Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trump's Unreliability


The back and forth during the recent government shut down proves one thing: Donald Trump is utterly unreliable. Paul Krugman writes:

Two weeks ago, Trump declared that if Congress came up with a plan to protect Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — while enhancing border security, he would sign it. Two days later, a bipartisan group of senators brought him a plan doing just that — and he rejected it, complaining about immigrants from “shithole countries.”
On Friday, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, seemed to have at least a short-term agreement with Trump, only to see it pulled back a few hours later. Working with Trump is “like negotiating with Jell-O,” Schumer fumed.
Finally, on Monday Democrats agreed to a three-week extension of funding in return for a promise from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, of a vote on immigration legislation (we’ve heard nothing from Trump). If this vote doesn’t happen, we’ll be back to square one Feb. 8. Anyone want to take bets?

I wouldn't. Anyone who knows anything about Trump shouldn't:

Trump’s whole business career has been a series of betrayals — failed business ventures from which he personally profited while others, whether they were Trump University students, vendors or creditors, ended up holding the bag. And he hasn’t grown a bit in office, unless you count that mysterious extra inch.

Who knows what will happen? But the whole world knows it can't rely on Donald Trump.

Image: Meme Generator

Monday, January 22, 2018

Democracy Depends On It


Michael Harris has watched Steven Spielberg's new movie, The Post,  the story of The Washington Post's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. He writes:

When the Washington Post printed the story of the Pentagon Papers, it was still owned by the Graham family. One person, Katherine Graham, ultimately decided to press the red button to start the printing presses.   No small decision, since it could have meant the end of The Post, the loss of hundreds of jobs, and a trip to jail for the newspaper’s senior editors and publisher. It was an existential encounter the outcome of which was uncertain.
It is worth remembering that Graham made her decision without knowing how the courts, (ultimately the US Supreme Court) would rule on what she had done. Would they see the Post’s decision to call out the federal government for industrial scale lying as a patriotic exercise of First Amendment rights, or denounce it as treason?

Time -- and things -- have changed:

Those who want to manage information, from corporate news empires to the press offices of politicians which are often larger than newsrooms, are winning the battle against those who want to gather and disseminate it.
That old world of newspapering that rocked the planet with a gigantic truth that was dangerous to tell doesn’t seem to resonate with the Vid Generation, except, perhaps, as an interesting period piece. And that may explain why they fail to see the danger facing free speech and journalism today.
How far away those daring deeds seem today. Society has traded the printing press for a smart phone. Google is now the king of reliable sources — except we know in our hearts that it isn’t.

And politicians like Donald Trump -- who doesn't read anyway -- know how to play into that void:

If there is one politician who hates leaks and the media more than Richard Nixon did, it is Donald Trump. No wonder. From paying off porn-stars before the 2016 election, to playing political footsie with Moscow, Trump has so much to hide.
That’s why he has threatened to take away the broadcast licenses of TV networks, toughen up libel laws, and declared the press to be “the enemy of the people.” As Stephen Harper once did in Canada, Trump aims at subverting every independent source of information that he can in order to clear the tracks for his own agenda.

And that's why we must fight to keep print -- newsprint or electronic print -- alive. Democracy depends on it.

Image: allocine.fr

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tales From the Coral Reefs



In our age, coral reefs are the canary in the coal mine. Tim Radford writes:

Forty years ago, the world’s coral reefs faced a known risk: every 25 or 30 years, ocean temperatures would rise to intolerable levels.
Corals would minimise the risk of death by everting the algae with which they lived in symbiotic partnership: that is, the reef animals would avoid death by getting rid of the algae, deliberately weakening themselves.
This response is known as bleaching, and it can have a catastrophic effect on other life on the reef. In the Pacific such episodes were sometimes linked to cycles of ocean warming known as an El Niño event.
By 2018 the odds had altered. Coral reefs now face this hazard every six years. That is, in four decades of global warming and climate change, the risks have multiplied fivefold.

