Saturday, September 30, 2017

Not In Trump's Circle

This was the week Donald Trump clarified for whom he's working. Richard Wolf writes:

Twice this week, when given the choice between his wealthy buddies and the working Americans he claims to care about, Trump has taken the gold-plated path.

Take his big tax cut, the biggest ever in history (or so he says). When asked by the super-friendly Pete Hegseth (from the aptly named Fox & Friends) about who his tax cuts were intended to help, our populist hero jumped right in.

“Really, the working people. We say the working people, middle class, the people that really haven’t been treated right, Pete, and they haven’t been treated right, really, for a long time. They have not been treated right,” he began very earnestly.

But look at his proposed tax rates. The top tax rate will go from 39.6% to 35%, while the rate for the people at the bottom will go from 10% to 12%. Trump claims he is going to increase the tax free deduction, but he doesn't say what income levels apply to each bracket.

And then there was the matter of aid to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. The Governor of the island and the mayor of San Juan have been pleading for help. But The Jones Act prevented ships from delivering that aid. The Jones Act was waived immediately for Texas and Florida. But it stayed in place for the island. Why?

“Well, we’re thinking about that but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” [Trump] told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.

After thinking some more, Trump reversed himself on Thursday, more than a week after Puerto Rico lost its power grid and struggled to secure anything like adequate fuel supplies.

It is phenomenally hard to understand the thinking of a commander-in-chief who places the interests of shippers over his own citizens in dire need.

And the poor working stiffs who voted for him keep insisting they have a friend in the White House. Trump has friends. But working stiffs don't run in Trump's circle.

Image: The Huffington Post

Friday, September 29, 2017

It's All About Distraction

Linda McQuaig tells the history -- and the real story -- behind the Liberal government's attempt to close a tax loophole:

Twenty-five years ago, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government introduced a tax change beneficial to wealthy families owning private trusts. One of the arguments used to justify the change was that it would help families with a trust support a disabled child.

The image of helping a disabled child certainly softened the image of what the government was doing — channelling hundreds of millions of dollars in tax savings to some of the wealthiest families in the country.

The amount of money that the wealthy have added to their annual incomes is staggering:

Once this invisible income — amounting to an astonishing $48 billion in 2010 — is added to their reported personal incomes, Canada’s rich are considerably richer than we’ve been led to believe.

For instance, according to commonly used data (for 2011), the average income for those in Canada’s top 1 per cent was $359,000. But once the income they held in private corporations was added, the actual average annual income of these folks was a much heftier $500,200.

The higher up the income ladder, the more popular private corporations have become. Roughly 80 per cent of the richest .01 per cent of Canadians funnel income through private corporations and the amounts involved are substantial, the study found.
The average income for those in the top .01 per cent was $4.69 million a year — an enormous income. But once the income held in their private corporations was added, the average income in this privileged group actually jumped to a stunning $8 million a year.

The Conservatives claim that they are fighting for Mom and Pop businesses and small farmers. These folks are now the disabled children of twenty-five years ago. But that line was a red herring then. And the Conservatives' argument is a red herring now.

It's all about distraction.

Image: btlonline

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It's The Politics, Stupid

Peter Donolo has an interesting column in this morning's Globe and Mail.  Donolo believes that the NAFTA negotiations are not about trade. They're about politics. The giveaway is that the Americans still haven't old us what they want. He writes:

What does that mean for the NAFTA talks? Don't hold your breath for negotiators to come up with trade solutions to a political problem. And if they do manage an agreement, count the seconds for a tweet from the President of the United States undercutting his own negotiating team. He's done it to his own White House staff, to his cabinet and to his party, time and again.

The term "win-win," which is the essence of any successful negotiation, does not exist in Donald Trump's lexicon. His approach is better described as zero-sum; the only way you can show you have won is by crushing your opponent into dust.

The American decision to add a 220% tariff to Bombardier's C-Series jets should be understood in that context. The decision is not good news for Canada.  And, meanwhile, Trump treats Mexico with utter contempt. That does not bode well for the future:

In less than a year, Mexico will hold presidential elections. Mr. Trump's relentless humiliation of that country has already sunk the hopes of the incumbent PRI and boosted the chances of leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. What would be the consequences of a NAFTA "loss" for Mexico? From the relative stability of recent decades, the Mexico-U.S. relationship could very quickly revert to earlier hostile, and even violent, patterns.

