Sunday, December 31, 2017
It's been quite a year. And I make no predictions about the one to come. I do know that it will -- at least where we are -- start out cold. Beyond that, my crystal ball is foggy. But each new year brings the possibility of hope and wisdom. May you experience both in 2018.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Justin Trudeau's silence is deafening. As Donald Trump steamrolls the UN, Trudeau keeps his mouth shut. Michael Harris writes:
In case you missed it, Trump just tried to turn the UN General Assembly into a congregation of whores. Faced with world-wide opposition to his Jerusalem decision, Trump reverted to Goodfellas rules: If other countries dared to denounce him over a foreign policy decision that shattered the peace process and upended fifty years of global diplomacy (much of it forged by the United States), then their rebuke would come at a price.
The ‘price’ had to do with the fact that Trump seems to believe that since the United States accounts for 22 per cent of the UN’s operating budget, the General Assembly’s votes are, in effect, bought and paid for by Washington.
Donald has always acted like a Don. In his business career, he's dealt with a few. Now he is telling the world he's making it a deal it can't refuse:
Trump laid his contempt for international law, global opinion and the UN on the table for all to see with his Jerusalem call. He warned those nations voting against the rogue U.S. position — a policy that violates both international law and existing UN resolutions — that he’d be taking down names, and not for his Christmas card list.
The payback was swiftly delivered by Trump’s robot at the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley. Fittingly, the news was delivered over the Christmas holidays, shortly after the U.S. was humiliated by a General Assembly vote of 128 to 9 on a motion denouncing the embassy move. Sadly, when the world was expressing its disdain of Trump’s bullying tactics, Canada was hiding under its desk.
The American mission subsequently announced that the UN’s budget would be cut by $285 million, or 5 per cent of the total. The cuts came along with threats of “further action” the U.S. might take, including cuts to foreign aid to certain disobedient countries, and further reductions in American support for the UN’s overall management and operations.
In one year Trump has destroyed his country's bona fides. By keeping his mouth shut, Justin is destroying ours. Silence means consent.
Image: CTV News
Friday, December 29, 2017
As the year comes to an end, E.J. Dionne writes a meditation on Democracy. He starts with first principles:
In embracing democracy, as the historian James Kloppenberg has written, we are standing up for three contested principles: popular sovereignty, autonomy and equality. We are also embracing three premises: deliberation, pluralism and reciprocity.
Certain things follow from those three premises. We rarely think of those premises and what they entail. Dionne gets down to specifics:
A devotion to democracy thus ought to affect how we treat others. We often have to deal with hierarchies, but we should never internalize them. Those at the bottom of formal authority structures see things and know things that cannot be seen from on high. We should, as Pope Francis has said, seek the wisdom available only on the peripheries. We learn from experience — and from the news — that the distributions of virtue, compassion and judgment are not correlated with the distributions of power and wealth.
Democracy, finally, is rooted in two intuitions, about our aspirations to transcendence, which allow us to imagine a better world, and about our proclivities to sin and failure, which require limits on the power any of us can wield. Thus Reinhold Niebuhr’s aphorism: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
Dionne -- who is a practising Catholic -- speaks in religious terms. However, he does not transform democracy into a religion. And he warns that when elites control the levers of power, democracy is in danger:
Something to think about as the old year ends and a new one begins.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
I admire Hugh Segal. He has always had the courage to speak truth to power. In this morning's Globe and Mail he advocates welcoming the many Haitians who are presently fleeing the United States:
There are commitments that involve more or less risk, and more or less genuine impact. Often, when a country acts clearly and decisively in a way that underlines its own values, that is when its impact is greatest. There would be no greater practical example of Canadian engagement as a member of the United Nations, a member of the Organization of American States and a founding member of la Francophonie, than a decision now to reach out and welcome Haitians who face deportation by the United States.
The commitment to help Haitians is nothing new to Canada. And Haitians have been contributing to this country for a long time:
We have a robust, active, productive, economically and culturally dynamic Haitian community in Quebec, and elsewhere. A distinguished Canadian of Haitian birth, Michaëlle Jean, became our Governor-General and now heads la Francophonie in Paris. The Haitian community is a credit to Canada in so many ways and has produced business, cultural, political and journalistic leadership that has immensely strengthened and enriched us all. It has the depth and capacity to sponsor and welcome new arrivals, along with other Canadians who would be delighted to help.