We still have not got used to the fact that climate change sets up a series of geometrical progressions. The longer we refuse to do something about it, the faster catastrophe approaches. Consider the following study from James Cook University:

Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of, even during strong El Niño conditions, but now repeated bouts of regional-scale bleaching and mass mortality of corals has become the new normal around the world as temperatures continue to rise,” said Terry Hughes, who directs Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
He and colleagues report in the journal Science that they analysed data from bleaching events at 100 locations around the planet between 1980 and 2016. Bleaching events are a fact of life for corals: these little creatures tend to live best in temperatures near the upper limit of their tolerance levels, and respond to extreme events by rejecting the algae that normally provide the nutrients they need.
But as global air temperatures have increased, in response to profligate burning of fossil fuels that increase greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, so have sea temperatures. And Professor Hughes and his team report that in the last two years more than a third of all bleaching events have been “severe,” extending over hundreds of kilometres.

Disaster is no longer inching its way toward us. It's galloping our way. And we close our eyes.

Image: Green Left Weekly

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Are Americans Too Stupid?


The government of the United States has shut down. Republicans are outraged. Richard Wolff writes:

Today’s Republican party is built on principle. As a matter of principle, the GOP believes it is the only party that can shut down government as a negotiating tactic. The Democrats’ job is to keep that government open and to cave in to its demands.

When one looks at the history of government shutdowns, there is a delicious irony in all of it:

Ah yes, the irony of it all. It takes a special type of hypocrite to accuse your opponents of hypocrisy for following in your footsteps.
As a matter of principle, it’s Republicans like [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney who are the deficit hawks, caring deeply about the fiscal rectitude of the federal government. Right up to the point when one of them says the words “tax cuts”, which turn out to be far more important than balancing the budget or the national debt.
Thank goodness we have the Republicans in total control of Washington, after all those years of the Democrats failing to pass a real budget. Now we can watch the Republicans create an even more dysfunctional budget process with continuing resolutions that last just a few weeks at a time.

There is even more irony in the claim that Republicans stand for family values:

As a matter of principle, Republicans are the party closest to God, rallying the faithful at the March for Life rally by anti-abortion activists, who also love to rail against Planned Parenthood. Thank God for the leadership of a conservative president whose lawyer paid tens of thousands of dollars to a porn star, through a shell company and false names.
Before she signed a non-disclosure agreement, the porn star disclosed the sordid details of her affair with the current president soon after his third wife gave birth to his third son.
For Christian conservatives, Donald Trump may be a sinner but he’s really doing God’s work. That’s a whole new definition of family values right there.

Are Americans too stupid to see through the rot?


Friday, January 19, 2018

Fear Itself


Franklin Roosevelt told Americans the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. Tony Schwartz -- who ghost wrote Donald Trump's Art of the Deal -- writes that Trump is fear itself:

Fear is the hidden through-line in Trump’s life – fear of weakness, of inadequacy, of failure, of criticism and of insignificance. He has spent his life trying to outrun these fears by “winning” – as he puts it – and by redefining reality whenever the facts don’t serve the narrative he seeks to create. It hasn’t worked, but not for lack of effort.
In his first year in office, Trump has lambasted any facts he dislikes as “fake news”, while making nearly 2,000 false or misleading claims of his own – more than five a day. In a single half-hour interview with the New York Times in late December, he made 24 such claims. This is the very definition of gaslighting – lying until you get people to doubt their own reality – and it is both frightening and disturbing. Because the office Trump now occupies makes him the most powerful man on Earth, his fears, and the way he manages them, have necessarily become ours.

And as long as Americans fear Trump, Schwartz writes, they will remain in his thrall:

In the face of fear, it is a physiological fact that our most primitive and selfish instincts emerge. Control of our behaviour shifts from the prefrontal cortex to the emotionally driven amygdala – sometimes referred to as “fear central”. As we move into fight-or-flight mode, we become more self-centred, and our vision narrows to the perceived threat, which in the modern world is less to our survival than to our sense of value and worthiness. We lose the capacity for empathy, rationality, proportionality and attention to the longer-term consequences of our actions.
This is the reactive state Trump has tapped into with his followers and which he has prompted in his opponents. It serves none of us well. Think for a moment about the immense difference between how you feel and behave at your best and your worst. It is when we feel safest and most secure that we think most clearly and expansively. It’s also when we are most inclined to look beyond our self-interest, and to act with compassion, generosity, consideration and forgiveness.

Schwartz's insight into the man should not be ignored. Above all, resistance to Trump must be driven by our better angels.