So fasten your seat belts. North America -- and, for that matter, the world -- is in for a lot more turbulence.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Importance Of The Commons

George Monbiot writes that we have foolishly reduced human society to two elements: the state and the market. In fact, human society consists of four elements: the State, the Market, the Household and the Commons. We sometimes consider the value of the Household. But we have completely forgotten about the Commons:

That it is necessary to explain the commons testifies to their neglect (despite the best efforts of political scientists such as the late Elinor Ostrom). A commons is neither state nor market. It has three main elements. First a resource, such as land, water, minerals, scientific research, hardware or software. Second a community of people who have shared and equal rights to this resource, and organise themselves to manage it. Third the rules, systems and negotiations they develop to sustain it and allocate the benefits.

A true commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit, but for the steady production of prosperity or wellbeing. It belongs to a particular group, who might live in or beside it, or who created and sustain it. It is inalienable, which means that it should not be sold or given away. Where it is based on a living resource, such as a forest or a coral reef, the commoners have an interest in its long-term protection, rather than the short-term gain that could be made from its destruction.

The commons have been attacked by both state power and capitalism for centuries. Resources that no one invented or created, or that a large number of people created together, are stolen by those who sniff an opportunity for profit. The saying, attributed to Balzac, that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime” is generally true. “Business acumen” often amounts to discovering novel ways of grabbing other people’s work and assets.

A vibrant commons reduces inequality because certain assets are collectively owned. When collective assets -- schools, airports, public lands -- are sold off to the highest bidder, everyone becomes poorer. Canada's new Infrastructure Bank is built on that principle. In my own province, a large portion of a public utility -- Ontario Hydro -- is being sold off to private investors.

The bottom line is this: When a government tells you it will decrease inequality while it sells off public assets, you're being lied to. Today's image is of The Boston Common.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dumb As A Bag Of Hammers

As the Republicans' third attempt to repeal Obamacare was going down in flames, Mike Pence was warning Alaskans that the last thing they wanted to do was to adopt single payer medicare. Alexander Panetta reports:

The vice-president of the United States has some less-than-complimentary words for Canada’s health-care system, which he accuses of certain “failings.”

Mike Pence made the remarks in an interview last week with Alaska radio station KFQD.

He was being asked about the Republican health legislation struggling to get through Congress.

Pence warned that if the legislative effort collapses, the U.S. will be on a course for something similar to Canada.

That’s because the Democratic party is starting to rally to an unprecedented degree around the idea of single-payer health care as a long-term solution to the U.S.’s endless health debates.

“We have a clear choice here,” Pence said.

“You know, somewhere in between where I’m sitting in Washington, D.C., and Alaska, is a place called Canada. I probably don’t need to tell the people in Alaska about the failings of national socialized health care because it’s right in our neighbour and you see the results every day.

“Look, we’ve got a choice: It’s between big government, Washington, D.C., solutions that ultimately, I believe, will collapse into single-payer health care — or whether or not we’re going to repeal the (Obamacare) individual mandate.”

God knows, our medicare system isn't perfect. Panetta admits that "Canada’s health system is known to suffer from long wait times, especially for elective procedures." However, "Canadians not only have longer life expectancies, but also spend far less on health care than Americans according to World Bank data."

If Trump goes down, he'll probably be replaced by Pence. And Pence is as dumb as a bag of hammers.


Monday, September 25, 2017

A Single Digit IQ

Donald Trump's real talent -- his only talent -- is knowing how to pick a fight. On Friday night he targeted players in the NBA and the NFL. At a rally in Alabama, he told his rabid followers:

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.  If NFL fans refuse to go to games, until players stop disrespecting our Flag&Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

And, everywhere you looked yesterday, you saw athletes showing the Moron-in-Chief their fists. Some put their anger in words. Lebron James tweeted: "Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up.” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft -- up until now a Trump supporter -- expressed his "deep disappointment."

Kraft stood behind his players," Michael Harris writes, "ten of whom declined to stand for the national anthem before Sunday’s game against Houston. Harris believes this is a fight Trump can't win:

Trump is headed for a bruising. It may have started out with  [Colin] Kaepernick, but the ranks of those alarmed about racism in America is growing, just as Muhammad Ali electrified the anti-war movement in 1960s. It is no accident that Kaepernick is often seen sporting a T-shirt with Muhammad Ali’s face on it.

People love their sports and their players in a way politicians can only dream of. Trump has made a potentially fatal miscalculation in picking a fight with athletes the vast majority of the ‘deplorables’ who support him adore. That said, there were lusty boos at Foxborough when so many of the home team Patriots took the knee. Which is just to say, as wrong as Trump is, he is not alone in his warped patriotism.

