Monday, July 24, 2017

The Return To Salem



A large portion of Donald Trump's supporters, Chris Hedges writes, are Christian fascists. The data suggests that 81 percent of white evangelicals support him. And he has been delivering for them:

Trump’s moves to restrict abortion, defund Planned Parenthood, permit discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “religious liberty” and allow churches to become active in politics by gutting the Johnson Amendment, along with his nominations of judges championed by the Federalist Society and his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, have endeared him to the Christian right. He has rolled back civil rights legislation and business and environmental regulations. He has elevated several stalwarts of the Christian right into power—Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Jeff Sessions to the Justice Department, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education, Tom Price to Health and Human Services and Ben Carson to Housing and Urban Development. He embraces the white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, greed, religious intolerance, anger and racism that define the Christian right.

If it seems strange that folks who call themselves Christian support Trump, Hedges suggests that an examination of the movement and its leaders reveals  many similarities between Trump and his "Christian" supporters:

On the surface it appears to be incongruous that the Christian right would rally behind a slick New York real estate developer who is a very public serial philanderer and adulterer, has no regard for the truth, is consumed by greed, does not appear to read or know the Bible, routinely defrauds and cheats his investors and contractors, expresses a crude misogyny and an even cruder narcissism and appears to yearn for despotism. In fact, these are the very characteristics that define most of the leaders of the Christian right. Trump has preyed on desperate people through the thousands of slot machines in his casinos, his sham university and his real estate deals. Megachurch pastors prey on their followers by extracting “seed offerings,” “love gifts,” tithes and donations and by selling miracle healings along with “prayer clothes,” self-help books, audio and video recordings and even protein shakes. Pastors have established within their megachurches, as Trump did in his businesses, despotic fiefdoms. They cannot be challenged or questioned any more than an omnipotent Trump could be challenged on the reality television show “The Apprentice.” And they seek to replicate their little tyrannies on a national scale, with white men in charge.

And what do they want?  They want to takeover the U.S. Government and promote what Hedges calls "an ideology of death:"

It promises that the secular, humanist society will be physically destroyed. The Ten Commandments will form the basis of our legal system. Creationism or “Intelligent Design” will be taught in public schools. People who are considered social deviants, including homosexuals, immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims, criminals and those dismissed as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace the Christian right’s perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible—will be silenced, imprisoned or killed. The role of the federal government will be reduced to protecting property rights, “homeland” security and waging war. Church organizations will be funded and empowered by the government to run social-welfare agencies. The poor, condemned for sloth, indolence and sinfulness, will be denied government assistance. The death penalty will be expanded to include “moral crimes,” including apostasy, blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft, as well as abortion, which will be treated as murder. Women will be subordinate to men. Those who practice other faiths will become, at best, second-class citizens and eventually outcasts. The wars in the Middle East will be defined as religious crusades against Muslims. There will be no separation of church and state. The only legitimate voices will be “Christian.” America will become an agent of God. Those who defy the “Christian” authorities will be branded as agents of Satan. 

They want to return to Salem. And the longer Trump is in office, the more convinced they become that the return is just around the corner.

Image: You Tube

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reality Catches Up With All Of Us



Benjamin Hart writes that Republican propaganda against the Affordable Care Act has turned out to be what it always was -- hot air:

Once a Republican Congress and president possessed the power to actually destroy Obamacare, the party’s health-care hypocrisy was finally revealed for all to see. With its bumbling, bad-faith effort to take away health care from millions, the GOP has managed to do what Democrats never could — make the Affordable Care Act popular.

Ever since health-care legislation leapt to the front burner in 2009, Republicans have chosen to oppose the law in almost complete lockstep — not just as a policy difference, but as an affront to their sensibilities. (Several GOP governors have avoided this path, to their states’ benefit.)

As even enthusiastic supporters of Obamacare are happy to testify, the law has some significant problems, from too-high premiums to the too-limited selection of doctors and hospitals for many patients who buy insurance on the exchanges. (This is in large part because of the Republican opposition, which forced Democrats to create a system with a lot of moving parts.)

But most Republican lawmakers and officials have never engaged with such complications on the plane of reality. They pushed the fiction of “death panels,” brushed off complaints about the pre-Obamacare status quo by proclaiming that the American health-care system was the best in the world (a claim you don’t hear so much anymore), and then, once the law was in effect, moved on to other false narratives — for example, that the exchanges were perennially on the verge of imploding. They never dared admit the conservative roots of the Affordable Care Act, to the point that their 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, had to painfully contort his position on the matter after having passed an Obamacare-like law when he was the governor of Massachusetts.

But simply, Republican propaganda -- like all propaganda -- was unmoored from reality:

The relentless news coverage around health care has finally revealed Republicans’ philosophy on the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for wealthy Americans.

And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent a year ago.

One can argue that Republicans -- like their president -- have been unmoored from reality for a long time.  But, eventually, reality catches up with all of us. 

Image:Thesaurus.Plus

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No Longer A Target



The Spicer Show has been cancelled. No one is cheering and no one is mourning. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star's Washington correspondent, writes:

Spicer had become an improbable celebrity, an afternoon sensation whose televised briefings produced almost no useful information but drew more viewers than General Hospital. Trump, a television obsessive who often watched The Spicer Show himself, bragged about Spicer’s ratings as if they were evidence of his own popularity.

Viewers were tuning in for the political equivalent of the four-alarm-fire coverage on the local newscast, and other aides knew the briefings were going badly even if the president didn’t. When new communications director Anthony Scaramucci and new press secretary Sarah Sanders took the podium after Spicer’s resignation, it was the first on-camera briefing in three weeks.