Image: Herb.co

Thursday, January 18, 2018

It's All About Power


It's certain that the way the heirs to the Tim Horton's fortune handled Ontario's minimum wage hike will become a classic case study. Linda McQuaig writes:

Apparently thinking nobody would find out, the daughter of hockey player Tim Horton and the son of his business partner Ron Joyce, who are married to each other in a plot twist worthy of the Game of Thrones, sent a note to their grossly underpaid employees from their winter home in Florida informing them that their benefits — including 40 minutes a day of paid breaks — were being clawed back to compensate for the new $14-an-hour minimum wage.
Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. — whose father has a net worth of $1.4 billion — expressed “great regret” for the clawbacks, apparently convinced there was no other option. The market made me do it!

For decades, we have been told that the market is a force of nature which operates by its own rules. That's a lie:

Business advocates protest minimum wages for interfering with the “free market.” They make it sound like the market is some sort of natural system that operates according to basic, natural laws — like the laws of gravity — and that we tamper with it at our peril.
In fact, the market is nothing more than a set of human-made laws — governing property, contracts, labour, taxes, etc.
Rather than being based on natural principles, the laws of the marketplace simply reflect the power structure of society. Those with power are able to bend the laws in their own favour.

The evidence is unavoidable in places like Seattle and Alberta:

Indeed, despite fear-mongering about job losses when Alberta began hiking its minimum wage in 2015, jobs in its low-wage service sector actually grew by 12,400 last year, along with the rest of its economy.

The Hortons and Joyces revealed the lie that is at the heart of neo-liberalism. It's not about the market. It's all about power and how it's distributed.

Image: Oxfam Blogs

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Only Votes Will Do It


Yesterday, Dr. Ronny Jackson gave Donald Trump a clean bill of health. So much for the fantasy that Trump's ill health will remove him from office. Likewise, even if Robert Mueller finds Trump guilty of money laundering and obstruction of justice -- which seems ever more likely -- a Republican controlled congress will not impeach him.

It's clear, Jonathan Freedland writes, that only democracy will remove Trump:

The truth is, there are no quick fixes. Even if Jackson or Mueller came up with devastating findings, the act of removing Trump will fall to the Congress, currently in the hands of a Republican party that shows no appetite for standing up to the president. That’s what will have to change – which means Democrats doing the hard work of winning this November’s midterm elections. Neither the Feds nor a doctor in a white coat will do it for them: Americans will have to end this nightmare themselves.

Which means that Americans themselves are going to have to administer the final blow. If they give Democrats control of both houses, Trump will be gone. If they don't do that, their country will be  in -- to use the president's own words -- a "shithole."

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

We Are Not Making Progress


The countries which fought on the United Nations side of the Korean War are meeting in Vancouver. China, Russia -- and North Korea -- won't be there. The United States is pushing for more sanctions. But, Andrew Coyne writes:

Sanctions . . . will only be as effective as China allows them to be. And while the Chinese have tightened the screws to some degree, they are also likely to oppose any serious attempt to enforce them: for example, by means of “maritime interdiction,” the multinational quasi-blockade that is also up for discussion in Vancouver. North Korea has already denounced the idea as an “act of war,” but China is unlikely to be much happier.

So that leaves accepting the reality of a nuclear North Korea. And what does that mean? It means deterrence:

Surely deterrence can be made to work on the Korean peninsular, as it has these past seven decades in Europe. But to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea is essentially to live with what Hawaii has just endured, in perpetuity. Much effort has been expended to suggest the Kim regime is “rational,” as in non-suicidal. But non-suicidal is not the same as stable, predictable, responsible, prudent or wise. The possibility of error is ever-present. And the consequences of error are catastrophic.

It means, Coyne writes, anti-ballistic missile defence. You thought we were getting rid of nuclear weapons? And Hawaii has just reminded us that, with all those weapons, it's easy to make a mistake.

We are not making progress.

Image: China National News

Monday, January 15, 2018

Now Is The Time


Bernie Sanders writes that now is the time to take on the oligarchs. The data tells the story of the last thirty-five years:

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.
At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

So, what's to be done?

