Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Three Empires




Donald Trump has a fevered brain. But, James Laxer writes, there is a method to his madness. Under the tutelage of Steve Bannon, he seeks to establish a new world order -- something quite different than the system which was established after World War II:

Since 1945, America’s political leadership has developed an international, liberal global order with the United States at its centre. The system privileged the American dollar and American corporations, bolstering the “free world” with the might of the U.S. military. The goal was to keep America at the core and to push the Soviet Union to the periphery.

In the post Soviet era, the American response to Russia has continued to be to keep its own alliance system intact and to sustain the liberal international order.

Bannon has always seen Trump as an empty vessel -- the perfect instrument to remake the world in his image: That image seems disjointed. But Laxer argues that the pieces fit together:

An entente with Russia would permit the world’s two leading nuclear powers to seek naked dominance in their respective spheres. Russia would be allowed a freer hand in its “near abroad” with dire potential consequences for Ukraine and other eastern European countries bordering on Russia.

In its own much larger sphere, the United States would be free to pursue its economic, political and military goals without much regard for the interests of so-called allied powers. The guise of defending the “free world” against Russia would be set aside along with the rules based trading system of the WTO and regional trading blocs. Trump has already ditched the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Trump and Bannon prefer a more openly brutal system of bilateral relations between the U.S. and other countries. Canadians take note. Within NAFTA, Mexico is the chief target now. Canada could be later. Bilateralism would allow the U.S. to exert maximum pressure on trading partners, one by one.

Add China to the mix and you get three empires. What Bannon wants to establish is a newer version of what existed before World War I:

Such a global arrangement would not be the first time in history that major powers have made common cause in pursuit of their own interests. In the late 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck fostered, for a time, an entente among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

Like most modern conservatives, Trump and Bannon want to turn back the clock -- while the present goes to hell. 

Image: Amazon UK

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stiglitz Sees Signs Of Hope



These are dark days -- because Donald Trump appears committed to what he said he will do. Joe Stiglitz writes:

 It is now clear that what Trump says and tweets must be taken seriously. After the election in November, many hoped he would abandon the extremism that defined his campaign. Surely, it was thought, this master of unreality would adopt a different persona as he assumed the responsibility of what is arguably the most powerful position in the world.

Indeed he plans to instititute "a ban on Muslim immigration, [build] a wall on the border with Mexico, [renegotiate] the North American Free Trade Agreement, repeal of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and much else that even his supporters dismissed."

Changes need to be made -- but not the kind of changes Trump envisions:

I have at times criticised particular aspects and policies of the economic and security order created in the aftermath of the second world war, based on the UNs, Nato, the EU, and a web of other institutions and relationships. But there is a big difference between attempts to reform these institutions and relationships to enable them to serve the world better, and an agenda that seeks to destroy them outright.

But, in the midst of the gloom Stiglitz sees signs of hope:

If there is a silver lining in the Trump cloud, it is a new sense of solidarity over core values such as tolerance and equality, sustained by awareness of the bigotry and misogyny, whether hidden or open, that Trump and his team embody. And this unity has gone global, with Trump and his allies facing rejection and protests throughout the democratic world.

The American Civil Liberties Union, having anticipated that Trump would quickly trample on individual rights, has shown that it is as prepared as ever to defend key constitutional principles such as due process, equal protection, and official neutrality with respect to religion. And in the past month Americans have supported the ACLU with millions of dollars in donations.

Similarly, across the country, companies’ employees and customers have expressed their concern over CEOs and board members who support Trump. Indeed US corporate leaders and investors have collectively become Trump’s enablers. At this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, many salivated over his promises of tax cuts and deregulation, while eagerly ignoring his bigotry – not mentioning it in a single meeting that I attended – and protectionism.

Franklin Roosevelt was accused of being a traitor to his class. It's clear that Trump plans no such mutiny. That is why, Stiglitz writes, people all over the world must "be vigilant and resist at every turn."

Image: Speedy Buttons

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fragile Egos And Political Power

 
I have been dumbfounded by Donald Trump's supporters. If the polls are correct, about 35% of Americans believe Trump can get and do nothing wrong. That conclusion is obviously contrary to the facts. Joan Smith, writing in The Guardian, has an explanation:

The 45th president of the US invited on stage a man who later revealed he has a 6ft cardboard model of his hero and talks to it every day.

Let’s just pause and think about that. This is a leader whose ego is so fragile, he wants to appear on stage with someone most of us would change seats to avoid if he sat next to us on a train. I should point out that Trump chose this particular supporter to appear beside him after he saw him being interviewed on TV before the rally. Ignoring the advice of his security officials: “He said, ‘I love Trump’ … Let him up. I’m not worried about him. I’m only worried he’s going to give me a kiss.”

