Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Three Empires




Donald Trump has a fevered brain. But, James Laxer writes, there is a method to his madness. Under the tutelage of Steve Bannon, he seeks to establish a new world order -- something quite different than the system which was established after World War II:

Since 1945, America’s political leadership has developed an international, liberal global order with the United States at its centre. The system privileged the American dollar and American corporations, bolstering the “free world” with the might of the U.S. military. The goal was to keep America at the core and to push the Soviet Union to the periphery.

In the post Soviet era, the American response to Russia has continued to be to keep its own alliance system intact and to sustain the liberal international order.

Bannon has always seen Trump as an empty vessel -- the perfect instrument to remake the world in his image: That image seems disjointed. But Laxer argues that the pieces fit together:

An entente with Russia would permit the world’s two leading nuclear powers to seek naked dominance in their respective spheres. Russia would be allowed a freer hand in its “near abroad” with dire potential consequences for Ukraine and other eastern European countries bordering on Russia.

In its own much larger sphere, the United States would be free to pursue its economic, political and military goals without much regard for the interests of so-called allied powers. The guise of defending the “free world” against Russia would be set aside along with the rules based trading system of the WTO and regional trading blocs. Trump has already ditched the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Trump and Bannon prefer a more openly brutal system of bilateral relations between the U.S. and other countries. Canadians take note. Within NAFTA, Mexico is the chief target now. Canada could be later. Bilateralism would allow the U.S. to exert maximum pressure on trading partners, one by one.

Add China to the mix and you get three empires. What Bannon wants to establish is a newer version of what existed before World War I:

Such a global arrangement would not be the first time in history that major powers have made common cause in pursuit of their own interests. In the late 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck fostered, for a time, an entente among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

Like most modern conservatives, Trump and Bannon want to turn back the clock -- while the present goes to hell. 

Image: Amazon UK

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stiglitz Sees Signs Of Hope



These are dark days -- because Donald Trump appears committed to what he said he will do. Joe Stiglitz writes:

 It is now clear that what Trump says and tweets must be taken seriously. After the election in November, many hoped he would abandon the extremism that defined his campaign. Surely, it was thought, this master of unreality would adopt a different persona as he assumed the responsibility of what is arguably the most powerful position in the world.

Indeed he plans to instititute "a ban on Muslim immigration, [build] a wall on the border with Mexico, [renegotiate] the North American Free Trade Agreement, repeal of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and much else that even his supporters dismissed."

Changes need to be made -- but not the kind of changes Trump envisions:

I have at times criticised particular aspects and policies of the economic and security order created in the aftermath of the second world war, based on the UNs, Nato, the EU, and a web of other institutions and relationships. But there is a big difference between attempts to reform these institutions and relationships to enable them to serve the world better, and an agenda that seeks to destroy them outright.

But, in the midst of the gloom Stiglitz sees signs of hope:

If there is a silver lining in the Trump cloud, it is a new sense of solidarity over core values such as tolerance and equality, sustained by awareness of the bigotry and misogyny, whether hidden or open, that Trump and his team embody. And this unity has gone global, with Trump and his allies facing rejection and protests throughout the democratic world.

The American Civil Liberties Union, having anticipated that Trump would quickly trample on individual rights, has shown that it is as prepared as ever to defend key constitutional principles such as due process, equal protection, and official neutrality with respect to religion. And in the past month Americans have supported the ACLU with millions of dollars in donations.

Similarly, across the country, companies’ employees and customers have expressed their concern over CEOs and board members who support Trump. Indeed US corporate leaders and investors have collectively become Trump’s enablers. At this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, many salivated over his promises of tax cuts and deregulation, while eagerly ignoring his bigotry – not mentioning it in a single meeting that I attended – and protectionism.

Franklin Roosevelt was accused of being a traitor to his class. It's clear that Trump plans no such mutiny. That is why, Stiglitz writes, people all over the world must "be vigilant and resist at every turn."

Image: Speedy Buttons

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fragile Egos And Political Power

 
I have been dumbfounded by Donald Trump's supporters. If the polls are correct, about 35% of Americans believe Trump can get and do nothing wrong. That conclusion is obviously contrary to the facts. Joan Smith, writing in The Guardian, has an explanation:

The 45th president of the US invited on stage a man who later revealed he has a 6ft cardboard model of his hero and talks to it every day.

Let’s just pause and think about that. This is a leader whose ego is so fragile, he wants to appear on stage with someone most of us would change seats to avoid if he sat next to us on a train. I should point out that Trump chose this particular supporter to appear beside him after he saw him being interviewed on TV before the rally. Ignoring the advice of his security officials: “He said, ‘I love Trump’ … Let him up. I’m not worried about him. I’m only worried he’s going to give me a kiss.”

It is an alarming insight into how Trump (though, not just Trump) operates. Few politicians, no matter how thin-skinned, have displayed such neediness nor demanded such displays of unconditional love from their supporters. Neediness is not usually considered attractive in men who like to be thought of as tough, but Trump is rewriting the rulebook on masculinity.