Now, more than ever, those of us who believe in democracy and progressive government must bring low-income and working people all over the world together behind an agenda that reflects their needs. Instead of hate and divisiveness, we must offer a message of hope and solidarity. We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice. Will this be an easy struggle? Certainly not. But it is a fight that we cannot avoid. The stakes are just too high.
A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people – from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.

We can start, Sanders writes, by getting rid of tax havens:

Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.

But it takes political will -- something which, these days, is in short supply.

Image:  NBC News

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Here We Go Again

Larry Elliot writes that another debt crisis is just around the corner:

Global interest rates are rising. Poor countries are finding it tough to pay back money borrowed from banks in anticipation of a commodity windfall that never materialised. Stir in some dirty dealing that has seen funds stolen and what do you have? That’s right: the makings of another debt crisis.

Banks have been lending to third world countries and doing some pretty sloppy accounting:

A prime example is the one made in London five years ago between Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB bank to lend $2bn to two companies in Mozambique backed by the government in Maputo.
The money was supposed to be for a tuna fishing fleet and for a navy to protect the boats operating in Mozambique’s territorial waters. Credit Suisse and VTB trousered $200m between them in fees, but the loans were never revealed to the Mozambique parliament, the IMF, the financial markets or the Mozambique people.
A report into the deal by the corporate investigations company Kroll concluded that the two companies were inadequately managed and had generated no meaningful revenue. At least a quarter of the money is unaccounted for, with some suspicion that it was spent on military equipment. Jamie Drummond, the director of the development campaign group One says that it is not clear the money ever turned up in Mozambique after being sent to two offshore companies in Abu Dhabi. For sure, though, not a single tuna has been landed. Mozambique has paid a heavy price for defaulting on the debt, which has been sold on to vulture funds. The IMF, miffed at being lied to, has suspended its programme and the loss of financial support has meant public services are being cut.

It's a replay of the home mortgage crisis of a decade ago. We should have learned that such sloppy practices snowball and the ripples are felt world wide. Apparently, we -- or more precisely, our bankers -- haven't learned that lesson.

Fasten your seat belts.

Image: moneytalks.net

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Getting What It's Owed


There's been a lot of sound and fury -- particularly from Tim Horton's franchisees -- about Ontario's recent minimum wage hike. But, Alan Freeman writes, the raise makes perfect sense:

If you go past the hysterical outpourings from the likes of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business — which specializes in crying wolf every time there’s a talk of improving the Canada Pension Plan or making any small improvement in the lives of employees — the overall impacts of the minimum wage hike for the economy are quite small.
The increase in the minimum wage to $14 an hour from $11.60 is about 21 per cent. That’s about the same percentage increase as Walmart is voluntarily giving its employees in the U.S. (22 per cent). US$11 is worth about Cdn$13.80. In that context, the Ontario wage hike doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The jobless rate in Ontario is currently 5.5 per cent — about as close to full employment as you can get, making this the best time to implement a big minimum wage hike. You might think that employers desperate for labour would do whatever they could to keep the good ones from bolting.

The usual complaint is that legislating minimum wages kills jobs. But that complaint needs to be put in context:

According to the Bank of Canada, about 8 per cent of Canadian employees work for minimum wage and minimum wage rates affect about 15 per cent of all employees with the lowest wages. The bank says the increased wages planned in Ontario and elsewhere could mean that 60,000 fewer jobs are created this year than otherwise — although that’s just a guess.
That may sound like a lot of jobs but it’s a blip in an economy that employs 18.6 million people — a figure that an economist at Scotiabank says is “likely within the margin of error.” It’s worth noting that the Canadian economy created 79,000 jobs in December alone.

The disciples of Milton Friedman are apoplectic. But, finally, labour is getting a little bit of what it is owed.

Image: The National Post

Friday, January 12, 2018

An Ignorant, Senile Old Man



Two days ago, the cameras were allowed into the cabinet room as the members around the table talked about reaching a deal on immigration. Donald Trump actually looked reasonable, capable of reaching a compromise. And then yesterday he returned to form, blowing everything up. Abigail Tracy writes in Vanity Fair:

On Thursday afternoon, as the White House basked in the afterglow of the president’s ability to contain himself for 55 minutes, Donald Trump brought their triumphant parade to a screeching halt, calling into question not only his own mental fitness, but the possibility of a bipartisan deal on immigration reform. When a bipartisan group of senators approached the president with a tentative immigration agreement, which included protections for Dreamers, an additional $1.5 billion in border-security funding, and the possibility of restoring protections for countries recently removed from the temporary-protected-status program, the president responded with an outburst that reportedly alarmed the group.