It is an alarming insight into how Trump (though, not just Trump) operates. Few politicians, no matter how thin-skinned, have displayed such neediness nor demanded such displays of unconditional love from their supporters. Neediness is not usually considered attractive in men who like to be thought of as tough, but Trump is rewriting the rulebook on masculinity.

The trick all along has been to disguise neediness as empathy. When Trump talks about love to the crowds who turn out to see him, they think it’s what he’s offering. In reality, it’s what he demands from them, needing it to fuel the endorphin rush that keeps him going. You can see this process in action as he gets hyped up on stage, prompting a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of personal attacks, weird fabrications and outright lies.

Trump's supporters mistake his neediness for empathy. And they are just as needy as he is:

The symbiosis between leader and supporters is so close that it’s hard to interrupt, existing outside the more or less rational sphere conventional politicians are used to occupying. For the exceptionally loyal base that turns up at rallies, it doesn’t matter if the polls are terrible, because they aren’t part of the inner circle. Here’s the crucial point: when the identification is so close, giving up on the leader would be like giving up on yourself.

To reject Trump would be to reject themselves. Fragile egos and political power form a toxic mixture.

Image: The Guardian

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Fallacy Of Playing For All The Marbles



Donald Trump's sales pitch was that, as a businessman, he knew how to get things done. His first thirty days in the White House suggest that he doesn't know how to get anything done. But Joe Stiglitz suggests that, when it comes to economic relations between nations, Trump threatens to get a lot of things undone.

While there is some debate about the extent to which Trump is a “successful businessman,” there is no successful country that is grounded on the principles—or the lack of principles—upon which he has grown his businesses. Economists believe that a successful economy is based on trust, backed up by the rule of law. His standard business practice has been to stiff his suppliers, knowing that recourse to courts is expensive. Of course, over the long term, honest suppliers know this, and refuse to deal. Less scrupulous vendors overcharge and cheat, taking advantage too of the imperfections in our judicial system. But there is no successful economy based on the Trump model.

 Trump's inability to tell the truth is particularly problematic:

Trump cannot even be trusted to base statements on reality. He seeks to build himself up by belittling his predecessor. Trump is wrong in his characterization of where the U.S. economy is today. The country as a whole has never had a higher G.D.P. The crime rate and the unemployment rate are markedly lower than they were eight years ago. Yes, America faces a variety of problems—it always has, and what nation doesn’t? Ordinary citizens have not been well served by globalization. The problem, though, is not with globalization itself but with how we have managed it.

So far, globalization has been very unfair. But playing for all the marbles will not improve it. And playing for all the marbles is the only thing that Trump knows how to do.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Nasty Party



The Conservatives' reaction to Resolution M - 103 reveals a lot about the Post Harper Party. Alan Freeman writes:

Some Conservative MPs have suggested that adoption of this non-binding motion will somehow constrain free speech by condemning hatred of Islam. Leadership candidates Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary have, as usual, been trolling well beneath contempt. “No religion should be singled out for special consideration,” said Leitch. “A slap in the face to other religions,” said O’Leary, ignoring the motion’s condemnation of systemic racism and religious discrimination.

Chris Alexander, the boy-wonder diplomat turned crass populist, told a rally organized by the hard-right online outlet The Rebel in Toronto this week that he had trouble supporting a motion that “doesn’t mention the number one threat in the world, which is Islamic jihadist terrorism.” So hatred of Islam presumably isn’t a problem that Canada needs to worry about, according to the former ambassador.

The truth is that there’s pressure on Conservative leadership candidates to keep the back door open to the Islamaphobe vote. How else can you explain Leitch’s posting of a photo of a (blue-eyed) young woman wearing spaghetti straps, her lips sealed with a tape marked M-103, the number of Khalid’s motion? In the background is a faint image of police officers on Parliament Hill — a not-so-subtle reference to the 2014 attack on the Commons.

Then there’s candidate Pierre Lemieux (whoever he is), who said that Islamophobia isn’t at the forefront of discussion and isn’t a problem in Canada. He clearly hasn’t been watching the news for the past month. Maxime Bernier says he’s worried the motion would restrict freedom to criticize Islam — and then somehow managed to link its passage to support for Sharia law.

Backbench Conservatives have been no better. MP Marilyn Gladu said she worries that she could be accused of Islamophobia if she voiced the concern that ISIS terrorists would want to rape and behead her. By even suggesting that equivalence, our enlightened MP demonstrates that she clearly has issues of her own.

Of the candidates for leadership, only the thoughtful and eminently reasonable Michael Chong has said he would support the motion. Others are openly hostile, or are trying to slither out of supporting it. Not an edifying sight.

