Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Faster Than We Thought


The planet is warming much faster than we thought. Dahr Jamail writes:

The reality of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) continues to outstrip our ability to model worst-case scenarios, as it is happening so much faster than was ever anticipated. Sixty-three percent of all human-generated carbon emissions have been produced in the last 25 years, but science shows us that there is a 40-year time lag between global emissions (our actions) and climate impacts (the consequences). Hence, we haven't even begun to experience the worst of our emissions, and won't, until at least 2054.

The news is unremittingly bad. Our baselines no longer apply:

Approximately 55 million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures occurred in only 13 years, and a scientific report published last year revealed that in the near-term, Earth's climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years. Science already shows that we are currently experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.

We are rapidly reaching the point where there will be no turning back:

Humans have never lived on a planet with temperatures 3.5 degrees Celsius above baseline, and many scientists believe it would be impossible to do so. An increasing number of climate change scientists now fear that our situation is already so serious, and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play, that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible - even in the course of just the next few decades.

In December 2010, the UN Environment Program predicted up to a 5 degrees Celsius increase by 2050. This is a shocking piece of information, because a 3.5 degrees Celsius increase would render the planet uninhabitable for humans due to collapsing the food chain at the level of oceanic plankton and triggering temperature extremes that would severely limit terrestrial vegetation, and hence, our ability to feed ourselves. And even higher temperature increases have been predicted.

Yet Mr, Trump still thinks it's all a hoax.

Image: Just Gotta Dive

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Challenge Facing Progressives


When it comes to Donald Trump, Robin Sears writes, progressives face the challenge of dealing with a man who lies as easily as he breathes. But progressives face a bigger challenge than Trump:

Like U.K. Labour, French Socialists and German Social Democrats — for that matter, much of the progressive democratic world — The Democrats have failed in addressing three transformative changes: job-killing artificial intelligence, globalization’s undermining of national economic decision-making, and climate change. The last is the hardest for progressives, in that the level of public support for the dramatic changes of direction required is weak. Worse still they have communicated a snobbery towards fat, racist, opioid-wounded, angry, white, working-class voters.

Each of these failures has contributed to most damaging defeat for the postwar consensus of every progressive government: greater equality must always be a priority. Until recently, even conservatives accepted the wisdom of a progressive tax system. Until recently, memory of real poverty and its impact on children, families, and society itself was still powerful for most leaders. Today’s progressive elites have few such memories let alone experience.

The progressive failure to articulate a believable vision created a huge opening for the same dishonest political frauds that ruined the first half of the last century. The collapse of the more astonishingly wicked or dumb among them — Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen — is little comfort. 

Trump has proved a gold mine for late night comics. But Sears warns that blistering humour -- deserved though it may be -- is not what will defeat the Great Orange Id. Progressives need "a coherent vision of how they could restore hope for an increasingly stressed class of voters that includes many key elements of their traditional base."

Until progressives can give those who have been left behind a reason to believe in that vision, Trump and his clones will continue to lie and get away with it.

Image: The Challenge Roundtable

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bombs And Bucks



Yesterday, Donald Trump signed an arms deal with the Saudis. The deal includes “tanks and helicopters for border security, ships for coastal security, intelligence-gathering aircraft, a missile-defense radar system, and cybersecurity tools,” reports ABC News.

Alex Ward writes that "it forms part of a 10-year, $350 billion agreement in a “strategic vision” between the two countries, reports the Washington Post," and it puts bucks ahead of human rights. Barack Obama offered an even bigger deal to the Saudis back in September. And Justin Trudeau, of course, sold war wagons to the House of Saud.

The problem is that:

The Saudis, with support of the US and several other regional allies, have led a two-year campaign against the Houthis, an Iranian-backed armed group that is trying to dislodge the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The war has been brutal and has produced a humanitarian catastrophe on a staggering scale: at least 10,000 people have been killed and over 3 million displaced since the war began in March 2015. Millions more are currently at risk of famine.

Saudi warplanes have targeted hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, farms, livestock, and other civilian targets with zero regard for either the laws prohibiting such tactics in wartime or the horrendous suffering they’re inflicting on innocent civilians.

The Obama administration increasingly tried (although not hard enough to make any noticeable difference) to use its leverage over the Saudis — in particular, US military support and arms sales — to compel the Saudis to stop these sorts of flagrant human rights violations. 

Trump will apply no such pressure. He crowed that the deal was "tremendous" and that it meant "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs" in the United States. Jared Kushner apparently played a key role in bringing the deal together.

The family business has offered a wide variety of products -- hotel rooms, meat, wine and now bombs. Obviously, they are in a growth cycle. Never mind that the consequences of that growth will be more famine and rape. Growth -- and, as Gordon Gekko said, greed -- are good.

Image: Intergalactic Vault

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Would His Father Say?


Donald Trump is dismantling his presidency. That doesn't surprise Tony Schwartz, who ghosted The Art Of The Deal. Schwartz writes:

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, The Art of the Deal, and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. For me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

Trump's talent for self immolation is at the core of his personality. Ir goes back to what it meant to be Fred Trump's son:

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” is the way I wrote it in the book. “I stood up to my father and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike.”