And it should have:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked in reference to African countries and Haiti, according to The Washington Post. Instead, the president reportedly suggested that the U.S. should encourage immigration from countries like Norway.

He is already on record as believing that immigrants from Haiti "all have AIDS," and that white nationalist groups contain "some very fine people." He then confidently asserts that, "Before I make a statement, I need the facts. I don't want to rush into a statement."

It seems pretty clear. Trump is an ignorant, old man on the cusp of senility.

Image:Pinterest


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Too Much To Bear


Some are speculating that Michael Wolff's book, The Fire And The Fury, will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and lead to Donald Trump's demise. Frank Rich writes that kind of speculation is all wish and no substance:

The only way Trump leaves office absent a Democratic sweep in the 2018 midterms is if he does so of his own volition: poisoning himself with his binges of Big Macs and Diet Coke; making a deal to head off pending indictments of himself, his son, or son-in-law; or breaking down mentally to the point where he is so unhappy, angry, and unmoored that he’d rather declare victory and take his marbles home to Mar-a-Lago.

Wolff's book has been the catalyst for the demise of Steve Bannon. Trump's ouster will be much harder to accomplish. Nonetheless,

Fire and Fury has moved the latter process along. That Trump would feel compelled to declare himself a “very stable genius” and turn this book into an epic best seller by (impotently) threatening legal action to suppress it suggests that Wolff has quite successfully gaslighted him. Though it’s Ivanka Trump whom Steve Bannon described as “dumb as a brick,” her father’s self-immolating actions from the moment New York posted its Fire and Fury excerpt is proof positive that the apple didn’t fall far from the orange tree.

It's remarkable when you review the number of clips when Trump claims -- again and again -- that he's very smart. Wolff's book documents the number of Trumpian supporters who have called him an "idiot."

At some point, the cognitive dissonance between Trump's claims and the conclusions of those who know him will be too much to bear.

Image: wonkette.com

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Worth Of An English Degree


A long time ago, I informed my father that I intended to get an English degree. My father -- a mechanical engineer -- asked, "What the hell can you do with that?"

"I can write for a living," I said. "Or, I can always teach." The rest is history. I taught -- and now that I'm retired -- I write.

I have always believed that my English degree was a superb investment. Thus, I was pleased to read Mandy Pipher's op-ed in The Toronto Star. There are far fewer students studying English these days than there were twenty-five years ago:

Many of us seem to hold — consciously or not — an underlying belief that the skills gained through higher education in English are largely irrelevant to the advancement or maintenance of our society. What, after all, is so important about an essay on the use of metaphor in Coleridge or so urgent about another analysis of the allusions in The Waste Land? Are these not esoteric individual interests best pursued in leisure time?
And so science, engineering, and medical research in Canada is funded at three times the rate of the humanities and social sciences, and StatsCan data shows that undergraduate enrolment in humanities programs has dropped to half of what it was in the early 1990s, as a percentage of overall enrolment. Across the country there are fewer students enrolled in undergraduate humanities degrees now than there were in 1992-93, despite overall enrolment having increased by almost 700,000 students. Why should we care?

That data helps explain why the skills one learns from studying English are sadly lacking these days:

What, for example, are some of the most stubborn fault lines running beneath many of the current, deeply troubling, fractures in Western democratic societies? A distrust of rational discourse about differing points of view; confusing a strong emotional response with inalienable truth; an inability to parse good information and legitimate sources from the bad and disingenuous; a lack of empathy for the humanity of people different from oneself.
These are the skills that a good English education teaches: Critical thinking; analysis of language; insight into the minds of people from different places and times. Ultimately, it’s an understanding of the vastness and interconnectedness of the world — its subtleties, stories, and strengths.
The benefits of these skills for a society may not be as immediately evident or clearly measurable as those of technology or medicine, but they are just as vital to its health. In the age of Trump, we ignore them at our peril.

Shortly after I made my announcement, my father sat down with me to watch Lawrence Olivier's version of  Hamlet on our television. When the film got to the beginning of Act V, he turned to me and asked, "Why the hell is everybody dying?"

