Sunday, July 15, 2018

Getting Closer To The Fire

On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 members of the Russian GRU for attempting to sabotage the American election. Donald Trump knew the indictments were coming. But, when they were announced, he was unimpressed. Andrew Coyne writes:

“I think I would have a very good relationship with President Putin if we spent time together,” Trump mused the next morning at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. He would, that is, were it not for “the rigged witch hunt.” By which he meant the investigation, under special counsel Robert Mueller, of possible collusion between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign to throw the 2016 election to the Republicans.

All along the way, Trump has been monumentally incurious about Russian involvement in the election:

A thought experiment. Let us suppose the Trump administration were entirely blameless. How would an entirely blameless government ordinarily be expected to react at even the first whiff of suspicion that a foreign power, let alone an acknowledged adversary, had tampered with U.S. elections? It would be leading the charge. It would have ordered its own inquiry. It would have demanded answers from the Russian government. And the more evidence it had that its suspicions were true — long before the laying of actual criminal charges — the more ready it would be to impose penalties of some kind.
Yet at every turn the Trump administration and its supporters have done the opposite. They have not just been stunningly incurious about the worst American intelligence debacle since the Rosenbergs — they have been actively hostile to any attempt to get to the bottom of it.

The closer Mueller gets, the more Mr. Trump appears to have something to hide. So far, there has been lots of smoke. But it's clear that Mueller is getting closer to the fire.

Image: The Nation

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ignorance And Cold Hearts

Yesterday, Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod sparred with each other over refugees. It's getting pretty ugly. Martin Patriquin looks at the numbers:

In 2017, the Canadian Border Security Agency processed 11,400 asylum claimants at the country’s land ports of entry, a more than 170-per-cent increase over 2011, according to statistics from the federal government. The largest percentage of claimants hail from Haiti, with Nigerians a distant second.  Surprisingly, 2,550 American citizens also sought refugee status in this country in 2017—a 545-per-cent increase over 2016.

The movement of refugees is being driven by people fleeing war. And by an American president who doesn't understand the problem. Ignorance is also at the root of the Ontario government's response:

Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario government’s newly-ensconced Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, has spent much of her first two weeks in office triangulating her nativist anger against the “illegal border crossers” and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the supposed enabler of all this illegal activity. “Illegal border crossers are not following [the] rules, and the federal government is not enforcing them,” MacLeod bellowed recently.
Not to explain her job to her, but surely MacLeod is aware of Canada’s commitment to the U.N. Refugee Convention, in effect for 67 years, recognizing that anyone can make a refugee claim should they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Further, the Minister must be aware that making such claims “can require refugees to breach immigration rules,” as the Convention states.

Then there is Doug Ford, who is as clueless as MacLeod. They claim that what has happened in Europe is an object lesson. But they haven't been paying attention:

You need look only at Europe to see the folly in this argument. 2015 was the year of the ‘migrant crisis’, in which Greece, Italy and Germany alone took in as many as 1.75 million migrants by land and sea, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. This vast movement of humanity stoked nativist pangs in these countries along with Hungary, Spain, Poland and elsewhere. It was arguably one of the driving forces behind the Brexit vote ruling the day.
And yet three years later, the flow of migrants has largely returned to pre-2015 normality. The reason is simple enough: people have less a reason to flee their homes. Stripped of the politics, it’s a reminder how people don’t generally uproot their lives unless they are fleeing bombs or persecution.

Finally, there are our own numbers. The average Canadian family is producing 1.6 children. We're not even replacing ourselves. We need immigration to keep the country from stagnating. But Ford and MacLeod don't pay attention to such things.

Our small community has welcomed Syrian refugees. Hijabs are now a common sight on our streets. We've had to make some adjustments. But we've made them. And, yes, it takes money and good will to make them.

But Ignorance and Cold Hearts won't accomplish that.

Image: The Conversation

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Simple Truth

Boris Johnson has let it be known that he admires Donald Trump. And Donald Trump has returned the compliment. William Davies writes in The New York Times:

“I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump. I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.” These comments, subsequently leaked, were made last month by Boris Johnson, who was then Britain’s foreign secretary. Never one to discount praise, Mr. Trump reportedly expressed an interest in meeting his “friend” Mr. Johnson during his visit to London this week, noting that Mr. Johnson has been “very, very nice to me, very supportive.”