The cause of the fire was Spicer's painful willingness to be Donald Trump's official liar:

Spicer’s first post-inauguration briefing set the tone for the rest. Slamming the news media for alleged unfairness, he declared that Trump’s inauguration had drawn the largest crowd of all time, “period.” It was not even close.

The performance was aimed, as many of Spicer’s future deceitful performances were, at an audience of one. Spicer often appeared to be striving to please Trump rather than serve any particular strategic goal. 

And, regardless of what Spicer said, Donald Trump regularly undermined him:

His attempts at spin were regularly undermined by Trump himself. After Spicer insisted that Trump’s policy on travellers from seven (later six) Muslim countries was “not a travel ban,” Trump tweeted: “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” 

Yesterday, Spicer told Trump to go to hell. His declaration will have no effect on Trump. But, at least, Spicer will no longer be a target on Saturday Night Live

Image: CNN

Friday, July 21, 2017

Still Neanderthals


The Conservative Party of Canada is still the same venomous bunch they were under Stephen Harper. Michael Harris writes:

The truth is the CPC still thinks that the Highway of Hate is the road back to power. They believe that the Omar Khadr case is the perfect, partisan political issue — both to punish the Liberals and to raise money from their base.

What is that hardcore after following the crushing defeat of 2015? These are the people who liked the idea of banning the hijab, loved the Barbaric Practices Act and wanted to see Omar Khadr rot in jail for the rest of his life — his child soldier status, his experience of torture, Supreme Court rulings and Charter of Rights be damned.

Of course, CPC HQ denies that cashing in on Khadr had anything to do with setting up a special website dedicated to whipping up public fury about the apology and payment to Khadr by the Trudeau government.

In fact, when the Khadr settlement was announced, it was Harper who led the charge:

It was the former PM who telephoned the American “victims” of Omar Khadr in order to apologize for the fact that the government of Canada paid Khadr $10.5 million.

Then Michelle Rempel appeared on Fox News:

The first duty of anyone appearing on Fox News is to say something really stupid. Rempel was quick to oblige. She told the Fox-struck nation and host Tucker Carlson that the Omar Khadr case was “not a partisan political issue”.

She was followed by Peter Kent, who took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal with the headline, "A Terrorist’s Big Pay Day, Courtesy of Trudeau."  Like Harper before him, he informed the Journal's readers that the Conservative Party was onside with Republican policy -- whether it be about Gitmo or the Iraq War.

One can only conclude that the Harperites are in charge. They were Neanderthals in office. And they're still Neanderthals.

Image: Breaking Science News

Thursday, July 20, 2017

From Enligthenment To Chaos



Jonathan Manthorpe writes that The Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. It was ushered in by the Peace of Westphalia:

The primary task of this bundle of treaties signed nearly 400 years ago was to end the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in the tattered remnants of Europe’s Holy Roman Empire. In addition, they drew a line under the Eighty Years War of the Dutch Republic seeking independence from Spain.

As they did so, the draughtsmen of these treaties also produced the European concept of the nation state, and created rulers who were increasingly answerable to — and, eventually, chosen by — their citizens.

In seeking to end the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, the treaties enshrined freedom of religion into law. The idea was imperfectly applied, as the world knows full well, but it played its part in the later creation of egalitarian societies and, eventually, modern liberalism.
Many historians argue that freeing Protestantism from persecution embedded the concept of individual judgement and responsibility in mainstream society, which led directly to the birth of capitalism. Capitalism is a harsh creed, but it has created vast wealth and extended it across the globe.

But our new age is one of wars between religions and religious hysteria. And globalization is putting an end to the nation state and political liberalism. No nation illustrates these changes more than the United States under Donald Trump:

At the meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, were also senior representatives from Mexico, Japan, China and Vietnam. The clear message was that governors, of whatever political stripe, no longer have confidence in the self-destructive muddle now passing as the Washington establishment being able to function as a national legislature going forward.

The governors now have to defend their own interests, and those of their citizens, by pursuing their own foreign policies. They need to maintain their own strong relationships with Canada and Mexico to try to ensure there is only minimal damage from the ignorant blather coming out of Washington about the North America Free Trade Agreement.

These state officials are closer to the concerns of their constituents than the absentee partisans in Washington — which explains why many of them are bypassing the federal government and making their own commitments to important international initiatives, like the Paris accord on climate change.

Europe is going through the same kind of ferment:

In Europe, the irony is that the continent already realized the the traditional nation state was incapable of dealing with the challenges of the modern world. Its answer was to go back to before Westphalia for a solution — to effectively recreate the Holy Roman Empire.

In theory, the European Union is a secular, non-religious version of that empire, albeit with major territorial additions. But it is evident that common Christian culture — even if it doesn’t involve the daily devotions of the pre-Westphalian Middle Ages — remains a binding European force.

The inability to effectively integrate Muslim immigrants has opened a rift — often a violent one — in several EU countries. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has for years been outspoken in his objection to Turkey joining the EU. Sarkozy has usually been careful to couch his objection in geographic terms, characterizing Turkey as being more of the Middle East and Asia Minor than of Europe. But the silent subtext behind Sarkozy’s position was that Turkey is a majority Muslim country.

The legal religious tolerance written into the Treaty of Westphalia is having a rough time worldwide, not just in Europe. Christian Copts are being slaughtered in large numbers in Egypt. Violence between Muslims and Hindus is a fact of daily life in India, as it is between various branches of Islam in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Buddhists and Muslims are at loggerheads in Burma and in southern Thailand.

The Peace of Westphalia was hard won and it took centuries to accomplish. But the whole edifice is quickly being destroyed.

Image: SlideShare

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Knows?




