the place of critical education, and the call for job skills has largely replaced critical thinking. Without an informed public, there is no resistance in the name of democracy and justice; nor is there a model of individual and collective agency rising to such an occasion.

There was a time when the memory of Fascism in Europe was still fresh. But it's been seventy years since the end of the Second World War. We are three generations away from that event. And those who lived through it are dying off. Giroux writes that a memory is a terrible thing to waste, because once it is gone, what is left in its wake is ignorance. And those who assume power compound the problem by manufacturing ignorance:

Manufactured ignorance erases histories of repression, exploitation, and revolts. What is left is a space of fabricated absences that makes it easy, if not convenient, to forget that Trump is not some eccentric clown offered up to the American polity through the deadening influence of celebrity and consumer culture. State and corporate sponsored ignorance produced primarily through the disimagination machines of the mainstream media and public relations industries in diverse forms now function chiefly to erase selected elements of history, disdain critical thought, reduce dissent to a species of fake news, and undermine the social imagination. How else to explain the recent Arkansas legislator who is pushing legislation to ban the works of the late historian Howard Zinn? How else to explain a culture awash in game shows and Realty TV programs? How else to explain the aggressive attack by extremists in both political parties on public and higher education? Whitewashing history is an urgent matter, especially for the Trump administration, which has brought a number of white supremacists to the center of power in the United States. 

It is abundantly apparent that Donald Trump is a profoundly ignorant man. And those who elected him are equally ignorant of the world in which they live.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Not Exactly As They Appear



There was a collective sigh of relief when Geert Wilders did not come out on top in the Netherlands election. But Tom Walkom warns that all is not sweetness and light:

Wilder’s Freedom Party still did well. It came a strong second, winning five additional seats in the 150-person legislature, for a total of 20.

More important, other parties felt compelled to ape Wilders, at least in part.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy ran on a platform of economic liberalism and cultural nationalism, warning immigrants to adopt Dutch values or leave.

If there was any saving grace, it was the pledges of the other parties that they would not work with Wilders. But the way seats are spread among the other parties is a bit troubling: 

Rutte’s party lost eight seats but still managed to come first with 33.

The Christian Democratic Appeal, another conservative party, campaigned on a nationalist platform that included banning dual citizenship and requiring schoolchildren to sing the national anthem.

That, too, worked. The Christian Democrats saw their seat total rise from 13 to 19, virtually guaranteeing them a central role in whatever coalition government emerges.

Much has been made of Jesse Klaver’s Green Left party, which saw its seat share rise from four to 14.
The 30-year-old Klaver is of Moroccan and Indonesian heritage. He supports immigration, the EU and efforts to combat climate change. With his movie-star looks and dark, wavy hair he has been called Holland’s Justin Trudeau.

His success, as well as that of the pro-Europe D66 party, which went from 12 to 19 seats, underlines just how complicated the new populism is.

And, as is the case with any coalition government, everything depends on how well Rutte can get a team of rivals to work together. If he fails, the number two man may step in.

Things are not exactly as they might first appear.

Image: Metopolis