Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Time To Jettison Failed Ideas



On our 100th birthday, Michael Valpy writes that "we fell in love with ourselves." But, on our 150th birthday, our mood has changed:

A recent exploration by polling firm EKOS Research reports that the importance of many long-time salient symbols of our sense of nationhood is dramatically eroding.

Canadians report that the significance to their national identity of the beaver, the maple leaf, the flag, “O Canada,” hockey — yes, hockey — the Grey Cup, Parliament Hill, cultural diversity, tolerance, official bilingualism, Canada Day, Remembrance Day and the RCMP have all declined.

For the first time since EKOS began asking the question in the 1990s, the number of Canadians who think the country is admitting too many immigrants who are not white has passed the 40 per cent mark — meaning we’re not only souring on so many traditional national symbols we appear to be becoming more racist.

The racism has always been there. But these days, it's more blatant. Nevertheless, we have come to terms with our French heritage. Frank Graves believes that, "what’s been established is a new healthy détente where Quebecers are able to pursue their own thing and there’s a nice civic nationalism where we agree on things.”

Still, there has been a souring of the public mood, which Graves attributes to four phenomena:

  • Increased pluralism.
  • Confusion left behind by the previous government’s effort to reorder some of our symbols — the emphasis on military history, for example; the de-emphasis on the Charter.
  • A pessimistic sense among ordinary Canadians that progress is ending, inequality is rising and waving the flag won’t help.
  • Dark clouds over mainly Conservative voters who constitute 25 to 30 per cent of the electorate and are much more economically fearful, allergic to immigration and globalization, mistrustful of elites and nostalgic for white privilege than the rest of their fellow citizens. Sixty per cent tell EKOS they would have voted for Donald Trump as U.S. president compared to three per cent of Liberal supporters. We’re increasingly two Canadas (or three or four) with a vanishing middle ground.

We are living in the wake of neo-liberalism -- which has left a sour taste wherever it has been adopted. It's time to jettison failed ideas.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Millions Of Americans Are Cheering



The American Senate's version of Trumpcare is a nasty piece of work. And Republicans are doing everything they can to keep their fellow citizens in the dark. Robert Reich writes:

America’s wealthiest taxpayers (earning more than $200,000 a year, $250,000 for couples) would get a tax cut totaling $346bn over 10 years, representing what they save from no longer financing healthcare for lower-income Americans.

That’s not all. The bill would save an additional $400bn on Medicaid, which Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump are intent on shrinking in order to cut even more taxes for the wealthy and for big corporations.

If enacted, it would be the largest single transfer of wealth to the rich from the middle class and poor in American history.

But the legislation is structured to hide those facts:

The Senate bill appears to retain the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies for poorer Americans. But starting in 2020, the subsidies would no longer be available for many of the working poor who now receive them, nor for anyone who’s not eligible for Medicaid.

Another illusion: the bill seems to keep the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. But the expansion is phased out, starting in 2021.

The core of the bill – where its biggest savings come from – is a huge reduction in Medicaid, America’s healthcare program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

This, too, is disguised. States would receive an amount of money per Medicaid recipient that appears to grow as healthcare costs rise.

But starting in 2025, the payments would be based on how fast costs rise in the economy as a whole.
Yet medical costs are rising faster than overall costs. They’ll almost surely continue to do so – as America’s elderly population grows, and as new medical devices, technologies, and drugs prolong life.
Which means that after 2025, Medicaid coverage will shrink.

Like their president, the Republicans are fundamentally dishonest and morally bankrupt. And millions of Americans are cheering them on.

 Image: Quartz

Sunday, June 25, 2017

It's Not Easy



In the era of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin, Tim Harper writes that the NDP is going to have to take a hard left turn. The template for their platform already exists in British Columbia:

If one wants to see what the federal New Democrats will likely put on the table for voters in 2019, the template is in British Columbia.

It will pledge real electoral change.

It will work toward Indigenous decolonization and real reconciliation, not the symbolic reconciliation so far favoured by Trudeau.

It will take a much tougher line on pipelines and climate change.

It will aggressively tax the rich and impose tough levies on real estate speculators.

It will pledge to overturn economic inequality and pledge solutions to precarious employment, rejecting Finance Minister Bill’s Morneau acceptance of it as a fait accompli.

There will no longer be talk of balanced budgets. There will be no more kid gloves with corporate taxes. They will likely push to lower the voting age to 16.

But, at the moment, nobody is paying attention to the Dippers' leadership race. And, across the country, several provincial parties have worries of their own:

New Democrats in British Columbia have no time to focus on this race. They are on the cusp of government in an ongoing political drama on the West Coast.

That saga is also drawing all the attention of Alberta New Democrats who are consumed with what an NDP-Green alliance in B.C. will do about a major pipeline expansion that has federal approval.

Manitoba New Democrats are focused on choosing Ojibwa Wab Kinew, a rapper, broadcaster and author, as its next leader.

These days, it's not easy being Orange. 

Image: Maclean's

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Who Knows?



When Donald Trump ascended to the presidency, many worried that Europe would follow his lead and be drowned by a wave of right wing populism. Tony Burman writes that what many feared hasn't happened:

Here in Germany, Angela Merkel has an 11-point polling lead in her campaign to win a fourth term as chancellor. Her party currently stands at 36 per cent; far down the list is Germany’s far-right party at only nine per cent. In neighbouring France, newly elected President Emmanuel Macron — Merkel’s new best friend — has just led his party to an overwhelming majority in France’s National Assembly.

Perhaps foreshadowing Germany’s vote in September, Europe’s far-right parties have fared poorly in recent elections in Austria, the Netherlands, Britain and, most recently, France. In addition, economic growth throughout much of Europe is expanding faster than projected.

The Europeans have been down that road before. And they don't want to go there again:

Polls suggest that Trump’s disruptive presidency has horrified most Europeans and has made them more likely to vote for leaders whom they see as moderate.