NAFTA will be renegotiated. But, Tim Harper writes, the negotiations will not be a disaster:

Robert Lighthizer [Donald Trump's Trade Representative] released his 18-page list of priorities for coming NAFTA negotiations, and there was none of that lightning and thunder. Reaction from Ottawa and Canadian trade experts was a polite smile and a readiness to get to the table.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already laid out Ottawa’s low-key resolve in his pre-NAFTA speech to U.S. governors in Rhode Island: “While you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose. Strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed. So we have to work harder to make our points.”

When formal NAFTA talks begin next month, Canadians, Americans and Mexicans will largely tune out until there is drama. And, make no mistake, any negotiations involving Trump will inevitably include drama.

At some point in the negotiations, Trump will become loud and bombastic -- because that's what he does. But it's Congress that holds the cards:

Although Trudeau has been at great pains to reject any claim that the Canadian “strategy” is to go around Trump, the trade agenda will be driven by the U.S. Congress, not the president.

It is also a Congress which can read poll numbers — one this week showed Trump with a 55-per-cent disapproval rating — with the U.S. midterms just over the next hill.

And, as the failure of Trumpcare proves, even though the Republicans control all three branches of government, Trump is Colonel Blimp -- full of hot air but not someone they respect.

Of course, someone else could throw a spanner into the works. Who knows? Stay tuned.

Image: CNN Money

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It Makes Them Worse



A recent study in Britain confirms that austerity has serious consequences. Owen Jones writes:

Let us take a moment to reflect on what the Tories have done to this country. They made apocalyptic warnings of what would happen if they did not eliminate the deficit by 2015; they didn’t get close, and now that target has vanished off to the distant mid-2020s. They added more debt then every Labour government. They battered disabled people with cuts and slashed support for the working poor. They presided over the longest squeeze in wages since the 19th century, and the worst peacetime record of housebuilding since the 1920s. And now we know they have presided over a fall in the rate of increase in life expectancy.

And yes, the combined effects of the bankers’ crash and austerity did kill in Britain. Until Lehman Brothers came toppling down, the number of men taking their own lives was steadily falling. Then it began to climb again: hundreds of people died who – if the previous trend had continued – would still be with us today. And at the end of 2015, Britain endured the biggest jump in mortality rates for nearly half a century. As Liverpool University’s Dr Mark Green put it: “It is plausible that the impacts of cutbacks in public services are beginning to materialise.”

The mantra was "short term pain for long term gain." But the results are in. And it's clear that austerity has not resulted in progress:

And yet new research by an ex-government adviser, Sir Michael Marmot, suggests that the rise in life expectancy – a constant trend for a hundred years – has stalled since 2010. What happened that year, exactly? Was that not when David Cameron, George Osborne and their Lib Dem stooges began slashing public services with a false economic pretext?

No, it’s not that life expectancy is declining. That really would be the sign of a social calamity in a country as advanced as this. But we are still talking about the robbing of life. People’s lives have been truncated, because they are not living as long as they should have done if the rate of increase had continued. And terrifyingly, this rate of increase is “pretty close to having ground to a halt”, says Marmot. He is “deeply concerned” and “expected it to just keep getting better.”

Marmot does not make the claim that cuts are responsible. What he does say is that, in 2010, ministers made a “political decision” to cut spending; and he highlights the “miserly” recent spending on health and social care.

What's the bottom line? Austerity is not a cure to society's ills. It's a catalyst. It makes them worse.

Image: Common Dreams

Monday, July 17, 2017

Canada's 1%


Doug Saunders has written an interesting column on what he calls the most ghettoized community in Canada:

My colleague Tom Cardoso and I recently published a set of interactive maps of Canada, drawing on a huge new database assembled by economist Miles Corak, which charts the country’s districts by their level of income mobility – the chances that people born in one circumstance will end up living in a better or sometimes worse, income level. What stood out, visually, were the patches where intergenerational poverty is the norm – places where people born poor are likely to stay poor. Such places are big, but have very small populations. Even more accentuated, if you can zoom in closely enough to see them, are the ghettos of the wealthy. They are more persistent, and more closed, than anything on the low end of the scale.

We give a lot of lip service to the middle class. But the reality is pretty stark -- and it's been stark for quite awhile:

Middle-income Canadians (who have individual salaries roughly in the $40,000-to-$70,000 range) have about an even chance of seeing their children slide down or up the income scale – it is hard to predict how the kids will turn out, and that anxiety is central to the middle-class experience. Low-income Canadians (earning $23,000 or less) are somewhat more likely to see their kids stay in poverty. But the top 1 per cent really stand out: They are subject to what Dr. Corak calls the “intergenerational cycle of privilege” – they have a greater chance than any other Canadian group, better than 50 per cent (and probably much higher), of seeing their kids end up in the same income category.
We know this group is also becoming more segregated geographically: Studies by urban geographers such as David Hulchanski and David F. Ley have shown that Toronto and Vancouver are becoming dramatically more segregated by income, with the very wealthy living more than ever in isolated residential enclaves.
Fifty-two years ago, sociologist John Porter demonstrated, in his bestseller The Vertical Mosaic, that Canada’s economy, its politics and its culture were controlled by a cloistered elite from the same schools and neighbourhoods, and only 3 per cent of Canadians had any access to this circle. Social mobility has improved dramatically thanks to half a century of immigration, growth and better social policies. But the top ranks remain closed and self-protective.