The trick all along has been to disguise neediness as empathy. When Trump talks about love to the crowds who turn out to see him, they think it’s what he’s offering. In reality, it’s what he demands from them, needing it to fuel the endorphin rush that keeps him going. You can see this process in action as he gets hyped up on stage, prompting a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of personal attacks, weird fabrications and outright lies.

Trump's supporters mistake his neediness for empathy. And they are just as needy as he is:

The symbiosis between leader and supporters is so close that it’s hard to interrupt, existing outside the more or less rational sphere conventional politicians are used to occupying. For the exceptionally loyal base that turns up at rallies, it doesn’t matter if the polls are terrible, because they aren’t part of the inner circle. Here’s the crucial point: when the identification is so close, giving up on the leader would be like giving up on yourself.

To reject Trump would be to reject themselves. Fragile egos and political power form a toxic mixture.

Image: The Guardian

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Fallacy Of Playing For All The Marbles



Donald Trump's sales pitch was that, as a businessman, he knew how to get things done. His first thirty days in the White House suggest that he doesn't know how to get anything done. But Joe Stiglitz suggests that, when it comes to economic relations between nations, Trump threatens to get a lot of things undone.

While there is some debate about the extent to which Trump is a “successful businessman,” there is no successful country that is grounded on the principles—or the lack of principles—upon which he has grown his businesses. Economists believe that a successful economy is based on trust, backed up by the rule of law. His standard business practice has been to stiff his suppliers, knowing that recourse to courts is expensive. Of course, over the long term, honest suppliers know this, and refuse to deal. Less scrupulous vendors overcharge and cheat, taking advantage too of the imperfections in our judicial system. But there is no successful economy based on the Trump model.

 Trump's inability to tell the truth is particularly problematic:

Trump cannot even be trusted to base statements on reality. He seeks to build himself up by belittling his predecessor. Trump is wrong in his characterization of where the U.S. economy is today. The country as a whole has never had a higher G.D.P. The crime rate and the unemployment rate are markedly lower than they were eight years ago. Yes, America faces a variety of problems—it always has, and what nation doesn’t? Ordinary citizens have not been well served by globalization. The problem, though, is not with globalization itself but with how we have managed it.

So far, globalization has been very unfair. But playing for all the marbles will not improve it. And playing for all the marbles is the only thing that Trump knows how to do.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Nasty Party



The Conservatives' reaction to Resolution M - 103 reveals a lot about the Post Harper Party. Alan Freeman writes:

Some Conservative MPs have suggested that adoption of this non-binding motion will somehow constrain free speech by condemning hatred of Islam. Leadership candidates Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary have, as usual, been trolling well beneath contempt. “No religion should be singled out for special consideration,” said Leitch. “A slap in the face to other religions,” said O’Leary, ignoring the motion’s condemnation of systemic racism and religious discrimination.

Chris Alexander, the boy-wonder diplomat turned crass populist, told a rally organized by the hard-right online outlet The Rebel in Toronto this week that he had trouble supporting a motion that “doesn’t mention the number one threat in the world, which is Islamic jihadist terrorism.” So hatred of Islam presumably isn’t a problem that Canada needs to worry about, according to the former ambassador.

The truth is that there’s pressure on Conservative leadership candidates to keep the back door open to the Islamaphobe vote. How else can you explain Leitch’s posting of a photo of a (blue-eyed) young woman wearing spaghetti straps, her lips sealed with a tape marked M-103, the number of Khalid’s motion? In the background is a faint image of police officers on Parliament Hill — a not-so-subtle reference to the 2014 attack on the Commons.

Then there’s candidate Pierre Lemieux (whoever he is), who said that Islamophobia isn’t at the forefront of discussion and isn’t a problem in Canada. He clearly hasn’t been watching the news for the past month. Maxime Bernier says he’s worried the motion would restrict freedom to criticize Islam — and then somehow managed to link its passage to support for Sharia law.

Backbench Conservatives have been no better. MP Marilyn Gladu said she worries that she could be accused of Islamophobia if she voiced the concern that ISIS terrorists would want to rape and behead her. By even suggesting that equivalence, our enlightened MP demonstrates that she clearly has issues of her own.

Of the candidates for leadership, only the thoughtful and eminently reasonable Michael Chong has said he would support the motion. Others are openly hostile, or are trying to slither out of supporting it. Not an edifying sight.

It's pretty clear that the Conservative Party is now the Nasty Party.

Image: The Old Grey Mare


Friday, February 17, 2017

He's In The Twilight Zone

 
Donald Trump's press conference yesterday was surreal. He spent a minute announcing his new choice for Secretary of Labor and then spent the next seventy-eight minutes lambasting the press and the intelligence community for doing in his national security advisor, Mike Flynn. Michael Harris writes:

This is where the alternate universe stuff kicks in. The firing was conducted by President Trump. The next day, the other half of the presidential personality — The Donald — kicked in: Flynn was suddenly a wonderful person who had been treated badly by the “fake” media. At a press conference yesterday that looked more like primal scream therapy, Trump said Flynn was just doing his job. In fact, the president went one further. If Flynn hadn’t been phoning Russia and other countries, Trump would have ordered him to make the calls.