This has meant an apparent changing-of-the-guard in terms of the traditional leadership of the western alliance. A deepening relationship between Germany and France — between Merkel and Macron — will have serious implications. Instead of Trump, these European leaders will increasingly be seen as the most credible standard bearers of the world’s liberal and democratic order.

And, in the wake of Theresa May's defeat, some are suggesting that Britons might want to seriously re-think their decision to head for the exits:

As negotiations began over the details of the proposed “divorce,” European Council president Donald Tusk suggested that it’s not too late for Britain to change its mind and remain within the European Union. Quoting lyrics from a John Lennon song, Tusk said: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

But his remarks likely fit into the same category as that other bit of breathtaking Brexit news this week.

When the Queen opened the new session of the U.K. parliament on Wednesday, she wore a hat decorated with an arc of papal blue flowers each with a yellow disc at its centre, and this created a storm on Twitter.
In the words of the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper, her hat looked “suspiciously like” the European Union flag, prompting the BBC to quote another Twitter posting: “Nice to see queenie dressed as the EU flag.”

Who knows how this story will end? 

Image: New York Times

Friday, June 23, 2017

Perhaps They're Right



The Republican Party has dropped all its pretences. With Donald Trump in the White House, they no longer have to pretend that their mission is to protect the little guy. Their mission is to advance the interests of the wealthy. The health care bill that the Senate released yesterday offers incontrovertible proof of that. Paul Krugman writes:

The substance is terrible: tens of millions of people will experience financial distress if this passes, and tens if not hundreds of thousands will die premature deaths, all for the sake of tax cuts for a handful of wealthy people. What’s even more amazing is that Republicans are making almost no effort to justify this massive upward redistribution of income. They’re doing it because they can, because they believe that the tribalism of their voters is strong enough that they will continue to support politicians who are ruining their lives.

The Republican mission has been the same for a long time. But they used to sugar coat their rhetoric with bromides about the common good. No more:

In the past, laws that would take from the poor and working class while giving to the rich came with excuses. Tax cuts, their sponsors declared, would unleash market dynamism and make everyone more prosperous. Deregulation would increase efficiency and lower prices. It was all voodoo; the promises never came true. But at least there was some pretence of working for the common good.

Now we have none of this. This bill does nothing to reduce health care costs. It does nothing to improve the functioning of health insurance markets – in fact, it will send them into death spirals by reducing subsidies and eliminating the individual mandate. There is nothing at all in the bill that will make health care more affordable for those currently having trouble paying for it. And it will gradually squeeze Medicaid, eventually destroying any possibility of insurance for millions.

Never mind that the bill betrays the very people who put them in office. The Republicans believe their base is stupid enough to keep voting for them. Perhaps they're right.

Image: salon.com

Thursday, June 22, 2017

No Vacancy


Donald Trump is coming to Canada next May to attend the G7 Conference. He should not be invited to extend his stay or to come back. Bob Hepburn writes:

Over the years, American presidents have visited Canada numerous times. Barack Obama came twice, first in 2009 for a working visit to Ottawa and then in 2010 when he was in Toronto and Huntsville for the G8 and G20 summits. George W. Bush visited four times and Bill Clinton came five times, including a 2005 state visit during which he addressed Parliament.

But Trump is a special exception:

But none of those presidents were as irresponsible, hostile, arrogant and ignorant as Trump, a man who has done more to unleash the racist, bigoted undertone of America than any U.S. leader in any of our lifetimes.

At the same time, Trump is working hard to hurt Canada by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, picking fights with Canada over trade issues ranging from renegotiating NAFTA to imposing punitive tariffs on our exports and disparaging our defence spending.

Also, Trump displays open signs of Islamophobia, trying to bar refugees and visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries and tweeting almost instantly his disgust with Muslim terrorists for attacks in England and France, but remaining silent when a white man killed Muslims at a Quebec City mosque earlier this year or when a white man drove a van into a peaceful Muslim crowd outside a mosque this week in London.

There will be protests wherever Trump goes. As a landlord, he knows what it means when a No Vacancy sign goes up in the window.

Image: Huffington Post

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mulroney's Take On Trump



The old saw about politics making strange bedfellows remains as true as ever. Consider the alliance between Justin Trudeau and Brian Mulroney. Tim Harper writes:

Certainly in the past, Liberal prime ministers have turned to former Liberal prime ministers for wise counsel and Conservatives have done likewise, even though Stephen Harper once issued a government-wide edict that Mulroney was persona non grata because of what was finally found to be Mulroney’s inappropriate dealing with discredited former arms industry lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.

Mulroney has always kept in touch with Justin. In the hothouse of Montreal social circles, it could not be otherwise. And he saw the younger Trudeau's potential years ago. Trudeau, for his part, saw Mulroney's connections with Trump as invaluable:

Enter informal advisor Mulroney, who says he was approached by a Trudeau team which had put “all its eggs in Hillary (Clinton’s) basket and woke up the next morning and realized they knew no one on the other side.”

Mulroney said the Trudeau government was not alone in the centre-left expecting a Clinton win and “wanted it to happen in the worst way.”

And Trump is not keeping Mulroney awake at night:

He says, there is no reason for Canadians to be worried about Trump.

“No, why should we worry?” he asks.

I suggested the man was capable of tweeting the world into a war.

From Mulroney: “Don’t take the bait!

“That’s just Donald being Donald. He’s unorthodox and unusual, yes, but that’s why the American people voted for him."

Time will tell if Mulroney's take on Trump is accurate. 


Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Inspiration Is Hard To Come By



There are those who believe that the world is going to hell in an authoritarian hand basket. David Leonhardt suggests that they  -- and we -- should look at voter turnout numbers:

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Hillary Clinton would be president. Even with Donald Trump’s working-class appeal, Clinton could have swept Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Democrats would control the Senate. Clinton or Barack Obama could then have filled the recent Supreme Court vacancy, and that justice would hold the tiebreaking vote on campaign finance, labor unions and other issues.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, the country would be doing more to address the two defining issues of our time — climate change and stagnant middle-class living standards. Instead, Trump is making both worse.