It's pretty clear that the Conservative Party is now the Nasty Party.

Image: The Old Grey Mare


Friday, February 17, 2017

He's In The Twilight Zone

 
Donald Trump's press conference yesterday was surreal. He spent a minute announcing his new choice for Secretary of Labor and then spent the next seventy-eight minutes lambasting the press and the intelligence community for doing in his national security advisor, Mike Flynn. Michael Harris writes:

This is where the alternate universe stuff kicks in. The firing was conducted by President Trump. The next day, the other half of the presidential personality — The Donald — kicked in: Flynn was suddenly a wonderful person who had been treated badly by the “fake” media. At a press conference yesterday that looked more like primal scream therapy, Trump said Flynn was just doing his job. In fact, the president went one further. If Flynn hadn’t been phoning Russia and other countries, Trump would have ordered him to make the calls.

Not even Trump’s malapropisms can hide the truth. Flynn was fired because the intelligence community leaked what he had actually talked about to the Russians. That turned out to be a very different thing than what he told Vice-President Pence or the American people. It was not Flynn’s outrageous communication with the Russians per se that caused Trump to ditch this guy. It was getting caught in a lie that made Trump’s right-hand man look like a dork. Worse, it was the truth getting out.

It's been obvious for a long time that Trump is allergic to the truth. So he invents his own. But more than his aversion to the truth there is a much more devastating indictment of the man. He is appallingly ignorant:

Donald Trump’s grasp of geopolitics is no deeper than Bob the Builder’s. Yet there is one area of foreign affairs where his views have been consistently expressed — the relationship with Russia. He has publicly stated that Vladimir Putin, for all the blood on his hands, was a better leader than President Obama. He has ridiculed and threatened NATO. He even got the GOP to soften its hard stand against Russian intervention in Ukraine. And two of his top campaign workers, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, had close ties with Russia.

And he has worked very hard to keep Americans ignorant of the fact that he is in deep hock to foreign lenders:

Evelyn Farkas, the former top Russia expert at the Pentagon, is calling for an investigation of Trump himself. Not for alleged unconventional bathing habits. She is concerned that Trump’s business and financial dealings may have left him open to blackmail. After all, the giving, lending or guaranteeing of money could be used to exercise powerful influence over a person. So far — like dead men — the Donald’s taxes have told no tales.

Coincidentally, Donald Trump owes approximately $300 million to Deutsche Bank, which has just gone through all of Trump’s business dealings with the bank to see if there were any connections to Russia. Deutsche Bank was recently fined $640 million by the U.S. and U.K. for failing to stop the laundering of $10 billion of Russian funds through its Moscow branch. The bank will not comment on the outcome of its internal review, but it is being pressured to farm out its assessment to independent auditors.

Not even Rod Serling could have dreamt up this story. But Trump has entered the Twilight Zone. And he has hauled the entire nation in there with him.

Image: deadline.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Toxic Brew




Lawrence Martin writes that the Conservatives appear ready to take a leap off the cliff. The two leading contenders for the leadership of the party are Maxime Bernier and Kevin O'Leary:

If the polls are to be believed, it’s become a two-man race between newcomer Kevin O’Leary and libertarian Maxime Bernier. Kellie Leitch is far back. The more conventionally styled Tory candidates are not even within shouting range.

Mr. Bernier would be the biggest privatizer the party has ever had as leader. One of his radical planks is to end the federal role in funding health care by transferring tax points to the provinces. This could bring on a Balkanized system as well as more and more privatization. It risks, argues candidate Michael Chong, moving voters away from the party in droves.

Choosing Mr. O’Leary could invite as much, if not more, peril. He has never been elected, has no background in the party, is unilingual, hasn’t lived in Canada for years and has a policy kit – decried as juvenile by critics – that is all over the ideological map and devoid of substance.

Modern conservatism has become as scrambled as Donald Trump's brain. Andrew Coyne writes

Conservatism used to have some claim to being a coherent political philosophy. Of late it has become a series of dares. The most extreme voice will lay down the most extreme position, then challenge others to endorse it.

As often as not this has nothing to do with conservatism. It is rather a kind of moral exhibitionism, populist virtue-signalling, in which the object is to say and do the most intolerant or ill-considered thing that comes to mind — anything that might attract the condemnation of bien-pensants in the media and elsewhere, whose opposition becomes proof in itself of its merits.

The willingness to court such controversy in turn becomes the test of political purity. To demur, conversely, can only be a sign of cowardice, or worse, liberalism, a heresy that that would seem to have overcome much of the conservative movement, to judge by the ever-lengthening list of the excommunicated.

Like it or hate it, conservatism used to possess internal consistency. All the parts fit together. Now the parts form a toxic brew and the centre will not hold.