And that really is the point. Trump's ignorant bluster is still a minority opinion. He knows he lost the election. He is in office because of an historical fluke called the Electoral College. And that fact is driving him crazy. That is why he can't get over Hillary. With each passing day, he increasingly looks like a man with a single digit IQ.

Image: The Baltimore Sun

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Last Assessment

Robyn Sears offers an assessment of three of the contenders for the NDP's leadership:

Charlie Angus has impeccable New Dem credentials: northern, working class, long-term Indigenous activist; informal but smart, folksy but policy sharp, self-deprecating, well-known to local party leaders from coast to coast. As comfortable as an old shoe for a wide swathe of traditional party members.

Singh is a mirror opposite: openly ambitious personally and for the party, cool under pressure but happy to be seen to wield a knife, proud and flaunting his cultural and personal difference. Willing to stare down public intolerance and crazy racist hecklers — but with grace and confidence. 

Despite Guy Caron’s recent gains, Quebec still lacks a powerful native son candidate. Can Singh appeal to enough urban progressive Quebecers to overcome the hesitations of older rural voters’ unease with his difference? Or does Angus convince with his claim that he can best appeal to working and middle class progressive Quebecers, who are no different than other Canadians in their struggle to defend their families and work to build a better community?

Curiously, he has nothing to say about Nikki Ashton. And he implies that the choice is between Angus and Singh. Perhaps he really knows what's going on in the party's inner sanctum. His contention that the race is between Angus and Singh is interesting.

This will be the my last rumination on the leadership until after the Dippers make their decision.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Proudly To Their Undoing

Neo-liberalism has been a monumental failure. The evidence of that failure is piling up all over the world. Paul Street writes:

Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of the world’s population is poor, living on $10 a day or less, and 11 percent (767 million people, including 385 million children) live in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty” (less than a $1.90 a day). Meanwhile, Oxfam reliably reports that, surreal as it sounds, the world’s eight richest people possess among themselves as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire human race.

The ravages of neo-liberalism are most evident in the United States, where the virus was first unleashed by those who fervently believed that Milton Friedman was a wise man:

The United States, self-described homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy, is no exception to the harshly unequal global reality. Six of the world’s eight most absurdly rich people are U.S. citizens: Bill Gates (whose net worth of $426 billion equals the wealth of 3.6 billion people), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City). As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2016, the top 10th of the upper 1 percent in the U.S. has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Seven heirs of the Walton family’s Walmart fortune have among them a net worth equal to that of the nation’s poorest 40 percent. Half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor, and half lacks any savings.
Just over a fifth of the nation’s children, including more than a third of black and Native American children, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, while parasitic financiers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence. One in seven U.S. citizens relies on food banks in “the world’s richest country.” Many of them are in families with full-time wage-earners—a reflection of the fact that wages have stagnated even as U.S. labor productivity consistently has risen for more than four decades.

And, now, Donald Trump is that nation's president. He is the omega -- what you get when you slavishly follow the advice of Friedman and his acolytes. Trump -- and the ideas he personifies -- represent failure by design:

As Joshua Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute showed in his important 2011 study, “Failure by Design,” the following interrelated, bipartisan and not-so-public policies across the long neoliberal era have brought us to a level of inequality that rivals the Gilded Age of the late 19th-century robber barons era. These policies include:

● Letting the value of the minimum wage be eroded by inflation.
● Slashing labor standards for overtime, safety and health.
● Tilting the laws governing union organizing and collective bargaining strongly in favor of employers.
● Weakening the social safety net.
● Privatizing public services.
● Accelerating the integration of the U.S. economy with the world economy without adequately protecting workers from global competition.
● Shredding government oversight of international trade, currency, investment and lending.
● Deregulating the financial sector and financial markets.
● Valuing low inflation over full employment and abandoning the latter as a worthy goal of fiscal and economic policy.

The evidence is indisputable. As the planet heats up, the blind march proudly to their undoing.

Image: Another Angry Voice

Friday, September 22, 2017

What's the Diff?

When it comes to the NDP leadership race, Rick Salutin asks the most important question of all: What differentiates the NDP from other political parties? The difference used to be pretty clear:

At any point in the 50 years after its founding in 1932 (as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF: which contained the answer in its name, unlike ‘New Democratic Party’), that question would’ve been easily answered. “Unlike Liberals, we are democratic socialists, we’ll demolish or at least tame the scourge of capitalism” — a view grown mildly resonant again, after 2008.