Breaking down the numbers reveals why Donald Trump is president of the United States:

Polls show that a majority of Americans support progressive positions on most big issues. Yet Republicans dominate state and federal government.

Turnout is a big reason. Last year, Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 voted for Clinton over Trump in a landslide. Only 43 percent of citizens in that age group voted, however. By contrast, Americans over age 65 supported Trump — and 71 percent of them voted. Similarly, Americans in their 30s were more likely to support Clinton, and less likely to vote, than those in their 50s.

The pattern also exists across ethnic groups. Asian and Hispanic voters went for Clinton in a bigger landslide than millennials, but most Asian and Hispanic citizens didn’t vote.

And the gaps grow even larger in midterm elections. A mere 17 percent — 17 percent! — of Americans between 18 and 24 voted in 2014, compared with 59 percent of seniors.

So you may want to blame the young. Leonhardt suggests than rather than casting blame, progressives should inspire young voters: 

My instinct is that the answer for Democrats involves a passionate message of fairness — of providing jobs, lifting wages, protecting rights and fighting Trump’s plutocracy. It can be bolder than Democrats have been in decades. But it should not resemble a complete progressive wish list, which could turn off swing voters without even raising turnout.

Unfortunately, these days, inspiration is hard to come by. 

Image: quotesgram

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Catching



Donald Trump's last cabinet meeting was stomach churning. Each member of the Trump team -- with the exception of James Mattis -- dutifully genuflected before the president. Reince Priebus said it was a "blessing serving your agenda."  Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue gushed that in rural America "they love you."

Michael Harris writes that the majority of Americans are not on side with the cabinet -- for many reasons:

Gallup, by the way, painted a different picture of a president VP Pence called “a truly wonderful man.” It’s most recent poll showed a 59 per cent disapproval rating of the president’s performance to date.

The rolling out of Trump’s new Cuba policy was nearly as ghastly as the cabinet meeting. It was a triumph of 1950’s Cold War rhetoric over substance. It was the aluminium siding salesman striking again.

Trump has so openly and egregiously turned the U.S. government into a highly profitable branch of the Trump business empire that he is now being sued by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

They allege that his inescapable involvement in his family business violates the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Hard to argue: President Trump has doubled membership fees at Mar-a-Lago and China has given him a slew of valuable licenses despite its own law barring the use of foreign leaders names as trademarks.

It's madness. And it's catching.

Image: democraticmoms.com

Sunday, June 18, 2017

We'll Have To Wait And See


There are deep divisions in the New Democratic Party. It's is not the first time the party has faced the problem. Robin Sears writes:

In 1939, M.J. Coldwell risked splitting the CCF over his support for the Second World War, while his pacifist leader, J.S. Woodworth, was opposed. Except that the two men worked out an agreement that permitted party members to agree to disagree. Woodsworth maintained his honour and kept his leadership, although most party members were deeply committed to the fight against fascism.

In 1981, when the NDP struggled with one premier who supported the Charter of Rights and one who vehemently did not, with similar divisions across the party, Ed Broadbent and Allan Blakeney worked hard to prevent the disagreement from splitting the party. A vigorous convention battle ensued, but one that left no blood on the floor.

This time the issue is pipelines. B.C.'s Dippers are opposed to them. Rachel Notley's government favours them.  What's to be done? Sears doesn't offer a prescription. But he does give Dippers some free advice. In the past,

New Democratic Party leaders and activists . . . worked hard to ensure it did not happen,  smacked hard those who would use deep party differences for personal career gain, and  understood the restraint and caution that moments like these must entail.

Does it take courage for a Vancouver MP to grandstand at the expense of party unity in a leadership race about a controversial project deeply unpopular to his own base?

Is it wise, if you’re the only woman candidate, to fling epithets at the supporters of one of Canada’s — and one of the party’s — most admirable woman leaders.

Does it demonstrate leadership to deride a competing candidate seeking to find the balance a federal party’s leader must necessarily strike on internally divisive issues?

The questions answer themselves.

We live in a time where unbridled ego seems to trump party. We'll have to wait and see what happens with the Dippers.

Image: ceasefire.ca

Saturday, June 17, 2017

That's All There Was



Ruth Marcus writes that, in forty years, she's never seen anything like it:

Sometimes my role as a columnist is to advise readers not to overreact, to maintain perspective. Today my advice is to buckle up. Brace yourselves.

I’m not sure for what, exactly. President Trump firing Rod J. Rosenstein or taking moves that would force the deputy attorney general, and perhaps others, to quit? Firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose probe has pushed Trump to this frenzied state? Using his pardon power in an effort to shut down the investigation, on the theory that Mueller would then have nothing left to probe? Pardoning himself, a move of contested legality that even Richard Nixon balked at? Facing impeachment proceedings, however unlikely that may be with a Republican-controlled Congress? 

Donald Trump is a tangled mess of inconsistencies. But there is one consistent thread that ties them all together. He believes he is a victim:

He perceives himself as the ultimate victim — first of a double standard under which he is blamed while Hillary Clinton and her allies, such as former attorney general Loretta Lynch, escape responsibility. “Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?” Trump tweeted.

The second, perhaps even more deeply felt, aspect of Trump’s victimhood involves his conviction that any investigation of him constitutes an unfair attack by political enemies. “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” he tweeted. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history — led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Trump discovered his inner child seven decades ago. And he discovered that's all there was.

Image: discussionist.com

Friday, June 16, 2017

His Waterloo?


Justin Trudeau is still riding high in the polls. But Michael Harris suggests that B.C. could turn out to be his Waterloo:

Trudeau’s most immediate practical challenge to his feel-good, unbuttoned politics is the recent provincial election in British Columbia.

