Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Antidote To Trump



Murray Dobbin writes that, appalled though we might be by President Trump, if we ignore the reasons for his rise, matters will get worse:

We tend to forget how he got there and the forces that overturned conventional politics in the U.S. If we are going to be obsessed with anything it should be this: how do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump's popularity.

We could do worse than revisit the writings of the brilliant Hannah Arendt, still perhaps the most insightful analyst of the roots of totalitarianism. A recent essay by Roger Berkowitz, "Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting The Origins of Totalitarianism," reminded me of her renewed relevance. Berkowitz writes:
"Arendt's understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon 'atomized, isolated individuals.' The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the 'neutral, politically indifferent people…'"
They join, says Arendt, because they "[a]re obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects."

Chris Hedges has spent a lot of energy describing that flight from reality. That desire to escape reality is on full display in the current Conservative leadership race. Dobbin hopes that the New Democrats will take a different path, having become "increasingly professionalized" under Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair.

That will not be easy. The CCF -- the party's parent -- started as a social movement:

The sad reality is that there are almost no social movements in Canada. While the global Women's March, the recent March for Science in the U.S., The Leap Manifesto and the Quebec students' strike were all significant and provided much-needed inspiration they are not sustained movement organizations. The women's movement in this sense has been moribund for over a decade, the anti-poverty movement likewise. There is literally no peace movement -- recall the days when every year 60,000 people marched for peace in Vancouver -- yet we are closer to nuclear annihilation today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. The labour movement has never recovered from the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs because of NAFTA and is now all but irrelevant as a national, politically engaged movement. Only the environmental movement and a resurgent First Nations movement can claim a national presence.
There are no longer any social justice coalitions because their components simply no longer exist or are barely hanging on. The Trudeau government (and, later, most provincial governments) funded dozens of grassroots organizations. I once interviewed Gérard Pelletier, the minister in charge of this funding, and believed him when he said the government was responding to left criticism that many voices were not being heard, that our democracy was shallow.

The advent of the FTA and the other elements of the so-called Washington Consensus (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social spending, privatization) was the death knell for this kind of grassroots politicking. Neoliberalism -- adopted by all the parties to a greater or lesser extent -- was intent on giving democracy (and its incessant demands for more) a cold shower and dramatically downsizing the social state. The federal and provincial governments quietly tore up the implied "contract" between social movements and the state.

Will we develop an antidote to the disease Trump represents? Time will tell.

Image: Rabble.ca

Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 Days And Counting


Peter Wehner, in the New York Times, has an instructive evaluation of Donald Trump's first one hundred days in office:

The early days of the Trump presidency have been marked by extraordinary ineptitude. We saw it right out of the gate, with his botched executive order barring refugees from particular countries. Since then the missteps have piled up: the failure of the Republican House to pass the American Health Care Act; petty arguments with allies; the conscious decision to leave hundreds of key appointments unfilled, which in its faux populism is more significant than it may appear.

Taken together (and of course I am leaving a lot out), these developments paint a portrait of a man who was wholly unprepared to fulfill his primary job requirement — to govern competently and well. At some level, Mr. Trump knows this. As he put it this week, “I thought it would be easier.”

He thought it would be easier. Trump's unbridled ego led him to believe that he was up to the job. But, time and again, he has proved that the job is too much for him:

This has been something of a theme of the Trump presidency. One telling moment came when the president, speaking to the nation’s governors about his health care plan, said: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” A second came when Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany reportedly had to explain over and over again to Mr. Trump that he could not make a trade deal with Germany directly but only with the European Union. A third came when Mr. Trump, in describing his conversation with President Xi Jinping of China about North Korea, admitted, “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.”

His judgement has proved feeble. More than that, he doesn't know how to do politics:

Effective political leaders are able to mobilize public opinion on behalf of their agenda, surround themselves with wise advisers who will challenge them and ask hard questions. They’re organized. They pay attention to details. They avoid creating unnecessary distractions and they stay clear of scandals. They find ways to work with the opposition party and they see the pattern of events sooner than the rest of us. And they know themselves, including their own weaknesses.

Trump sold his ignorance of politics as his strong suite. Unsurprisingly, it has turned out to be his Achilles Heel. As president, he is -- to use one of his favourite words -- a disaster.

Image: The Burning Platform

Friday, April 28, 2017

No Teachable Moments


Michael Harris was not impressed by the final Conservative leadership debate:

For what felt like hours, the candidates alternated between snarking at their colleagues and making grandiose claims about their own fitness for high office — the latter usually amounting to a reference to the real jobs they had before stumbling into the distorted universe of contemporary politics.

The more the hopeful talked, the more it became apparent that defeat has taught them nothing:

Former House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer offered fresh proof that his party is where dinosaurs go when they retire. With a smarmy smile pasted on his youthful face, Scheer insisted that the Conservatives were not crushed in the last election by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals because of their policies in government.

Heavens, no. It wasn’t the dysfunctional fighter jets without price-tags, the snitch line, the long string of deficits and the burgeoning national debt that put an end to a decade of Harperian bliss. Nor was it the serial lying, the politicization of the Justice department, the RCMP and just about every other department of the public service that could be brought to heel by executive intimidation.

It wasn’t a hopelessly one-sided Middle East policy, the abandonment of Canada’s veterans, the instinct to bomb first and talk never, or the personal destruction of the PMO’s enemies in trumped-up police investigations and show trials. (Luckily for the rest of us, the biggest one — the Duffy trial — went terribly wrong for the government.)

No, see … the policies were great. Canadians loved them. It was just that they weren’t explained properly, said Scheer, pointing a rhetorical finger at rivals Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch. He, grinning Andrew, will be the Explainer-in-Chief and bring the voters back to the CPC tent, or boat, or whatever it is.

There was one exception. Michael Chong's time as a Conservative has taught him a few things:

Chong, who took on Harper as a Conservative minister and paid the price, knows that without a credible environmental policy — including a carbon tax — the Tories will never win in a city like Toronto. Now, facts may not matter much in this race, but I can’t be the only one who remembers that Stephen Harper proposed a cap-and-trade system in 2006 and 2008 — years in which the Conservatives won federal elections.