Nearly forty years ago -- when Baby Doc Duvalier ruled the roost -- my wife and I visited Haiti. At that time, it was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The average annual income was a little over $500 a year. That position has not changed. In fact, it is worse after the ravages of this year's hurricanes.
Segal is right. We should welcome people we have long welcomed -- particularly now that the president of the United States claims that "they all have AIDS."
Image: Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Much has been written about the return to fascism under Donald Trump. But, Henry Giroux writes, not much ink has been spilled on the subject of Trump's war on children:
Finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways. And it’s more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, if not democracy itself.
In an apparent war on children, the Trump administration provides a disturbing index of a society in the midst of a deep moral and political crisis — not the least of which was the president’s support and defence of an accused serial pedophile, Roy Moore, in his unsuccessful attempt to win an Alabama Senate seat.
Marian Wright Edelman, who heads the Children's Defence Fund, provides some very disturbing data:
As U.S. children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman points out, such actions are particularly alarming and cruel at a time when “millions of America’s children today are suffering from hunger, homelessness and hopelessness.”
She adds: “Nearly 13.2 million children are poor — almost one in five. About 70 per cent of them are children of colour, who will be a majority of our children by 2020. More than 1.2 million are homeless. About 14.8 million children struggle against hunger in food insecure households.”
Republicans have long railed against the injustice of saddling the next generation with mountains of debt. But they have now foreclosed on the future of young people:
Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the tenets of a savage form of casino capitalism or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.
Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present, they are, as the late Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has argued, “the first post-war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole.”
American youth, especially those marginalized by race and class, are subject to the dictates of the punishing state. Not only is their behaviour being criminalized in schools and on the streets, they are also subject to repressive forms of legislation.
It turns out that Big Daddy ain't no daddy at all.
Image: Cinema Fanatic
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Eugene Robinson writes that many people feared what would happen in the first year of Donald Trump's presidency. It turns out that the year was worse than they feared:
Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.
Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torchlit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?
Perhaps an indication of just how extreme the Trump make over has been is how citizens are placing their hopes on the military:
Since its founding, the nation has treasured civilian control of the military as a restraint on adventurism. Now we must rely on three generals — Trump’s chief of staff, his national security adviser and his secretary of defense — to keep this rash and erratic president from careening off the rails.
It's clear voters can't rely on the Republican Party to keep Trump on the rails:
The president’s Republican allies in Congress, who have the power to restrain an out-of-control executive, have rolled over in passive submission. Many see clearly Trump’s unfitness but continue to support him because they fear the wrath of his hard-core base and see the chance to enact a conservative agenda. History will remember this craven opportunism and judge it harshly.
So, it is now up to "we the people" to shut Trump down in the mid-term elections. The biggest question in the coming year is, Will they do it?
Image: The BBC
Sunday, December 24, 2017
And, John Lennon asked, what have you done? These days, we -- the collective we -- do little that is noble. Everywhere we look, Folly appears to be in the driver's seat. But, every year at Christmas, we are reminded of another kind of folly. It's not the folly of what we possess, but the folly of what we give. It's perhaps best expressed in O. Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi. The final paragraph of that story is famous:
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—
who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to
give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones.
And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise.
Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for
the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all
who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive
gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones.
They are the magi.
Such folly is wisdom. May we have more of the same in the New Year.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Politicians have lied since the beginning of recorded history. But, Chris Hedges writes, we are living in a time when lying has become permanent:
Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party represent the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. Pillage and oppression are justified by the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. Clinton, when he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, promised “NAFTA means jobs, American jobs and good-paying American jobs.” George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Clinton did not continue to pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.
The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of “fake news.” They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted to them with the revoking of net neutrality. The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.
That collective psychosis makes everything and everyone perfectly absurd:
The permanent lie turns political discourse into absurdist theater. Donald Trump, who lies about the size of his inauguration crowd despite photographic evidence, insists that in regard to his personal finances he is “going to get killed” by a tax bill that actually will save him and his heirs over $1 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has a report that proves that the tax cuts will pay for themselves and will not increase the deficit—only there never was a report. Sen. John Cornyn assures us, countering all factual evidence, that “this is not a bill that is designed primarily to benefit the wealthy and the large businesses.”