Trudeau made a major political blunder in aligning himself with a government whose rape-and-pillage approach to that special province is only now on display. The trade-off was obvious: Trudeau would play ball with Christy Clark and she would reciprocate by signing on to his national carbon policy.

Now that Clark and her band of corporate Liberal locusts have been thrown out, the extent of the damage they have done — and the degree of Trudeau’s sellout — is becoming more obvious by the day. Just one case in point: BC Hydro is $20 billion in debt largely because Clark insisted that it borrow to cover operational shortfalls so that she could produce balanced budgets. In other words, she pushed the utility deep into the red so she could fake it with the public on the true state of the province’s fiscal health.
Trudeau’s unholy alliance with Clark can’t be spun into gold by even the best set of rented tonsils. The prime minister was willing to barter away the environmental commitments he made on the campaign trail in return for a sitting provincial government’s cooperation on his national agenda.

It's always been true that politics makes strange bedfellows. But sleeping with the wrong partner can prove unhealthy and sometimes fatal. Trudeau has compounded the problem by pursuing policies which many West Coasters oppose:

Then, of course, there’s Kinder Morgan. British Columbians have just elected a government that is opposed to it. The new premier opposes it, the Mayor of Vancouver opposes it, the leader of the Green Party opposes it, coastal civic leaders oppose it, and First Nations have vowed to take to the ramparts to stop it. I still remember the days when Trudeau was on their side — when they at least thought he was.

So far, the PM’s reaction has been every bit as corporate as Christy Clark’s. He has rather arrogantly asserted his continuing support for Kinder Morgan, while Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has sent the insulting message to British Columbians that they don’t control their own coastline. A nice, neighborly kick in the meatpies, yes?

Having family roots in B.C. may not be enough to get British Columbians to vote for Trudeau.

Image: on-sitemag.com

Thursday, June 15, 2017

More Than Softwood and Dairy Products


In the coming NAFTA re-negotiations, Linda McQuaig argues that we should focus on Article 605 of the agreement:

Article 605 limits the power of governments to cut back energy exports. So, for instance, Canada must continue to make available to Americans the same proportion of our energy as in the previous three years.

If there were a global oil shortage -- like the ones in the 1970s -- we couldn't cut back our oil exports to the U.S. in order to redirect the oil to Canadians.

While section 605 has always offended those who care about sovereignty, it poses huge new problems in the age of global warming.

If we're serious about fighting climate change, we're going to have to phase out dirty oilsands production and rely on our remaining reserves of conventional oil (we have about 11 years left, at current rates) while we transition to clean energy, argues Gordon Laxer, founding director of the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute and author of After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians.

Mexico objected to Article 605 and got that provision waived. We should do the same. NAFTA is about more than softwood and dairy products.

Image: businessideas 2015-2016

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

They Blow Up Everything


While everyone is talking about James Comey and Jeff Sessions, the Republicans are working hard, under the cover of night. Dana Milbank writes:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invokedRule XIV,” a procedure that allows legislation to skip committees and go directly to the floor. McConnell is hoping to rush the health-care bill to a vote before the July 4 recess, and GOP senators working on the Senate legislation aren’t even sharing the specifics with their Republican colleagues.

The news outlet Axios this week reported that Senate Republicans don’t plan to divulge the details of their legislation publicly. “We aren’t stupid,” one senior GOP aide told Axios. No, they aren’t. And their subterfuge is working. Unnoticed by most, Senate Republicans believe they have cobbled together the 50 votes necessary to repeal Obamacare.

And besides killing healthcare, they're killing the financial reforms which were made after the Meltdown of 2008:

On the very day that Comey testified before the Senate, the House passed legislation largely repealing the Dodd-Frank financial reforms implemented after the 2008 crash. The bill would, among other things, remove the requirement that retirement advisers put their customers’ interests before their own. The House on Tuesday afternoon took up another controversial matter under cover of the Sessions distraction: As the attorney general testified in the Senate, the House voted along party lines to require a Social Security number for people to get Obamacare benefits. It is meant to block illegal immigrants from accessing health-care benefits. Opponents say it would also deny medical care for many newborn babies who are citizens.

Like their president, the Republicans -- all claims to the contrary -- are not master builders. Instead, they are on a seek and destroy mission. They will blow up everything they can get their hands on.

Image: newdelhitimes.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The British Election



These are tough days for progressives. But things are looking up in Britain -- just when it looked like the left was dead. Tom Walkom writes:

While Labour didn’t win the election, it did place a strong second, capturing 261 seats and denying Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives a majority in the Commons.

For Corbyn, it was a feat that just a few weeks ago was routinely dismissed as impossible.
At the beginning of the campaign, Labour appeared to be in shambles. Corbyn, a classic democratic socialist, who still promotes public ownership, was pronounced unelectable.

The 68-year-old trade unionist was said to be too old and too old-fashioned for modern Britain. Even his election as Labour leader in 2015 was widely viewed as a fluke, the result of the party’s too-hasty decision to democratize its voting process.

But Corbyn's win was no fluke:

The reasons for May’s dismal showing in Thursday’s snap election are many. She ran a disastrous campaign marked by policy flip-flops. Her main claim — that only she could safely negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union — never caught on. Indeed, the so-called Brexit issue was not discussed much at all during the campaign.

Theoretically, the Manchester and London terror attacks should have helped her. Voters tend to move rightward when their safety is threatened.

But in this case, the attacks merely reminded voters that, in a previous Tory government, May had overseen savage manpower cuts to Britain’s police forces.

And what Corbyn advocated were classic progressive policies:

Corbyn campaigned unashamedly for public ownership. A Labour government, he said, would re-nationalize both the railways and the energy grid.

It would reintroduce free tuition for university students and reregulate the financial sector. It would build more public housing, raise taxes on the wealthiest 5 per cent of Britons and bring back rent controls.