Chong has learned something. The rest of the pack have had no teachable moments.

Image: new957.com

Thursday, April 27, 2017

O'Leary's Out



Kevin O'Leary has dropped out of the Conservative leadership race because, he says, he can't get support in Quebec. That was obvious on the day he announced his candidacy. Even though he was born in Montreal, he never lived outside Quebec's Anglophone bubble. But, Paul Wells writes, there is another reason why O'Leary's candidacy failed:

The lesson, which a lot of people seem slow to learn, is that conspicuous success over here does not constitute any kind of guarantee over there. Politics is its own set of skills and challenges. If you can’t speak in a way that inspires at least part of your audience, if you can’t make others want to give their time and energy, if you can’t make hard choices, stand withering abuse, organize your way out of a paper bag—if you can’t do politics, then politics doesn’t care what you can do.

So where does O'Leary's departure leave the Conservatives? Still confused: 


Is Maxime Bernier now the heir-presumptive? Maybe. This would be a remarkable outcome: handing the party of Stephen Harper to a man who believes that, on the scale of what’s possible and needed to restrict the role of government in the nation’s life, Harper did nothing significant. If Harperism was about a partial rehabilitation of social conservatism on one hand, and a steely incrementalism on the other, Bernier rejects both hands. On social questions he’s a libertarian. On economic questions he has no interest in moving slowly.
If not Max, then who? Andrew Scheer (medium-right) and Erin O’Toole (rightish) have been fighting for the mantle of Harperite continuity. Each of their campaigns is sure they see a path to victory. The rest of the field is a mix of quirky gambles (maybe Conservatives want a carbon tax! Maybe Kellie Leitch isn’t a self-animated golem!), social conservative proof-of-concept candidacies, and tragically misfiring former ambassadors, whom I won’t name but, you know, Is-Chray Alexander-way.

They are a fractious bunch. But what are we to make of O'Leary's bid for power? Like Donald Trump's presidency, it was an ego trip. Unfortunately, Trump was elected. In O'Leary's case, Canadians dodged a bullet. 

Image:  Yahoo News Canada

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All The Way To The Bank


Today is the day Donald Trump reveals his plan to revamp the American tax code. The Wall Street Journal reports that the cornerstone of his plan will be to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. Dylan Mathews writes:

This will be sold as a boost for small businesses, and it is, but it is mostly a huge giveaway to the rich — including the president himself.

More than two-thirds of income at pass-through companies (so named because their structure makes them exempt from the corporate income tax, and their profits are instead taxed upon distribution to shareholders) goes to the top 1 percent

The plan creates a massive loophole with which ordinary people can evade taxes. Instead of just working for Vox.com, I could form DylanCorp LLC, contract with Vox to provide writing services, and pay a 15 percent rate on DylanCorp’s earnings rather than my current 25 percent rate. For rich people paying a top rate of 39.6 percent (or the top individual rate of 33 percent that Trump proposed during the campaign), the incentive to do this will be even larger. A new study finds that when Kansas exempted pass-through income, the result wasn't more investment or growth but a surge in this kind of tax avoidance. This is not good policy.

But it gets really interesting when you stop and consider that the Trump Organization is a pass through company: 

It’s also a really, really huge giveaway to Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and the entire Trump family. The Trump Organization isn’t a “C corporation.” It doesn’t pay corporate income tax. Instead, it’s structured as a collection of pass-through enterprises, so the vast majority of income accruing to Trump and his family is taxed through this system. Trump almost certainly pays the 39.6 percent rate on his earnings, so he’s cutting his own top tax rate by more than half. It’s the most transparently self-interested policy he’s proposed since taking office, and it will likely save him tens of millions of dollars.

Of course, we don't know exactly how much money he will save, because we haven't seen his tax returns: 

Here’s the thing, though. We don’t know exactly how big a giveaway to Trump this is, because we don’t know what’s on his tax returns. We have no idea. We have a few details from his 2005 return, which suggests that he gets tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in pass-through income annually. That return also implied that without the alternative minimum tax, which Trump wants to repeal, he would have paid less than 3.5 percent of his income in federal income taxes. Cutting the pass-through rate while repealing the AMT would probably reduce his tax burden to roughly half that level. Instead of paying $38 million, he could've paid less than $3 million.

Trump claims he is the voice of the little man. But every day he is president, he laughs his way to the bank. 

Image: Getty Images

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Inversely Proportional



Donald Trump has us in his sights. Yesterday, he slapped a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber. Next, he'll take aim at Canadian dairy farmers. Tom Walkom writes:

What he was signalling in his off-script remarks about Canada is that the NAFTA talks between Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City will be very, very tough. Canadian officials presumably knew this already. In a draft letter to Congress leaked late last month, some of Trump’s overarching goals in renegotiating NAFTA were laid out.

These included elimination or diminution of Canada’s supply management system in dairy and poultry. They also included opening up Canadian government procurement to U.S. firms while maintaining the U.S. right to buy American.

He wants Canada to dismantle any trade barriers, such as supply management, that inconvenience the U.S. Simultaneously, he wants the U.S. to retain the right to erect trade barriers of its own.

Justin Trudeau's approach, so far, has been to make reasoned arguments on Canada's behalf. But, when dealing with Trump, Trudeau should abide by one overarching principle: the size of Trump's ego is inversely proportional to the size of his brain. The more you stroke his ego, the more his brain ceases to function.

This has become a case of personal -- not mutual -- advantage. Canadian trade policy should focus on taking advantage of a dim witted president and government. 

Image: News Corpse

Monday, April 24, 2017

With Whom He's Dealing



Michael Harris'  disenchantment with Justin Trudeau continues to grow. He is particularly bothered by Justin's attempt to soothe the Great Orange Id. He writes:

It is true that Trudeau has vowed to stand up for Canada and the values of this country. But one has to think that defending supply management and the dairy industry against the free trade wet dreams of the state of Wisconsin may not be a noble enough fight to satisfy his critics. What about Trump the bigot and hater — the guy whose own scientists are marching against him as our scientists did against Harper. After all, evolution is only a theory, right?

The political opposition is already smelling blood in the water on bigger files. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has repeatedly demanded that Trudeau stand up directly and denounce Trump’s “racism and hatred” as embodied in his doomed travel ban directed at Muslims.