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive worldview took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. “When I look at myself today and I look at myself in the first grade,” he told a recent biographer, “I’m basically the same.” His development essentially ended in early childhood.

So we have a president who must go to war with everyone to preserve his self image. He has preserved it at great cost:

Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

And, because he sticks to his story, facts don't matter:

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump sees no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and then undermining the explanatory statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

When things go south, he refuses to recognize what is happening. Like a drug addict, he ignores the downturns and seeks the next high:

Any addiction has a predictable pattern — the addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

That little boy is now seventy years old. And he has been ignoring the downturns all his life. It has been one downturn after another. But he refuses to recognize them, because -- what would his father say?

Image: Evening Standard

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Can See The End



The Canadian who edits Vanity Fair -- Graydon Carter -- writes that you cannot fight Donald Trump by using the usual tools of resistance:

As anyone who has followed his jerry-rigged career from the 1980s onward will tell you, Trump just drags you to the bottom of the pond every time. Decades ago, he was a short-fingered vulgarian tooling around town in a mauve stretch limo, reeking of Brut. In those days, competitors, subcontractors, politicians, and wives were the ones who found themselves mired in the Trump muck. Now it is the country that’s up to its knees in it.

Carter opines that Trump's presidency is doomed. But until he falls,  almost everyone will be suffering from P.T.S.D:

Until that day, you should be forgiven if you think you are suffering from extreme, full-blown P.T.S.D.—President Trump Stress Disorder. You are not alone. A serial liar in the office or home is one thing—and stressful enough. But a serial liar in the highest office in the land is something else altogether. Couple that with an erratically fragile ego, a severely diminished mental capacity, a lacerating temper, and access to the nuclear codes, and it’s going to get a whole lot hotter in here.

If you think you are having a tough time of it since the election, please have some sympathy for the journalists, career civil servants, and White House supplicants who have to deal with Trumpian levels of insanity on a minute-to-minute basis. Trumpian! The word “trump” formerly was a verb used in polite bridge and whist circles. Trump, the man, is now up there with Hercules and Sisyphus with his own branded adjective. I’m not completely sure what it stands for. But when it finally settles into the lexicon, I’m certain that it will be a disconcerting combination of petulant, preening, ignorant, shameless, vulgar, paranoid, vainglorious, reckless, imperious, impulsive, unhinged, callous, corrosive, narcissistic, intemperate, juvenile, disloyal, venal, chaotic, squalid—what have I forgotten? Oh, yes!—and just mind-numbingly, epically incompetent.

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a rough ride. But you can see the end.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Delusions Of Absolute Power


Donald Trump tweeted this week that he has "the absolute right" to hand American intelligence over to whomever he wishes. That word "absolute" is seminal to understanding the firestorm he now faces. Jill Abramson writes:

America’s founding fathers were deathly afraid of centralised, absolute power. This is why the government they structured had three equal branches, and plenty of checks and balances. And the first amendment is first for a reason. Freedom of the press is guaranteed because the founders envisaged the press as a bulwark against absolute power. This goes to the heart of who we are, and what we might become.

It's truly bizarre that the president of the United States does not understand this fundamental distribution of power. Trump now faces a Special Counsel and the potential charge of obstruction of justice. But that charge is only the first on a list of potential abuses of power. Abramson catalogues them:

The charge sheet envisaged by many is now a long one. It says Trump violated his oath to protect the country by improperly disclosing highly classified information about impending terror attacks and sharing it with Russia, a country that is hostile to many US policies. It says he trampled on Comey’s due process rights by firing him without cause and providing the public with a false pretext for the termination.

It says Trump flouted anti-nepotism law by appointing his daughter and her husband to White House jobs. The former ethics tsars for presidents Obama and Bush agree that such law applies to the presidency.

It says he trespassed on prohibitions on self-dealing and conflict of interest by continuing to profit from his ties to the Trump Organisation while his sons pursue foreign deals. Furthermore, it says his daughter’s brand has received trademarks from China while the White House is involved in myriad issues involving China. The real estate conglomerate owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also actively seeking foreign investment, including in China.

Whether or not Trump is eventually found guilty of  high crimes and misdemeanours remains to be seen. However, the charges all point to one undeniable fact. Trump suffers from delusions of absolute power.

Image: Weightier Matter

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No One Is Safe


Donald Trump won enough votes in the Electoral College to become president. His voters -- in a blind fury -- made him the most powerful man in the world. Now Trump -- also in a blind fury -- is destroying his country's democracy and the Western Alliance. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

Donald Trump’s apparent admission that he shared secret information with visiting senior Russian officials has intensified questions both at home and abroad about his fitness to govern.

This latest scandal will add to the unease about Trump already evident among the United States’ 27 allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ahead of their first face-to-face summit with the president next week.

Far from making America great again, he is empowering the Chinese:

China’s Communist Party leaders are masters of taking advantage of other country’s follies, or lapses of attention. Trump’s dumping of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership — which was always as much a security alliance to constrain Beijing’s ambitions as it was a trade deal — created a vacuum that Xi is happy to fill.