While pronouncing itself in favour of free-trade and investment deals generally, Corbyn’s Labour came out strongly against those that allow private companies to override the public interest.
Most of all, however, she paled beside Corbyn. He shone during the campaign.

Corbyn is no pacifist. He endorsed Britain's nuclear strike force. But he stood for policies which used to be anathema. Like Bernie Sanders, he put a progressive agenda back on the table. Time will tell if the public will buy it. 

Image: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Monday, June 12, 2017

A War On The Poor



Diane Ravitch used to lead the charge from the Right on American Education. But, in the last ten years, she has become deeply embittered about what the Right has done to American public education. Now that Donald Trump has released his budget, her fury is white hot:

University education will become even less affordable:

The proposed budget would maintain funding for Pell grants for needy college students, but would eliminate more than $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students. No attempt would be made to lessen the burden of escalating college costs for students, whether middle-income or poor. Student debt is currently about $1.4 trillion, and many students, whether they graduate or not, spend years, even decades, repaying their loans. These cuts will reduce the number of students who can afford to attend college. 

And, with Betsy Devos at the helm, there will be more money available for private schools and for profit universities but profoundly less for beleaguered public schools:

The most devastating cuts are aimed at programs for public schools. Nearly two dozen programs are supposed to be eliminated, on the grounds that they have “achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or are unable to demonstrate effectiveness.” In many cases, the budget document says that these programs should be funded by someone else—not the US Department of Education, but “federal, state, local and private funds.” These programs include after-school and summer programs that currently serve nearly two million students, and which keep children safe and engaged in sports, arts, clubs, and academic studies when they are out of school. They have never been judged by test scores, but the budget claims they do not improve student achievement, and aims to save the government $1 billion by ending support for them. The budget assumes that someone else will pick up the tab, but most states have cut their education budgets since the 2008 recession. No mention is made of how other sources will be able to come up with this funding.

Public schools used to educate a nation of immigrants. However, Trump policy is to build walls to keep them out. One assumes that Mr. Trump believes that public schools have outlived their time. But it goes beyond that. Trump's cuts are aimed at the poorest of the poor:

The administration wants to end many programs that are aimed at the poorest students and disadvantaged minorities in particular, while canceling vital enhancements to public school education like arts and foreign-language funding. These include supplementary educational services for Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian students ($66 million); arts education ($27 million); American history and civics academies ($1.8 million); full-service community schools that provide comprehensive academic, social, and health services to students and their families ($10 million); library-based literacy programs ($27 million); “impact aid” to districts that lose revenue because of federal facilities like military bases ($66 million); international education and foreign language studies ($73 million); the Javits program for gifted and talented students ($12 million); preschool development grants to help states build or expand high-quality preschool services ($250 million); Special Olympics programs for students with disabilities ($10 million); and Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, funds used to train teachers and to reduce class sizes ($2.345 billion). In addition, the Trump-DeVos budget would eliminate funding for a potpourri of programs including mental health services, anti-bullying initiatives, and Advanced Placement courses ($400 million). This is only a sample of the broad sweep of programs that would be eliminated, not just reduced. Some of the programs, like the Special Olympics for handicapped students, are small grants but they have both real and symbolic importance. The cuts to funds for reducing class sizes will have an immediate negative effect.
Trump does not believe in a War on Poverty. But he does believe in a War on the Poor.

Image: Pinterest.com


Sunday, June 11, 2017

No Is Not Enough



That's the title of Naomi Klein's forthcoming book. It's her reaction to and prescription for resistance to the Trump presidency. She tells The Guardian's Tim Adams:

“He keeps everyone all the time in a reactive state,” she said. “It is not like he is taking advantage of an external shock, he is the shock. And every 10 minutes he creates a new one. It is like he has these lasers coming out of his belt.”

Klein admits that she wrote the book quickly "because she feared that the further into a Trump administration America travels, the less scope there might be for resistance, for building an alternative."

And she believes that there are precedents that point the way to dealing with Trump:

She points hopefully to the example of Spain in 2004, when after the Madrid train bombings the prime minister, José Maria Aznar, announced that a state of emergency and special state powers were necessary. The people, remembering Franco, took to the streets to reject that analysis and kicked the government out, voting in a party that would pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. She is fully aware, too, of the alternative in Turkish president Recip Tayyip Erdoğan’s successful plea for dictatorial powers following the chaos of the failed coup in 2016. Klein’s book sets out those examples in advance of any comparable shock in America, and makes the case for collective resistance in the event of crisis. “I hope none of it happens [in the States] and none of it is useful,” she says, “but just in case, I wanted to have it out there as soon as possible.”

As hopeful as Klein is, she warns that evicting Trump from the White House will not be easy:

“I think he is a showman and that he is aware of the way that shows can distract people,” she says. “That is the story of his business. He has always understood that he could distract his investors and bankers, his tenants, his clients from the underlying unsoundness of his business, just by putting on the Trump show. That is the core of Trump. He is undoubtedly an idiot, but do not underestimate how good he is at that.”

The book sounds like an important read.

Image: commondreams.org

Saturday, June 10, 2017

He No Longer Knows When He's Lying



In a bizarre twist at the end of a very bizarre week, the Liar-in-Chief accused James Comey of lying. And he offered to testify under oath -- as if raising his hand would make a difference. Ezra Klein's conclusion is inescapable:

The United States government cannot be trusted so long as Donald Trump runs it.

That is the simple, chilling takeaway of James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is separate from the legal question of whether Trump obstructed justice, or the political question of whether congressional Republicans care even if he did. 

The picture Comey paints of Trump is also, importantly, the picture Trump paints of himself: He is a man who lies constantly, who values loyalty over integrity, who has little understanding of nor respect for the values and restraints that people in power impose on themselves to keep from misusing their positions, and who intends to use both his powers of hiring and firing to stock the government with people who will serve him first and the country second. 

