Saturday, November 16, 2019

Democracy In Peril

These are momentous days in Washington. People are consumed by the fate of Donald Trump. But, Tony Burman writes, there is much more at stake than The Orange One's future:

It is not the fate of Donald Trump that really matters here. It is the future of America’s democracy — and everyone else’s democracy — that is at risk.
“American democracy is not as exceptional as we sometimes believe,” wrote Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their recent book, “How Democracies Die.” “There’s nothing in our Constitution or our culture to immunize us against democratic breakdown … But protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage.”

There are some undeniable facts:

We now know that the U.S. president committed bribery by secretly trying to get Ukraine’s president to investigate the son of Joe Biden, a political rival, ahead of the 2020 presidential election. This was in exchange for $400 million in military aid and a face-to-face meeting at the White House.
But Trump didn’t do this to benefit the nation. In fact, it was totally contrary to years of established U.S. national security policy.
Trump did this to benefit himself — and, probably as a side benefit, to please Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

It's a clear case of bribery. And, under American law, the punishment for bribery -- and impeachment -- is also clear:

Punishment for bribery under U.S. federal law is up to 15 years in prison, but it is also central to the political process of impeachment. Along with treason, it is the only impeachable offence expressly listed in the U.S. Constitution as a “high Crime and Misdemeanor” justifying removal of a president from office.

The Republican Senate, however, will not find Trump guilty -- no matter how strong the case against him:

That’s why the threat to democracy everywhere is so ominous. If Trump succeeds in getting away with it all, his behaviour is certain to become the “new normal” in 21st-century global politics.
The opening hearing revealed what the Republican strategy will be. In order to exonerate Trump, an effort will be made to promote bogus conspiracy theories that point a finger at Ukraine — not Russia — for having interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
It is the latest example of how Russian ideology now appears to drive much of Trump’s foreign policy. Whether about Ukraine, Syria or Europe and NATO, Trump’s talking points are now virtually identical to Putin’s.
In hindsight, it is perhaps not surprising that Trump himself would be so obsequious to his Russian masters. After all, a decade ago, Trump’s business empire was in virtual bankruptcy before Russian oligarchs bailed it out.

Trump laundered Russian mob money. And Vladimir Putin protected Trump from the Russian mob. In return, Putin asked Trump to "do him a favour, though." If these glaring facts are ignored, the American Republic is doomed. And democracy all over the world is in peril.

Image: The Economist

Friday, November 15, 2019

The March Continues

The United States and Britain have been involved in wars for twenty years. Simon Jenkins asks a simple question: Why? After all, the results have not been not encouraging:

The US has spent a staggering $6.4tn on almost two decades of interventions, with more than 7,000 military dead. Britain has lost 634. In addition, unknowable thousands of civilians have died, and billions of pounds’ worth of property been destroyed. Christianity has been all but wiped out in the region, and some of the finest cities in the ancient world have been bombed flat. No audit has been made of this. The opportunity cost must be unthinkable. What diseases might have been eradicated, what climate crisis relieved?
The wars of 9/11 must rank among the cruellest, most costly and senseless of the post-imperial age. Yet in Britain successive governments have parroted absurdities about “keeping our streets safe from terror”. The opposite is manifestly the case. The threat to London is said to be “substantial” and parts of Westminster look like a pastiche of Guantanamo Bay.
The assumption is that at least the public and the military establishment are “behind the troops”. That is clearly not the case. As long ago as 2004 Lord Bramall, who died this week and was once Thatcher’s favourite soldier, challenged the government to prove that the Iraq war, then just a year old, was worth the cost. It had, he said, already proved “erroneous and counter-productive” despite promises that it would bring democracy to Iraq. He added: “One can but wonder what legal – or, now, even moral – mandate the [western] coalition really has to do that.” Bramall was emphatic that he spoke for many in the military establishment opposed to Tony Blair’s mission, undertaken to please the Americans. In the 15 years since he made that speech nothing has changed.

So why do these wars continue? Jenkins suggests that it's all about not looking foolish:

Thick is the glue that keeps western troops on alien soil. Staying is now an exercise in saving face, in not being seen to cut and run. Downing Street wants any chance to play on the global stage, to keep in with America for after Brexit. None of these objectives seems plausible. Nor are they popular. We are stuck with war, and no one can explain why.

Barbara Tuchman called it The March Of Folly.

Image: Newsweek

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Evidence Keeps Piling Up

Yesterday was quite a day in Washington. The evidence to support Donald Trump's impeachment keeps piling up. Noah Bookbinder writes in The New York Times:

Mr. Trump used the immense powers of the American presidency to pressure an ally to open investigations that would help him personally. That much is clear just from the call memo of the July 25 conversation between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
But today’s testimony made clear that it goes much further. Two respected public servants — Ambassador William Taylor, an experienced diplomat and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department official overseeing European and Eurasian affairs — testified that the president and his personal attorney sought politically motivated investigations by the Ukrainian government into former Vice President Joseph Biden and allegations concerning the 2016 election (the latter references an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukrainians, not Russians, were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the Ukrainians framed the Russian government to make it look like that country was working with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign).
Pressuring a foreign power to investigate a political rival is, alone, a potentially impeachable offense. But Mr. Trump’s effort to condition needed military and diplomatic aid on investigations helpful to his personal political interests may also constitute bribery as contemplated by the Constitution for the purpose of impeachment. It also likely violates criminal laws, including the federal bribery statute.