Not even Trump’s malapropisms can hide the truth. Flynn was fired because the intelligence community leaked what he had actually talked about to the Russians. That turned out to be a very different thing than what he told Vice-President Pence or the American people. It was not Flynn’s outrageous communication with the Russians per se that caused Trump to ditch this guy. It was getting caught in a lie that made Trump’s right-hand man look like a dork. Worse, it was the truth getting out.

It's been obvious for a long time that Trump is allergic to the truth. So he invents his own. But more than his aversion to the truth there is a much more devastating indictment of the man. He is appallingly ignorant:

Donald Trump’s grasp of geopolitics is no deeper than Bob the Builder’s. Yet there is one area of foreign affairs where his views have been consistently expressed — the relationship with Russia. He has publicly stated that Vladimir Putin, for all the blood on his hands, was a better leader than President Obama. He has ridiculed and threatened NATO. He even got the GOP to soften its hard stand against Russian intervention in Ukraine. And two of his top campaign workers, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, had close ties with Russia.

And he has worked very hard to keep Americans ignorant of the fact that he is in deep hock to foreign lenders:

Evelyn Farkas, the former top Russia expert at the Pentagon, is calling for an investigation of Trump himself. Not for alleged unconventional bathing habits. She is concerned that Trump’s business and financial dealings may have left him open to blackmail. After all, the giving, lending or guaranteeing of money could be used to exercise powerful influence over a person. So far — like dead men — the Donald’s taxes have told no tales.

Coincidentally, Donald Trump owes approximately $300 million to Deutsche Bank, which has just gone through all of Trump’s business dealings with the bank to see if there were any connections to Russia. Deutsche Bank was recently fined $640 million by the U.S. and U.K. for failing to stop the laundering of $10 billion of Russian funds through its Moscow branch. The bank will not comment on the outcome of its internal review, but it is being pressured to farm out its assessment to independent auditors.

Not even Rod Serling could have dreamt up this story. But Trump has entered the Twilight Zone. And he has hauled the entire nation in there with him.

Image: deadline.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Toxic Brew




Lawrence Martin writes that the Conservatives appear ready to take a leap off the cliff. The two leading contenders for the leadership of the party are Maxime Bernier and Kevin O'Leary:

If the polls are to be believed, it’s become a two-man race between newcomer Kevin O’Leary and libertarian Maxime Bernier. Kellie Leitch is far back. The more conventionally styled Tory candidates are not even within shouting range.

Mr. Bernier would be the biggest privatizer the party has ever had as leader. One of his radical planks is to end the federal role in funding health care by transferring tax points to the provinces. This could bring on a Balkanized system as well as more and more privatization. It risks, argues candidate Michael Chong, moving voters away from the party in droves.

Choosing Mr. O’Leary could invite as much, if not more, peril. He has never been elected, has no background in the party, is unilingual, hasn’t lived in Canada for years and has a policy kit – decried as juvenile by critics – that is all over the ideological map and devoid of substance.

Modern conservatism has become as scrambled as Donald Trump's brain. Andrew Coyne writes

Conservatism used to have some claim to being a coherent political philosophy. Of late it has become a series of dares. The most extreme voice will lay down the most extreme position, then challenge others to endorse it.

As often as not this has nothing to do with conservatism. It is rather a kind of moral exhibitionism, populist virtue-signalling, in which the object is to say and do the most intolerant or ill-considered thing that comes to mind — anything that might attract the condemnation of bien-pensants in the media and elsewhere, whose opposition becomes proof in itself of its merits.

The willingness to court such controversy in turn becomes the test of political purity. To demur, conversely, can only be a sign of cowardice, or worse, liberalism, a heresy that that would seem to have overcome much of the conservative movement, to judge by the ever-lengthening list of the excommunicated.

Like it or hate it, conservatism used to possess internal consistency. All the parts fit together. Now the parts form a toxic brew and the centre will not hold.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trumpism Moves North



The conventional wisdom seems to be that Justin -- or as he is known these days in Washington -- Joe Trudeau's visit with Donald Trump went pretty well. On the surface, it looks like the prime minister didn't yield any ground. But, Susan Delacourt writes, Trumpism is moving north:

A new, international “trust index” released today contained some troubling news for the prime minister and his Liberal brand: Canadians’ trust in government has eroded profoundly since Trudeau took power 15 months ago.

Edelman, the public-relations firm that compiles the annual index, has put Canada into the “distruster” nation category for the first time in the 17-year history of the global survey. “Distrusters” are nations in which most people express distrust in their civic institutions.

The evidence? According to the index, one in two Canadians fears that newcomers to the country are “damaging our economy and national culture.” A full 80 per cent agreed that elites were “out of touch” with regular people and 40 per cent agreed that they were being unfairly denied access to the education and opportunities they needed to get ahead.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents — 61 per cent — said they didn’t have confidence in the country’s leaders to address the challenges facing the nation.