 The U.S. president’s empty bluster over North Korea’s nuclear missile program and his evident lack of interest in confronting Beijing’s de facto occupation of the South China Sea have convinced many Asia leaders that Washington is no longer a reliable friend or patron.

And in Europe support for the United States is dwindling. Sharing intelligence information with Russia will not improve relations there:

Washington’s allies will be alarmed, to put it mildly, that their secrets are not safe with this blustering loudmouth. Since the end of the Second World War, the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand has been the reinforced steel at the core of the Western Alliance.
If the U.S. president cannot be trusted with friends’ secrets, then no one is safe.

And that's just the point. As long as Donald Trump is president, no one is safe.

Image: ipolitics

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

No Stanfields



The Conservative Leadership Race -- thankfully -- is coming to an end. The whole spectacle has left Michael Harris underwhelmed:

The only thing that matters to this post-Harper cast of wannabes — the only thing they have to offer — is winning the leadership. They have made a gift of their blind ambition to their followers. How visionary of them.

Yes, the highest recommendation Conservative leadership candidates (and their many enablers in the media) can come up with is that they can win in 2019. For proof, they point to the candidates’ fundraising success. Could there be a better definition of contemporary politics — money and power for their own sake? No one beats a political opponent anymore; they out-fundraise them, out-market them and then outwit a voting public exhausted by information overload.

These folks do not inspire because they are treading water:

Instead of rebuilding, the CPC is trying to parade a new leader figure down the tawdry runway of image politics. They are hoping it can all be done by a guy in natty suits who played football in high school and has a weakness for chocolate. (There I am with you, Max.)

They should have learned from the Liberals. Exactly what did they think was behind that mighty implosion of blind ambition that gave Canada and the Grits Michael Ignatieff — and practically blew the Liberals to hell in the process?

Only one candidate -- Michael Chong -- appeals to Harris. A card carrying Conservative friend of mine cast his vote for Chong. He entered the party supporting Bob Stanfield. But, over the years, he turned away in fury as Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper proved to be pale imitations -- or the exact opposite -- of Stanfield. The last time around he voted for Justin. But he is now deeply disappointed with Trudeau the Younger.

I wonder how many other card carrying Conservatives feel as he does. There are no Stanfields in the running.


Monday, May 15, 2017

A Long Time Coming



Donald Trump, Chris Hedges writes, is the culmination of a forty year decline:

Our descent into despotism began with the pardoning of Richard Nixon, all of whose impeachable crimes are now legal, and the extrajudicial assault, including targeted assassinations and imprisonment, carried out on dissidents and radicals, especially black radicals. It began with the creation of corporate-funded foundations and organizations that took control of the press, the courts, the universities, scientific research and the two major political parties. It began with empowering militarized police to kill unarmed citizens and the spread of our horrendous system of mass incarceration and the death penalty. It began with the stripping away of our most basic constitutional rights—privacy, due process, habeas corpus, fair elections and dissent. It began when big money was employed by political operatives such as Roger Stone, a close Trump adviser, to create negative political advertisements and false narratives to deceive the public, turning political debate into burlesque. On all these fronts we have lost. We are trapped like rats in a cage. A narcissist and imbecile may be turning the electric shocks on and off, but the problem is the corporate state, and unless we dismantle that, we are doomed. 

Today we find ourselves confused, not understanding  how we got here and what we should focus on. Hedges writes that we must not be distracted:

Forget the firing of James Comey. Forget the paralysis in Congress. Forget the idiocy of a press that covers our descent into tyranny as if it were a sports contest between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats or a reality show starring our maniacal president and the idiots that surround him. Forget the noise.

This crisis has spawned a corrupt electoral system of legalized bribery and empowered those public figures that master the arts of entertainment and artifice. And if we do not overthrow the neoliberal, corporate forces that have destroyed our democracy we will continue to vomit up more monstrosities as dangerous as Donald Trump. Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The problem goes much deeper than Donald Trump. He is the incarnation of the problem. But solving it will not be easy. It has been a long time coming -- and, presumably, it will take a long time to banish it from our politics.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Shameless



Countries have written constitutions to serve as a brake against idiocy. But constitutions rely on time honoured conventions. And, because Donald Trump is utterly shameless, he completely trashes those conventions. Jonathan Freeland writes:

Take what he has done this week alone. In firing Comey, he was clearly breaching the wall that’s meant to separate law enforcement from political meddling. But he was not violating the constitution. Technically, a president does have the power to sack an FBI director. It’s just that the unwritten rules have always said a president shouldn’t. Trump saw those unwritten rules and walked all over them.

That’s how he operates. On Friday morning, Trump mused on Twitter that perhaps he should abandon the daily press briefing, long seen as an essential requirement of basic transparency. It’s not in the constitution, but every previous administration has regarded it as fundamental democratic practice.