The last of the party's democratic socialists was Ed Broadbent. But things really got confused when Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair were elected leaders:

Then came Jack. At the convention that chose him, venerable NDPers said embarrassing, dated (if faddish) things like: Jack thinks outside the box. As if that had anything to do with anything or, for that matter, were true.

In 2004, under Jack Layton, the NDP voted to kill a transformative national child-care program, which the Liberal government had enacted, but which died as a result, giving us nine years of Harper conservatism. The NDP has never apologized for that, which would at least show they remember what their principles once were.

Then in 2015, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair promised to run no deficits if elected, after the Liberals promised to do so, effectively swapping principles. Self-congrats are less in order here than self-criticism, if not self-loathing.

These days, Salutin writes, the answer to the question, "What differentiates you?" seems to be "We're morally superior."

You can't win an election if that's the chief plank in your platform.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The First Crooner Won't Be The Last

Abigail Tracy reports, in Vanity Fair,  that Robert Mueller now has his sites set on the White House:

While weeks of steady leaks about the Justice Department’s Russia probe revealed that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is zeroing in on Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, his erstwhile national security adviser, two new reports suggest that the former F.B.I. director has begun to train his focus on the president himself.

Mueller is seeking internal communications and documents related to 13 areas that prosecutors have identified as crucial, particularly those related to the firing of Flynn and Comey, according to both the Post and Times. His team has requested any documents related to Flynn’s interview with the F.B.I. earlier this year; his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and then acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates’s meeting with White House counsel Donald McGahn about Flynn and Flynn’s subsequent firing. Similarly, the F.B.I. is seeking any documents related to meetings between Comey and Trump while the former served as F.B.I. director and any discussions about his subsequent dismissal, including those tied to the White House’s initial statements justifying his ouster.

Trump has done everything in his power to shut Mueller's investigation down. But it continues to accelerate. Apparently, Manafort has been told that Mueller plans to indict him. The question has become who will be the first to sing?

And the first crooner won't be the last.

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Grand And Dangerous Fool

For awhile, the myth circulated that, once Donald Trump became president, he would change. After Trump's speech at the UN yesterday, that myth should be assigned to the ash heap of history. Ross Barkin writes:

Donald Trump will always be Donald Trump. If anyone hasn’t yet learned that lesson, today was educational. Trump, the reality show, punchline president – he’s great for the Emmys! – rambled in front of the United Nations general assembly about “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. His colorful language might even be funny if it weren’t for the fact that Trump controls a nuclear arsenal powerful enough to annihilate humanity several times over.

Trump was a blast from the past. The man who avoided the war in Vietnam with an ailment which never recurred, threatened the rest of the world with American power:

It is disturbing to consider the terrifying stakes resting on the state of one mercurial, TV-addled mind. Trump should not be running a mid-sized city somewhere in the midwest, let alone the most powerful nation on Earth. Most corporations wouldn’t let such a character near their boardrooms, either.

When you cut through the insane rhetoric, one thing is abundantly clear:

The office of the president will not change Trump. He is the same man he was 30 years ago, only older, more embittered, and more emboldened. He is Trump in the United Nations, Trump in the White House, Trump at home at night, railing at the cable news.

Trump claims that he was educated at the best schools. But he was -- and is -- immune to education. He is as ignorant in his 71st year as he was when his father sent him to military school to be "educated."

He is a grand fool -- albeit a grand and dangerous fool.

Image: The Guardian

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taxing Wealth

One hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt warned Americans about, "a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men whose chief object is to hold and increase their power." So he began to tax wealth through the estate tax and the capital gains tax. The breadth and width of these taxes have been significantly reduced. Robert Reich writes:

The estate and capital gains taxes were originally designed to prevent the growth of large dynasties in the U.S. and to reduce inequality.

They’ve been failing to do that. The richest 1 tenth of 1 percent of Americans now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

The estate and capital gains taxes were originally designed to prevent the growth of large dynasties in the U.S. and to reduce inequality.

They’ve been failing to do that. The richest 1 tenth of 1 percent of Americans now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Many of today’s super rich never did a day’s work in their lives. Six out of the ten wealthiest Americans alive today are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined.

Rich millennials will soon acquire even more of the nation’s wealth.

America is now on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. As wealthy boomers expire, an estimated $30 trillion will go to their children over the next three decades.

The march to make the rich richer gathers momentum. And working stiffs -- when they can find jobs -- are left behind.

Image: MinnPost

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Dippers' Choice

Yesterday, the NDP held its final leadership debate. Tim Harper gives a cogent evaluation of the four candidates:

Singh promises growth. Backers believe he will grow personally as he moves from provincial to federal politics. They also believe he will grow the party with fresh membership.