Saunders writes that there are two ways Canada's one per cent protect their privileged position:

The first is Canada’s lack of an inheritance tax. Estates (including houses) are taxed as income upon their owner’s death, then can be passed on to children – removing incentives to put that wealth to better and more productive use. As a result, the higher rungs on the ladder are less open to people who have developed creative, profitable companies and ideas, and more so to people who have simply had the right parents. Taxing inheritance heavily doesn’t generate much government revenue; it just makes people look outside their own families for places to put their money to work. It expands privilege rather than keeping it cloistered.
The second is Canada’s lax policy on private schools. The 6 per cent of Canadians who attend fee-charging schools are overwhelmingly there because their families are wealthy (studies show that their advantages are entirely found in their connections, not in their academic performance). Such schools are not required to admit a large percentage of lower-income students, even though their fees and sometimes their operations are taxpayer-subsidized.

Food for thought -- and debate.

Image: The National Post

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Trump Medicine Show


Donald Trump's continued popularity among Republicans is something of a mystery. Republicans are supposed to be immersed in the Protestant Work Ethic -- best personified by the Horatio Alger narrative, where honesty and hard work are rewarded. Horatio Alger is a time honoured American archetype.

But Neal Gabler argues that there is another American archetype -- the flim flam man -- personified by characters like the two fraudsters Huck Finn and Jim encounter on their journey down the Mississippi, or by Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry or Meredith Willson's Harold Hill -- who is finally redeemed by the love a good woman. Gabler writes:

If the first set of values might be called “Algeresque,” after Horatio Alger, the popular 19th-century American author who wrote stories about poor ragamuffins rising to great wealth through hard work, this second set might be called “Barnumesque,” after P. T. Barnum, the 19th-century promoter, hoaxster and circus impresario, who played on his countrymen’s gullibility.

 Of course, no one wants to come right out and say that America is a land of hustlers, least of all politicians and pundits. It is a kind of sacrilege. Everyone prefers the Alger scenario of social mobility, which historian Henry Steele Commager described as one in which “opportunities lie all about you; success is material and is the reward of virtue and work.” This is one of the bulwarks of America. To say otherwise is to engage in class warfare, and class warfare, we are often told by conservatives, is a betrayal of American exceptionalism.

But as much a bulwark as this is, just about everyone also knows it isn’t exactly true — even, it turns out, Horatio Alger himself. “He constantly preached that success was to be won through virtue and hard work,” writes his most perspicacious biographer, John Tebbel, “but his stories tell us just as constantly that success is actually the result of fortuitous circumstance.” Or luck, so long as you aren’t lucky enough to be born rich. Those idlers — the Trumps of the world — are Alger’s villains.

The problem with the American Dream is that it's based on a lie. Just as the claim that "all men are created equal" overlooked the original sin of slavery, the claim that hard work and virtue are always rewarded is equally untrue.

So, instead of beating them, a significant number of Americans think it's better to join them. And, therefore, they have hitched their future to Donald Trump's medicine show.

Image: Pinterest

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Salvation?



Kathleen Parker is -- like her colleague George F. Will -- a conservative columnist who writes for The Washington Post. Neither are fans of Donald Trump. Parker claims that Trump illustrates the law of unintended consequences. He is uniting the country -- against him:

He has brought Republicans and Democrats together as only just wars can. He’s brought women, scientists, minorities, teachers, journalists, professors — and no, they’re not all liberal — out of their favorite laptop seats and moved them to march, protest and, most important, run for public office.

The pink-capped Women’s March is familiar to all but the dead. On Earth Day in April, scientists around the world staged rallies to protest Trump’s apparent lack of interest in research-backed facts.
A few prominent conservatives — Post columnists George F. Will and Joe Scarborough among them — have left the GOP, while Democrats have offered to take drastic action.

But, more than that, he is inspiring others to run for public office. Some of them are odd ducks. But Parker finds the renewed sense of civic engagement encouraging:

Other gifts from the president include an increased national interest in politics, civic participation and electoral office. Trump’s name seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, even among those who have never expressed any interest in politics.

Meanwhile, countless Republicans and Democrats and independents, the nonpolitical, as well as scientists, teachers and, sure, a freshly emboldened outlier class (Jay-Z?), are considering running for public office, a goal previously not on the radar.

A newly formed political action committee — 314 Action — is urging scientists to “Get Elected” and offers help with funding and logistics. Hundreds have signed up. Similarly, Silicon Valley tech magnate Sam Altman — president of Y Combinator, which invests in start-ups such as Dropbox and Airbnb — is offering to fund good candidates for statewide office to create “prosperity through technology, economic fairness and maintaining personal liberty.”

Nationally, a centrist movement is gaining traction under the self-explaining name of No Labels, which may yet prove to be a counterforce in the zero-sum sport of current politics. The group organized in 2010 and is co-chaired by former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, a Republican, and former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat (later independent). 

It would be more than a little ironic if Trump was the president who inspired Americans to save their country by saving themselves from him.

Image: You Tube

Friday, July 14, 2017

A National Necessity


On the Right, support for Donald Trump is beginning to falter. When news of Junior's emails surfaced, David French penned an op-ed in The National Review. What matters, French wrote, is that Junior tried to collude with the Russians:

Let’s define our terms. The word “collusion” doesn’t have precise legal meaning. It’s largely a political term that refers to claims and allegations that the Trump team worked in some way with Russians as part of the alleged Russian effort to elect Trump. In other words, to claim that Trump officials colluded with Russians is not the same thing as claiming that they violated the law. As with many political operations, including dealings with foreign governments, their actions can be unsavory without being illegal.

That fact, however, in no way makes the attempt any less problematic:

To repeat, it now looks as if the senior campaign team of a major-party presidential candidate intended to meet with an official representative of a hostile foreign power to facilitate that foreign power’s attempt to influence an American election. Russian collusion claims are no longer the exclusive province of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. No American — Democrat or Republican — should defend the expressed intent of this meeting.