Yesterday, while trashing the way Theresa May had handled the Brexit negotiations, he also let it be known that Johnson would make a "great" prime minister. What the bromance between Trump and Johnson really illustrates, Davies writes, is "the rise of radical incompetence:"

One way to understand the rise of reactionary populism today is as the revenge of sovereignty on government. This is not simply a backlash after decades of globalization, but against the form of political power that facilitated it, which is technocratic, multilateral and increasingly divorced from local identities.    
A common thread linking “hard” Brexiteers to nationalists across the globe is that they resent the very idea of governing as a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials. Soon after entering the White House as President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon expressed hope that the newly appointed cabinet would achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In Europe, the European Commission — which has copious governmental capacity, but scant sovereignty — is an obvious target for nationalists such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary.
The more extreme fringes of British conservatism have now reached the point that American conservatives first arrived at during the Clinton administration: They are seeking to undermine the very possibility of workable government. For hard-liners such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, it is an article of faith that Britain’s Treasury Department, the Bank of England and Downing Street itself are now conspiring to deny Britain its sovereignty. It is thought that Mr. Davis’s real grudge was with the unelected official, Olly Robbins, who had usurped him in his influence over the Brexit process. The problem was that Mr. Robbins is willing and able to do the laborious and intellectually demanding policy work that Brexit will require, while Mr. Davis is famously not.
What happens if sections of the news media, the political classes and the public insist that only sovereignty matters and that the complexities of governing are a lie invented by liberal elites? For one thing, it gives rise to celebrity populists, personified by Mr. Trump, whose inability to engage patiently or intelligently with policy issues makes it possible to sustain the fantasy that governing is simple. What Mr. Johnson terms the “method” in Mr. Trump’s “madness” is a refusal to listen to inconvenient evidence, of the sort provided by officials and experts.  

That disdain for evidence produces oxymoronic thinking -- some would call it simply moronic thinking. And the end result is a cascade of exits. The simple truth is, you can't govern if everyone is leaving.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

They'll Get Alot Nastier

John Ibbitson warns his readers that Ottawa and Queens Park are about to embark on a battle royal:

One of Mr. Ford’s first acts as Premier was to scrap his Liberal predecessor’s cap-and-trade carbon tax. In response, Mr. Trudeau is vowing to impose a carbon tax on Ontario and Saskatchewan (which also opposes the tax) on Jan. 1. 

Where we live, the Ford government has cancelled a wind farm, which was years in the approval process. The project has been underway for over a year now. Local people are working there and they will lose their jobs. The president of the company building the project claims the shutdown will cost the province $100 million.

No problem says, Mr. Ford, we've written a clause into the enabling legislation, declaring that the province cannot be sued. When Caroline Mulroney -- the Ford government's legal brain trust -- was asked yesterday how that would stand up in court, she refused to answer the question and walked away.

You see where this is heading. Trudeau and Ford have also fought over refugees. Ibbitson writes:

The two first ministers are also sparring over refugee claimants who have been crossing the Canada-U.S. border illegally. Before they met on Thursday, Mr. Ford said in a statement that his government will offer no co-operation in housing the asylum seekers, wrongly declaring “this mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills.” U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies surely have more to do with it.
In response, Mr. Trudeau told reporters after the meeting that the new Premier did not appear to understand Canada’s obligations under international law.
“So I spent a little time explaining how the asylum-seeking system works and how our system is supposed to operate,” he said. You don’t need the audio to hear the condescension.

So things are getting raucous in Ontario. And they'll get a lot nastier.

Image: Spencer Fernando

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Ugly Truth

The next episode of the Trump Show -- "Blowing Up NATO" -- is being broadcast today. Donald Trump has his script. But, if the members of the alliance hang together, it will not go as Trump has planned. NATO, however, isn't the climax. It's Trump's meeting with Putin. And there are at least a couple of reasons why Trump has made the summit with Putin the real show. To begin with, Trump and Putin are birds of a feather. Joseph Ingrham writes:

Let’s start with the two of them as mirror images of flawed personalities. Both display behaviors reflective of serious inferiority complexes – Trump driven by a life-long rejection by New York’s business and cultural elites (not to speak of a troubled and mediocre academic record) and Putin’s preoccupation with his diminutive physical stature, which seems to cause him to constantly feel the need to display his shirtless torso and his mediocre hockey skills.
Both are narcissists and pathological liars, using whatever means they can to attain their goals. In the case of Trump, this includes a persistent trail of questionable business practices and, more recently, no compunction about separating young immigrant children from their families. In the case of Putin, in all probability, it includes the practiced physical elimination of political foes, a la the KGB, and the invasion of sovereign countries as a means to creating a larger Russian dominated domain. Both men view protecting human rights as an inconvenient nuisance that only get in the way of their personal convictions and authoritarian instincts.

More than similarly dysfunctional personalities, both men share the same vision of the world:

Then there is their shared vision of the world, and the impact of globalisation – a phenomenon they both see as an existential threat to their limited appreciation of “civilization.” Rather than any empathy for cultural and sociological diversity and the need to cultivate and manage it in ways that benefit our evolving societies more widely, they both seek to limit it by slowing immigration (especially from non-white, non-Christian countries), promoting a 19th century form of nationalism (and history shows us what that can bring), and by downplaying the role of multilateralism, its institutional components, and collective solutions to global challenges.