The virus has gone global and has found ready hosts in people like Kevin O'Leary and Kellie Leitch. Delacourt warns:

Trump isn’t Trudeau’s real problem. What threatens Trudeau’s government is the populist discontent that brought Trump to power. These new numbers confirm that Canada isn’t isolated from trends seen south of the border.

But it’s the speed of the downturn that’s especially remarkable. Trust in government has slipped from 53 per cent to 43 per cent since last year’s index. Trust in the media has similarly plummeted — from 55 per cent last year to 45 per cent this year. The decline in public trust in business and non-governmental organizations was less sharp: business went from 56 per cent trust in 2016 to 50 per cent in 2017, and NGOs fell only two percentage points, from 61 to 59 per cent.

Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of Edelman Canada, said on Tuesday they had expected to see some erosion of trust in government as Canada moved farther away from the heady, 2015 “change” rhetoric — but they “just didn’t anticipate it would be that dramatic.”

Justin is in Brussels today talking up CETA. But he'd better keep his eye on the public and civic health challenges that lie ahead here at home.

Image:perm_identity

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

They're Back



Mike Flynn is out. And he's out because he followed his boss's lead: he did something he shouldn't have done and then he lied about it. The irony is rich. But the whole episode takes place as details about how Trump has been dealing with the North Korean missile launch leak out. Trump got the news when he was having dinner at Mar -a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- in the public dining room. Richard Wolfe writes:

Now: what do Michael Flynn and Mar-a-Lago mean for national security?

To the fee-paying members of Trump’s Florida club, it means greater access to watch the president and Japanese prime minister reacting to the news of a North Korean missile launch in real time: huddling over documents and making phone calls on cellphones in public.

One of the guests who was paying for his dinner took out his cellphone, then told the world what happened next:

As one guest, Richard DeAgazio, put it on Facebook: “HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. The Prime Minister Abe of Japan huddles with his staff and the President is on the phone with Washington DC…Wow…the center of the action!!!

Wolfe reminds his readers:

It was the homestretch of the presidential election and national security wasn’t some side issue, mentioned in passing. Trump promised he would be a tough national security president with the toughest national security team.

In fact, one of his favorite arguments was that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be trusted with the country’s national security because, he claimed, she couldn’t be trusted with her private email server.

The irony is Shakespearean. During the George W. Bush  administration a phrase surfaced  to describe Bush's personnel -- the Mayberry Machiavellis. If you thought they had disappeared, you were wrong.

They're back.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Kowtowing Is Not

 
When Justin Trudeau walks into his meeting with President Trump, Michael Harris writes, he should remember who he's dealing with. The Donald is a known quantity:

Trudeau should remember that Trump recently used his POTUS account on Twitter to denounce … a department store. What’s next, an air strike? It happened right after Nordstrom dropped the fashion line of his daughter, Ivanka.

Perhaps our PM should note that Trump’s bit of nasty nepotism on Twitter came just 21 minutes after the President was slated to receive his daily intelligence briefing. The world may be about to go up, but you have to keep your priorities straight, right? Syria is one thing, but Ivanka’s bling line?

For those who think that calling Trump crazy is disrespectful, uncalled for, and beneath contempt, it is actually simple reporting. Sen. Al Franken (D — Minn), for example, has already openly questioned Trump’s mental health on national television. The Senator from Minnesota observed that Trump “lies a lot” and “that is not the norm for a president or a normal human being.” Franken also said that a few Republicans have personally expressed their worries about the president’s “mental competency” to him.

Franken is not the only one. Democratic House Representative Ruben Gallego says he is worried that Trump is “mentally unstable.” His colleague in the House of Representatives, Ted Lieu, says that the massive protests against Trump are merely America’s “white blood cells of democracy attacking unconstitutional actions. When the central figure in our world is creating an entire world of unreality, how are we supposed to respond?”

Harris suggests that Trudeau deal forthrightly with the Great Orange Id:

Stand up for women’s rights against this masher who has defunded Planned Parenthood. Tell Donald Trump that his immigration policy is right up there with Japanese internment camps, burning crosses and pointy hats. Remind him that torture is for monsters, not people in charge of modern democracies. Put in a good word for the brave Indigenous peoples demanding justice at Standing Rock. Tell Trump that meeting peaceful and constitutional dissent with military force is the stuff of dictators. And whatever you do, don’t let this Prince of the Plutocracy, who may be playing with a full wallet but not necessarily a full deck, think you’re willing to amend NAFTA in such a way that corporations will be unleashed under the full moon of their greed.

Dealing with crazies is part of Trudeau's job description. Kowtowing to them is not.