Mention the NDP leadership race to those of us who do not live in the political world, and you get a lot of blank stares. Those same people, however, know Singh.

His opponents believe if he cannot win on the first ballot, he cannot grow.

Angus has worked assiduously to court second-choice support. Caron’s team believes he can finish third, stay on the ballot and grow his support because the Quebec MP has run a strong campaign. Ashton, the only one of the four making a second bid at leadership, has run the most unabashedly leftist campaign and has built perhaps the youngest core of supporters. She has also won union support and is a much more formidable campaigner than the Ashton of 2012.

She could surprise. If she is the first to drop off the ballot, however, her backers are expected to split three ways.

It really is hard to predict who will win. But Harper is also spot on in his analysis of how far the party has fallen:

It needs to find that relevancy in Quebec again and this is a tough road for any of the four, not just the turbaned Singh.

The party sold 124,000 memberships during this race, but a mere 4,907 of them were sold in Quebec, about half the total sold during the 2012 race.

It allowed itself to be outmanoeuvred by Trudeau on traditional left-of-centre issues and has largely been rudderless for 16 months.

However, some of the shine has worn off Justin. There is an opportunity for the NDP -- if they choose the right leader.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some Small Progress

There are some who view last week's deal between Donald Trump and the Democrats as a new day in Washington. Frank Rich cautions his readers to contain their enthusiasm:

This instance of victory for congressional Democrats was a one-off. The new coinage that Trump is somehow an “independent,” with its implicit invocation of the Teddy Roosevelts of American history, is a way of dignifying and normalizing erratic behavior that hasn’t changed from the start. It’s the latest iteration of those previous moments when wishful centrist pundits started saying things like “Today Trump became president” simply because he stuck to a teleprompter script when addressing Congress or bombed Syria. Trump is an “independent” in the same way a toddler is. He jumped at the Democrats’ deal solely on impulse. He remains a drama queen who likes to grab attention any way he can, especially when he thinks he can please a crowd, whether the mobs at his rallies or the press Establishment he claims to loathe but whose approval he has always desperately craved. The most telling aspect of this whole incident was his morning-after phone call to Schumer to express his excitement that he was getting rave reviews not only from Fox but CNN and MSNBC as well.

In the end, the deal didn't achieve much:

The deal’s sole accomplishments were to (temporarily) prevent the government from defaulting or shutting down and make a first installment on Hurricane Harvey relief. That this can be greeted by anyone as any kind of breakthrough in governance shows just how low the bar has become for achievement by this Congress and this White House.

The Democrats should be wary of collaborating with Trump. Republican collaboration has not been good for the party and history will not view their support of Trump favourably:

It didn’t turn out well for the Vichy collaborators in World War II, and the same fate in one way or another will befall those Republican leaders who abandoned whatever principles they had once Trump occupied their party. History will be merciless to them, but how much fun to watch them reduced to thunderstruck supernumeraries in real time.

Some small progress was made last week. But there is no reason to rejoice.

Image: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Golden Mean Has Disappeared

Rather than practising the fine art of political compromise, Lawrence Martin writes, Americans are heading to the extremes:

It was thought that Mr. Sanders was boneyard-bound politically after his primaries' insurgency was snuffed out by Hillary Clinton. It was thought Mr. Bannon's banishment from Donald Trump's inner sanctum might spell the end of his remarkable Svengali-like turn on the Republican stage.
But the two men are still defining or, if you will, redefining U.S. politics. As in: far right, far left, goodbye middle.

The rhetoric on both sides gets shriller as both parties are hollowed out:

Mr. Bannon, who views most traditional Republicans with "contempt, total and complete contempt," vowed to fight in nomination battles to take down entrenched party members who don't adhere to Mr. Trump's wall-building nationalist, populist pitch.

By training their sights on their own Republican flock, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon could shatter the party enough to help the Democrats roar back to power. The Trump/Bannon nativist preachings – that the country went to hell in a hand basket because of such things as rotten trade agreements – increasingly has the look of sophistry.

The argument is that the low 4.4-per-cent unemployment rate doesn't reflect the misery of a citizenry who haven't shared in the economic upturn of recent years. But a U.S. Census Bureau report this week said in fact the recovery was distributing benefits more broadly, that the median household income jumped 3.2 per cent after inflation last year, that poverty numbers are declining. Meanwhile, interest rates are low, inflation is low and the stock market is high.