The G7,  the European Union and NATO are diametrically opposed to that vision. The European Union is particularly offensive to both men:

The European Union — based on the values of liberal democracy and a multilateral approach that subordinates narrow nationalism to a collective identity based on shared nationalisms and humanitarianism — is anathema to both men. Instead, they aspire to a world in which the northern hemisphere is dominated by governments led by strong, white, Judeo-Christians – mainly male and heterosexual (at least officially heterosexual) – capable of preserving what western men, such as they, have built.

When the two men get together, you can bet they will discuss how they're shared project is going. And anwyway, Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine, Trump has been a Russian operative for a long time. That's why Trump is desperate to sink the Mueller investigation -- because Mueller now knows the whole ugly story:

The first intimations that Trump might harbor a dark secret originated among America’s European allies, which, being situated closer to Russia, have had more experience fending off its nefarious encroachments. In 2015, Western European intelligence agencies began picking up evidence of communications between the Russian government and people in Donald Trump’s orbit. In April 2016, one of the Baltic states shared with then–CIA director John Brennan an audio recording of Russians discussing funneling money to the Trump campaign. In the summer of 2016, Robert Hannigan, head of the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, flew to Washington to brief Brennan on intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The contents of these communications have not been disclosed, but what Brennan learned obviously unsettled him profoundly. In congressional testimony on Russian election interference last year, Brennan hinted that some Americans might have betrayed their country. “Individuals who go along a treasonous path,” he warned, “do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.” In an interview this year, he put it more bluntly: “I think [Trump] is afraid of the president of Russia. The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”

The question is, "How much damage will Trump do before the Ugly Truth -- all of it -- comes out?"

Image: Sputnik International

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Cost Of Rising Seas

For those who don't live on a seacoast, rising oceans mean little -- unless you put the issue in dollars and cents terms. Tim Radford, who was the science editor for The Guardian  for twenty five years, does just that:

The rising seas’ cost may be $27 trillion a year in U.S. dollars for the world by 2100 if it fails to meet the UN’s 2ºC global warming limit by then, with sea level rise of, at its worst, almost six feet (nearly two meters), new research says.
A study led by the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) says the worldwide cost of flooding caused by rising sea levels, at their median level, could by 2100 be $14 trillion, if governments miss the United Nations target of keeping the rise in global temperatures, caused by unremitting fossil fuel use, to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. But the extent and cost could be much higher.

It's not just that the financial costs are staggering.  Huge segments of humanity are looking into the maw catastrophe:

Svetlana Jevrejeva of the NOC is the study’s lead author. She said: “More than 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal areas, less than 10 meters above sea level. In a warming climate, global sea level will rise due to the melting of land-based glaciers and ice sheets, and from the thermal expansion of ocean waters. So sea level rise is one of the most damaging aspects of our warming climate.”

But, more than that, the poorest among us will pay the most:

Using World Bank income groups (high, upper-middle, lower-middle and low-income countries), they then assessed the impact of sea level rise in coastal areas from a global perspective.
The researchers also found that it was upper-middle income countries such as China that would see the largest increase in flood costs, while the richest ones would suffer the least, because of the high levels of protection infrastructure they already enjoyed. The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

So we in the West blindly stumble into the future. An American president claims it's all a hoax. And, besides, wealth has its privileges.

Image: Progressive Charlestown

Monday, July 09, 2018

Useful Idiots

Jonathan Manthorpe understands Donald Trump. He understands that, where Trump goes, destruction follows:

Trump has denounced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as “obsolete” and pointedly shied away from committing to the pledge to mutual defence that is at the heart of the alliance. He has rudely dismissed all Washington’s trade alliances, especially the free-trade pact with Canada and Mexico, as means by which the U.S. is bled dry. The World Trade Organization has treated the U.S. “very badly.” In an unmatched piece of absurd ignorance, Trump even said the European Union “was put there to take advantage of the United States.”
Having abused the best friends of the U.S., Trump flew to Singapore to fawn on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, one of the world’s nastiest despots with a record of killing even his closest relatives who get out of line.
But Kim played Trump like a violin. In return for giving Trump a glossy ten-by-eight of them shaking hands and a meaningless piece of paper with vague promises about peace and plenty, Kim got recognition from Washington that North Korea is in the club of nuclear weapons powers. He also got a de facto end to economic sanctions.

Kim recognizes that Trump is a useful idiot. So does Vladimir Putin. Ex KJB types know a useful idiot when they see one:

By his character and nature Trump was pre-programmed to betray the U.S., and Putin – alert KGB man that he is – saw a pigeon ready for the plucking.
Trump is a narcissist who, lacking any creative urges or abilities, uses chaos and destruction to ensure the focus of attention is always on him. Like many weak and self-pitying people, Trump is a bully who berates all those around him to hide the fact that he has nothing sensible to say and no vision of what might be created. He strikes out because he fears more knowledgeable and insightful people may expose his unplumbed shallowness. He lies because he fears the truth.

Whether Robert Mueller can prove that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election is irrelevant. He's colluding with them now.

And a huge segment of the American population refuses to see that. There is more than one useful idiot in the United States.