Friday, October 30, 2020

On The Edge

Everyone knows that Donald Trump lies. But lately, Paul Krugman writes, Trump's lies are qualitatively different:

On Tuesday the White House science office went beyond Trump’s now-standard claims that we’re “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus and declared that one of the administration’s major achievements was “ending the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Who was that supposed to convince, when almost everyone is aware not only that the pandemic continues, but that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging? All it did was make Trump look even more out of touch.

In last week’s debate, Trump declared that New York is a “ghost town.” Eight million people can see with their naked eyes that it isn’t.

On Monday, campaigning in Pennsylvania, Trump repeatedly claimed that thanks to the state’s Democratic governor, “You can’t go to church.” Thousands of churchgoing Pennsylvanians know that this simply isn’t true.

On Wednesday, campaigning in Arizona, Trump went on a rant about California, where “you have a special mask. You cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right, right, Charlie? It’s a very complex mechanism.” As 39 million California residents can tell you, nothing remotely like that exists.

What Trump says these days is more and more absurd. And it raises the question:

Who is this supposed to convince? It’s hard to see any political upside to such ludicrous confabulations, which demand that people reject their own direct experience. All they do — I hate to say this, but it’s obvious — is raise questions about the president’s stability.

So what’s going on? Trump wouldn’t be the first politician to lash out wildly in the face of electoral defeat. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Remember, also, that Roy Moore, defeated in Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election, never conceded.

In fact, almost everyone expects the mother of all temper tantrums, quite possibly including calls for violence, if Trump does, in fact, lose next week. To some extent he may just be getting an early start.

There is an analog. Krugman points to George Orwell:

After those bizarre claims about California masks, I reread George Orwell’s classic essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War.” Observing Spain’s fascists and their fellow travelers — including many in the British press! — Orwell worried that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” He feared a future in which, if the Leader “says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five.”

The point is that for Trump and many of his supporters, that future has already arrived. Does he believe that there’s any truth behind his bizarre claims that Californians are being forced to eat through complicated masks? That’s a bad question, because he doesn’t accept that there is such a thing as objective truth. There are things he wants to believe, and so he does; there are other things he doesn’t want to believe, so he doesn’t.

What’s scary about all this isn’t just the possibility that Trump may yet win — or steal — a second term. It’s the fact that almost his entire party, and tens of millions of voters, seem perfectly willing to follow him into the abyss.

The United States is truly on the edge of the abyss.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

I Have My Doubts

 Max Boot writes that it's time to destroy the Republican Party:

I have watched with incredulity the GOP’s descent into collective madness. Many Republicans I know began by holding their noses and voting for Trump because of judges and taxes and their hatred of Hillary Clinton. Now the whole Republican Party seems to inhabit the Fox News Cinematic Universe, an alternative reality where President Barack Obama spied on Trump and Joe Biden is a socialist who will let “anarchists” and “arsonists” run riot.

The madness knows no bounds:

The party has even become infected by the lunatic QAnon cult, whose followers believe Trump’s opponents are blood-drinking, Satan-worshipping pedophiles. In one recent poll, half of Trump supporters said top Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking. Georgia’s Senate primary offers a disturbing snapshot of the state of the party: Rep. Douglas A. Collins promotes his endorsement from two convicted felons (former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos) while Sen. Kelly Loeffler touts her support from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a soon-to-be House member who questioned whether the Pentagon was really attacked on 9/11.

The same trickle-down craziness is evident in Republican mishandling of the coronavirus. Trump has given up trying to control the pandemic, mocks masks and promotes conspiracy theories such as his claim that death counts are inflated because “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” if they say people died of covid-19. This specious allegation is faithfully echoed by Republicans such as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. Red states are paying a devastating price for pandemic denialism: North Dakota has the lowest rate of mask-wearing in the country and the highest covid-19 death rate per capita in the world.

Trump has given permission for Republican bigots to come out into the open — to replace dog whistles with wolf whistles. Sen. David Perdue (R.-Ga.) mocked Sen. Kamala Harris’s Indian first name. Madison Cawthorn, a House nominee in North Carolina, proudly visited Hitler’s lair and created a website attacking a journalist for having worked “for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.” Laura Loomer, a Republican candidate for a House seat from Florida, calls herself “a proud Islamophobe” and cheered the deaths of 2,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean (“Good. 👏 Here’s to 2,000 more.")

So, this year, Boot is voting for Biden. But he's going even further:

That’s why, even though I’m not a Democrat, I’m voting straight-ticket Democratic on Nov. 3 — and for as long as necessary to make Republicans come to their senses. The GOP needs to be detoxified and de-Trumpified.

He hopes the party can be rebuilt. I have my doubts.