Truth no longer matters. What matters is what is "correct:"
Federal courts are being stacked with imbecilic and incompetent judges who serve the “correct” ideology of corporatism and the rigid social mores of the Christian right. They hold reality, including science and the rule of law, in contempt. They seek to banish those who live in a reality-based world defined by intellectual and moral autonomy. Totalitarian rule always elevates the brutal and the stupid. These reigning idiots have no genuine political philosophy or goals. They use clichés and slogans, most of which are absurd and contradictory, to justify their greed and lust for power. This is as true on the Christian right, which is filling the ideological vacuum of the Trump administration, as it is for the corporatists that preach neoliberalism and globalization. The merger of the corporatists with the Christian right is the marrying of Godzilla to Frankenstein.
When Godzilla marries Frankenstein, both stomp around, destroying everything in their paths.
Image: August Ragone
Friday, December 22, 2017
Mary Dawson has found that Justin Trudeau flagrantly broke the rules. Tim Harper asks, "Will it stick?"
This is a government and prime minister who rode to power two years ago on the type of inspirational message of hope and a new dawn that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.
This was a government that was going to do everything differently than the Stephen Harper government, yet continually plays to a sense of entitlement, of playing by different rules than other Canadians.
Trudeau and family and Liberal friends made two trips to the island in the Bahamas — Sophie Grégoire Trudeau also took her family there without her husband — at a time when the Aga Khan Foundation, which Dawson said has received $330 million from Canadian governments since 1981, was registered to lobby Trudeau’s office.
But, so far, "nothing seems to stick to this government, whether broken promises, a ham-handed performance from the finance minister, or a minister insulting Canadians with disabilities, the very people for whom he is supposed to advocate."
According to the Bank of Canada, the economy is chugging along on all cylinders. And the employment figures keep getting better. We live in strange times. An accused child molester just missed being elected to the U.S. Senate. And a man who admitted assaulting women is now president of that country.
Perhaps the only two things that matter are money and jobs.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Donald Trump has a chaotic mind. That conclusion is buttressed by everything he says and does. Most recently, that chaos was evident in Trump's statement on international security. Tom Walkom writes:
This particular document appears to reflect the foreign affairs logic of one wing of the Republican Party. But it doesn’t always reflect the stated views of Trump.
Whether it ends up guiding the foreign affairs policy of the U.S. administration remains an open question.
The strategy begins with Trump’s dystopian view of America as a nation that has fallen behind. The reason (and again this is pure Trump) is that feckless U.S. presidents, such as Barack Obama and George W. Bush, allowed other nations to take advantage of Washington.
The main problem with the document is that it does not echo the platform Trump ran on:
The document suggests that Russia and China pose a greater threat to the U.S. than even terrorism. But all are involved in “fundamental contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce unanimity.”
This is language reminiscent of the Cold War. It is also language that Trump does not usually apply to Russia and China.
Indeed, at times Trump has actively praised both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. His beef with China is more economic than political. And while Trump’s ministers routinely decry Russian intentions in Eastern Europe, he himself usually does not.
At bottom, the statement is rooted in the Social Darwinism of the Republican Party. All states are viewed as "competitors:"
In fact, the security strategy says that the dog-eat-dog nature of foreign relations requires America to be willing to confront China and Russia everywhere.
In one sense, this is not at all surprising. Trump views everyone as his enemy. But, in another sense, it is yet again a warning: Trump is completely unreliable. Betting on his reliability is a losing game.
Image: The Telegraph
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Jane Philpott has her work cut out for her. But, Tim Harper writes, she's determined to get it done:
The federal Indigenous services minister has ambitious plans when it comes to ending water quality advisories in First Nations communities, closing the gap on Indigenous child welfare spending and reducing what she calls an “abhorrent” number of Indigenous children living in foster care.
One thing not on her list for the coming year is hearing the word “no” from anyone in her department’s bureaucracy.
Unclean water on native land is a perennial problem. Philpott is determined to put an end to that problem:
As we spoke this week, Philpott sat at a desk with six multi-colour-coded spread sheets in front of her, detailing all 68 long-term drinking water advisories in communities directly funded by her department, with the dates the order went into effect, timelines for ending them and potential barriers in the way.
There are a total of 100 such advisories in First Nations communities including privately operated systems.
Also on Philpott's desk is reform of the child welfare system:
She has called the rate of Indigenous child apprehension a humanitarian disaster. Indigenous children 14 and under make up 7.7 per cent of all children in this country, according to the 2016 census. But they represent 52 per cent of children in foster care.