Image: New York Magazine

Sunday, February 12, 2017

He's Not Andrew Jackson -- He's a Fascist


Some people are calling Donald Trump another Andrew Jackson -- the rough hewn American president who brought the democracy of the common man to the United States. But Henry Giroux is not fooled. For Giroux, Trump is -- in plain terms -- a fascist.The evidence is overwhelming. It's apparent in:

Trump's blatant contempt for the truth, his willingness to embrace a blend of taunts and threats in his inaugural address, and his eagerness to enact a surge of regressive executive orders, the ghost of fascism reasserts itself with a familiar blend of fear and revenge. Unleashing promises he had made to his angry, die-hard ultranationalist and white supremacist supporters, Trump targeted a range of groups whom he believes have no place in American society. These include Muslims, Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants, whom he has targeted with a number of harsh discriminatory policies. The underlying cruelty, ignorance and punishing, if not criminogenic, intent behind such policies was made all the clearer when Trump suggested that he intended to roll back a wide range of environmental protections. He asserted his willingness to resume the practice of state-sponsored torture and deny funding to those cities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

It's been awhile since the world has faced an unabashedly fascist leader. And memories have faded. Some foolishly insist that Trump should be "given a chance" to implement his program. They wait for him to be normalized:

Lesley Stahl's "60 Minutes" interview with Trump portrayed him less as a demagogue than as a transformed politician who was "subdued and serious." In addition, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition, as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. High-profile celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, stated without irony, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" that "I just saw President-elect Trump with President Obama in the White House, and it gave me hope." This is quite a stretch given Trump's history of racist practices, his racist remarks about Blacks, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the primary and the presidential campaigns, and his appointment of a number of cabinet members who embrace a white nationalist ideology. The New York Times's opinion writer, Nicholas Kristof, sabotaged his self-proclaimed liberal belief system by noting, in what appears to be acute lapse of judgment, that Americans should "Grit [their] teeth and give Trump a chance." Bill Gates made clear his own and often hidden reactionary worldview when speaking on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The Microsoft cofounder slipped into a fog of self-delusion by stating that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by establishing an upbeat and desirable mode of "leadership through innovation."

This week, as Trump's deportation squads rounded up hundreds of "illegal immigrants" -- some of whom have been in the country for over thirty years -- it's become obvious that there is nothing normal about Donald Trump. He is a clear and present danger.

Americans must hang together against Trump. Or, as Benjamin Franklin warned them, they will hang separately. Those who see Trump as Jackson have the wrong Andrew. Like Lincoln's vice president -- Andrew Johnson -- he should be impeached.

Image: thequotes.in

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mr. Trudeau Goes To Washington



Justin Trudeau has been consulting with other world leaders before he takes his trip to Washington on Monday. Presumably, when he deals with Trump, he doesn't want to deal with him alone. That's a good idea. But, Andrew Coyne writes, it's not a new idea:

For forty-odd years after World War II, the policy of the free world towards the Soviet Union was one of containment: a strategy of collective resistance, rather than (on the one hand) appeasement or (on the other) open conflict. We now face the sad reality that, for the next four years at least, some version of containment will have to be our policy towards the United States.

It is one of history's great ironies that a policy once championed by the United States will be used against it. But there are good reasons for adopting a policy of containment:

To be sure, the prime minister has the particular task of dealing with a leader who, to speak precisely, presents with a variety of known personality disorders; who knows less about foreign policy, or any policy, than the average doorman or taxi driver; who has no visible moral compass, is unconstrained by any norm of personal, political or presidential conduct, and seems determined to avenge any slight to his monstrous vanity.

To defend our interests, as much as our values, we will have to start setting boundaries early — picking our battles, yes, but firmly and patiently asserting our rights. And if we are to do so effectively, we will need to do so in concert with other countries. The widely varying reaction to the travel ban, with some world leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, speaking out clearly against it, while others, like our own, couched their response in cleverly ambiguous tweets, must not be repeated. Neither was it sensible for Canada, in its first flustered response to Trump’s demands to renegotiate NAFTA, to appear so eager to abandon Mexico to its fate.

We're going to have to stand behind Mexico and our other allies. Trump's strategy is classically authoritarian: Divide and conquer. Watching things fall apart suits his purposes just fine. Trudeau -- and the rest of us -- can't allow that to happen.

Image: Slide Share

Friday, February 10, 2017

L'Etat C'est Donald



The Trump administration is only three weeks old, but already its character is easy to define. It's all Donald, all the time. Paul Krugman writes:

It’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.

But worst of all is Trump's suggestion that restraining his power will lead to a terrorist attack:

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

So far, two courts have stopped him. But, ultimately, it will be up to Americans to stop him -- if they want to. Until then, it's going to be all about Donald, all of the time.


Image: nebraskaenergyobserver

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Ambassador Palin?



Ashifa Kassam reports in The Guardian that Sarah Palin is being considered for the post of American Ambassador to Canada.  Presumably, her main qualification for the job is that, from Alaska, she can see Canada. Be that as it may, rumours of her appointment have sparked typically acerbic Canadian criticism:

“Sarah Palin as ambassador?” New Democrat MP Charlie Angus asked on Twitter. “Well that would show how little Steve Bannon and his pal @realDonaldTrump think of Canada.”

“Appointing Sarah Palin as the US ambassador to Canada is, like, ultimate trolling,” noted one. “If he makes Sarah Palin the US Ambassador to Canada. I say we keep our oil and hockey players. BTW … does she speak Canadian?” Asked another.

 One particularly glum commentator weighed in with this request:

"Dear Mr. Trump: Rather than appoint Sarah Palin as ambassador to Canada, please bomb us. Signed, all intelligent life in Canada.”