Meanwhile, Sanders is driving wedges into his own party: 

While the Sanders ideal of universal coverage is laudable, it poses many risks for the party. Many Democrats fear it will hurt them in swing states in the midterm elections. For Republicans, the call for socialized medicine is music to the ears. One of the few things they still agree on is the need for tax cuts; the Sanders plan would hike the tax burden significantly.

The Republicans, with Senator Lindsey Graham heading the effort, are making a last-ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. They can now use the Sanders socialized-medicine plank as a weapon. If we don't act on Obamacare, they can argue, look what happens next. You'll feel the Bern. The socialist's tax burn.

The Greeks preached the concept of the golden mean. As time went on, they found it increasingly hard to practise it. The same phenomenon seems to be happening in the United States. 

Image: slideplayer

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sparking Revolution

It costs money for any world leader to go anywhere. But, Michael Harris writes, because ordinary people are footing the bill, those leaders should ride herd on travel costs. Consider some of those costs:

The King of Personal Pork is undoubtedly President Donald Trump. In just 100 days in office, he has gouged U.S. taxpayers out of $100 million for his travel, including those frequent weekend junkets to his Mar-a-Lago resort — free airfare, free security, and, of course, free advertising for his businesses.
President Obama’s travel bill, by way of comparison, was $97 million … over eight years.

In 2012, taxpayers shelled out $1.2 million to ship two armoured Cadillacs and a bulletproof SUV to India for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to that country. The Indian government offered a few limos of its own for the historic occasion; apparently they didn’t meet Steve’s high standards.
So Harper ordered a Canadian Forces C-17 to fly in his own wheels on this 22,000-kilometre round-trip — maybe the most expensive taxi ride in history. (I’m assuming the cargo plane was too small to also accommodate Harper’s ego, which travelled by Challenger jet.) When the heat came down for this ludicrous extravagance, Harper did what he always did when he found himself in a corner. He blamed someone else — in this case, the RCMP.

And that brings Harris to Justin Trudeau and his Christmas vacation in the Bahamas:

It was reported last May that the prime minister’s holiday excursion to Bell Island in the Bahamas — where he, his family, a nanny and a few colleagues were guests of a billionaire — cost taxpayers $127,000.

Thanks to the excellent reporting of the CBC’s Elizabeth Thompson, we now know the true cost of the PM’s sleepover with the Aga Khan (who, by the way, also lobbies the government of Canada): not $127,000, but $215,398.

The lesson is pretty straightforward. Those who claim to be champions of the middle class should not act like royalty. That kind of behaviour sparks revolution.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mr Positive?

When Andrew Scheer was elected leader of the Conservative Party, he promised that he would promote a "positive message." Andrew Coyne writes that, so far, he hasn't been very positive:

As Parliament resumes, we’ve yet to see much of that vaunted positivity from Scheer. He has let it be known his party will be focused on three things in the fall sitting: the settlement of Omar Khadr’s lawsuit against the government, at a cost of $10.5 million; the recent influx of asylum-seekers from the United States, primarily in Quebec; and proposed changes to the taxation of private corporations, the subject of so much recent vitriol.

On each of these issues, Scheer is howling in pure Conservative boilerplate:

It is the easiest thing in the world to oppose the Khadr payment — polls show it is wildly unpopular — but is that really the most crucial issue facing the nation, two months later? And can the Conservatives say with any certainty that fighting the case to the bitter end would have saved any money?

The asylum-seeker issue, likewise, appears already to be fading: the rate of inflow has fallen from nearly 300 a day to fewer than 100. And while it’s certainly possible it could flare again, we have yet to hear a plausible solution from the opposition.

As for the tax ruckus, there are any number of valid conservative critiques that could be offered: the government’s proposals are too complex, too intrusive, too costly and so on.
If the party were feeling extra adventurous, it might even offer, you know, positive alternatives: perhaps reducing the incentive to incorporate, by closing the gap between the small business rate and the top personal rate, or a more broad-based reform of the tax system that would address a number of distortions and inequities at one go, rather than picking just one.

The faces change. But they offer the same regurgitated policies. That's not positive.

Image: The National Post

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Capitalism and Climate Change

In today's Guardian,  George Monbiot writes that capitalism -- and, most particularly, neo-liberal capitalism -- cannot solve the problem of climate change. It can only exacerbate it:

As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo.

Friedman popularized the theory that the invisible hand of the market solved all human problems. All we need do is to put an appropriate price on a problem, and it will go away. But there are some things you can't price. Some things -- like human life, species and ecosystems . . . cannot be redeemed for money."