In Manitoba the rate can be as high as 90 per cent, but the rate is anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent across western Canada.
“It is positively abhorrent. There is clearly something very wrong,’’ Philpott told me.
And she is determined to improve First Nations schools:
A push to have First Nations control First Nations education is showing promise.
But it is also up to Philpott to light a spark in a bureaucracy that has for years worked to thwart Indigenous progress, launching court challenges and slowing programs in the name of protecting the taxpayer.
Bureaucracies are not monolithic, as Philpott points out. They are composed of people who care and understand 150 years of injustices.
They smile, she says, when they are told to find a way to deliver a “yes,” instead of falling back on an automatic “no.”
Philpott has worked as a doctor in third world countries. She knows that conditions on Canada's reserves are third world conditions. And she knows how to get things done.
Image: The Toronto Star
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Hart Williams writes that the Republican tax bill -- which is speeding its way toward passage -- marks the end of democracy in the United States:
Think about it: a bill that will affect EVERY SECTOR of the American economy is put together in secret in the House and the Senate. Both bills pass, using legislative tricks like ‘budget reconciliation’ to sidestep normal process, holds no hearings, allows no input from or information TO the opposition party, engages in backdoor trading, all-but-bribery and all-but-extortion in secret, then passes both versions and “reconciles” the final bill again in secret, again behind closed doors in formerly smoke-filled rooms, as every single Republican senator is carrot-and-sticked into voting for the final bill, which was only released on Friday in the afternoon.
The tax bill itself is almost entirely a separate subject, and its particulars ought not be adjudicated here, but we need to understand that a fundamental principle of our form of governance, already on life support, has died.
A majority of Americans are opposed to it, but that matters little to the GOPs of today — or should I say “toady”?
83 percent were opposed to striking down Net Neutrality, but the chairman of the FCC, a “free market” GOP does not extend that freedom to the franchise. Ayn Rand, you know. The virtue of selfishness, or as the Republicans actually behave: we expect greed (the most toxic of human drives) to miraculously solve all human problems.
What we've witnessed is a coup. The wealthy have captured the legislature, the courts and the presidency.
Democracy in the United States is dead.
Image: The Moderate Voice
Monday, December 18, 2017
Neal Gabler writes that November 8, 2016 marked the beginning of the Second American Civil War:
By that perspective, just as the first Civil War was the last gasp of slavery, this second is very likely the last gasp of aging white Americans — their full-throated death rattle against an America that they detest for having changed so dramatically the traditions and power structures by which those whites had lived. Regressions are often like that. They are an angry attempt to prevent a threatening future from arriving. Republicans had long preyed upon these discontents, but did so tepidly — a wink-and-nod approach. Trump voiced them and validated them, making racism, nativism and sexism acceptable. It will be his primary legacy.
And behind it all is the devolution of politics into religion:
One of the most important shifts in our culture has been the transformation of politics into a kind of civic religion. Religion has always provided a sense of identity — hence the tribalism — but it provided something else, too; something even more fundamental. In what historian Karen Armstrong describes as the Axial Age, from which modern religions grew, it pointed the way to a meaningful life with spiritual values. That was for nurturing the soul. And it provided a cosmology, a systematic way of thinking about and explaining the world and our place in it. That was for the mind.
Trump has sold his fellow citizens a debased cosmology. And he now poses as their Saviour:
Modern conservatism, like debased religion, has an explanation for everything, and there is nothing mysterious or spiritual about it. Trump understood the desire for some all-encompassing answer, as demagogues always do. Demagogues assume the proportions of religious leaders, but without the moral instruction. Through a process of simplification, they purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite — benightedness.
As religious observance has declined in America, as faith has declined and the religious cosmologies have weakened, political passions and political cosmologies have risen, and those old religious/conservative affinities have strengthened as religion tries to save itself by piggybacking on politics, rather than as some believe, the other way around. Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, is the perfect example of religion’s surrender to politics. Many evangelicals embrace him despite credible allegations of child molestation, showing how morality has become so politicized that it no longer even makes sense. That is because politics is the new religion of America.
The ugliest wars in human history have been wars of religion. Fasten your seat belts.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Like Martin Luther five hundred years ago, Steve Keen -- who teaches at the London School of Economics, -- has called for a reformation of his discipline. Larry Elliott writes:
Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the medieval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neoclassical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics.