The story may just be fake news. There's a lot of that going around.


Image: Rex/Shutterstock

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Another Global Recession?


North American stock markets are booming. The conventional wisdom is that -- economically -- happy days are here again. But Joseph Ingram isn't so optimistic. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of European authoritarians cast dark shadows:

Both Trump’s election and the June Brexit vote in Britain are fueling the growth of European populist movements. Combined with his skepticism as to the European Union’s desirability — a sentiment he apparently shares with Russian President Vladimir Putin — these movements constitute an existential threat to its existence, the break-up of which would surely result in the end of the liberal international order that we have known for the past seventy years.

The consequence would be a leap into an abyss of policy chaos, adversarial trade and geo-strategic relationships (including among former allies) and an instability that likely would produce a global recession — or worse. President Trump’s tiffs with the leaders of two of the U.S.’s closest allies — the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Mexico — are a sign of things to come, as was this week’s meeting of European leaders in Malta.

Things do not bode well for the world economy:

To successfully counter these ominous trends will require economic policies that seek to promote the interests of the many rather than the few. Obscene gaps in income must be narrowed. The task of pressing governments to adopt such policies needs to be animated by a popular response — not one seen as elitist, nor driven by any particular political party or ideology. Nor should the response be inspired by failed neo-liberal or neo-Marxist policies of the past.

The concerns of organized labour, rural communities, small towns and the young will need to be addressed directly, thereby shifting the impact of public policy away from the asymmetric benefits it has been extending to the corporate sector and its elites. Governments also will need to consider limits on the application of new technologies that risk creating massive structural unemployment or destructive de-industrialization.

Trump's cabinet of billionaires makes it clear that what is needed will not be delivered. And his deregulation of Wall Street suggests that history will repeat itself:

It will be equally important to remind people that the deregulation of the financial and industrial sectors now advocated by President Trump’s government, and many of Europe’s populists, is what brought the U.S. economy double-digit unemployment, a housing crisis, a critically weakened financial system and the great recession of 2008.

The fools are in charge.

Image: takemygist

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Brothers-In-Denial



Word has it that Donald Trump and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnball are not getting on well these days. But, on one issue, they are brothers-in-arms. Michael Mann and Christopher Wright write:

In an opening fortnight of controversial executive orders, President Trump has decreed the expansion of major fossil fuel developments including the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and the neutering of long-standing environmental protections. In addition, he and his leadership team have made it plain they intend to dismantle many of the Obama administration’s climate initiatives and withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. All this runs in direct counterpoint to the rapid decarbonisation required to avoid dangerous climate change.

For Australian fossil fuel interests, President Trump’s war on climate appears particularly opportune. Just last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his senior ministers floated the idea of government backing for new coal-fired power stations as part of the government’s response to Australia’s “energy security” and expressed reticence over the country’s Renewable Energy Target.

For a country that has nurtured world-leading innovations in solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies and that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – be it in the form of record heat, devastating floods, more widespread drought, coastal inundation from sea level rise combined with stronger tropical storms, or the demise of the Great Barrier Reef – doubling down on the traditional fossil fuel energy path is particularly short-sighted.

If there is one characteristic that both men share, it is shortsigthedness. Both have leveraged profits against the future -- much like the Tobacco Lords of two generations ago:

Like big tobacco before them, fossil fuel advocates have attacked mainstream climate science to confuse the public and policymakers about the reality and threat of human-caused climate change. As a result, we have seen a full-scale assault on a century and half of established science. For many climate scientists this has involved attacks from conservative politicians and rightwing lobby groups, orchestrated campaigns of harassment via mainstream and social media, challenges to job security and careers, and in some cases, death threats. Indeed, as recounted in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, one of us (Michael Mann) has been subject to all of those things.

Beyond destroying our politics and corroding public trust in science, climate change denial also threatens the future of a habitable planet and a viable global economy. As a growing body of research has revealed, the maintenance of a “fossil fuels forever” mentality has real implications for the future of global food production, biodiversity, social functioning and geopolitical security. Leading economies around the world have recognised that the decarbonisation of energy and transport systems are key to the future prosperity of human civilisation.  

No wonder Mr. Turnball isn't up in arms about Trump's phone call. They are Brothers-In-Denial.

Image: Free Malaysia Today

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Second Civil War



The battle lines have been drawn. Donald Trump says he wants to "make America great again." Chris Hedges says he wants to "make America ungovernable." He warns his readers that the Trump Crew worship the god of Ignorance. Their motto is "Burn It Down!"

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too,” [Steve] Bannon told writer Ronald Radosh in 2013. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

The Trump regime’s demented project of social engineering, which will come wrapped in a Christianized fascism, can be implemented only if it quickly seizes control of the bureaucratic mechanisms, an action that Max Weber pointed out is the prerequisite for exercising power in industrial and technocratic societies. Once what the historian Guglielmo Ferrero calls the “silken threads” of habit, tradition and legality are gone, the “iron chains” of dictatorship will impose social cohesion.