Trudeau’s supporters argue, with a degree of honesty and accuracy, that he needs to be careful because of the special economic relationship with America. But according to a poll done for the Globe and Mail, Canadians don’t have much use for the Donald. A majority wants Trudeau to stand up against the US president — even if it leads to a trade war.

Harris contends that what we are seeing is a schizophrenic Trudeau, who stands with a man who stands for the opposite of what the prime minister proclaims:

Trudeau banishes two of his own caucus members after they were accused of unwanted sexual encounters with two female MPs of another party. Trump champions both Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, despite their long and sordid history of viewing women at Fox News as part of their star power perks packages.

Trudeau brought gender balance to his cabinet. Trump’s cabinet looks like a board meeting of the original members of Augusta National Golf Course. Trudeau brings Malala Yousafzai to Parliament Hill and gives her honorary Canadian citizenship. Trump defunds the global maternal health organization (the United Nations Population Fund), and fat shames ex-beauty queen Alicia Machado.

Trudeau proclaims his commitment to protecting the environment, while Trump cancels Obama’s climate change measures and appoints a man to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, whose idea of celebrating Earth Day is re-opening a coal mine.

Dancing with the Donald only leads to disaster. Harris warns Trudeau that Trump " has no friends; just family members, hangers on, and patsies."

Justin should know with whom he's dealing.

Image: CBC

Sunday, April 23, 2017

He And They Are Insane


Yesterday, Donald Trump announced that he will hold a "BIG" rally to celebrate his first one hundred days in office. Henry Giroux writes that there is little to cheer about:

Rather than address climate change, the threat of nuclear war, galloping inequality, the elimination of public goods, Trump and his vicious acolytes have accelerated the threats faced by these growing dangers. Moreover, the authoritarian steam roller just keeps bulldozing through every social protection and policy put in place, however insufficient, in the last few years in order to benefit the poor, vulnerable, and the environment.

A neo-fascist politics of emotional brutality, militant bigotry, and social abandonment has reached new heights in the United States. Think about the Republican Party call to eliminate essential health benefits such as mental health coverage, guaranteed health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of Meals on Wheels program that benefit the poor and elderly.

Trump's signature achievement -- if you can call it that -- has been to establish a culture of cruelty in the United States:

Under these circumstances, everyone is viewed as either a potential terrorist or narcissistic consumer making it easier for the Trump machine to elevate the use of force to the most venerable national ideal while opening up lucrative markets for defense and security industries and the growing private prison behemoth.

It's worth noting that the man Trump selected to fill the empty Supreme Court seat cast his first vote last week -- to execute a man in Arkansas.  And all the while,

the government propaganda machine has turned into a comic version of a failed Reality TV series. Witness the daily spectacle produced by the hapless Sean Spicer. Spicer dreams about and longs for the trappings of Orwell’s dystopia in which he would be able to use his position as a second rate Joseph Goebbels to produce, legitimate, and dictate lies rather than be in the uncomfortable scenario, in which he now finds himself, of having to defend endlessly Trump’s fabrications. For Spicer, the dream of the safety of Orwell’s dystopia has given way to the nightmare of him being reduced to the leading character in the Gong Show. Actually, maybe he is the confused front man for our stand-in-president who increasingly resembles the psychopath on steroids, Patrick Bateman, from the film, American Psycho—truly a symbol for our times.

Trump and his supporters are going to celebrate this? He and they are insane.

Image: Hollywood Reporter

Saturday, April 22, 2017

When History Supposedly Ended

 
Our world is in tumult. If you're looking for the sources of the disruption, Jonathan Freeland writes that you'll find them in the 1990's. The '90's seemed like a placid decade, when conflicts were resolvable:

If it wasn’t FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela sealing the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 90s, it was a bleary-eyed group of nationalists and unionists reaching the Good Friday agreement in Belfast in 1998. For a while, even the most intractable conflict seemed within reach of resolution, as the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993.

In much of the west, the 90s was the decade when the previous – and future – sense of constant geopolitical danger receded. Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History”, as if all the big conflicts were now resolved and liberal democracy triumphant. Making his point, we soon became diverted by smaller, less fateful concerns.

But history never ends. It's always being made. And it's in the quiet times that tectonic shifts begin to take shape. In the decade before World War I, soothsayers were predicting a glorious Age of Human Progress. The storm, however, was just underneath the surface. So it was in the '90's:

Take Brexit. The 90s saw the birth of Euroscepticism as a serious political force, galvanised in part by Black Wednesday – Britain’s ejection from the exchange rate mechanism – in 1992. Ukip was founded in 1993, but more important was the continuing rebellion in parliament against the Maastricht treaty, which began that same year. Both the new party and the Tory rebels were dismissed at the time as cranks, but their fight would not rest until they had recorded their victory in June 2016.

Similarly, the 1990s saw the birth of New Labour. The trajectory is complicated, but two dynamics might be relevant. The first is that the election of Jeremy Corbyn was, in part, a reaction against the centrist project shaped by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in that decade. But more subtly, as Labour began to look and sound more metropolitan, more middle class, many of its longtime working-class supporters felt steadily more remote – an estrangement that culminated in large swaths of traditional Labour territory voting leave.

Beyond these shores, the 1990s saw the birth of the internet and, with it, globalisation in its contemporary form. Millions would benefit, but millions would also be left behind – including many of those who voted for Brexit and elected Trump.

All of this happened when history supposedly ended.

Image: You Tube

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trump's Rome



There are parallels between the last days in Rome and the fall of the American Empire. Eric Morse writes:

Applying ‘Fall of Rome’ memes to U.S. politics has been a popular pastime since at least the 1990s, but suddenly we are faced with a president who is meme incarnate. It’s less fanciful than it might seem; of all the sovereignties in history, Rome and America are two that fully believed themselves to be founded in the rule of law.

Looking back at the slow collapse of the two-party system, the extreme polarization of American society and the ever-more-blatant misbehaviour of public figures over the past 20 years, perhaps no one should have been surprised. In many ways it’s more reminiscent of the century-long collapse of the Roman Republic. But the U.S. presidency has been getting more imperial as the legislature has become more deadlocked, irrespective of the incumbent.
What sets this incumbent apart is his sheer, stunning incompetence — a Roman Circus on Pennsylvania Avenue. And the man at centre of it all is, unselfconsciously, loving every minute of it.