Neo-liberal -- some call it neo-classical -- economics has assumed theological status. It has become a dogma which is beyond question. But the evidence shows that the models it proposes simply don't work. The new economics should be built on the following principles:
Firstly, listen to consumers, because it is pretty obvious that they are unimpressed with what they are getting. The failure of the economics establishment to predict the crisis and its insistence that austerity is the right response to the events of a decade ago has meant the profession has rarely been less trusted.
Secondly, we should stop treating economics as a science because it is nothing of the sort. A proper science involves testing a hypothesis against the available evidence. If the evidence doesn’t support the theory, a physicist or a biologist will discard the theory and try to come up one that does work empirically.
Thirdly, economics needs to be prepared to learn from other disciplines because when it does the results are worthwhile. One example is the way in which auto-enrolment has increased pension coverage. If humans were truly economically rational, it would make no difference whether their employers automatically enrolled them into pension schemes: they would decide whether to join schemes on the basis of whether they deemed it worth deferring consumption until they had retired. Yet, basic psychology says this is not the way people actually act. They are far less likely to opt out of something than they are to opt into something.
Fourthly, economics needs to be demystified. One of the big battles between Catholics and Protestants in mid-16th century England was over whether the bible should be in Latin or English, a recognition that language matters. The easy part of an economic Reformation is to attack the current establishment; the difficult part is to present a compelling story without resorting to jargon. Control of the narrative – as George Osborne realised when he criticised Labour for failing to mend the roof while the sun was shining – is crucial.
It's high time we stopped worshipping at the temple which Milton Friedman and Fredrick Hayak built. Economics is neither a science nor a theology.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Beverley McLachlin has left the bench. Adrienne Clarkson knows her well and puts her tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in perspective:
Rarely does public life bring you into intimate contact with people for whom you instantly feel great personal affinity. And in my case, a sharing of a generation's strivings in the second wave of feminism. It's not easy to be a woman in public life in Canada. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and I, having been governor-general, have shared different kinds of travails, but we know what sharing means and we know what sisterhood means. Yes, I use that rather dated and old-fashioned word because I think it is really what I have found with her.
It's her approach to the law which -- most of all -- defines McLachlin:
This Chief Justice understands that law is an organic entity, or, "the living tree," which grows and evolves with the evolution of societal views. This Chief Justice knows that courts can justify the making of substantial changes to the law if in doing so they reflect clear changes in social values.
Nowhere was this more evident in the Court's battles with Stephen Harper -- who consistently refused to acknowledge the existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- and who personally badmouthed McLachlin.
Moreover, she never forgot where she came from:
I am sure that she is the only Chief Justice we have ever had who knows how to deliver a calf. I don't think there is anything more revealing than going to Pincher Creek – which I have done – and seeing that beautiful little town nestled in the foothills of Alberta and to enter through the roadway that is now called Bev McLachlin Drive. I think that Bev McLachlin Drive really says a lot. It says that she comes from there. It says that she is known to everyone there. And it says that she is one of us.
The air inside Canada's legal temples can get pretty rarefied. It's important that our judges remember the air that most of us breathe everyday. It was a principle McLachlin followed scrupulously.
She was -- and is -- an Extraordinary Chief Justice.
Image: The Toronto Star
Friday, December 15, 2017
Republicans have Robert Mueller in their sites. They plan to mount the OJ Defence. Michael Harris reminds his readers how it worked:
Instead of allowing the prosecution to try their client on the evidence, Johnnie Cochran and company managed to put LAPD investigators on trial. It was the judicial world’s equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
In the face of Cochran’s relentless attack on the police, buttressed by full courtroom theatrics, prosecutor Marsha Clark’s mountain of evidence against Simpson was obscured behind all the legal smoke.
An email from FBI investigator Peter Strzok has been uncovered which calls Donald Trump an "idiot." When it was brought to Mueller's attention, Mueller removed Strrzok from the investigation. Now the Trump propaganda machine is going after Mueller. Harris writes:
Given Strzok’s role in the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, they are now demanding that the Justice Department appoint a second special counsel to investigate Mueller.