The Trump regime is populated with blind fanatics. They believe in one truth, which is whatever they proclaim at the moment (any such declaration may contradict what they said a few hours before). They are possessed with one idea—conflict. They venerate a demented hypermasculinity that includes a sacralization of violence, misogyny, a disdain for empathy, and the self-appointed right to engage in bouts of frenzied rage. These characteristics, they believe, are a sign of masculinity. The highest aesthetic is militarism, violence and war. Without conflict, without enemies real or imagined, their ideological structures and racism collapse into a heap of contradictions and absurdities. They will attempt to thwart nonviolent, nationwide resistance with force. And they will attempt to stoke counterviolence, including through the use of agents provocateurs, as a response. If we speak back to them in the language of violence, we will fail. We will be transformed into the monsters we seek to defeat.

Bannon and his followers on the “alt-right,” self-declared intellectuals, ferret out facts and formulas that buttress their peculiar worldview and discard truths that contradict their messianic delusions. They mouth a few clich├ęs and quote a few philosophers to justify bigotry, chauvinism and governmental repression. It is propaganda masquerading as ideology. These pseudo-intellectuals are singularly incurious. They are linguistically, culturally and historically illiterate about the Muslim world, and about most other foreign cultures, yet blithely write off one-fifth of the world’s population—Muslims—as irredeemable. 

The only defence, Hedges writes, is in the kind of non-violent resistance that makes the United States ungovernable. Americans are about to enter their Second Civil War.

Image: OS Net Daily

Sunday, February 05, 2017

When You Normalize Your Demons


Some commentators have been surprised by the ascension of Donald Trump. Nick Cohen writes that they shouldn't be. Trump comes from the world of business. And, in the business world, his type has been in the driver's seat for sometime:

The radical economist Chris Dillow once wrote that, while the fall of communism discredited the centrally planned economy, the centrally planned corporation, with the autocratic leader who tolerated no dissent, not only survived 1989, but blossomed.
Dillow is not alone in worrying about the harm the little Hitlers of the corporation might bring. Since the crash, economists have looked as a matter of urgency at how hierarchies encourage petty tyrants to brag their way to the top. They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: a desire to dominate, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, an inability to listen to others or allow others to speak and a passion for glory. If you want to know how they can win the votes of those around them, remember Fred Goodwin’s vainglorious decision to takeover ABN Amro. Perhaps the single worst decision in UK business history, whose consequences we are still paying for, was not opposed by a single member of the RBS board.

Narcissists in business are more likely to seek macho takeovers and less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating and creating profitable firms, the researchers found. They are more likely to cook the books to feed their cults of the personality and make, if not America, then themselves look great again. Academics from the University of California have asked the obvious question: why would rational companies let the fascism of the firm survive? Surely they ought to be protecting their businesses, as free market theory dictates, rather than allow dangerous and grasping men and women to risk their destruction.

They found what most of us instinctively know to be true: in the right circumstances, compulsive liars can create compulsive believers, as Trump has done. “Overconfident individuals attained status” because their peers believed the stories they told about themselves. It should not be a surprise that Donald Trump, Arron Banks and oligarchs backing the Russian and east European strongmen come from business. The age of the dictators never came to an end in the workplace.

In business, we have normalized this kind of behaviour for decades. Moreover, this kind of behaviour has become the stuff of reality television. Trump made his name on television for fourteen years. Last night, Kevin O'Leary -- of Dragon's Den and Shark Tank fame -- participated for the first time in the Conservative leadership debates.

When you normalize your demons, all hell breaks loose.

Image: SGT Report.com

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Canada's Response To Trump's Ban



Donald Trump's understanding of the economy is outdated. He's stuck -- firmly -- in the 1960's. Alan Freeman writes:

Still caught in the 1960s, his stenographer waiting to take dictation and type out that all-important letter to Vladimir Putin on her Selectric, Trump has a similarly dated view of the American economy. For the president, the country outside of Manhattan and parts of California is made up of thousands of small towns populated by God-fearing white people, with hubbie heading off every day to the local widget factory carrying his trusty lunch bucket while Harriet stays home to look after the kids. Of course, that was before the evil Mexicans turned up one dark night and stole all their jobs.

So when Trump talks about ‘saving’ jobs, he’s thinking about manufacturing and the Rust Belt. He said as much when he met automakers last month to berate them for being disloyal and to bully them into never sending another manufacturing job outside America.

Plants are where it’s at for Donald Trump — making real stuff, in states that voted for him. Offices, research and development centres, universities … not so much. He doesn’t understand what they do and, in any case, they’re likely located in states like California, Massachusetts and Washington and college towns across America — places which voted for Hillary instead.

But that's not the economy he's living in. And the new economy has thrived because of immigrants:

Tech companies depend on talent to survive and prosper — and they’re irate. Diversity is literally in their DNA. Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, was the son of a Syrian immigrant. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, was born in Russia. Brin was so upset he joined the anti-Trump protests at San Francisco’s international airport after the refugee ban was imposed.

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, quit Trump’s economic advisory council after suffering a barrage of criticism for appearing to back the president on the migrant ban. In a note to employees, he said that “immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country’s success and quite honestly to Uber’s.” Microsoft, complaining that 76 of its employees and their families had been affected by the travel ban already, is pleading with the Trump administration to create exceptions for their affected employees.