Trump can tweet. But he can't legislate. And therein lies the difference between him and several nutbar emperors. At least they knew how to get things done:

The Romans were far better at practising power politics than theorizing about it, but here a fascinating third-century-BC Chinese authority steps in to help out. ‘The Six Handles of Lord Shang’ tells us that:

“Allowing a man to live or killing him, enriching him or impoverishing him, honouring him or debasing him, these six handles are what the ruler grasps.”

The Romans were past masters of all six handles. They also understood (more or less as Vladimir Putin does) that they have to be used in a measured fashion. What they did do — as the Empire went on and the ruler’s direct power was increasingly threatened with suffocation by the bureaucracy — was keep a careful, slightly arbitrary hand on the structures of rule, sufficient to keep even the highest and cagiest bureaucrats off-balance.

As crazy as they were, Nero and Caligula  kept things going for quite awhile. But, under Trump, the decline of the United States should come quickly.

Image: You Tube

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Much Better At Making War



Now that the Trump administration has discovered that, to get to North Korea, its armada has to sail in the opposite direction, Tom Walkom suggests that it should also reverse direction when it comes to dealing with the Hermit Kingdom:

Technically, the war that began in 1950 when Pyongyang invaded South Korea is still ongoing. An armistice in 1953 halted the fighting, the idea being that the warring parties would meet within three months to hammer out a formal peace treaty. But the meeting never occurred.

It's time, Walkom suggests, to hammer out that peace deal:

The war was brutal and nasty. American bombers flattened the North. Hundreds of thousands of civilians throughout the Korean Peninsula were killed or wounded.

And it taught the regime in the North two lessons. First, it could wage war against the world’s most powerful nation and survive. Second, China — while a reluctant ally — would in the end and for its own geopolitical purposes always come to Pyongyang’s aid.

Both of these views still seem to hold in the North — which is why Trump’s strategy of bluster and intimidation is unlikely to work.

The Americans have never been able to see things from the North Korean perspective:

Pyongyang twisted and turned. But throughout, it kept returning to the same reality — in a world dominated by the hostile Americans, nuclear weapons were necessities. The downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya showed what could happen to regimes without weapons of mass destruction. North Korea wasn’t about to make the same mistake.

In short, don’t expect the North’s current dynastic dictator, Kim Jong Un, to give up nuclear weapons just because Trump is talking tough. Other U.S. presidents talked tough with Kim’s grandfather and father. Both survived.

Similarly, don’t expect China to work miracles. China may have little patience for its ally’s grand nuclear ambitions. And it is exerting some economic pressure on Pyongyang by, for instance, refusing to buy North Korean coal.

Given those realities, it's time to finish what was started in 1953. But it appears that Mr. Trump is much better at making war -- with his political rivals -- and with other nations of the world. 

Image: CNN

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Oblivious To It All


During the election campaign, Donald Trump called Barack Obama an "habitual vacationer." Eugene Robinson writes in The Washington Post:

A conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, estimated that Obama cost taxpayers $97 million in leisure travel costs during his two terms. But Obama now looks like a relative cheapskate, while it is Trump who seems unable to break the habit.

Trump opined that Obama spent way too much time on the golf course. But, as with everything else about Trump, the hypocrisy is stunning:

Trump vowed last year that when he became president, he would be working so hard that “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” That turns out to have been wrong. A more accurate prediction would have been, “I'm going to play golf all the time.”

Trump has found time to play golf 14 times since his inauguration. At this point in his presidency, Obama hadn’t yet taken up the game; when he did, one of his most vocal critics was one Donald Trump, who complained that a president should have more important things to do. Maybe now Trump has figured out how to Make America Great Again with a pitching wedge.

Robinson acknowledges that some might accuse him of being petty. But he then goes on to put Trump's hypocrisy in context:

Trump’s love of leisure is yet another example of the gaping chasm between the kind of president he claimed he would be and the kind he actually is. Trump portrayed himself as a man of the people, not in any literal sense — he also portrayed himself as worth $10 billion, you will recall — but in the cultural sense. He was used to wearing a hard hat. He could safely navigate a construction site. He knew the value of an honest day’s work. He was Joe Sixpack, if Joe Sixpack didn’t drink and had a supermodel wife.

Trump also promised a set of populist policies designed to help the working class. Instead, he has tried to deliver an orthodox Republican agenda that offers tons of goodies for the wealthy and nothing but lumps of coal for everyone else. His first attempt to pass major legislation would have taken health insurance away from 24 million people.

His foreign policy has been incoherent. His immigration policy has been mean-spirited and unserious. His fiscal policy seeks to punish the poor. His top aides spend much of their time stabbing one another in the back.

And Trump is oblivious to it all. 

Image: Agence France-Presse

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Another Huge Disappointment


I cannot imagine that, these days, Pierre would applaud Justin's performance. Trudeau the Elder famously said that living next to the United States was like sleeping with an elephant. But I doubt that he would counsel his son to navigate the relationship by climbing on the elephant's back. That, however, is what Justin has been doing lately. He applauded Donald Trump's attack on Syria. Now he is boycotting a key UN disarmament initiative. Linda McQuaid writes:

Having Trump's back may be Trudeau's idea of putting Canada back on the world stage, but it feels more like a revival of the Harper era.

And while the Trudeau team is very worked up about chemical weapons, they seem strangely unconcerned about nuclear ones.

Indeed, the Trudeau government is breaking a long-standing and worthy Canadian practice by snubbing important new UN negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament.

Pierre Trudeau crusaded against nuclear weapons. Back in 1983, he tried to end the Cold War, doing his own shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Washington. Mr. Trump has signaled that he wants to rebuild his country's nuclear capacity, and he has refused to join the discussions which will include 123 of the 193 members of the UN.  Justin's decision to side with Trump

has prompted condemnation from more than 900 Order of Canada recipients, led by Nobel-laureate John Polanyi and former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Douglas Roche, who calls the Trudeau government's stance "astounding" and "a denial of the country's long track record of working constructively for nuclear disarmament."