Their position is at once absurd and another example of obstruction of justice by the Republicans. For one thing, Strzok’s texts were discovered by an internal investigation conducted by the Inspector General’s Office of the DOJ. When Mueller learned of them, Strzok was removed from the investigation. Does that sound like Mueller has it in for the president? Isn’t it proof of the exact opposite — that the former FBI director wouldn’t tolerate even the appearance of bias on his team?
Secondly, if the premise of Congressional Republicans’ argument is that Strzok’s political leanings mean that he is unfit to conduct a fair investigation, then what about others who have clearly expressed their political preferences?
Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. Does that make him unfit to lead the investigation? At the time of his appointment, Senator Lindsey Graham and Republican kingpin Newt Gingrich raved about his stellar credentials. Now they say he’s “corrupt”?
Trump and the Republicans are all about distraction. They're desperate to change the channel away from the big picture -- which is getting darker:
It is all about obscuring the clearly visible mountain range of lies told by Trump and his people about their Russian connections. It’s all about the serial instances of Donald Trump trying to obstruct justice, from lying about the Russia connection to pressuring James Comey to let the case against Michael Flynn go.
A showdown is coming. And the OJ Defence is at the heart of it.
Image: You Tube
Thursday, December 14, 2017
The Republicans claim they have a deal on their tax bill. And they're rushing to get it done -- before Doug Jones takes his seat. Why? Paul Krugman thinks that the main reason for their behaviour is that they've been living in a bubble:
Today’s Republicans are apparatchiks, who have spent their whole lives inside an intellectual bubble in which cutting taxes on corporations and the rich is always objective #1. Their party used to know that it won elections despite its economic program, not because of it – that the whole game was to win by playing on social issues, national security, and above all on racial antagonism, then use the win to push fundamentally unpopular economic policies. But over the years the party has seemed increasingly out of touch with that reality, imagining that if only it preaches the gospel of supply-side economics loudly enough voters will be won over.
More than anything else, however, they want to put points on the board. Barack Obama tried the same strategy:
I’m taking the phrase from Rahm Emanuel, who believed that Obama could gain electoral capital simply by racking up legislative victories. The idea is that voters are impressed by your record of wins, or conversely that they’ll turn away if you don’t win enough.
The truth is that this strategy didn’t work at all for Obama, who won a lot of stuff in his first two years then got shellacked in the midterms. And think about the things that have been going wrong for Republicans in special elections: desertions by highly educated suburban voters, massive African-American turnout, weak turnout by rural whites. Which of these is likely to be improved by a massive, unpopular corporate tax cut? Still, the idea that you have to win something seems to have a grip on the GOP, and of course especially on our childlike president.
The stuff this bill does will hit the fan in time for the mid term elections. And the coalition which organized in opposition to Roy Moore will enter the polling booths of the nation.
The reckoning is underway.
Image: Scream Magazine
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Donald Trump likes to think of himself as a winner. So does Steve Bannon. But neither man won last night in Alabama. Quin Hillyer reports in The New York Times:
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are politically impotent.
The president and his former grand strategist threw considerable weight behind Roy Moore, the polarizing Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. For the second time this year, the state that gave Mr. Trump crucial early support during the presidential campaign — and his first senatorial endorsement — has rejected the candidate Mr. Trump endorsed for the Senate.
That's because the people Trump has scapegoated -- and others Trump thought were on his side -- came out to vote for Doug Jones:
Extraordinarily high turnout among African-American voters pulled the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, a former United States attorney, to a narrow victory. Mr. Moore was held back by a significant resort to write-in ballots (some 1.7 percent of the total, a fact on which Mr. Trump quickly fixated) that presumably came from voters who ordinarily lean Republican — suburban professionals, especially women — along with tens of thousands fewer suburban Republicans voting at all. For example, in Shelby County, neighboring Birmingham, Mr. Trump earned 73,000 votes and a 51,000-vote margin, but it appears that Mr. Moore won 36,000 votes and a 9,000-vote margin.
The walls are closing in on Donald. And as Robert Mueller moves to indict members of his family -- his son-in-law chief among them -- Trump will increasingly become unglued. His next step will be to try and fire Mueller.
That will initiate a constitutional crisis. The toughest road is still ahead.
Image: History Asia
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
The future does not look bright. George Monbiot writes:
The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.
Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in south Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by the year 2050. Where will it come from?
The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. These predictions could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4C of warming in the US corn belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.