My father -- may he rest in peace -- was a good man. He gave me his name. But he did not insist that I do as he did. And, by the end of the movie, he understood why so many people had died.

Image: Old Hollywood Films

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

As Flies To A Dung Heap


Sometimes, the best and the brightest -- as David Halberstam proved in his seminal book on the Vietnam War -- do not always turn out as advertised. But, Paul Krugman writes, Donald's Trump's men are the worst and the dumbest:

When the V.S.G.[Very Stable Genius] moved into the White House, he brought with him an extraordinary collection of subordinates — and I mean that in the worst way. Some of them are already gone, like Michael Flynn, who Trump appointed national security adviser despite questions swirling even back then about his foreign ties, and who last month pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about those ties. Also gone is Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, done in by his addiction to expensive private plane trips.

Others, however, are still there; surely the thought of Steve Mnuchin at Treasury has Hamilton rolling over in his grave. And many incredibly bad lower-level appointments have flown under the public’s radar. We only get a sense of how bad things are from the occasional story that breaks through, like that of Trump’s nominee to head the Indian Health Service, who appears to have lied about his credentials. (A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services says a tornado destroyed his employment records.)

And they have been joined by elected members of the Republican Party:

Until now, it wasn’t entirely clear whether pro-cover-up members of Congress, like Devin Nunes, who has been harassing the Justice Department as it attempts to investigate Russian election interference, were freelancing. But Paul Ryan, the House speaker, has now fully taken Nunes’s side, in effect going all in on obstruction.
At the same time, two Republican senators made the first known congressional referral for criminal charges related to Russian intervention — not against those who may have worked with a hostile foreign power, but against the former British spy who prepared a dossier about possible Trump-Russia collusion.
In other words, even as much of the world is questioning Trump’s fitness for office, the only people who could constrain him are doing their best to place him above the rule of law.

Lord Acton's admonition about how deeply power corrupts remains true. Flies are always attracted to a dung heap.

Image: the kebun

Monday, January 08, 2018

Getting Mugged By The Future


When the Conservatives went shopping for a new leader, they chose the wrong guy. Alan Freeman writes:

With each passing day, it’s becoming clearer that Canada’s Official Opposition is led by a man who might have what it takes to rock a high school model Parliament, but little else. In federal politics, Scheer is a catastrophe — a gift to Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada and the most hapless and inept major party leader since Stéphane Dion vanished from the scene.
I’m sure Scheer is a nice fellow and a great dad — but he’s living in the wrong country. His socially conservative beliefs might work for him if he were running for governor of Indiana, or to replace Ted Cruz as the Tea Party flag-bearer, but he’s never going to be elected prime minister of Canada in the second decade of the 21st century.

Stephen Harper understood the rabid right wing of his party. He had a tacit agreement with them. If they kept their mouths shut, he would incorporate some of their ideas into policy:

The old Stephen Harper tactic [was to keep] the rabid right-wingers inside the tent while trying to conceal from voters the extent of their influence in the party. But Harper was an opportunist — a smart, driven, Machiavellian leader who instilled fear in both his supporters and opponents. Scheer is a weak man; his opportunism smacks not of calculation, but of desperation.

Consider how long it took Scheer to deal with Senator Lynn Beyak:

Scheer waited far too long to deal with Beyak. He has yet to demonstrate that he has the temperament and nerve to keep the politically-incorrect, angry base of the Conservatives in check, as Harper did. Scheer’s confrontation with Beyak made him look weak — and he’ll look weaker still every time the scenario repeats itself. And it will.

Modern conservatives continue to live in the past. And they keep getting mugged by the future.

Image: Huffington Post

Sunday, January 07, 2018

In Full Panic


Kevin Drum writes that, earlier in the year, he worried that the United States was slipping into autocratic hands. Now, he's more sanguine:

Republicans are in panic mode over the possibility that Robert Mueller is about to start plowing relentlessly through the White House like a bulldozer leveling an old shack. By the time he’s through, they’re understandably afraid there might not be much left standing.
At the risk of being too Pollyannaish, it’s almost good news that Republicans are acting this way. It means they realize their party is in existential trouble.