Another huge disappointment.

Image: Pinterest

Monday, April 17, 2017

He Doesn't Believe Government Should Do That


Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal mining and manufacturing jobs. But a lot more jobs have been lost in the service sector. Consider what has happened in retailing. Paul Krugman writes:

Even as Mr. Trump was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and there, Macy’s announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000 workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.

Overall, department stores employ a third fewer people now than they did in 2001. That’s half a million traditional jobs gone — about eighteen times as many jobs as were lost in coal mining over the same period.

As customers have switched to on line retailers, like Amazon, shopping malls have gone empty. The same phenomenon has happened in the newspaper business:

And retailing isn’t the only service industry that has been hit hard by changing technology. Another prime example is newspaper publishing, where employment has declined by 270,000, almost two-thirds of the work force, since 2000.

Why the focus on mining and manufacturing? It's easy to blame liberals and foreigners for the job losses:

Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.

But, in the United States, lots of jobs disappear every day: "In an ever-changing economy, jobs are always being lost: 75,000 Americans are fired or laid off every working day. And sometimes whole sectors go away as tastes or technology change."

So what's to be done?  Workers need to be supported as they prepare for the new jobs that are coming on stream:

We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong — which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

But Mr. Trump doesn't believe that government should do that. 

Image: Work It Daily

Saturday, April 15, 2017

They Can't Go Home Again


Andrew Nikiforuk believes that Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Drawing on the work of Nafeez Ahmed, he writes:

The world faces not a “clash of civilizations” with radical Islam (although the dust-up remains a significant challenge), but a crisis of civilization that includes riotous climates, poisoned oceans, failing forests and collapsing economies.

Ahmed is a British investigative journalist who has been connecting the dots on energy, climate change and globalization for years. The title of his latest book sums up our current predicament: Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.

The challenges we face today are all interconnected; and the whole mess begins with energy declines:

As the world runs out of cheap fossil fuels, industry has switched to earthquake-making shale gas fracking, messy bitumen oil sands projects and deep offshore oil.

But these extreme fuels, which require complex technologies to extract, are poor substitutes for cheap oil. They not only return less energy but also require more capital, water and energy to extract.

Our economy, largely shaped by the high-energy returns of cheap fossil fuels, doesn’t know how to metabolize costly fuels that deliver minimal returns.

Meanwhile hydrocarbon emissions are also destabilizing the climate, melting ice, fostering extreme weather and acidifying oceans.

Cheap energy used to be the Golden Goose. But things have changed:

As Ahmed notes, global oil and gas production once offered God-like energy returns of 100 to one. For every barrel spent finding and extracting oil, society secured a hefty surplus or what the ecologist Charles Hall famously described as “EROI”: energy return on investment. Unprecedented net returns fuelled the unnatural scale of economic growth for 100 years.

But those bountiful energy returns are now falling off a cliff. Today, net energy returns average around 15 to one. Once returns drops below 10 per barrel of energy expended, fossil fuels can’t generate enough surpluses to pay for the arts, government and society as we know it, let alone a transition to renewable energy.

As the quality of fuels decline, the global economy, a highly engineered tree fertilized by cheap oil, has registered the change as “economic stagnation” and stopped growing.

In financial papers, the words stagnation and inequality have become the economy’s dominant vocabulary.

Donald Trump promises to return to the good old days. That's why his Secretary of State is the former CEO of Exxon. But Trump and Rex Tillerson can't go home again. And -- slowly -- it's beginning to dawn on ordinary folks that they can't go home again, either.


Friday, April 14, 2017

His Is Bigger Than Yours



Donald Trump has just dropped the Mother of All Bombs on Afghanistan. And a naval task force -- aircraft carrier, destroyers and missiles -- will soon drop anchor off the coast of North Korea. Michael Harris writes:

If Kim Jong Un decides to conduct a sixth nuclear test to celebrate Korea’s birthday, Donald Trump’s bluff will be called. It will then come down to a single question: What will the guy driving the Big Winnebago without a roadmap do?

Trump could, of course, flatten North Korea like a cardboard treehouse. But the teeming killing grounds of Seoul and Tokyo are within the reach of Kim’s own missiles; he already has  said he would launch a nuclear strike of his own if attacked. Even North Korea’s conventional weapons are more than enough to flatten Seoul, population 10 million. Would the president take that chance in order to win a swinging dick contest between two egos that could only fit into the Rogers Centre one at a time?

It's impossible to conclude what Trump would say. But, then, words don't mean anything to Trump:

Trump is proving with each passing hour of his First Hundred Days that nothing could possibly mean less to him than words.

Take his tweet on International Women’s Day, which begins with this phrase: “I have tremendous respect for women …” The words are clear, concise — and disingenuous enough to make a dog weep.

While running for the Republican nomination, Trump ridiculed fellow candidate Carly Fiorina’s looks. He fat-shamed a former Miss Universe (particularly galling, given how the man himself needs a sturdy girdle, better hair implants and corrective surgery for a bad case of Mussolini mouth). And then there was the whole “grab ’em by the pussy” thing, airily dismissed by his handlers as “locker room talk.” Just words, in other words.
But it's even more impossible to predict what Trump will do:

Any notion of a Trump Doctrine is oxymoronic. There is no policy. There are no campaign promises that matter. There is no strategy. There are no congressional checks and balances.

And there is no Rasputin in the Oval Office, no guiding genius, good or evil — just angleworms in a jar trying to saw each other in two, and a fashion maven advising on missile strikes. Mostly, there’s just Donald Trump, bouncing off the walls of the White House like a kid on a sugar high.

Happy Easter -- maybe.

Image: We Are Change

Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Idea That Can Reshape The World



Our devotion to infinite growth has put the future of the planet in peril. And, our leaders -- incapable of breaking away from that paradigm -- are dumbfounded. George Monbiot writes:

The most they tend to offer is more economic growth: the fairy dust supposed to make all the bad stuff disappear. Never mind that it drives ecological destruction; that it has failed to relieve structural unemployment or soaring inequality; that, in some recent years, almost all the increment in incomes has been harvested by the top 1%. As values, principles and moral purpose are lost, the promise of growth is all that’s left.