Friedman also popularized the idea that market solutions encouraged predictability. But the Greeks knew what Friedman didn't -- that much of life is unpredictable:

Environmental collapse does not progress by neat increments. You can estimate the money you might make from building an airport: this is likely to be linear and fairly predictable. But you cannot reasonably estimate the environmental cost the airport might incur. Climate breakdown will behave like a tectonic plate in an earthquake zone: periods of comparative stasis followed by sudden jolts. Any attempt to compare economic benefit with economic cost in such cases is an exercise in false precision.

We've been living in Friedman's world for the past fifty years. We are now reaping the results.

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

This Is The Moment

The news coming from North America over the last two weeks has been increasingly dark. Mother Nature is not happy. Bill McKibben writes:

That one long screed of news from one continent in one week (which could be written about many other continents and many other weeks – just check out the recent flooding in south Asia for instance) is a precise, pixelated portrait of a heating world. Because we have burned so much oil and gas and coal, we have put huge clouds of CO2 and methane in the air; because the structure of those molecules traps heat the planet has warmed; because the planet has warmed we can get heavier rainfalls, stronger winds, drier forests and fields. It’s not mysterious, not in any way. It’s not a run of bad luck. It’s not Donald Trump (though he’s obviously not helping). It’s not hellfire sent to punish us. It’s physics.

People have been ignoring the physics of climate change the way they used to ignore the link between smoking and cancer. But now:

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the equivalent of one of those transient ischaemic attacks – yeah, your face is drooping oddly on the left, but you can continue. Maybe. If you start taking your pills, eating right, exercising, getting your act together.

That’s the stage we’re at now – not the warning on the side of the pack, but the hacking cough that brings up blood. But what happens if you keep smoking? You get worse, till past a certain point you’re not continuing. We’ve increased the temperature of the Earth a little more than 1C so far, which has been enough extra heat to account for the horrors we’re currently witnessing. And with the momentum built into the system, we’re going to go somewhere near 2C, no matter what we do. That will be considerably worse than where we are now, but maybe it will be expensively endurable.
The problem is, our current business-as-usual trajectory takes us to a world that’s about 3.5C warmer. That is to say, even if we kept the promises we made at Paris (which Trump has already, of course, repudiated) we’re going to build a planet so hot that we can’t have civilisations.

In other words, this is the moment when we either do something to halt climate change  -- or we perish.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Drowning In Ignorance

Just before Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida, Rush Limbaugh raged at climate scientists. Paul Krugman writes:

On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh accused weather scientists of inventing Irma’s threat for political and financial reasons: “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it,” he declared, adding that “fear and panic” help sell batteries, bottled water, and TV advertising.

Then Limbaugh fled his Palm Beach castle. Even as Harvey and Irma tear up the Gulf Coast, conservatives refuse to talk about climate change:

For example, Scott Pruitt, the pollution- and polluter-friendly head of the Environmental Protection Agency, says that now is not the time to bring up the subject — that doing so is “insensitive” to the people of Florida. Needless to say, for people like Pruitt there will never be a good time to talk about climate.

Denying science while attacking scientists as politically motivated and venal is standard operating procedure on the American right. When Donald Trump declared climate change a “hoax,” he was just being an ordinary Republican.

And thanks to Trump’s electoral victory, know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the U.S. government. When you read news analyses claiming that Trump’s deal with Democrats to keep the government running for a few months has somehow made him a moderate independent, remember that’s it not just Pruitt: Almost every senior figure in the Trump administration dealing with the environment or energy is both an establishment Republican and a denier of climate change and of scientific evidence in general.

They are a party and a government of the willfully ignorant. They would rather drown in their ignorance than face the future.

Image: CNN Money

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Terminal Decline

The ravages of Neo-liberalism are everywhere. Will Hutton writes that neo-liberal prescriptions have left Britain in permanent decline. A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy suggests that recent history is a tale of underachievement:

a woeful track record on R&D; overemphasis on high, short-term profits; an incredibly poor record on productivity and stagnating real wages. On almost every international comparison, Britain fares badly, with a desperately weak export sector overfocused on financial services and a few manufacturing industries.

Many aspects – the structure of our companies, the priorities of finance, the skills of our workforce, the creaking infrastructure, the weakness of the tax base – need to be addressed because the failures are interlinked. We have an economic muddle rather than an economic model, declares the IPPR commission.

Yet, despite clear evidence of failure, there appears to be little political will to change things:

There hasn’t been a reframing of the way capitalist institutions work since the 1930s and 40s. The change in the 1970s was a shift to the right, still firmly in control of the national narrative, and now running the rightwing coup that is Brexit.