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ford's Continued War On Education

Doug Ford's image -- thanks to the pandemic -- has undergone a makeover. But, Linda McQuaig writes, when it comes to education, there's been no make over:

It may seem like a lifetime ago -- that carefree day in pre-pandemic times when two million Ontarians crowded into downtown Toronto to celebrate the victorious Raptors -- but Premier Ford is unlikely to ever forget the unmistakable jeering that followed his introduction.

One of the key things that had made him so wildly unpopular on that day back in June 2019 was his move toward defunding -- no, not police -- but something more precious to Ontarians: public education.

There had been widespread anger over the government's announcement a few months earlier that it planned to increase class sizes throughout the province (enlarging high school classes from 22 to 28 students and eliminating 3,500 teachers) and to force students to take online courses.

These moves, designed to cut $850 million out of provincial education spending, weren't mentioned during the election campaign and were clearly seen as putting the interests of students behind business demands for deficit-reduction.

A leaked internal document confirms that, on the education file, nothing for Ford has changed:

COVID aside, smaller classes, by allowing teachers to devote more individual attention to students, have long been seen as a bedrock principle of good education.

But the Ford government has never seemed particularly interested in such bedrock principles, according to a secret internal document obtained last January by Star reporters Rob Ferguson and Kristin Rushowy.

Rather than demonstrating a commitment to "do absolutely everything, everything" to support our public schools, the document reveals a profit-oriented approach to education that sounds straight out of a corporate boardroom.

Along with plans to cut funding to school boards, the document expressed dissatisfaction that "the [public school] system does not generate any revenue for the province."

The document suggests developing "a business model" for producing online courses that could be marketed to other jurisdictions so "maximum revenue generation may be realized."

Since when is public education about "maximum revenue generation" -- rather than about educating our children, instilling in them civic values and respect for others, and helping them develop into adults who can fully participate in our economy and our democracy? Why is this government so keen to turn the crucial institution of public education into a profit-making centre?

For modern conservatives, profit should be behind everything. If you can't make a profit, you're a parasite.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Get Us Through The Pandemic

There were two byelections in Toronto yesterday. When you combine those results with the results in New Brunswick, B.C., and Saskatchewan, there is a consistent message: We don't want to change horses in the midst of a pandemic. Susan Delacourt writes:

Trudeau wasn’t out to gain more power with the Toronto by-elections but chances are that the Monday results will muddy speculation over whether Trudeau has everything to gain by trying for a full do-over of the 2019 results anytime soon. His fight in “safe” Liberal ridings was arguably tougher in 2020, like everything else this year.

The prime minister is being accused daily in Ottawa of trying to light the fuse on a federal election, with opposition parties saying he’s trying to capitalize on the COVID crisis to turn his minority into a majority. Last week, in a close brush with the collapse of Trudeau’s government, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh said he was refusing to topple the Liberals out of spite — to deny Trudeau exactly what he wanted.

Monday’s by-election results, though more tightly fought, taken with provincial elections in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, would seem to indicate that voters prefer to stay with the leadership they know during this crazy year. New Brunswick’s government went from minority to majority, so will B.C’s government, it’s expected, after all the results are counted in the next few weeks. Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe was due to keep his hand on government too after Monday’s elections in that province.

The message seems pretty clear: Get us through the pandemic. Then we'll consider other issues.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Stealing An Election

Robin Sears writes it's hard to steal an election in Canada because

we maintain a paper record of every ballot, plus the ballots themselves, electronically counted or not. We have national systems and regulations which are rigorously followed by a centrally trained set of election officers. We also gave up long ago on any role for the parties in local electoral administration.

South of the border, it's a different story:

The foundational weakness in the American system is that electoral administration remains in partisan control at the local and state levels. In some cases, it is a contested structure with the GOP in control at the state level, and Democrats locally. Needless to say, games are played in close races. George W. Bush became president as a result of GOP operatives in Florida being able to convince a local judge to halt an unfinished recount, and then submit those incomplete results that still favoured Bush to the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority declared him the winner.

Currently, polls suggest that Joe Biden is leading. But that doesn't mean he will win:

The Biden and Trump campaigns have retained armies of lawyers to launch similar efforts in dozens of jurisdictions if required, where the ballot count is close and a small shift in votes will flip the electoral college in that state. Add to this, the prospect of the Trump forces trying once again to block vote-counting after a few days, and then those bitter contests being referred to Trump-packed local federal courts, and then to the newly Trump-packed Supreme Court. One may only pray that voters follow Barack Obama’s powerful admonition this week that they turn out and deliver a decisive victory for change.

In this country we have our problems -- God knows, we have problems. But the good news is we don't live south of the border.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Rotten To Its Core

Max Boot used to be a Republican cheerleader. He's not cheering now. Things, he writes, have changed:

I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party was known as the “party of ideas.” That was in the 1980s. Since then it has become the party of pseudo-scandals.