The same is true of naked profiteering from public office. Past presidents have divested themselves of any business ties, or at least placed their holdings in a blind trust, lest there be even a hint of a conflict of interest. Not Trump. He says the law is on his side and “the president can’t have a conflict of interest”. Legal experts say that, strictly speaking, he might be right. But in the past, the strict technicalities were not the point. The unwritten norm was clear: no president should have his or her judgment clouded by the prospect of personal financial gain.

A similar rule has applied to the nepotistic hiring of unqualified relatives: not done. Trump has done it anyway. He’s appointed his daughter Ivanka to a senior, if vague, White House role while putting his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of such footling matters as restructuring the US government and negotiating Middle East peace.
Trump has paid no attention to conventions -- starting with the simple one that says you have to pay your bills. Lots of people thought  that, once Trump was elected, he'd have to abide by convention. Fear of public shame might have caused him to do that. But Trump knows no shame.

And that is why, Freeland concludes, Trump is so dangerous.

Image: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Very Much Alive And Well


If you think that Neo-liberalism is on life support in Canada, take a look at  the Trudeau government's proposed infrastructure bank. Linda McQuaig writes:

The bank is being presented to the public as a way to attract billions of private sector dollars to help pay for our public infrastructure.

But the bank’s unusual design will also, for the first time, give powerful private institutional investors — even foreign-owned entities — the opportunity to actually own important pieces of Canadian infrastructure, with the ability to charge us fees for using them.

That's a radical departure from the way we used to think about infrastructure. We used to think that we, the citizens, owned the nation's infrastructure.

But big institutional investors — pension funds, mutual funds, investment banks, etc. — are looking for investments that are safe and produce a reliable revenue stream.

Nothing fits that bill better, in these days of volatile markets, than investing in infrastructure, as a 2015 report by Wall Street giant JP Morgan documented. The report noted that, compared to other investment options, infrastructure assets offer very high returns, at very low risk, that they operate in monopoly situations free from competition and provide reliable revenue, even during economic downturns. “Infrastructure assets have produced stable, predictable and growing returns,” concluded JP Morgan.

Trudeau will attract big money to the bank. But, McQuaig writes:

While the investment community’s enthusiasm for Canada’s new bank is clear, it’s less clear what’s in it for Canadians.

When tolls and user fees are added in, privately owned infrastructure could cost us more — and we’d own nothing.

Whether privately or publicly owned, Canadians will still end up paying for these assets, note analysts Azfar Ali Khan and Randall Bartlett in a report for Ottawa’s Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. “[T]his does beg the question: Why would Canadians want to sell their most valuable assets to the private sector?”

We could own our own infrastructure through our own taxes. And borrowing costs are very low: 

Now more than ever, there’s good reason to do so: Ottawa can borrow money at very low rates, much lower than the private sector. “With yields on 30-year Government of Canada bonds currently sitting around 2.2 per cent, the federal government can almost literally get ‘money for nothing,’ ” Khan and Bartlett note.

But "tax" is a dirty word. Neo-liberalism is very much alive and well. 

Image: CUPE

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Republic -- If They Can Keep It



Michael Harris puts James Comey's dismissal in its larger context. Donald Trump plans to sabotage the Republic:

The good news is, people don’t like it. The bad news? He’s beginning to squeeze.

There is nothing wrong with President Donald J. Trump that can’t be fixed by impeachment … provided the United States is still governed by institutions and laws, not by one man.

It is an open question whether Trump will destroy America through his own brand of thuggish ego coup, or if America will stop Trump in his dictatorial tracks with the constitutional powers it holds over all presidents. Up until now, the rule has been clear: The office never sanctifies the man.

The United States faces a constitutional crisis. It's not, clear, however, if the nation is up to righting itself:

The mewling attempts by many journalists and broadcasters to present Trump’s train-wreck presidency as a conventional duel between rival political parties — a partisan feud like any other — must end now. This is no longer a case of sour grapes from loser Democrats. This is a made-in-the-USA democratic death spiral, engineered from the top.

Still, journalists and legislators dither. Cable news is virtually unwatchable these days, with some outstanding exceptions like Jake Tapper, Jim Scuitto and Chris Cuomo of CNN. They still square up and fight when faced with the malevolence of Trump’s fabrication-machine.

But they are in the minority. The Trump apologists the networks feel obliged to drag on every night for ‘balance’ would be funny … if they weren’t so dangerous. They are not showing respect for the office of president when they twist Trump’s lies and misdeeds into benevolent shapes. They are showing contempt for their fellow citizens.

But it's not just the firing of Comey that's the problem. It's everything that Trump does:

It’s the sum of these actions that make this a crisis moment for Americans — the way in which Trump’s flagrant lies and attacks on the rule of law have put a match to American democracy and foundational rights like freedom of speech. It’s the fact that a reporter got arrested this week for asking a question of Trump’s Health Secretary Tom Price in West Virginia.