The fact that there are Republicans who are still trying to parse the meeting -- Trump himself says that "Most people would have taken that meeting." -- tells you just how feckless the Republican Party has become. French warns his readers that:

As of now, we should have zero confidence that we know all or even most material facts. We should have zero confidence that Trump’s frustration is entirely due to his feeling like an innocent man caught in the crosshairs of crazed conspiracy theorists. It now appears that his son, son-in-law, and campaign chair met with a lawyer who they were told was part of an official Russian government effort to impact the presidential election. The Russian investigation isn’t a witch hunt anymore, if it ever was. It’s a national necessity.

Forget the wall between the United States and Mexico. The wall between the United States and Trump is beginning to crumble. 

Image: Pinterest

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Julie Payette



Say what you will about Justin's Trudeau's policies -- when the rubber hits the road, there's a lot of continuity between him and Stephen Harper -- the fact is that, when it comes to optics, he's a much better politician than his predecessor. Put simply, his appointment of Julie Payette as the next Governor General is a brilliant stroke.

Payette is a highly accomplished woman -- brilliant, scientifically gifted, with superb soft skills which can be communicated in six languages.

Trrudeau could not have chosen a better person to represent Canada -- at home and abroad -- than Payette.

Image: Tourisme Montreal

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Putting Junior's Emails In Context



Until now, the general consensus has been that Donald Trump is an idiot -- which explains his administration's profound incompetence. But, Ezra Klein writes, the story behind Trump Junior's emails puts things in another light:

The generous interpretation, until now, was that this was all bumbling and idiocy and coincidence. Yes, the Trump campaign had a lot of strange meetings with Russians, and sure, it seemed to routinely forget them during congressional testimony and security checks, and of course, Russia intervened in the election to harm Hillary Clinton. But incompetence, we were assured, was the likelier explanation than conspiracy.

Not anymore. 

Junior did not stumble into this situation: 

Donald Trump Jr. knew exactly what he was being offered. The email he got was crystal clear. His source is referred to as a “Russian government attorney.” The invitation for the meeting explains that she will “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information.” The intermediary assures Trump Jr. that “this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

His reply, it cannot be said often enough, was “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” — and late in the summer is exactly when the hacked Democratic emails actually began to be released

His claims that his father knew nothing about what was going on strains credulity:

Did Donald Trump himself know? It would be remarkable if he didn’t. It would mean his son and his son-in-law and his campaign manager had tried to collude with the Russians — endangering his campaign and giving a foreign government blackmail material over his presidency — without telling him. This seems unlikely. But if Donald Trump knew, then it means he knew what he was firing James Comey to hide. Then it is clearly obstruction of justice.  

Even if Trump himself did not know, consider all the damning evidence here: We know that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager at least tried to work with a semi-hostile foreign power to win the election. We know that foreign power conducted a large-scale and successful cyber-espionage effort against the Democratic Party. We know that Trump continues to treat Russia unusually gently — palling around with Vladimir Putin even as he undercuts NATO and weakens the Western alliance. 

 Everything about the United States in the Age of Trump smells of rot:

And so we are faced with a crisis that leaves vast swaths of American politics stained. The election is tainted. The White House is tainted. Our foreign policy is tainted. If impeachment seems impossible, it is only because we believe that Republicans in Congress would sooner protect a criminal administration than risk their legislative agenda to uphold the rule of law — which is all to say, Congress is tainted, too. 

In short, the Trump Administration is more than incompetent. It is conscientiously corrupt.

Image: AfricLaw

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Exactly What They'll Do



Donald Trump Jr. is proving the truth behind the old saw that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. The New York Times reports that:

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

According to the Times

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. 

When historians write the history of the Trump Administration, they will surely concentrate on its astounding ignorance and stupidity. They will probably point out that one of Trump's most serious errors was to declare open war on the press, calling it "the enemy of the American people."

They will note that Trump baited the press -- which led to their determination to take him down. And, in the end, that's exactly what they'll do.

Image: Movie  TV Tech Geeks

Monday, July 10, 2017

Same Old, Same Old



Andrew Scheer may be the new leader of the Conservative Party; however, Adam Radwanski writes, his party is still Stephen Harper's Party. That's abundantly clear from Scheer's and the party's reaction to the settlement with Omar Khadr:

Throughout Mr. Harper’s time in office, a complete lack of sympathy toward the Canadian kid locked up at Guantanamo Bay was a point of pride for Conservatives, to the extent that some of them still boast about their roles in delaying his repatriation. Let the elites point out that he was a 15-year-old, by most definitions a child soldier, at the time of his capture fighting for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; that his confession to killing a U.S. special forces medic was likely coerced, and he never received a fair trial; that rather than defending his rights as a citizen, Canadian officials (under the previous Liberal government) were complicit in abusive U.S. interrogations. To the Tories, he was nothing more than an unrepentant terrorist and murderer, and that proved their connection to all the real Canadians who viewed Mr. Khadr through similarly clear eyes.
So entrenched is that perspective in the Conservative psyche that Mr. Scheer scarcely had time to open his mouth after reports that Mr. Khadr was receiving $10.5-million in public funds for his mistreatment before members of his caucus were tripping over each other to denounce it. Little more than a month into his leadership, it would have required immense intestinal fortitude for Mr. Scheer to explain to his MPs that they really should accept the settlement, since it ended a (potentially even
 more lucrative) lawsuit Mr. Khadr was very likely to win.

Likewise, Harper's take on trade with China is still alive and well in the Big Blue Party:

Unlike on the Khadr file, lots of prominent Conservatives – including leadership runner-up Maxime Bernier – think that attitude is outdated. But Mr. Scheer has gone out of his way to signal that he is not among them. After his swift rebuke of the Trudeau government’s free-trade aspirations earned him a public attack from Beijing, he followed up with an op-ed in The Globe and Mail this week expressing his opposition all the more emphatically.