The change began with Newt Gingrich:

The change occurred, as the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer documents in his book “Burning Down the House,” because of the efforts of Newt Gingrich, then a Republican backbencher, to bring down House Speaker Jim Wright in the late 1980s. Casting about for dirt he could use, Gingrich focused attention on the fact that the speaker had published a book that was bought in bulk by lobbyists. While the book deal looked bad, it was not against the law or House rules. But it didn’t matter: Gingrich thundered that Wright was “the most corrupt speaker in the 20th century” and compared him to Mussolini. Wright was pressured into resigning, Gingrich soon became speaker himself, and the GOP was off to the races.

Since Gingrich's ascension, it's been all downhill:

Since then, the Republican Party, in cahoots with media partners such as Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh, has manufactured one pseudo-scandal after another: Vince Foster’s suicide, Whitewater, Mena airport, John Kerry’s Swift Boat service, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s emails, among others.

The party has become thoroughly focused on pseudo scandals. And, under Donald Trump, that focus has been turbocharged:

The process has been turbocharged under President Trump, who is even more ruthless and unscrupulous than Gingrich. The former reality-TV star won the 2016 election by defaming a former secretary of state and first lady as “Crooked Hillary” and demanding that she be locked up for unspecified offenses. Now he is trying to run the same playbook on Joe Biden.

Trump got himself impeached by trying to blackmail Ukrainian officials into accusing Biden and his son Hunter of wrongdoing. That didn’t stop Trump’s attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, from working with shady Ukrainian contacts — including a lawmaker described as a Russian agent by Trump’s own Treasury Department — to produce dirt on Biden. Until recently, this had resulted in a few audiotapes of interest only to One America News Network.

Then Giuliani turned over to the New York Post the supposed contents of a laptop supposedly belonging to Hunter. The alleged emails have never been authenticated, and the New York Times revealed that the New York Post’s own journalists had so little faith in the story that the lead reporter refused to put his name on an article he had written. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s own national security adviser told him that “any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia,” and more than 50 former intelligence officers warned that the emails have “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” (Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, denies that the laptop is part of a Russian operation, but he has scant credibility.)

The second non-scandal is the claim that Joe Biden was part of a 2017 deal with Hunter Biden involving a Chinese oil company. Even if true, this also wouldn’t be wrong, because Joe Biden was a private citizen then. But it’s not true. The Wall Street Journal reports that the venture “never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals” and that “corporate records … show no role for Joe Biden.” So this was a deal that never occurred and that Joe Biden wasn’t involved in. Some scandal.

As if that weren’t bad enough, right-wing rumormongers have been spreading even more vile accusations against Hunter Biden that are straight out of QAnon. Donald Trump Jr. claimed to Fox News, with no evidence, that Hunter is linked to “human trafficking and prostitution rings.” How low can you go?

Trump knows no bottom. Nor does the Republican Party. It's rotten to its core.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Decline Of Common Purpose

At the end of World War II, the American historian Arthur Schlesinger  wrote

Voluntary institutions have provided people with their greatest school of self-government.  Rubbing minds as well as elbows, they have been trained from youth to take common counsel, choose leaders, harmonize differences, and obey the express wishes of the populace.  In mastering the associative way, they have mastered the democratic way.

During the present election -- more than ever -- that notion is being put to the test. Glen Pearson writes that "the associative way" is also being put to the test in Canada:

People have confused politics with democracy, and as they have turned away from its endless partisanship, they have left the heart of their nation to political masters, not empowered citizens.  Citizenship is hard to quantify and even qualify for modern media, who have chosen instead to latch on to the endless drama streaming out of political capitals.  Citizens, on the other hand, including millions of Canadians, have opted to jump into the stream of social media and cable news to stay informed or to confirm their opinions.  The difficulty is that they can do so fully separate from others.  It’s democracy in a box, which one can open at home, scrutinize for a time, then put it back in the closet.

The trend has been going on for a long while. But COVID has offered a chance to change that trend:

Then came COVID – a precarious time when those institutions once rejected were at the forefront of ensuring the essentials of life for Americans and their families, just as in Canada and other nations.  That experience gradually sidelined the president’s rantings and ravings against those depositories of American democracy that the people were suddenly finding essential.  The more he criticized front line workers, medical experts, bureaucrats charged with protecting the country, equality movements,  hospitals, military veterans, the nation’s open-door policy, and, naturally, the Democratic party itself, the harder it became for him to retain supporters other than his loyal base.

In other words, people in democracies around the world are looking to the same institutions they were in the process of rejecting just months earlier.  People aren’t as interested in political shenanigans as their own pain.  They wish to recapture prosperity, not the petty politics that characterized their governments before COVID arrived.

At first, it looked like we might see a rebirth of the associative way. However,

The new patterns are increasingly reflecting the old ones.  Polarization is normal.  Political dysfunction is normal.  The loss of democracy’s allure is normal.  And the lack of ability to build a new and more inclusive nation is normal.

We really can't afford to go back to the old ways. Our public health -- and the health of the planet -- are at stake.