Now consider that by 2050 there will be 2 to 3 billion more people occupying the planet, and you begin to see that we're in deep trouble. The solution, Monbiot believes, lies in changing how we use the land -- and that means no longer using it to grow beef:
The greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UN expects meat consumption to rise by 70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.
When all those mouths start asking, "Where's the beef?," try telling them no.
Image: Snell Valley Ranch
Monday, December 11, 2017
Donald Trump's acolytes are waging a full court press on Robert Mueller. Randall Ellison writes:
Critics on the right charge that Mueller’s investigation is politically biased or worse. Some of the attacks are particularly vitriolic. Sean Hannity has called Mueller a “disgrace to the American justice system” and said his investigation is “corrupt” and abusive. Newt Gingrich, who effusively praised Mueller when he was appointed, now says Mueller’s probe is corrupt, dishonest and a “partisan hit.”
As Mueller closes in on Trump the Republicans are trying to deligitimatize Mueller -- who by all accounts is one of them. They do not understand -- or care -- how prosecuters work:
Such criticisms betray a profound misunderstanding of the way professional prosecutors and FBI agents do their jobs. Prosecutors and agents are human. They are allowed to have political views, belong to political parties and support political candidates. It is not a conflict of interest if a prosecutor who belongs to one political party is involved in an investigation of a politician from another party. We’ve never had a system where Republicans could be investigated only by partisan Republicans or vice versa.
In fact, trying to deligiimize their opponents is now standard Republican practise. On the day Barack Obama took office, Republicans doubled down on the lie that he was not born in the United States. Everything in the United States is now seen through a political lens:
We live in a hypercharged environment, where almost every move is seen through a partisan political lens. Many people don’t believe that a prosecutor such as Mueller could simply follow the facts and the law. But that’s exactly what happens. Prosecutors and agents set aside their personal politics when they work on investigations, and it’s essential that they do so. In this country, we don’t use criminal prosecutions to attack political enemies. That’s the stuff of despots and dictators, not the American justice system. For good prosecutors and agents, this principle is part of their DNA.
If the Republicans win this battle, the United States is doomed.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Andrew Nikiforuk believes that Canadian democracy is in trouble. The most recent sign of that fact is the National Energy Board's approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline:
On Thursday the scandal-plagued federal agency ruled that Kinder Morgan, a U.S. pipeline company that’s the spawn of Enron (remember that tale of corporate corruption) doesn’t have to comply with City of Burnaby bylaws.
The board effectively ruled that there are two classes in Burnaby: those who have to follow the rules and a U.S. pipeline company that doesn’t.
With Trumpian flare the NEB added that it will explain this injustice when it feels like it.
The residents of Burnaby have made it clear that they have no wish to be the terminus of the pipeline. But they have simply been ignored:
Burnaby has been dragging its feet on the Trans Mountain pipeline because its citizens have opposed a project they feel will irrevocably change their community and the province.
The city would be the unfortunate terminus for the $7.4-billion project to triple the capacity of the existing 63-year-old oil pipeline from Alberta.
The NEB heightened public discontent with a string of injustices during public hearings on the pipeline.
The dysfunctional agency did not consider the pipeline’s full impacts on climate change through offshore and upstream emissions.
It failed to examine the full impact of diluted bitumen spills on B.C.’s coast, although the pipeline would bring a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic.
It failed to assess the full economic need for the project.
It failed to even analyze the impact of stress corrosion cracking and its causes and consequences on an aging pipeline.
And it restricted the narrow review to “applied capacity” of 540,000 barrels a day as opposed to “designed capacity” of 780,000 barrels and failed to access the full costs and benefits of the project in a volatile global oil market.
And then, to add insult to industry, the Trudeau government rubber stamped the NEB decision:
In so doing Trudeau broke election promises and once again ignored the impacts on climate change and First Nations.
Why? To please the totalitarian Chinese government.
The Chinese told Trudeau that they won’t consider a new free trade deal without the removal of investment restrictions and the construction of a bitumen pipeline to the coast.
Canada has become the rarest of democracies: one willing to surrender its sovereignty for a pipeline ferrying a junk crude.
Money -- domestic and international -- calls the shots.
Saturday, December 09, 2017
Michael Harris' contempt for Justin Trudeau keeps growing. He's particularly ticked at Trudeau's response to the bonfire Trump has set in the Middle East:
Issuing timorous platitudes in response to Donald Trump’s disastrous decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not leadership. It’s abdication.