But a British economist, Kate Raworth, has proposed a new economic paradigm:

The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there.

As well as describing a better world, this model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.

The aim of economic activity, she argues, should be “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet”. Instead of economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive, we need economies that “make us thrive, whether or not they grow”. This means changing our picture of what the economy is and how it works.

She sees the economy as a doughnut:

Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.

The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy. Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world.
The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there.

As well as describing a better world, this model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.

Every century or so, a new idea comes along that can reshape the world.

Image: The Guardian

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Parroting The American Line



Chrystia Freeland said this week that it was time for Vladimir Putin to end his support for Bashar al-Assad. Lawrence Martin writes that Freeland's demand will fall on deaf ears. Martin used to report from Moscow and he understands the Russians better than Freeland:

It’s about the pride of his pride. One thing that struck me about Russians in three years spent there in Soviet times was not only the degree to which they were subjugated but, antithetically, their intrinsic sense of pride. It was attributable to size, the massive land, the reach of empire, the military might, the defeat at such horrendous cost of Hitler’s Germany. If they were downtrodden they still held to be being part of something strong, powerful.

I’d come to Moscow following a few years in Washington, where making the people feel proud was what Ronald Reagan did after the perceived downsizing of America under Jimmy Carter. Following the reticent rationalism of Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump now uses what distortions he can find to cast himself as the author of a return to greatness for his country. In the Trump foreign policy shop, traditionalists and cold-warrior types such as H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, are gaining the upper hand. It is welcome news given the helter-skelter approach of a president who operates with an alarming knowledge deficit.
In any new big power clash, Ms. Freeland, whose animosity toward Mr. Putin knows few bounds, would like to see Canada play more than a role of bystander. Pierre Trudeau was a contrarian who sought to have a disproportionate influence in the Cold War. But Justin Trudeau does not possess his father’s prickly outsider streak and is too much the new kid on the block to start throwing his weight around.

Nonetheless, Justin has backed Trump's missile strike. And Freeland sounds a lot like Trump on this issue. Both would do well to remember the elder Trudeau's caution before parroting the American line. 

Image: Slide Share

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Usually Chaos



Michael Gerson puts Donald Trump's attack on Syria in context. It's not just that Trump is uninformed, he writes. It's that he's unformed:

Like on health care, he seems to be encountering these issues for the very first time. It is unlikely that he played through the scenarios of humanitarian intervention and regime change during campaign policy briefings with national security experts. Trump’s Stephen Bannon-ridden inaugural address claimed that the world’s troubles are not the United States’ problem. But then there are the “babies” killed by an apparent nerve agent. 

What drove Trump's quest for the presidency wasn't ideas. His ideas are totally inconsistent. What drove his quest was his need for applause:

Inconsistency is the most consistent theme of Trump’s young presidency. During the campaign, he opposed entitlement reform, yet his health-care bill contained the most fundamental entitlement reform — moving federal Medicaid spending from an open-ended match for state spending to a capped amount per person — that Congress has recently considered. He campaigned as a tribune for the working class, yet his economic approach seems heavily tilted toward the interests of the wealthy.

 His inconsistency illustrates:

a complete unfamiliarity with the issues and debates at the heart of American politics. He never encountered these matters during previous government service (which he did none of). He was not forced to explain his views during primary or general election debates (a few lines from the stump speech more than sufficed). Trump was not hiding an inner sophistication. His ignorance was presented as part of an anti-establishment package — as contempt for the quibbles of smaller men. 

What will he do next? Who knows? But when the uninformed and unformed meet, the result is usually chaos.

Image: Your News Wire

Monday, April 10, 2017

Unwise


The ascension of Justin Trudeau was greeted with a great deal of hope. But that hope is fading fast. Michael Harris writes:

The politician who promised a bright, new day in Canadian politics, has already disappointed First Nations, environmentalists, veterans, electoral reformers, and those expecting swift action on repealing the odious police-state legislation from the Harper era, Bill C-51.

Some have called Trudeau’s underwhelming performance a question of “over-promising.” It looks more like bad faith.

Trudeau's attempts to dance with Donald Trump are particularly disturbing. Consider what Trump has said about Syria prior to last week's Cruise missile attack:

In 2013, nearly 1,400 civilians died in a gas attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. That included a large number of children. (By comparison, a relatively modest 72 people died in this week’s gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun.) The President of the day in 2013, Barack Obama, tried to make the case for a military intervention in Syria with a reluctant Congress. He failed. Citizen Trump weighed in on the debate with his Twitter bazooka.

“Again, to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do, many bad things will happen and from that fight the US gets nothing…We should stay the hell out of Syria. The rebels are just as bad as the current regime…”

  During the 2016 presidential election, Trump offered this bit of wisdom on Fox News:

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families…When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

When you say it three times, chances are you mean it.

Yet Trudeau backed Trump last week. It's unwise to support a leader whose opinions change as often as he changes underwear.

Image: CBC

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Quite A Pair


Donald Trump desperately needs a "win." His attack on a Syrian airfield was supposed to be one -- but the airfield was operating on the next day. On Friday, his nominee for the Supreme Court was confirmed -- but he had to break the rules to get his way. The man who helped him break the rules was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who four years earlier said this about what happened on Friday: “Breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American. I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts.”

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post:

That McConnell did a 180 on the topic — going from the institutional defender of the filibuster to the man who destroyed it — is unsurprising. He has frequently shifted his views to suit the needs of the moment.

The record of the many times McConnell has changed his principles is really quite remarkable. In 1994,

he was fighting all attempts at campaign-finance reform and spending limits, championing disclosure of contributions as the antidote. But when the Supreme Court allowed unlimited “dark money” in campaigns without disclosure, McConnell reversed course and has fought all attempts to enact disclosure. 

And when it came to filibustering Barack Obama's choices to fill court seats, consider these numbers:

By 2013, for example, 79 of Obama’s nominees had been blocked by filibusters, compared with 68 in the entire previous history of the Republic.

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was confirmed last year, it took McConnell less than an hour to say that the vacancy should be filled by the next president. He called keeping Obama’s nominee off the court “one of my proudest moments.” 