The red flags have been waving ever since Trump assumed office. When  Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government he and the other founding fathers had agreed upon, he answered, " A Republic, if you can keep it. "


Image: The Project To Restore Liberty

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Things Are Starting To Crumble


The wheels are starting to come off the Trumpmobile. Daniel Dale reports in the Toronto Star that, in the wake of FBI Director James Comey's firing, several revelations have come to light:

In the most noteworthy of the revelations, the New York Times, Washington Post and others reported Wednesday morning that Comey had requested additional resources for the Russia investigation just last week. The Times reported later that Trump was angry about that investigation and “enraged” by Comey’s testimony about him last week in Congress.

That wasn’t all. The McClatchy news service reported that Trump himself had requested the supposedly independent Department of Justice memo on which the ouster was supposedly based. And CNN anchor Jake Tapper cited a “source close to Comey” as saying he was dismissed because he would not pledge personal loyalty to Trump and because the Russia probe was “accelerating.”

Though the news did not come close to proving his critics’ theory that he is trying to hide something from the FBI probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian interference in the presidential election, it strongly suggested that his administration’s central rationale for Comey’s dismissal — that he acted out of dismay at Comey’s improper treatment of Hillary Clinton last year — was a mere pretext for a decision that was personal rather than principled.

The Trumpists are scrambling. But, so far, the Republicans are standing behind their man. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there's no need for a special prosecutor. And, back in their home districts, Republicans are not holding town halls. Perhaps most notably, "Sean Spicer had resorted to hiding in bushes to try to avoid reporters — one aide told Politico on Wednesday that the situation was “total and complete chaos, even by our standards.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas. And a Grand Jury is now getting into the act. Things are starting to crumble.

Image: ClipartFest

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Comeygate


The stench surrounding Donald Trump got stronger yesterday. And his abysmal ignorance of everything became even more apparent. Jill Abramson writes:

We know that President Trump has a stunning ignorance of history. He recently flubbed the basics of the causes of the civil war and seemed to think the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas was still alive and “doing a great job.” It’s certainly possible that President Trump doesn’t know the lessons of Watergate.

The most famous lesson is that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

We don’t yet know the full story of Russia’s meddling in the election, but the abrupt firing of the FBI director, who was leading an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, certainly reeks of a cover-up.

It is true that Comey mishandled the case of Hillary's emails. But Trump revelled in that FBI investigation. The trouble is that he, too, is now being investigated. And things are becoming uncomfortable. The Guardian reports that Comey's dismissal

came on a night when CNN reported that a grand jury had issued subpoenas in the investigation of the Trump camp’s contacts with Russian officials, and after Comey had confirmed to Congress that more than one person connected to the Trump campaign was the subject of an FBI counter-intelligence investigation. Comey had also indicated that he was investigating leaks from inside the FBI to the Trump campaign in the course of the election.

And, Abramson speculates that,

more likely to have provoked the president was Comey’s recent congressional testimony, in which he said that it made him nauseous to think his actions affected the election results. This remark likely hit President Trump’s most sensitive nerve. Anything that strikes at the legitimacy of his election is destabilizing to the president. He is insecure and seems to feel that his hold on his office is tenuous. That’s why reminders that he lost the popular vote make him apoplectic.


It’s also relevant that he fired the FBI director just as the Russia scandal was heating up again following Sally Yates’ testimony on Monday. Yates’s head had already rolled, but Comey continued to stand at the white-hot center of this investigation. With the house and senate Russia investigations barely off the ground, derailing Comey now could help send the FBI’s probe off the tracks, too.

That seems to be the intent. But this is Washington, not the set of The Apprentice. Trump can't make his troubles go away by firing people. If he knew anything about recent history, he'd understand that.

 Image: Toronto Star

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Bernier


The number of Conservative leadership candidates continues to shrink. Erin O'Toole dropped out the other day. And, if the polls are correct, Maxime Bernier continues to lead the pack. But, if he wins the contest, Alex Boutillier writes that Canadians have cause to worry, because Bernier would make radical changes to the country:

Bernier would get the federal government out of health care, transferring the full responsibility to provinces and paving the way for more private delivery.

Bernier would tie Canada’s foreign aid to “morality,” and believes billions of it should be spent instead on tax cuts and healing the poor at home.

Bernier would end federal “welfare” for Canadian businesses, and axe popular tax credits for things like kid’s hockey gear and teachers’ classroom supplies in favour of across-the-board tax cuts.

And Bernier wants to do it all in a four-year term, should he become Conservative leader at the end of the month, and should he defeat Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2019. 

While Stephen Harper believed in many of the same things, he also believed in incrementalism. The Bernier diet, however, will be force fed:

Bernier is proposing dramatic change quickly — and his agenda certainly can’t be accused of being hidden.

“They’re conservative ideas, they’re conservative values,” Bernier said this week, discussing his libertarian-leaning platform.

“You want me to be a Liberal?”
He continued, after agreeing the interviewer doesn’t want anything in particular: “No, no, but yeah, I want change. I’m a Conservative, and I’m a proud Conservative.”

A Proud Conservative. But not a Progressive Conservative. If Bernier is elected to lead the party, it will be abundantly clear that the lunatics have seized control of the asylum. 


Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, May 08, 2017

An Orwellian Moment



Paul Krugman's analysis of Trumpcare is withering:

Even without a proper analysis, however, it’s clear that Trumpcare breaks every promise Republicans ever made about health. Deductibles will rise, not fall, as insurers are set free to offer lower-quality coverage. Premiums may fall for a handful of young, healthy, affluent people, but will rise and in many cases soar for those who are older (because age spreads will rise), sicker (because protection against discrimination based on medical history will be taken away), and poorer (because subsidies will go down).

Many people with pre-existing conditions will find insurance either completely unavailable or totally out of their financial reach.

And Medicaid will be cut back, with the damage worsening over time.

The really important thing, however, is not just to realize that Republicans are breaking their promises, but to realize that they are doing so with intent. This isn’t one of those cases where people try to do what they said they would, but fall short in the execution. This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.

So why can they get away with it? Because they've done it before:

As for why they think they can get away with it: Well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the G.O.P. would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

It's abundantly clear that the United States is living in an Orwellian World:

What just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

Donald Trump is your American Big Brother.

Image: Know Your Meme

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Flim Flam Man


Donald Trump has done one thing more than anything else -- sign executive orders. Those signings -- done with great fanfare -- tell you a great deal about the man. Neal Gabler writes:

Make no mistake. Some of these executive orders have done real damage, especially those affecting the environment and workers’ rights.

But many of them, according to an Associated Press report, are little more than grandiose press releases, which takes us straight to the empty heart of this administration. Trump could care less about the substance of his executive orders. The pompous flourish with which he promotes them, like nearly everything this president does, is an effort to create the perception of action when the reality is anything but. It is largely for show.

And, in the end, Donald Trump is all about show, not substance:

Putting style over substance had been the hallmark of Donald Trump’s pre-political career. He has always been the Great Pretender. He pretended to be a real estate mogul, reshaping the face of New York, when he was basically franchising his name to real builders so they could slap the brand on their buildings. He pretended to be a shrewd businessman when he drove his Atlantic City casinos into bankruptcy.

He pretended to be a multi-multi-billionaire, when reports suggest that his wealth is nowhere near as large as his boasts. He pretended to have one of the highest-rated shows on television, when it was rated in the top 10 only in its inaugural season and then steadily fell. He founded a university that pretended to let people in on his get-rich-quick secrets, but he was putting his name on what turned out to be a fleecing operation.

In short, he was as much a sham businessman as he is a sham president. His gift wasn’t business acumen but image acumen — creating an alternative reality not unlike alternative facts.

The show gave a terribly insecure man a sense of importance. But it also allowed him to play people for fools:

Just as Trump wasn’t shy about bragging how he stiffed subcontractors, skipped out on loans and gamed the IRS, he wasn’t shy about bragging how he turned perception into reality. “When I build something for somebody, I always add $50 million or $60 million onto the price,” he once said. “My guys come in, they say it’s going to cost $75 million. I say it’s going to cost $125 million, and I build it for $100 million. Basically, I did a lousy job. But they think I did a great job.”

And Ivanka is following in her father's footsteps:

And since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, John Oliver quoted the audiobook version of Ivanka Trump’s own discourse on the subject: “Perception is more important than reality,” she reads. “If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is true. This doesn’t mean you should be duplicitous or deceitful, but don’t go out of your way to correct a false assumption if it plays to your advantage.”

It's all a sham, Gabler writes. And it's very dangerous.


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Going To War



As unpleasant as it may be to contemplate, David Olive believes that Canadians should prepare for a trade war with Donald Trump's America. He writes:

Donald Trump, going against his word and without warning, has already threatened the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Canadian dairy farmers and softwood lumber workers. And it came as a stunning revelation last week that Trump had been poised to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a vital underpinning of Canada’s prosperity, on April 29.

It would be delusional to believe that Trump changed his mind due to last-minute phone conversations in which the Canadian and Mexican heads of government warned him of the massive short- and medium-term wreckage that killing NAFTA would cause. Whatever counsel Trump actually heeded in sparing the pact (for now) surely came from Trump confidantes.

Trump has signaled that it’s open season on all Canadian industries. Emboldened by the president’s cavalier regard for America’s purported best friend, powerful U.S. lobby groups have already set their sights on the Canadian aerospace, aluminum, mining and intellectual property sectors, among others.

So what should we do? Olive suggests that we adopt a three phase strategy:

Phase One: Ottawa would promptly abide by the request of B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who has the livelihoods of about 60,000 softwood-lumber workers to protect, in imposing a moratorium on U.S. coal headed for export markets via the federal Port of Vancouver. Trump is obsessed with reviving the U.S. coal industry.

Ottawa would also announce that Canada is embracing Japan’s enthusiasm in spearheading a revival of the TPP. That would strengthen Canadian trade ties and goodwill with the TPP’s 11 Pacific Rim and South American members. An isolated U.S. would have no role in shaping, via the TPP, a Pacific Rim economy that is America’s top foreign-policy concern.

TPP membership would complement Canada’s agreed-upon free trade deal with the European Union. That would accelerate progress in reducing Canada’s over-reliance on the U.S. market.