The debate will intensify about whether Trump is guilty of obstructing justice. But regardless of how that debates ends, Jim Cornette got it right. "He’s a TV star, and he can say, ‘I’ll fix this, it’ll be great, trust me!’ I wouldn’t believe him if his tongue was notarized." Comey testified that he kept contemporaneous records of his conversations with Trump because he didn't trust him. Angela Merkel has said the same thing. Klein writes:

Stop and consider Comey’s estimation for a moment. A longtime prosecutor, Justice Department official, and eventually FBI chief, Comey thought he couldn’t trust the president of the United States of America to meet with him without lying. And of course, Trump couldn’t. Trump lies constantly. And Comey was proven right in his particular case, as Trump has repeatedly lied about him. 

And this man is the president of the United States of America.
Trump initially had his White House say Comey was fired over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, only to later admit Comey was fired over the Russia investigation, only to later say it was actually the emails. Trump has said he may release tapes of his conversations with Comey — tapes he clearly doesn’t have (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said today). Trump repeatedly told Comey he was doing a great job only to turn around and tell the country he was doing a horrible job.
Put aside where you think the truth lies in any of these judgments. The simple fact is the president of the United States lies routinely, about matters big and small. He lies about the size of his Electoral College victory. He lies about whether he’ll cut Medicaid. He is a liar. 

But what is truly disturbing is the nagging impression that Trump no longer knows when he's lying. 

Image: capitolhillblue.com

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Around For Centuries



Russian journalist Masha Gessen is something of authority on dictators. Having covered Vladimir Putin for years -- including personally interviewing him -- she's very familiar with the species. She writes that there's a myth that such men -- they are mostly men -- are evil geniuses:

We imagine the villains of history as cunning strategists, brilliant masterminds of horror. This happens because we learn about them from history books, which weave narratives that retrospectively imbue events with logic, making them seem predetermined. Historians and their readers bring an unavoidable perception bias to the story: If a historical event caused shocking destruction, then the person behind this event must have been a correspondingly giant monster. Terrifying as it is to contemplate the catastrophes of the 20th century, it would be even more frightening to imagine that humanity had stumbled unthinkingly into its darkest moments.

But a careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Putin fits nicely into that mold:

As someone who has spent years studying Mr. Putin — and as one of a handful of journalists who have had an unscripted conversation with him — I can vouch for the fact that he is a poorly educated, under-informed, incurious man whose ambition is vastly out of proportion to his understanding of the world. To the extent that he has any interest in the business of governing, it is his role — on the world stage or on Russian television — that concerns him. Whether he is attending a summit, piloting a plane or hang-gliding with Siberian cranes, it is the spectacle of power that interests him.

And, like Putin, the long time star of The Apprentice is obsessed with spectacle and ratings:

In the past few months, Americans too have grown familiar with the sight of a president who seems to think that politics consists of demonstrating that he is in charge. This similarity is not an accident (nor is it a result of Russian influence). The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal. The first American president with no record of political or military service, Donald Trump ran on a platform of denigrating expertise. His message was that anyone with experience in politics was a corrupt insider and, indeed, that a lack of experience was the best qualification.

Trump may be a new experience for Americans. But his kind has been  around for centuries.

On a personal note: I'll be away from this space for a few days. We're moving. The kids have flown the nest and my wife and I no longer need five bedrooms, ten acres and a barn. The toughest part of this experience is getting rid of 31 years of stuff. We're still purging and the moving van is coming tomorrow. When we're settled into our new home -- with a new internet connection -- I'll be back.

Image: mikesteeden.com

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Un-Enlightened Trump



Joe Stiglitz knows who Donald Trump is. He's no Master Builder. To the contrary, he's a Malevolent Wrecking Ball. He wants to destroy more than American Health Care and the Paris Climate Accord. He seeks to destroy the legacy of the Enlightenment:

For millennia before the middle of the 18th century, standards of living stagnated. It was the Enlightenment, with its embrace of reasoned discourse and scientific inquiry, that underpinned the enormous increases in standards of living in the subsequent two and a half centuries.

With the Enlightenment also came a commitment to discover and address our prejudices. As the idea of human equality – and its corollary, basic individual rights for all – quickly spread, societies began struggling to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and, eventually, other aspects of human identity, including disability and sexual orientation.

Trump seeks to reverse all of that. His rejection of science, in particular climate science, threatens technological progress. And his bigotry toward women, Hispanics, and Muslims (except those, like the rulers of Gulf oil sheikhdoms, from whom he and his family can profit), threatens the functioning of American society and its economy, by undermining people’s trust that the system is fair to all.

As a populist, Trump has exploited the justifiable economic discontent that has become so widespread in recent years, as many Americans have become downwardly mobile amid soaring inequality. But his true objective – to enrich himself and other gilded rent-seekers at the expense of those who supported him – is revealed by his tax and health-care plans.

Europe -- led by Angela Merkel -- understands this. Her conclusion that Europe and Germany can no longer rely on the United States is absolutely accurate. She reached that conclusion after the G7 Conference. Trump's rejection of the Paris Accord underscored her conclusion. Stiglitz writes that countries, states, provinces and cities have to reject everything that Trump stands for:

The rest of the world cannot let a rogue US destroy the planet. Nor can it let a rogue US take advantage of it with unenlightened – indeed anti-Enlightenment – “America first” policies. If Trump wants to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, the rest of the world should impose a carbon-adjustment tax on US exports that do not comply with global standards.

The good news is that the majority of Americans are not with Trump. Most Americans still believe in Enlightenment values, accept the reality of global warming and are willing to take action. But, as far as Trump is concerned, it should already be clear that reasoned debate will not work. It is time for action.

Trump is hopeless. He's Un-Enlighented. We must not be.

Image: Patricia Saxton
 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Polk Salad Donald



Yesterday, Donald Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Accord because, he said, it was bad for the American economy. Paul Krugman doesn't buy that argument:

About the economics: At this point, I think, we have a pretty good idea of what a low-emissions economy would look like. I’m sure that energy experts will disagree on the details, but the broad outline isn’t hard to describe.