Some of the arguments Mr. Scheer has invoked while making the case are ones that Mr. Harper might not have. While accusing the Liberals of “appeasement” for approving the sale of a technology company to Chinese interests despite security concerns, he has also cited Chinese disregard for Canadian labour standards and warned of job losses – seemingly exploring the sort of messaging that has helped U.S. conservatives appeal to blue-collar voters who traditionally leaned left.

But what remains constant is that the Conservatives are happily thumbing their noses at professors, business leaders or bureaucrats who think refusing to build bridges with China constitutes a sort of denialism about the obvious economic direction of the world. Where Mr. Scheer could have tried to prove he has a more modern outlook on foreign policy than his predecessor, he is instead circling back to Mr. Harper’s early framing of solicitousness toward China as weakness.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. 

Image: Dawg's Blawg

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Things Went Swimmingly



The world waited last week, like the audience watching the season finale of The Apprentice, to witness the outcome of the Trump-Putin tete-a-tete. If you believe Rex Tillerson, the show set ratings records and was a smashing success. If you believe Russian journalist Masha Gessen, it was, indeed, a success -- for Vladimir Putin:

Mr. Putin has for years — 17 years, to be exact, for this is how long he has been in power — been clear about what he wanted from his relationship with the United States president: He wants to be treated as an equal partner on the world stage and not to be questioned about or pressed on the Russian government’s actions inside Russia or in what he considers his sphere of influence. Despite the friendly tenor of Mr. Putin’s relationship with George W. Bush and the offer of a “reset” made by Barack Obama’s administration, Mr. Putin never achieved his objective — until now. His fourth American president has given him exactly what he wanted: respect, camaraderie and freedom from criticism.

Trump is all about spin. But when you cut through the spin, here's what you're left with:

What was really important was what was apparently missing from the meeting: any criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine, including its occupation of Crimea, and of the crackdown on political dissent inside Russia itself. In his accounting of the meeting, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson mentioned Ukraine only to say that a new United States representative on the matter would be appointed. He then managed to avoid answering the one question from a journalist about Ukraine and sanctions imposed in response to the Russian war there. Nor did the correspondents at the briefing appear concerned with getting answers on Ukraine. They were much more interested in the details of the two presidents’ discussion of Russian meddling in the American election. This is a topic that Mr. Putin clearly enjoys: It testifies to his political power, apparently unbounded by international borders.

So, was Tillerson right? Was the meeting a success? Yes, from Vladimir Putin's perspective, things went swimmingly.

Image: The Nation

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Vulture Capitalism


Sears -- both here and in the United States -- is on its deathbed. These are not easy days for retailers. Companies like Amazon have changed the rules. But, Alan Freeman writes, if you want to know the real reason Sears is about to go under, take a good look at Eddie Lampert:

Lampert is no small-time guy. A hedge fund billionaire, he hit number 67 in the Forbes List of the 400 Richest Americans. His 288-foot super-yacht (named The Fountainhead after the novel by Ayn Rand, goddess of the libertarian right) is reportedly valued at US$130 million. In 2012, as Sears in the U.S. was reporting a US$2.4 billion loss, Eddie bought himself a US$40 million mansion on Indian Creek Island in Florida.

Lampert owns 45 per cent of Sears Canada. Sears Holdings, also controlled by Lampert, owns another 12 per cent. The stock is now essentially worthless.

In the meantime, thousands of retail workers at Sears Canada — who worked for decades for modest wages in the expectation of severance pay if they lost their jobs, and a defined-benefit pension when they retired — now find they aren’t getting a cent in severance and risk seeing their pensions reduced significantly. (Sears Canada has sought court protection from its creditors in the hope of reviving the business or selling it off. Neither prospect seems likely. It probably will end up in liquidation.)
The U.S. parent, Lampert-controlled Sears Holdings, is in only slightly better shape. It announced in March that “substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” It too has been selling off assets for years as customers flee its stores and the company continues to add to its losses.

One of Sears' former CEO's -- Mark Cohen -- has Lampert's number. He now teaches at Columbia University's business school. Lampert, he says,

“seemed to think he was smarter than anyone in the retail business but he had no idea how to run the company from Day 1. One thing I teach is that core competencies are the basis for success or failure. Lampert had no experience in retail and no management competency whatsoever.”

Sears will go the way of Simpsons and Eaton's. Their employees are up the creek. But you can bet that Lampert will try to sail his yacht in any puddle he finds before him. And, who knows, one day he may become President of the United States.That seems to be what happens to vulture capitalists these days.

Image: Huffington Post

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Pivotal Moment


Michael Harris has written a must read column on the importance of journalism -- real journalism.  That kind of journalism is a group project:

It takes an invisible team coming together that the public never sees. It takes a reporter, or a team of reporters. It takes astute researchers. It takes relentless, meticulous editors. It takes lawyers poring over every word for legal pitfalls. And it takes publishers and editors-in-chief willing first to pay for it all, and then to risk the farm to publish it. Why? Because they believe in the motive, method and merit of what their teams produce in the public interest.

And, these days, that kind of journalism  is squarely in the sites of the powerful:

A recent poll by Survey Monkey found that 89 per cent of Republicans believe Donald Trump’s version of “the truth” over the reporting done by The New York Times and The Washington Post, which they see as “fake”.

These dipstick Republicans without a clue of how the real world of media works — they’re the fraudsters. These are not people who simply believe Trump is truthful, or that The New York Times publishes all the lies that are fit to print. These are people who no longer know what truth is — or worse, don’t care to know.

Stricken with democracy fatigue — or just so dumbed-down that watching Jeopardy is a major challenge — they have given up the struggle to know. They think it is “unpatriotic” to ask questions of their mendacious president — as Trump’s Liar Barbie, Kellyanne Conway, recently argued.