Phase Two: Trump has demanded that NATO members pay more for their membership. Ottawa would announce that, actually, Canada is re-considering its NATO membership altogether.
It’s not proper to say this out loud, but NATO is chiefly an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. It’s time to rethink helping America fight its wars.

Canada made its first substantive claim to sovereignty during World War I in demanding and obtaining Canadian command of Canadian troops. Yet in Afghanistan, in Syria and in joining NATO’s deployment of troops on Russia’s western frontier, our forces have continued to be directly or indirectly under U.S. command.

Freed of NATO obligations, Canada would retain its ability to use its armed forces unilaterally or in coalitions, as our interests alone dictate. And we could more fully deploy our military resources on peacekeeping, which we pioneered but have sadly neglected in recent decades.


Phase Three: In constructing a long-overdue national energy strategy by the end of this year, Canada would reconsider its energy export practices.

America’s largest source of imported oil is the Athabasca tar sands. And much of the power that lights up the U.S. northeast is generated by Hydro-Quebéc.

The rates we charge for those energy exports bear examination, since much of them are underpriced. Also, Athabasca, in particular, wreaks enormous environmental damage in Canada and is a significant contributor to global warming. That undermines Canadian goodwill, and makes tougher the challenge of meeting our CO2-reduction commitments under the Paris Accords.

The R&D into continual technological improvement needed to reduce that damage should be borne at least partly by U.S. energy consumers.

A carbon surtax on fossil-fuel exports would achieve that goal. Trump is adamantly opposed to putting a price on carbon emissions — the only certain way of reducing them. But then, Trump regards global warming as a “hoax” perpetrated by China to disadvantage U.S. industry.

Some of Olive's proposals -- like the threat to withdraw from NATO -- are highly controversial. And things could get very nasty. But having seen how Trump deals with American health care, no one should be surprised. 

Image: ING Wholesale Banking

Friday, May 05, 2017

Idiocy On The Move



I wrote a couple of days ago that, when a civilization implodes, the idiots are put in charge. That phenomenon was on full display yesterday in Washington. The Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly passed their new health care bill -- which had not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, which had not been examined in public hearings, and which several Republicans admitted they hadn't read. Ross Barkan writes:

Were an alien to wander down to Earth and examine the functionality of American democracy in 2017, it would find an intellectual graveyard. Lawmakers tasked with carefully considering remarkably complex legislation with the potential to significantly alter the lives of millions of people are instead rushing to vote for a bill that they know almost nothing about and that no outside expert has had the time to seriously assess. This is insanity. 

Insanity is not too strong a word:

The healthcare bill will funnel $100bn to states over a decade to stabilize what are sure to be markets wracked by chaos, assuming this legislation survives intact to Trump’s desk. Amendments provide another $30bn to states with few strings attached. If somehow all of this money is used just for the high-risk pools, it will come out to $138bn, which sounds impressive enough. But most healthcare researchers believe a competently run national high-risk pool would cost much more.

Factoring in lifetime caps on coverage and longer waiting periods, one 2010 estimate from two conservative health economists found such a pool would cost $150bn-$200bn over a decade. Other recent estimates believe the price tag to be much higher.  

Obamacare isn't perfect. It needs some repair. But, for seven years, the Republicans have repeated one refrain -- repeal. Paul Ryan claims to be a policy wonk. Yesterday he stood revealed in the light of day for the fool he is. The president is an even bigger fool.  All those economically ravaged people who voted for him will soon find out that they have been fools.

And, when that happens, the Republicans will become politically radioactive. As Nancy Pelosi predicted, they will "glow in the dark."

Image: Wallpaper Cave

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Operation Medusa



Harjit Sajjan has been in hot water of late for claiming that he was the "architect" of Operation Medusa. It's never wise to blow your trumpet too loudly. Immodesty always comes back to bite you. However, Sajan was not the only one who recognized the work he did in Afghanistan. Tom Walkom writes:

According to a letter later sent to Vancouver’s chief constable by Brig. Gen. David Fraser, the top Canadian commander in Afghanistan at the time (and later obtained by the online publication National Observer), Sajjan was a marvel.

Calling him “one of the most remarkable people I have worked with” Fraser said that Sajjan “single-handedly changed the face of intelligence gathering and analysis in Afghanistan …

“His analysis was so compelling that it drove a number of large-scale theatre-resourced efforts, including Operation Medusa,” the general wrote, adding that Sajjan’s experience as an undercover cop and his ability to understand criminal networks made him particularly useful in navigating the shoals of Afghan affairs.

“He was the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theatre,” Fraser wrote. “He personally fused broad sources of information into an extremely coherent picture upon which most of the formation’s major operations were based.”

The problem is that Operation Medusa had no lasting effect on the situation in Afghanistan:

Like so much in the Afghan War, however, victory was fleeting. The Afghan National Police were unable, or unwilling, to hold the ground that had been taken. In Sept. 2007, the Canadians launched Operation Keeping Goodwill to recapture some of the areas in Zhari district that had been lost.

By this time, according to the Washington Post, the number of Taliban fighters in Panjwai were back up to pre-Medusa levels.