Freeman suggests that Canada should make the most of Trump's ignorance:

What the Canadian government should do now is call the president of Microsoft and offer expedited visas for any affected Microsoft employees that would allow them to work at Microsoft’s Vancouver campus, or any other facility across the country. Similar offers can be made to Google — which already employs 1,000 people at facilities in Waterloo, Toronto and Montreal — and to any other U.S. tech company.

A group of Canadian tech leaders has already asked the Trudeau government to offer “immediate and targeted” assistance, including temporary residency that would allow those people banned by the Trump executive orders to live and work in Canada until they complete permanent residency applications here.

We can even send a couple of chartered planes down to Seattle or San Jose to fetch these high-tech workers and have our telegenic prime minister greet them with a smile, a handshake and a warm parka on arrival, letting them know that they’re safe now and can sleep soundly without fear of a roundup by U.S. immigration officials.

Rather than fulminating about Trump's stupidity, Canadians should take advantage of it.

Image: Canadian Immigrant

Friday, February 03, 2017

Lies, Damned Lies And Kellyanne Conway

 

Kellyanne Conway justifies Donald Trump's travel ban by referring to what she calls the "Bowling Greene Massacre." It's true that there's a city in Kentucky called Bowling Green. But there never was any massacre. Claire Phipps explains:

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, has come in for criticism and ridicule after blaming two Iraqi refugees for a massacre that never happened.

Conway, the US president’s former campaign manager who has frequently faced the press to defend his controversial moves, cited the fictional “Bowling Green massacre” in an interview in which she backed the travel ban imposed on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball programme on Thursday evening, Conway compared the executive order issued by Trump in his first week in the White House to what she described as a six-month ban imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

It's true that two Iraqi men where arrested in Bowling Green on weapons charges. But Conway is peddling her own version of "alternative facts:"

Two Iraqi men arrested in 2011 did live in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and are currently serving life sentences for federal terrorism offences. But there was no massacre, nor were they accused of planning one. The US department of justice, announcing their convictions in 2012, said: “Neither was charged with plotting attacks within the United States.”

The Cato Institute pointed out that:

Of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that foreign nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – have killed no Americans.

There are lies and damned lies. And then there's Kellyanne Conway.

Image: The Guardian

Thursday, February 02, 2017

What Electoral Reform?


Justin Trudeau's newly minted Minister of Democratic Institutions has received her mandate letter. In part, it reads:

There has been tremendous work by the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, outreach by Members of Parliament by all parties, and engagement of 360,000 individuals in Canada through mydemocracy.ca … A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.

I don't often agree with Tasha Kheiriddin. But in this case, she's got it right:

Rather than deliver the goods, Trudeau backed down when it was clear that electoral reform had been hopelessly mismanaged, would likely require a referendum, and would not benefit the Liberals in any case.

Instead, Trudeau has changed the channel and maintains that -- after Russian interference in the American election -- we should focus on electoral cyber security. It's a Trumpian distraction.

I am -- to put it mildly -- gravely disappointed.

Image: Pinterest


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Real President?



If you want to know what is really going on in Donald Trump's White House, Lawrence Douglas suggests that you take a good, hard look at Steve Bannon:

As we now know, the drafting and rollout of the travel ban was largely the work of Steve Bannon, the president’s chief political strategist. It was Bannon who reportedly overruled the proposal to exempt green card holders from the ban. And it was Bannon who pushed the order through without consulting experts at the Department of Homeland Security or at the state department.

The Nacht und Nebel quality of the ban’s announcement makes clear that the president’s chief strategist wanted to send tremors through the world. Here was bold proof that the portentous accents of Trump’s inaugural address, also Bannon’s work, was not mere rhetoric.

Now the world would know what “America First” means – not first in democracy or human rights; not first in recognizing an obligation to victims of humanitarian crisis (some of which we have helped create). No, this was America first in pugilism, parochialism and misplaced protectionism.

Douglas suggests that in Trump Bannon found the perfect empty vessel:

Bannon is not the president’s servant. The president is his tool. For years, Bannon cast about for the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry –they were considered possible material. Now in Donald Trump he has found adequate if imperfect stuff. Both are workaholics. Both share a protectionist mindset. Both are combative.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker goes even further. She suggests Bannon is the real president:

With little more than a week in office, President Bannon has been operating at a frantic pace. As Trump sits dutifully at his desk, signing executive orders and memorandums — banning mostly Muslim travelers and doing away with acting attorney general Sally YatesBannon grabs a seat on the National Security Council.

Though true that previous administrations have approved visits by political advisers, including David Axelrod during the Obama years, there’s at least one significant difference. Within a day of the Friday afternoon blitzkrieg that ultimately deleted Yates, two council members specifically required to advise the president on security matters — the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were stripped of their regular seats on the NSC’s principals committee. Now why would this be?

Is the answer to Parker's question that Donald J. Trump is a doofus  and Stephen K. Bannon is the real president?

Image: Breitbart