They don’t care if presidential briefings are shut down or conducted in the dark. They don’t care if the cameras are shut down or the microphones turned off. They’re ready to confer the halo of truthfulness on any bigoted hogwash that confirms their own smug and hateful biases. At best, it’s lazy nihilism. At worst, it’s embryonic fascism.

The same folks are behind the sound and fury over the Omar Khadr settlement:

There’s a rage-on in full swing on several social media platforms against the Canadian government giving any compensation to former child soldier Omar Khadr, let alone $10 million. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation already has collected 52,000 names on a petition to force the Trudeau government to withdraw its offer.

Only someone who has never read the Supreme Court of Canada decision on Khadr’s treatment by Canadian authorities could sign such a petition. Only someone who has never read Romeo Dallaire’s book about child soldiers — They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children — could post the kind of horrible vitriol being written about Khadr. It is so much worse than a mere failure of the imagination.

Democracy will not survive if the powerful manage to sabotage Harris' kind of journalism. We are at a pivotal moment.

Image: Slide Player

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Get Over It



Once again, the case of  Omar Khadr is causing a firestorm. The Conservatives are up in arms. But Jamie Carroll reviews the facts of the case:

Notwithstanding his sins — or the sins of his family — Omar Khadr was a 15-year-old boy with Canadian citizenship when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al Qaida compound in Afghanistan in 2002 that resulted in the death of American army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer. His country didn’t give a rat’s ass about whether he lived or died for more than a decade.

Brought from Mississauga to the tribal regions of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border by his jihadist father when he was 14, Omar Khadr was taken from the scene of that firefight unconscious and very seriously wounded. When medics discovered him under the rubble left behind by A-10 Warthogs and other heavy ordinance, he repeatedly begged them to kill him. He was given initial medical treatment at Bagram AFB by United States military personnel. The extent and quality of that (and subsequent) treatment has never been clear.

For the next ten years — from the age of 16 to 26 – Omar Khadr was a prisoner of the United States government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Housed with adult prisoners, he was subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ for months on end (following the death of another inmate, Khadr’s principle interrogator, Joshua Claus, was convicted of maltreatment and assault). Khadr eventually confessed to his captors.

During those same ten years, the Canadian government did almost nothing to secure Khadr’s removal to a non-military jurisdiction in the U.S., or to repatriate him home for trial in Canada. Oh, the usual paperwork was filled and letters sent, and a series of ministers (and prime ministers) expressed concern before the cameras when asked from time to time about “that Canadian kid in Gitmo.” But that was it.

The Supreme Court has decreed that Khadr's fundamental rights were violated and has directed the government to initiate a remedy.  There is a price to be paid when justice is delayed. You can bet that almost no one wanted to pay that price. But you can also bet that price comes with good legal advice.

The money should be paid -- and we should get over it.

Image: Awareness Film Night

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

John Galt Come To Life



Jill Abramson writes that we are witnessing the final stage of Baby Boomer dominance, which has been defined by the ascendancy of Ayn Rand. Rand's fingerprints are over the Senate health care bill:

It should be called The John Galt Bill after the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the doorstopper of a novel that is akin to the Bible for certain conservative politicians, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who hands out copies of the book to newly elected Members (The House version of the health care bill is even more Galtian than the Senate’s). It’s the only book I’m aware of that Donald Trump claims to have read.

Keep in mind that at her funeral in New York in 1982, “Ayn Rand’s body lay next to the symbol she had adopted as her own - a six-foot dollar sign,” according to Susan Chira who covered the service for the Times. A few years ago, The Atlas Society, which keeps the Rand flame alive, urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “unleash our inner John Galt.” They must be celebrating because even they could not have come up with a more hard-hearted piece of legislation.

There are none who are the more Galtian than Donald Trump and his party. And the Galtians are having their revenge:

Since modern American politics is always a revenge cycle, one way to look at the Republican health repeal measures is as payback to Chief Justice John Roberts, who infuriated Republicans in 2012 when he sided with the US Supreme Court’s four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act. He finessed his decision by defining the individual mandate as a tax, citing congressional power to levy taxes. Now McConnell & Co are using that same power to repeal them and make the billionaires richer.

And Galtian influence is spreading beyond the shores of the United States:

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bully Qatar into bending to their will, as the Kurds forge on with their independence drive, both selfish moves that don’t even consider how they may destabilize the rest of the region. Pulling out of multi-lateral treaties, like the Paris and Trans-Pacific accords, because Trump says they don’t put US interests first is also supremely selfish, as Ignatius rightly points out. 

A significant number of us bought into what Rand called Objectivism. Others of us saw that the term was Orwellian. It was all about subjectivity. The ego was supreme. The term, like the lady herself, was a fraud.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump is John Galt come to life.

Image: Proud Producers

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

All The President's Lies



The American Constitution allows uncivil speech. It does not allow lying. But, these days, it's not just ordinary American citizens who are lying. It's their president. Lawrence Douglas writes:

What happens when the source of uncivil speech is not some fringe hate group, but the occupant of the Oval Office? And what happens when the lies target the very organs designed to ferret them out? We have never faced such questions before in our history. Which explains why, on the 241st anniversary of our independence, American democracy finds itself in peril.

We have grown accustomed to the president’s lies, as recently inventoried in the New York Times. Yet such a simple enumeration fails to get at the danger. Consider Trump’s workhorse – that the mainstream media trucks in “fake news.”

If Trump were simply implying, without substantiation or proof, that the media routinely engages in unreliable reporting, this would be bad enough. But that is not the claim. Rather, it is that CNN, to take one favorite target, willfully fabricates false news to advance a partisan agenda.