In 2010, Canadian forces were fighting again for the Panjwai, this time as part of Operation Hamkari.
By the end of 2011, the Canadian battle group was effectively out of Kandahar province. By 2014, it was out of Afghanistan altogether.

The debate shouldn't be about Sajjan. It should be about Canadian policy in Afghanistan. 

Image: Huffington Post

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Three Kinds Of Conservatism



George Monbiot writes that there are three kinds of conservatism:

Conservatism takes three main forms. Inclusive conservatism seeks to protect objects of value for the benefit of everyone. These might include great urban vistas, or national parks, or wildlife, or works of art, or great institutions, such as the NHS and the BBC. This is the conservatism governments invoke when a nation goes to war.

Exclusive conservatism, by contrast, resists change that would assist the great majority, on behalf of a privileged elite. This is the form – fighting the universal franchise, workers’ rights, progressive taxation and the welfare state – that has prevailed in the United Kingdom for most of its history.

Then there is a third form, which calls itself conservatism but is nothing of the kind: tearing down everything to clear a path for capital. This is the form that prevails today in Britain, in the United States and across much of the world. Its mission is the destruction of the norms, the values, the institutions, the public properties and the public protections that impede the scope for profit-taking.

The third form of conservatism is presently ensconced in the United States. For ten years, it was ensconced in Ottawa -- and, despite a change of face, it appears to have survived in tact. Now, Monbiot writes, it's laying its foundation in Theresa May's Britain:

The reason is as follows. In converting European law into UK law through the so-called great repeal bill, the government will grant itself the power, as its white paper states, “to correct the statute book where necessary”. “Correcting the statute book” will come to be seen as one of the great political euphemisms of our time.

The corrections will take the form of secondary legislation, which means using something called a statutory instrument. The government estimates that 800 to 1,000 of these instruments will be required – on top of the usual total – and their impact will be profound, as they are dealing with huge issues. In practice, there is almost nothing parliament can do to challenge them. As the Brexit analyst Ian Dunt points out, the bill is “shaping up to be the single biggest executive power grab in Britain’s postwar history”.

That's been the goal for thirty-five years. Neo-liberalism has sought to bypass legislatures. It happened here. It happened in the United States. And it's happening in Britain.

Image:  de.123rf.com

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It's Getting Harder To Hope



Chris Hedges believes that, when a civilization crumbles, the idiots assume positions of responsibility. He writes:

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.  

It has happened many times before:

The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.

And, these days, it's happening in the United States:

Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero, who allocated vast state expenditures to attain magical powers, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, who funded repeated expeditions to a mythical island of immortals to bring back the potion that would give him eternal life, and a decayed Russian royalty that sat around reading tarot cards and attending séances as their nation was decimated by war and revolution brewed in the streets.  

For Hedges, Trump represents the climax of a tragedy:

This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited a grotesque figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited. But even as we stand on the cusp of extinction we lack the intelligence and imagination to break free from our evolutionary past. 

I keep hoping that Hedges is wrong -- that we can find the courage and wisdom to rise above our darker angels. But it's getting harder to hope.

Image: Fairfax Underground

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Wisdom To Know The Difference


Robin Sears has been visiting China for thirty-five years. He writes that, as Canada's relationship with Donald Trump's America becomes more and more prickly, Canadians should be working hard at establishing a meaningful relationship with that other world superpower:

Historically, China’s service reputation has been closer to that of the U.K. — that is, the customer is always wrong — than to the rest of Asia. Today, the animated digital maps, flawless English announcements, and helpful staff on the Beijing and Shanghai subway systems would make a TTC executive blush.

China’s mobile payments infrastructure is growing faster than any in the world — consumers search, pay for and track delivery of everything from food to major appliance purchases in the local version of Twitter by the tens of millions daily. The service is reportedly impeccable.

My wife visited China forty years ago when most people were getting around on bicycles. But things have changed. Sears asserts that those who still see China from the perspective of the 1960's are fools: 

Those journalists who see China through a 1960s Cold War lens on policing, law, and civil society have either never seen a real Stalinist police state up close, or are merely promoting an agenda. Those who dismiss and sneer at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “romantic” engagement with the world’s emerging superpower are similarly just fools.

No, China is not a democracy. Yes, China’s approach to rights and to the sovereignty of the individual citizen are often deeply troubling, and certainly not ours. But the private, social, and civic space for the ordinary Chinese citizen is greater today than at any time in its history, and expanding. That is surely the more relevant test of progress than whether they have arrived at our level of expectations of rights and freedoms.

Trudeau is surely right in recognizing that the Canada/China relationship is the quintessential challenge for our children’s economic prosperity. 

Those on the Right have a Manichean view of the world. People are either Good or Evil. For Us or Against Us. That vision was a heresy in its own day. It is a heresy today. The world has never been that simplistic.

Which means that dealing with China is fraught with complications -- dangers and opportunities. What matters is whether or not we have -- in the words of the Serenity Prayer -- the wisdom to know the difference.

Image: Ryan Remiorz -- Canadian Press