The Republicans are in trouble because they are the party of Old White America. They hate Barack Obama because of  his message -- that Old White America is now a distinct minority. And that realization is driving the Republicans crazy. They are lashing out everywhere and at everyone:

For years it’s been obvious that Republicans are the party of whites and Democrats are the party of nonwhites. This worked fine for a while, but starting in the 90s it became an increasingly weighty albatross and Republicans became increasingly desperate to increase both white turnout and their share of the white vote. Fox News helped with this. Karl Rove’s focus on the “missing evangelicals” helped. Gerrymandering helped. Pack and crack helped. Photo ID laws helped. But these were just pellets in a war dominated by a disastrous decline in party ID in the Bush years that the party never recovered from.
By 2012, however, they had run out of new tricks to gain more white votes and suppress more nonwhite votes—and the nonwhite share of the population was still continuing its implacable rise. Party leaders understood perfectly well that this meant they needed better outreach to people of color, but this was something they could never pull off. Their only other option was to become even more explicitly unambiguous in their appeal to the white vote, and that never seemed like a plausible strategy: you might gain some working-class whites out of the deal, but you’d lose at least as many centrist whites who’d be disgusted by the all-but-open appeal to racism.
[They] had no choice but to get aboard, but in the end Trump did lose more white votes than he gained. Compared to 2012, Trump gained among high school grads but lost votes among college grads. When the returns were in, not only did the white share of the overall vote continue its long decline, but Trump got a smaller share of that white vote than Romney.¹ Party leaders had been right: an outright appeal to white racial grievance did more harm than good.

The leaders may stand beside Trump, smiling foolishly. but they're not "like, really smart."

Image: Breaking News

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Progresssive Internationalism


Chrystia Freeland has returned to her first profession. Susan Delacourt writes:

In The Economist’s special New Year’s issue, “The World in 2018,” Freeland has penned an article about how Canada plans to battle global trends toward nationalism and protectionism.
She calls it “progressive internationalism” and describes how Canada will be pursuing this idea in 2018 on two tracks: internationally, in the realms of human rights, immigration and freer trade; and domestically, with fairer taxation and improved labour standards here in Canada.
The two tracks work together, Freeland says. Canadians won’t support immigration, rights and trade if they feel they’re paying an unfair price at home.
“Progressive trade is not a feint or a frill,” she writes. “It is fundamental to the furtherance of a trading system that will enjoy popular support.”

At the moment, some of that policy is being implemented in Ontario:

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is also in the midst of a large-scale effort to battle economic inequality, as she described it to Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn in a recent, year-end interview.
“I have a deep belief that we don’t play on a level field, and so what can I do to level that playing field?” Wynne said in the interview. “It’s our job as human beings to find ways to help each other, and so that for me is at the root of what government is about. We come together, and we decide as a society how we are going to support each other.”
There is a big temptation, an understandable one if you read the polls, to see these next few months in Ontario as the prelude to Wynne’s departure and the end of the Liberals’ 15-year hold on power in the province.

The first battle is all about the $14  -- soon to be  $15 -- minimum wage, with Tim Horton's leading the resistance.

Will progressive internationalism take hold? Stay tuned.

Image: The Toronto Star


Friday, January 05, 2018

We Can't Go Back


Justin Trudeau likes to proclaim that, "Canada is back." Paul Koring writes that it's:

a statement that evokes a vague, nostalgic yearning to recreate a once-proud international reputation. In a way, it’s rather like Donald’s Trump’s equally vague vow to “make America Great Again”; neither leader seems capable of explaining what the slogans mean, but both like the way the words sound.
In Canada’s case, being “back” seems to suggest a return to the heady decades of the Cold War, when Canada was widely admired for its founding role at the United Nations, its commitment to peacekeeping, its hefty contributions in action and money to foreign aid and a succession of leaders who turned out to be effective international statesmen: Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.

But the world has changed:

When Canada joined the G-7 in 1976, its economy was the world’s seventh largest. Today it has slid to 10th place. In the post-Second World War era, Canada — rich and democratic, yet unburdened by the baggage of the former colonial powers — played a major international role in the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. To cite one shining example: Canadian leadership in the campaign to shame the racist regime in South Africa out of existence stood in stark contrast to the complicity of Britain and the United States. Canada wasn’t elected every decade to a UN Security Council seat by accident; it was an honour meant to reflect the country’s proven performance in international affairs.
The Cold War ended, and with it the era of superpowers guaranteeing peace deals. In Bosnia, Croatia and Somalia, second-rate equipment turned out to be extremely dangerous. And when a pair of elite Canadian special forces soldiers tortured and murdered a defenceless teenage prisoner in Somalia — followed by a concerted cover-up by the Canadian high command — the gloss was off UN peacekeeping.