In the present situation, democracy is in clear and present danger:

Mr Trump’s lies can better be understood as libels – they state falsehoods that malign their targets. As a sitting president, Mr Trump is, of course, immune from suit (just as he might be immune from indictment for having obstructed justice). But this does not change the libelous character of his speech.

What makes these libels so toxic is not the injury they do to the reputation of the New York Times or CNN, though certainly they may serve to discredit these organizations in the eyes of some segments of the public; it is the injury they do to our democracy. 

 That injury to democracy is what is behind the Russia investigation -- which Trump wants to quash:

The full danger of Trump’s uncivil speech becomes clear only when viewed through the filter of his defamation of our electoral process. The 2016 presidential election revealed genuine threats to the integrity of our voting system, and we have precise, reliable knowledge about their source.

But in his alarming testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey revealed that while the president repeatedly asked whether the FBI had targeted him personally, he failed to express the slightest interest in the deeper issue – Russia’s criminal tampering with our electoral process.  

When Trump took the Oath of Office he swore to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Of all his lies, that was the biggest.


Monday, July 03, 2017

No Einstein



The Trudeau government has spent a lot of effort trying to to stay on the good side of Donald Trump, fearing that he will rip up NAFTA. But a recent study concludes that Canada has less to fear from Trump than some believe. Tom Walkom writes:

Written by economist Pierre Lalibert√© and research fellow Scott Sinclair, the study — entitled “What is the NAFTA advantage?” — says that even without the pact, trade barriers between Canada and the U.S. would be relatively minor.

That’s because both countries adhere to rules set by the World Trade Organization that mandate minimal tariffs between member states.

Without NAFTA, 41 per cent of Canadian exports to the U.S. would still face no tariffs at all.

The remaining 59 per cent would face, on average, extremely modest tariffs. The authors calculate that the value of these extra tariffs would total roughly $4 billion a year — a relatively small amount when compared to annual exports of roughly $279 billion.

The authors also point out that Canada’s main aim in negotiating a deal with the U.S. — which was to obtain an exemption from that country’s often arbitrary trade laws — never materialized. The eternally recurring softwood lumber dispute is a testament to that.

That's not to say that walking away from NAFTA would not have costs:

The study doesn’t try to pretend that ending NAFTA would be costless. Some industries, such as agriculture, would be hit hard. Others, such as petroleum, would be barely affected.
But it does demonstrate that, for the most part, Canada’s economy could purr on quite contentedly without the pact.

That, in turn, means two things. First, Ottawa can safely walk out of the NAFTA talks if Trump’s demands are too outrageous. Second, Canada’s government need not twist its foreign and defence policies out of shape just to candy up to him.

During the past week, Trump the Bully has been on full blown display. His latest doctored video of him beating up on CNN is yet another example of his boarishness. But it also reminds us that Trump is no Einstein.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

Some Diseases Refuse To Die


As Donald Trump shows his strange obsession with Mika Brzezinski, William Rivers Pitt asks the $64,000 question: Why is the Republican Party still here? After all,

the Republicans nominated and then elected a farcical caricature of a buffoon, a vulgarian oaf, a serial liar of Brobdingnagian proportions, a confessed misogynist and serial assaulter of women, a fact-free ignoramus too ego-blinded to recognize how much he doesn't know, to the highest office in the land. To the surprise of virtually no one, he has bollixed up the job so comprehensively that his approval rating currently hovers somewhere below pig offal, and in five short months he has become the most despised world leader since Caligula.

Trump can sign executive orders, but he and the Republicans can't pass legislation. Their signature piece of legislation is going down the tubes:

[Mitch] McConnell has blown his own caucus to shreds and tatters. Hard-line Republicans like Rand Paul revolted because the proposed bill looks too much like the Affordable Care Act, while more moderate senators like Dean Heller of Nevada balked because of the massive attack on Medicaid the bill represents. In other words, McConnell managed to piss off pretty much everyone, and no one seemed eager to charge to the bill's defense. In fact, a whole slew of fence-sitting Republican senators came out against it in a true profile in courage after McConnell yanked it from consideration on Tuesday.

The answer to Pitt's question isn't hard to find.  In fact, Pitt readily answers his own question:

Oh, right. Citizens United. Brutally racist voter suppression across a variety of vital states, combined with outright election theft in a number of instances. Partisan gerrymandering. Decades of right-wing domination of the media. A Democratic Party "opposition" beholden to most of the same corporate interests as the Republicans. A system so deeply mired in wildly discredited economic mythologies that it refuses to recognize its own imminent collapse. A population so thoroughly disgusted and dispirited by it all that only half of them bother to show up at the polls on a good day.

I get it.

Yet, in spite of it all, The Republican Party is still here. Some social diseases refuse to die.

Image: slideshare.net

Saturday, July 01, 2017

150



Our 150th birthday is not quite as ebullient as our 100th. Perhaps we were just more naive back then. The teepee on Parliament Hill reminds us that our history is incomplete. And, God knows, our future is uncertain -- because the planet's future is uncertain.

Still, we have much for which to be thankful. We are a nation of immigrants who have -- for the most part -- found a welcoming home here. We still have plenty of room and bountiful resources. With those blessings come responsibilities.

As I get older, my respect for Mike Pearson grows. As a young Canadian, I saw him as a man with a lisp and a funny bow tie. In my old age I see him as a wise man who devoted his life to the quest for peace, knowing that peace was always elusive and hard won.

On this somewhat fractious Canada Day, I remember his take on world problems:

We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self interest.

Wise words. Happy Canada Day.

Image: Extraordinary Canadians
We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lesterbpe300118.html
We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lesterbpe300118.html
We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lesterbpe300118.html