McConnell has no respect whatsoever for Senate collegiality:

Although his predecessors at least attempted collegiality, McConnell practices no such niceties (recall his “nevertheless, she persisted” silencing of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren). But most characteristic of McConnell is his tendency to shift his views to suit current exigencies (on the minimum wage, withdrawal from Iraq, earmarks, abortion, labor and civil rights) and his adroitness at gumming up the works: forcing clerks to spend hours reading a bill aloud on the floor; opposing immigration legislation he’d encouraged; asking for a vote on a debt-ceiling proposal and then trying to filibuster it; urging the Obama administration to support a bipartisan debt commission and then voting against it.

He and Trump make quite a pair. Together they represent the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party. 

Image: Huffington Post

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Still Looking Out For No. 1

 
Donald Trump is receiving  a lot of support for his decision to unleash Cruise missiles on Syria. Even Hillary Clinton agreed with his decision. However, Jonathan Freeland writes that, while the missiles sent a message, no one should forget who sent it:

On Syria, Donald Trump has performed a U-turn so screeching, so dizzying, you can smell the burned rubber from here. Just 72 hours before these airstrikes, his administration was all but flashing a green light at Assad, hinting that he could do what he liked. Pull back further, and the volte-face is even more stunning. For years, Trump was adamant that he would stay out of Syria. Even when chemical weapons were used in August 2013, killing an estimated 1,300 people in Ghouta, Trump was firm: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long-term conflict?” he tweeted. It’s the abandonment of that stance that has so disappointed Trumpists such as Hopkins, Nigel Farage and the neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer. They thought they were getting a true isolationist in the Oval Office.

It amounts to schizophrenic foreign policy. And, rather than protesting the murder of young children, the attack on Syria conveniently changes the channel:

How convenient that Trump, under fire for being Vladimir Putin’s poodle, now stands up to him in Syria. How neatly this blows away all those allegations of secret links and election hacking. Yes, there have been ample statements of condemnation from Moscow, but those don’t cost either side anything. The US appears to have given Russia sufficient warning to ensure their men weren’t hit, and Russia used none of its ample capacity to hit back. It all worked out very nicely.

Moreover, as Mrs. Clinton noted:

What makes his newfound compassion ring all the more hollow is that while Trump is ready to bomb a runway for those beautiful babies who are dead, he still won’t let America open its doors to those who cling to life. Refugees from Syria remain on Trump’s banned list, including every “child of God” traumatised by Assad and his barrel bombs, raining fire from the sky.

Mr. Trump is still looking out for No. 1.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Unapologetic Ugliness



There are those who claim that Donald Trump is a new kind of Republican. Paul Krugman isn't so sure. When it comes to governing, Trump keeps repeating Republican boilerplate -- and getting nothing done -- because Republicans don't know how to generate policy:

Mr. Trump’s first great policy and political debacle — the ignominious collapse of the effort to kill Obamacare — owed almost nothing to executive dysfunction. Repeal-and-replace didn’t face-plant because of poor tactics; it failed because Republicans have been lying about health care for eight years. So when the time came to propose something real, all they could offer were various ways to package mass loss of coverage.

Similar considerations apply on other fronts. Tax reform looks like a bust, not because the Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing (although it doesn’t), but because nobody in the G.O.P. ever put in the hard work of figuring out what should change and how to sell those changes.

A push for a genuine trillion-dollar construction plan (as opposed to tax credits and privatization), which would need Democratic support given the predictable opposition from conservatives, would be a departure. But given what we heard in the interview — basically incoherent word salad mixed with random remarks about transportation in Queens — it’s clear that the administration has no actual infrastructure plan, and probably never will.

True, there are some places where Mr. Trump does seem likely to have a big impact — most notably, in crippling environmental policy. But that’s what any Republican would have done; climate change denialism and the belief that our air and water are too clean are mainstream positions in the modern G.O.P.

So has Trump's rise made any difference to the GOP? In one way, Krugman argues, it has. The clue is in Trump's defence of Bill O'Reilly: 

One way to think about Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to think about the Trump White House is that it’s attempting to expand that safe space to include the nation as a whole.

Trump and O'Reilly are Ugly Americans on steroids.They embody what Krugman calls "unapologetic ugliness."

Thursday, April 06, 2017

One Wonders


 Brent Rathgeber is not happy. He writes that, philosophically, he's a conservative:

As a conservative, I believe in a market economy. I believe that, when it comes to government, less is more. I appreciate that taxes and government are unavoidable — but I’d still prefer less of both. I believe that governments should respect taxpayers and tax dollars and that it should operate in a transparent and accountable way.

But, these days, he's not a Conservative:

I’d been a member of this party since its inception, and was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative twice. I personally know 12 out of the 14 candidates in the current leadership race. Three of them are friends of mine. But this time, I couldn’t think of a good reason to get involved.

This leadership race has been a train wreck, dominated by Trump Lite xenophobic dog whistles and embarrassing displays of ignorance of Canadian federalism and how our Constitution works. Part of the problem is the math. With fourteen candidates chasing the prize, a candidate needs to be colourful to attract attention.

Thoughtful policy positions don’t stand a chance when the circus comes to town. The loudest and the most outrageous clowns always shout down the rational and the reasonable. By this standard, we’re led to believe that Kevin O’Leary and Kellie Leitch are frontrunners. Brad Trost also wins undeserved media attention by telling a lot of people (who never asked) that’s he’s troubled by “the whole gay thing.”

Rathgeber really doesn't know who will win; but he's not hopeful:

Given the ranked preferential ballot and each of the 338 ridings counting equally, predicting a winner is pretty tough. Perhaps a second-tier candidate like Michael Chong or Andrew Scheer or Lisa Raitt can emerge and save the party from itself.

But I am becoming less and less hopeful. This contest will be decided ultimately by those who paid $15 for the privilege of getting involved. That means the next leader won’t necessarily be the smartest or the most electable candidate, but someone who can sell many memberships and attract second and third preferences from the competition.

One wonders how many other people feel as Rathgeber does.