There is one basic principle that we all find hard to accept: Life goes on. We can't return to the old world. We have to build a new one.

Image: joe malik rameer

Thursday, January 04, 2018

So Much Damage


The world has taken the measure of Donald Trump. And the news is worse than you might think. E.J. Dionne writes:

Susan Glasser, writing in Politico, offers frightening detail about how Trump’s stunning lack of knowledge and his indifference to his own obliviousness have led diplomats to label him “insane,” “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” Glasser concludes: “When it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse.”

And an article in the New Yorker offers the Chinese take on Trump:

Evan Osnos’s carefully reported and much-discussed article in the New Yorker demonstrates how Trump’s policies — but also his pathological focus on himself, his ignorance, and his astonishing susceptibility to flattery — have profoundly weakened the United States’ position in Asia and played into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reach for international power.
Osnos cites a Chinese think tank’s observation that the Trump administration is a collection of hostile “cliques,” the most powerful of which is the “Trump family clan.” And its analysis uses a term from feudal China, “jiatianxia,” to define Trump’s approach. It means “to treat the state as your possession.”

Dionne concludes that matters are reaching the breaking point:

The United States does have extraordinary gifts for self-correction. But we must face the fact that Trump is accelerating us toward the breaking point. No matter how confident we are in our resilience, we should not imagine otherwise. Not even Mueller has a button on his desk he can press to get us out of this without scars.

Trump is extraordinary -- at least in one respect. Rarely in history does one man appear who does so much damage to so many.

Image: KeelyNet

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Bannon's Bomb


You have to wonder if Donald Trump is beginning to re-evaluate his personnel choices. A new book suggests that Steve Bannon is not acting in Trump's best interests. David Smith reports in The Guardian that the book contains explosive information:

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year. In it, Wolff lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him.

Bannon is furious about the meeting  at Trump Tower between Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer:

He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: “I love it.”
The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.
Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In Wolff’s book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.
“You realise where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”

Trump is notorious for not wanting to hear bad news. Brannon is delivering it. Trump can't be happy.

Image: Digital Dealer

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Darkening Clouds


Gerry Caplan begins the New Year by asking the question, "Is Doomsday really upon us?" He recalls the last time we came to the brink -- the Cuban Missile Crisis:

We are rapidly approaching the same kind of escalation that led the world to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with humankind on the very brink of nuclear war and nuclear destruction. I still recall it quite vividly. It was a uniquely terrifying moment in the lifetime of the world. Like everyone else, I too kept a sharp eye out for the very latest news to see how long we had left to exist.

I was in my first year of high school back then. I left to catch the bus that day, not sure I'd come home or if I'd have a home to come to. When the Russian ships turned back, the school pumped a radio broadcast through the intercom. The administration made no introduction. The report came on and we all breathed a little easier. But these are not times to make one breathe easier:

Surely no one would willingly entrust Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump with the future of humanity, yet neither seems controllable in the slightest. Who knows where their bizarre game of chicken may end up? It's perfectly plausible that one or another may stumble his way into launching the armed missile that would demand immediate retaliation by the other. The consequences, as we all knew back in the Cold War days, would indeed be mutual assured destruction. Who believes Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump can be trusted to choose sanity over nuclear Armageddon?

And, if Kim and Trump somehow manage to avoid running into each other, there is the explosion that is brewing just south of us:

There's no reason to believe that this summer's outbreak of violent anarchy in Charlottesville, Va., will be the last. Countless Americans are ready to erupt. It's estimated that hundreds of heavily armed neo-fascist militias threaten to unleash their power, knowing they have an ally in the White House. Both furious African-Americans and frustrated whites have had enough. America feels ripe for its second civil war, which, like the first, would unleash forces that can hardly be imagined. How can any normal sensible person fail to be shaken? 

Something to think about.

Image: The Daily Beast