And new evidence emerged during the hearing:

As important, today Mr. Taylor revealed stunning new information. He said that a staff member of his witnessed Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, call Mr. Trump the day after his call with Mr. Zelensky and that the staff member heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Sondland about the status of “the investigations” — which witnesses have testified was shorthand for inquiries into the Bidens and the origins of the investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Taylor testified that his staff member heard Mr. Sondland say Ukraine was moving forward on those investigations and that Mr. Sondland said that the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

Republicans tried to argue that all of this is second hand information. But the phone call puts the evidence in the president's mouth. If Republicans don't see what is right in front of them, they should go down with Trump. But that scenario is based upon the assumption that the vast majority of Americans can see what is right in front of them.

Image: The Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Vulnerable Fortress

Albertans are talking about The Wall. It's not a new idea. This time around, Jason Kenney is leading the charge. Tom Walkom writes:

In early 2001, six notable Alberta conservatives penned an open letter to Premier Ralph Klein, urging him to build “firewalls” around the province that would protect it “from an aggressive and hostile” Liberal government in Ottawa.
Labelled the firewall letter, it came in the aftermath of a federal election that Jean Chretien’s Liberals — in spite of being almost shut out of Alberta — had won handily.
The six, including a young Stephen Harper, argued that the Liberals had won that election by marginalizing Alberta and its needs. The answer, they said, was to withdraw into Fortress Alberta and “take greater charge of our own future.”

Kenney says he wants to collect his own income tax, have his own pension plan, and his own police force. All of these ideas are also not new. Quebec has all of these things. And the provinces have always had the ability to opt out of federal programs:

Provinces have always had the power to opt out of shared-cost programs. Like most provinces, Alberta refused to join medicare when it came into force in 1968. It signed on eventually only because universal public health insurance proved popular.

But Walkom notes that:

It’s a little weird to see the old firewall ideas resurrected. None of the measures the Manning panel is being asked to examine have much to do with the real problems facing Alberta. These centre on the oilsands.

Albertans are caught in a  classic resource trap. The oil sands are a stranded asset. Their value continues to diminish.  Albertans face the same fate as the residents of Cape Breton, Scheffreville, and Asbestos Quebec and those who earned their living from the Canadian fur trade. And they have been put in that position by decisions that were made in Edmonton, not Ottawa.

Having their own police force may make Albertans feel better. But it will do nothing to solve the problems they face.

Image: Exploring Off the Beaten Path

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Donald Capone

When it comes to impeachment, Bill Blum writes, there are lots of parallels between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. But there are other parallels between Trump and Al Capone:

As far as we know, Trump has never gone full-Capone and actually ordered one of his capos to literally take out any of his business or political opponents. But lest we forget, during the 2016 campaign, Trump boasted he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.”
And lest we think Trump was simply waxing hyperbolic, one of the president’s private attorneys told a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in October that Trump could not be investigated or prosecuted until he leaves office, even if he really did shoot someone on 5th Avenue. The astounding assertion was advanced in support of Trump’s attempt to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from obtaining Trump’s income tax returns. The circuit court ruled against Trump on Nov. 4.

And it's taxes where Trump's world and Capone's world really come together:

When Capone was finally held to account, it wasn’t for masterminding the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, in which seven of his gangland Chicago rivals were killed, or for the violent extortion and bootlegging empire he had built. The Feds never got Capone for his most heinous offenses. Instead, Capone was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison in 1931 for the mundane white-collar crime of income tax evasion.
Still, Capone’s conviction brought his career as a mafioso to a close. After serving his time in custody, Capone was paroled in 1939, suffering from syphilis and early-onset dementia. He died in Florida eight years later, with what his doctor described as the mentality of a 12-year-old child.
To be sure, it is highly doubtful that Senate Republicans will follow the example of Capone’s jury and vote to convict Trump and remove him from office in an impeachment trial conducted in the upper chamber. But if the impeachment case against the president is skillfully prosecuted in the Senate, it will severely damage Trump’s reelection prospects and hasten the demise of his political career, much as the tax-evasion prosecution of Capone brought an end to the career of the most notorious mobster in American history.

It's been clear for some time that Trump has run his business and the United States like a mob boss.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day, 2019

We live in a culture which exalts in self promotion. Self sacrifice is not a popular meme. It's never been popular. But sometimes it's necessary. It's that necessity which we remember today.

Image: (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Enter Bloomberg

It looks like Michael Bloomberg will enter the presidential race. Whether or not that will be good for the Democratic Party is an open question But Maureen Dowd writes, things could certainly get interesting:

Donald Trump has turned the White House — and America — into his crib, wailing and spitting up and throwing things. Republican lawmakers have been consigned to diaper duty. So maybe it’s fitting for Mrs. Doubtfire to pop in to lay down the law in this federally funded nursery.
Still, it would be undeniably entertaining to have a stinging face-off between a couple of rich, caustic New Yorkers who have skyscrapers known by their names blocks apart.
One is a real deal maker who cares about public policy and one is a fake deal maker who only cares about himself. One self-made billionaire who’s good at business would mock the so-called billionaire and bankruptcy king who needed a constant cash flow from daddy Fred. One is in the media business and one denounces the press as degenerates, lowlifes and enemies of the people. One is a genuine philanthropist and one was just ordered to pay $2 million in damages after admitting money raised by his charitable foundation was used in part for his presidential bid and to settle business debts. One is totally controlling and one is totally out of control. One rants about trans fats and one gorges on them.
Both of these salesmen can be charming or thin-skinned and arrogant. Both have politically fluid histories. Both have their feet to thank for keeping them out of Vietnam; Bloomberg had flat feet and Trump (supposedly) had bone spurs. Both have been accused of having a sexist streak, even though they supported Hillary Clinton at times and have voiced appreciation for smart women. And both men have talked openly about their love of beautiful women.
As The Times’s Michael Grynbaum tweeted, slyly summing up the Gotham derby: “How many New York City personalities can one country handle?”

Good question. There's such a thing as too much New York.

Image: The New York Times