Image: QuotesGram

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Freedom From Democracy



For forty years, the buzzword on the Right has been "freedom." George Monbiot writes:

Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

Freedom. Sounds good, Who, for instance, could be against freedom of thought? But when those on the Right -- the Trumpists and Brexiteers -- use the word, freedom has a very specific meaning --  the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor:

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Red tape, they say, makes business uncompetitive. And, when business can't compete fairly, that's bad for everybody. The way to cut red tape is to shut down public institutions:

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us.

And so, Donald Trump is still trying to tear down public health care in order to "cut red tape" and leave Americans "free to choose" the healthcare they can't afford. But all this really isn't about an individual's freedom to choose. It's about freedom from democracy, which:

Friedrich Hayek celebrated in The Constitution of Liberty, or as John Galt, who led a millionaires’ strike against the government in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. Like Hayek, they regard freedom from democracy as an absolute right, regardless of the costs this may inflict on others, or even themselves.

Freedom from democracy -- that's what it's all about.

Image: Pinterest

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Lords of Misrule



Neal Gabler is on to something. He admits that he was wrong about Donald Trump:

So many of us were wrong, myself included, about Donald Trump. We saw in the jut-jawed, brow-furrowed Mussolini-like posturing, in the blatant narcissism, in the reckless disregard for truth, the anger and incitement to hatred, the declamations that he would fix everything single-handedly on Day One of his presidency, his disdain for democracy and hints that he would lock up his opponents — we saw in all of these things incipient fascism.

Trump is an authoritarian. But he doesn't have the talent to make authoritarianism work. The failure of his health care plan proved that:

Last Friday, with the demise of the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare and replace it with… well, with a massive tax giveaway to the rich, we discovered — I discovered — that I was fearing the wrong thing. It’s not Trump’s ability to marshal the forces of repression that should terrify us. It’s his inability to marshal forces to conduct even the most basic governance. Trump really is a presidential Joker. He knows how to wreak havoc, but he doesn’t seem to know how to do, or seem to want to do, much else.

Trump poses as an authoritarian. But -- aided and abetted by his Republican lackeys -- he's actually an anarchist:

The truth may be that chaos is more his métier than tyranny. As much as he says he hates losing, we may have actually caught a glimpse of the real Trump, the one sitting at his desk, smug and seemingly self-satisfied after his terrible defeat on Friday. This Trump may have thought he won by losing. No, he hadn’t won the congressional vote. But he had sown disarray, certainly within his own party and gradually throughout the health care system, especially once he joins judicial challenges to curb Medicaid expansion, as he undoubtedly will. The anarchistic tendency prevailed over the authoritarian one. Things fell apart. He wasn’t necessarily an unhappy Joker.

This is what many of the pundits, myself included, may have missed in the whole Obamacare repeal-and-replace saga. We thought there was some ideological obsession on the right with repealing Obamacare because it was a government program, because it helped people whom Republicans believed undeserving (the poor), and because it was a signal achievement of the Obama administration: not necessarily good reasons but at least reasons. And we thought Trump, who seemed to have no ideological commitment to anything, wanted to repeal it because it would be a demonstration of his muscle as well as a way to unman Obama. And we may have thought that after repeal, Republicans wanted a new plan that would basically defund Medicaid to injure the poor and further enrich the wealthy with the billions of dollars in proceeds. In short, we may have thought there was some vaguely coherent direction to the anti-Obamacare enterprise.

But the unvarnished truth is that Trump and the Republicans know how to oppose, but they don't know how to create anything:

Republicans may talk tough. They may tout the idea of conservative, market-driven solutions to our problems, but somehow, serious solutions never get presented because, frankly, Republicans don’t have any interest in them.

When you come down to it, Republicans are really anarchists dedicated to undermining government in the furtherance of an economic state of nature where the rich rule. What we saw these past few weeks was not the failure of Republicanism, as so many pronounced on Friday, but its logical and inevitable conclusion. Republicans are great at opposing things, destroying things, obstructing things, undoing things. They are really, really terrible at creating things because they have no desire to do so.

They are the Lords of Misrule.

Image: Granta

Monday, April 03, 2017

No Place For Amateurs

 
The Bloviators of the Right have claimed for a long time that government should be run like a business. Donald Trump's son-in-law recently repeated that claim. Government, he said, should be run like "a fine American business." Robin Sears writes that anyone who buys that claim is a dupe:

To anyone who has served in government the reasons why this fantasy always ends in tears are obvious. Politics is a profession, and governing successfully requires years of training. Governing is about choice: hard difficult, unpleasant choices. As several presidents have observed, most recently Barack Obama, if the decision were not risky and dangerous it would not have risen to the president’s desk. CEOs’ decisions rarely carry risks of life and death.

Donald Trump is once again proving that the government/business meme is wrongheaded:

A casino operator can, with relative ease, assess what marketing expenditure and pricing decisions will deliver what revenue and profit. Governments have no such dependable metrics. The variables capable of wrecking a public program are almost endless: foot-dragging bureaucrats, undermining political opponents, less than truthful participants and measurement tools less useful that a wet finger raised to the breeze.

Obama devoted 14 months, hundreds of speeches, thousands of staff hours negotiating — and then most painfully — spending enormous political capital, including the loss of both the House and the Senate, in winning his flawed health care reform bill. He was no Lyndon Johnson in political craft, but neither was he a rank amateur.
Successful community organizing, despite conservative sneers, is a skill set useful in politics. He accepted dilution of his original vision and made payoffs and side-deals to health industry and individual senators to win.

Donald Trump invested a few days of phone calls and cattle-call meetings with several dozen congressional leaders at a time. Neither serious nor professional, and in the end a disastrous blow to his administration’s legislative prospects on anything.

And now we have Kevin O'Leary who -- like Trump -- claims that he will get things done:

Kevin O’Leary is Trump-like, but the parallels are not in shared dubious claims of business genius, but in personality and behaviour. Each is proud of his ignorance of government, and portrays it as an asset. (Imagine your heart surgeon introducing himself, “Hi, my name is George. I used to run a collision repair shop, so fixing human bodies instead of car bodies didn’t seem like such a big leap …) Each has built a career on insult — sometimes useful for an opposition politician, fatal in political deal making.

O'Leary and Trump --- for all their bluster -- are rank amateurs. And politics is no place for amateurs. 

Image: The Huffington Post