Clearly, it would be an economy running on electricity — electric cars, electric heat, with internal combustion engines rare. The bulk of that electricity would, in turn, come from nonpolluting sources: wind, solar and, yes, probably nuclear.

Of course, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun shine when people want power. But there are multiple ways to deal with that issue: a robust grid that can ship electricity to where it’s needed; storage of various forms (batteries, but also maybe things like pumped hydro); dynamic pricing that encourages customers to use less power when it’s scarce and more when it isn’t; and some surge capacity — probably from relatively low-emission natural-gas-fired generators — to cope with whatever mismatch remains.

And would things look a lot different?

People would still drive cars, live in houses that were heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, and watch videos about superheroes and funny cats. There would be a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, but most of us would ignore them the same way we currently ignore the smokestacks of conventional power plants.

Wouldn’t energy be more expensive in this alternative economy? Probably, but not by much: Technological progress in solar and wind has drastically reduced their cost, and it looks as if the same thing is starting to happen with energy storage.

Meanwhile, there would be compensating benefits. Notably, the adverse health effects of air pollution would be greatly reduced, and it’s quite possible that lower health care costs would all by themselves make up for the costs of energy transition, even ignoring the whole saving-civilization-from-catastrophic-climate-change thing.

So Trump's economic argument doesn't hold. And, if Trump doesn't understand economics -- something that by now is abundantly clear -- what is really behind his argument? Krugman believes the truth should be glaringly apparent:

Pay any attention to modern right-wing discourse — including op-ed articles by top Trump officials — and you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.

Beyond this, much of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good. Add to this the anti-intellectualism of the G.O.P. base, for whom scientific consensus on an issue is a minus, not a plus, with extra bonus points for undermining anything associated with President Barack Obama.

The man who rode to power on the Birther Conspiracy is still riding that wave. In the 1960's Tony Joe White wrote a song called, "Polk Salad Annie" -- about a southern lady he characterized as "a wretched, spiteful, straight razor totin' woman."

 Behold Polk Salad Donald.

Image: You Tube

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How To Play A Fool



As Donald Trump makes a shambles of the world -- reports claim that he will back out of the Paris Climate Agreement today -- the Europeans and the Asians are taking two different tacts. To the Europeans, Trump is simply an idiot. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

For European leaders last week, however, extended exposure to Trump in person seems to have come as something of a shock. His ignorance about the nature of the NATO partnership is far more deep and impenetrable than anyone could have anticipated.

He pointedly refused to pledge support for the NATO guarantee of mutual defence — the very core of the alliance. What made his silence even more churlish was the occasion for it: the unveiling of a memorial to the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. — the only time that NATO’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all Article Five has been invoked.

He continued the insults by lecturing the NATO leaders about their supposed failure to contribute two per cent of their gross national product to the alliance’s budget. He clearly doesn’t know — or perhaps doesn’t care — that the two per cent is a target … for 2025.

The most publicly exasperated of the European leaders was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At a political rally on Sunday she told the crowd: “The times when we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”

Merkel is now seen by many as the leading, dependable champion of North Atlantic civic values. Britain is casting itself off from the EU and will no longer be a player of influence, but Merkel does appear to have acquired a useful sidekick in the new French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Asians also believe Trump is an idiot. But he is a useful idiot -- because they understand that pumping up Trump's vanity will get them everywhere they want to go. And they want to go places:

For the moment, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore and other traditional trade and defence partners in Asia don’t share the Europeans’ exasperation.

Japan’s Abe must take some of the credit for this. He rushed to New York soon after Trump’s election victory was announced in November and played court to the president-elect. It looked unseemly at the time, but it was a very smart move based on some shrewd analysis of Trump’s character.

All the criticisms Trump has aimed at Germany — trade imbalances, a lack of commitment to defence and a too-strong commitment to fighting global warming — can be levelled at Japan using the same mantras. But Trump has left Japan off his list of Twitter targets.

Obviously, Abe understands Trump’s vanity — and he understands that flattery will get him everywhere he wants to go with Trump.


The Asians know how to play a fool.

Image: vitamin-ha.com

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Beat Goes On



The same issues that plague our politics are on display in the British election. The central issue is what should be public and what should be private. George Monbiot writes:

Imagine designing one of our great cities from scratch. You would quickly discover that there is enough physical space for magnificent parks, playing fields, public swimming pools, urban nature reserves and allotments sufficient to meet the needs of everyone. Alternatively, you could designate the same space to a small proportion of its people – the richest citizens – who can afford large gardens, perhaps with their own swimming pools. The only way of securing space for both is to allow the suburbs to sprawl until the city becomes dysfunctional: impossible to supply with efficient services, lacking a sense of civic cohesion, and permanently snarled in traffic: Los Angeles for all.

Imagine designing a long-distance transport system for a nation that did not possess one. You’d find that there is plenty of room for everyone to travel swiftly and efficiently, in trains and luxury buses (an intercity bus can carry as many people as a mile of car traffic). But to supply the same mobility with private cars requires a prodigious use of land, concrete, metal and fuel. It can be done, but only at the cost of climate change, air pollution, the destruction of wonderful places and an assault on tranquillity, neighbourhood and community life. Such a society is ultimately unsustainable -- because resources are finite.

Theresa May is arguing that resources are infinite. Jeremy Corbin is arguing that they are not. But, unfortunately, the Labour Party  has bought into some of the same principles which animate the Conservatives:

Labour, through its proposed cultural capital fund, will reinvest in public galleries and museums. It will defend and expand our libraries, youth centres, football grounds, railways and local bus services. Unlike the Conservative manifesto, which is almost silent on the issue, Labour’s platform offers a reasonable list of protections to the living world.

But it also promises to “continue to upgrade our highways” (shortly after vowing to “encourage and enable people to get out of their cars”) and to provide new airport capacity. The conflicts are not acknowledged. Progress in the 21st century should be measured less by the new infrastructure you build than by the damaging infrastructure you retire.