Everyone understands the need for expediency, diplomacy and practicality in geopolitics. No government sticks its nose into another country’s affairs on a whim.
But for his government to offer nothing more on Trump’s catastrophic political decision than a promise that our embassy is staying put — along with an anodyne statement that the Israelis and Palestinians are our friends — is decaffeinated politics at best and, at worst, a disgraceful cop-out.
It's not easy living next door to the United States. But Donald Trump is not a normal American president. And sometimes neighbours have to deliver unpleasant truths to those who live across the yard:
President Trump reversed seventy years of U.S. foreign policy after consulting his belly-button and Steve Bannon. According to CNN, American evangelicals were informed of this reckless and self-interested political move before the State Department.
In the end, Trudeau will gain nothing by molifying Trump. The shear number of people who have left his employ during the last year should make that clear. And those who stay on -- like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson -- merely serve as punching bags fro Trump. In the end, Trump must be confronted -- certainly not a pleasant experience.
Justin needs to remember his father's response when the Watergate tapes revealed that Richard Nixon had called him a "son of a bitch." The elder Trudeau's response was, "I've been called worse things by better men."
Worse things await Justin the longer he remains silent about a man who most assuredly deserves the qualifier "worse."
Image: The National Post
Friday, December 08, 2017
David Brooks understands what has happened to the Republican Party. He used to be a Republican cheerleader. Today he can find nothing and no one to cheer about -- because the Republican Party is now the Trumpian Party. Trump keeps asking his party to betray what they have long stood for. And they keep obliging him:
First, he asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.
There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.
That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.
The Party stands for one thing and one thing only -- hypocrisy:
You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message.
“What shall it profit a man,” Jesus asked, “if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” The current Republican Party seems to not understand that question. Donald Trump seems to have made gaining the world at the cost of his soul his entire life’s motto.
Republicans rolled over for Donald Trump -- and sold their souls.
Friday, December 01, 2017
The Paradise Papers -- like the Panama Papers before them -- have revealed a stark fact: Corporations have run amok. Murray Dobbins writes:
Global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet. The deliberate starvation of government, climate change, grotesque inequality, Dickensian working conditions, environmental degradation, dwindling biodiversity, the slow (or not so slow) death of the oceans and the creation of the security state on corporations' behalf threaten not only the natural world but our capacity to democratically govern ourselves while maintaining some semblance of civilization.
Consider what we now know:
A recent study by Canadians for Tax Fairness (disclosure: I am on their board) revealed that the 60 largest public companies in Canada have 1,021 subsidiaries in a string of tax havens. Four had none; Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Sun Life Financial have over 50 each. According to the study, "Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI) in tax havens grew from $2.1 billion in 1994 to $284 billion in 2016."
By now most people know how these "profit-shifting" schemes work. Companies assign profits made elsewhere to tax haven subsidiaries in countries with low or no income taxes. They half-heartedly claim they actually do business in these countries, but the numbers say otherwise. The study shows subsidiaries in non-tax haven countries employ between 1,244 to 2,760 employees per billion in assets; for tax-haven users the ratio is one to 250. In 2014, Canadian corporations held almost $31 billion in assets in Bermuda; their subsidiaries employed a total of 35 employees.
Governments have the power to make and to breakup corporations. But, for the last thirty years, they have become the handmaidens of their corporate masters:
Governments are the only institutions that can seriously challenge the power and reach of transnational corporations: they made them and they could unmake them. Only governments can curb their predatory nature, constrain their contempt for their workers, communities and the environment, and genuinely punish them when they openly break the law as part of their fiduciary "duty" to their shareholders.
Of course, it's difficult to imagine current governments in any role other than the unindicted co-conspirator which have played for decades. The implementation over 30 years of neoliberal policies by governments of virtually every stripe has liberated corporations, increasingly removing constraints designed to make them accountable to the broader society.
And now, south of the border, there is a tax "reform" bill which unashamedly does the bidding of those corporate masters. The assumption is that the rest of the world will follow in lock step.
It's also undeniable that, if the planet is to survive, governments will have to reassert their authority over the sociopathic monsters they have unleashed.
One personal note: I've come down with some kind of bug. I'm on my second round of anti-biotics and the doctor has dosed me up with puffers. I'm going to take a couple of days off and try to beat this thing into submission. But I'll be back.