The same battle we face here is being fought in Britain. And, Monbiot writes, we keep missing the point:

It is impossible to deliver a magnificent life for everyone by securing private space through private spending. Attempts to do so are highly inefficient, producing ridiculous levels of redundancy and replication. Look at roads, in which individual people, each encased in a tonne of metal, each taking up (at 70mph) 90 metres of lane, travel in parallel to the same destination. The expansion of public wealth creates more space for everyone; the expansion of private wealth reduces it, eventually damaging most people’s quality of life.

And the beat goes on.

Image: jpeg.adzuna.co.uk


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It's Not Easy

 
Justin Trudeau faces Trumpian pressure on the NAFTA file. But, Tom Walkom writes, he also faces pressure because Canada is a member of NATO. That pressure is not just about ponying up more money. It's about once again sending troops to Afghanistan:

The problem facing the NATO-led force is that it is losing. The Taliban poses a significant threat in at least 40 per cent of the country. The Afghan army on its own has been unable to defeat the insurgents.

Added to this is the growing presence in Afghanistan of the terrorist group Daesh, also known as the Islamic State.

To meet these problems, the American general in charge of the NATO-led forces wants Washington to send between 3,000 and 5,000 additional military “advisers.” The Trump White House is said to be split over the request. No matter how this is sorted out, Trump wants other NATO members to share any pain.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, said Thursday that a decision on the exact number of troops to be deployed by the alliance will be made later this year.

Oddly enough, Trudeau’s rhetoric on NATO may make it more difficult for Canada to avoid contributing troops to any expanded Afghan mission.

Faced with a U.S. president determined to have other NATO members spend more on defence, Trudeau has argued eloquently that money isn’t everything.

Dealing with Trump -- Angela Merkel will confirm this -- is a Herculean challenge:

Behind all of this is the spectre of the upcoming North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation.

The Trudeau government is fixated on keeping the trade pact linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico intact. Ottawa looks at everything, including defence, through a NAFTA lens.

The government strategy to date has been threefold. First, it is waging a public relations blitz to convince American lawmakers that it is in their own national interest to keep NAFTA more or less as is.

Second, it is waging a charm offensive to convince Trump that Trudeau is his, and America’s, best friend.

Third, it is hinting — more in sorrow than in anger — that, if forced, Canada can engage in trade practices of its own to make life difficult for American firms.

But of the three, the charm offensive is key. Faced with a president who takes perceived slights badly, Trudeau is going out of his way to stay on Trump’s good side.

Staying on Trump's good side is a Sisyphean task. As soon as you roll the stone up the hill a little, the mercurial Trump kicks it back down again.

It's not easy to stay out of Trump's swamp.

Image:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Those Who Know Take On Trump



In today's Washington Post, three former EPA administrators -- all of them Republicans -- take on Donald Trump. William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas and William Reilly begin with a bit of history:

More than 30 years ago, the world was faced with a serious environmental threat, one that respected no boundaries. A hole in the ozone layer was linked to potential increases in skin cancer and blindness from cataracts.

Despite early skepticism, the risk of a thinning ozone layer was such that an international U.N. conference was convened in Vienna to address this problem. The participating countries and international bodies, including the United States, the European Union and other major producers and users of CFCs, afterward met in Montreal to negotiate an agreement setting out a specific program to reduce the production and use of CFCs.

The Environmental Protection Agency, with strong support from President Ronald Reagan, led the international effort that resulted in a treaty that contained an aggressive schedule of reductions known as the Montreal Protocol. It remains in effect today and has resulted in significant improvement in the ozone layer and greatly reduced the threat to human health.

They then turn to today:

The EPA budget released this week cuts science and technology spending by more than $282 million , almost a 40 percent reduction. The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is zeroed out; air and energy research are cut by 66 percent. Programs targeted at specific areas with significant climate vulnerabilities, such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and Puget Sound, have been eliminated.

The destruction of irreplaceable research would be staggering. It would put us and the rest of the world on a dangerous path. If our president is wrong about the reality of climate change, we will have lost vital time to take steps to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet. If those urging collective worldwide accelerated action are wrong, we will have developed alternative sources of clean energy that will enhance our green energy choices for the foreseeable future.

The evolving response of the Republican Party to environmental issues tells the story. The Party stands for wilful ignorance. And its leader is a fool.

Image: NewsBusters

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Scheer Stupidity?



So it's Andrew Scheer. The Conservatives dodged a bullet when they narrowly rejected Maxime Bernier's full blown libertarianism. They now claim that they have chosen Stephen Harper with a smile. Throughout the campaign, they kept saying that the problem wasn't their policies, it was their failure to sell them.

Scheer's acceptance speech was full of standard Conservative boilerplate. So the party is still not where the majority of Canadians are. But Scheer has another problem. Susan Delacourt writes:

If Scheer thought keeping order in the Commons was no walk in the park during his term as Speaker from 2011 to 2015, he’s soon going to learn it’s a lot harder to break up brawls in your own caucus — disputes that have proved to be hugely divisive in Canadian politics in the past.

When Scheer finally took the stage on Saturday night (in front of more than a few Conservatives with mouths agape over this latest reversal of polling fortunes), he offered the usual call for party unity. “We will win when we are united,” he said, praising Stephen Harper, the leader he’s replacing.

Harper kept the party together by ruling with an iron fist -- and by dishing out the perks of power:

Can Scheer hammer those pieces together after this weekend — with only the perks of Official Opposition to hand out, along with the promise of cabinet spots in the distant future? We’re going to see an interesting display of political management dynamics over the next year or two.

They've always been a fractious bunch. That's why they rejected Michael Chong. I suspect they will come to regret not choosing the candidate who best understands this country. They may eventually come to the conclusion that their choice this weekend was Scheer Stupidity.

Image: Edmonton Sun