We are tempted by the easy option of understanding failure and decline on this scale in terms of individual moral failings for which we are being punished. The benefit cheats in the flats opposite or the migrants allowed to crowd in a safe house, snapping up jobs on zero-hour contracts. Then there’s soft liberalism with its pernicious indulgent views.
Powerful rightwing newspapers that foreground the same stories about welfare cheats and immigration while relentlessly attacking liberal institutions – the BBC, the NHS, the EU – reinforce these reflex reactions. They would never endorse or champion the IPPR’s powerful analysis. And the written word, even from a tawdry biased media, retains disproportionate cultural force.

Too few figures at the top of our society speak out either in defence of Enlightenment values or at the evident crisis before their eyes. They fear being struck off the lists for non-executive directorships and public appointments by making criticisms that could help the dread forces of Labourism. Not to mention lost invitations to the ritziest of parties.

It's a familiar story. What has happened in Britain has happened in Canada and the United States. Hutton suggests that things will only change if they get catastrophic. And Britain is flirting with catastrophe:

The right is managing a cockup of such epic proportions that some in the Tory elite are beginning to dissociate themselves from a brand that is becoming as toxic and emblematic of failure as the Romanovs and Hapsburgs. Tory newspapers are so biased that their influence is slipping.

The United States is in the same disarray. In Canada, things are not quite so desperate. But the direction is the same.

Image: openDemocracy

Saturday, September 09, 2017

An Insurrection Like No Other

Political insurrections are common occurrences. Lawrence Martin writes that, in Canada, we've had plenty:

John Diefenbaker's Tory leadership occasioned a venomous party revolt, as did Joe Clark's. Brian Mulroney's Tories won a smashing victory in 1984 and another majority in 1988, but that wasn't good enough: With his Reform Party, Preston Manning led a populist rebellion that effectively killed off the federal Progressive Conservative Party, reducing it to two seats.

There followed on the Liberal Party side the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin wars. Mr. Chrétien won two majorities, whereupon the insurrection of Martin rebels began. He won a third, only to see his antagonists gather in greater numbers and force him out. There's a book coming out on Mr. Chrétien next month by Bob Plamondon called The Shawinigan Fox. It has revelations, which I've read, about the feud. Warning to the Martin crowd: Duck!

But what is happening in the United States is different. The insurrection starts at the top and is moving down through the Republican Party:

Mr. Trump's fiscal deal with Democrats – a short-term fix – to increase the debt limit undercut his party. The Democratic plan had been turned down by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Mr. Trump's Treasury Secretary, Steven Munchin, wanted a different, longer-term pact but was cut off by Mr. Trump at a meeting in which the President sided with Democratic leaders in the room. "Shell-shocked" was the term making the rounds to describe the GOP reaction.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Trump put his party in a bind with his withdrawal of support for legislation protecting young immigrants. He gave his party a short time frame to find a compromise. Before that, he enraged many fellow Republicans with his commentary on Charlottesville. He attacked his party brethren for failing to rid the country of Obamacare, even though he deserved much of the blame. His hardline take on trade and protectionism is opposed. He's in a feud with the party over funding for the border wall with Mexico.

What is happening has a lot to do with the shambles that is Donald Trump. But its roots are to be found in a party which has consistently catered to the rich. Trump is a rich man who works for men like him. Rich men are accustomed to getting their way -- no matter the cost.

The cost is now painfully evident.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Taking Away Tax Breaks

There has been a lot of sound and fury recently about something called the Canadian-controlled private corporation: Tom Walkom explains:

It’s a form of corporate organization used extensively, but not exclusively, by small business. More to the point, it gives the owners significant tax advantages that most Canadians don’t enjoy.

More than that: 

Independent research by tax experts such as the University of Ottawa’s Michael Wolfson show that the use of these private corporations has skyrocketed in recent years.

In one study published by the Canadian Tax Journal, Wolfson and others calculated that the tax advantages associated with private corporations disproportionally favour the top one per cent of income earners.

The Liberals' plan to scuttle the tax break has caused a firestorm:

Small-business lobbies such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business have reacted furiously to Morneau’s proposal. Farmers are nervous. Liberal MPs are being bearded in their ridings.

The Canadian Medical Association, many of whose physician members have formed private corporations specifically to take advantage of the tax loopholes Morneau wants to close, have levelled volleys at his scheme.

In an attempt to appeal to the prime minister’s avowed feminism, the CMA has even played the gender card, noting that the tax breaks the government wants to end allow female physicians to fund maternity leave benefits they would not otherwise enjoy.

No one mentions that "like all other self-employed individuals, physicians who choose to pay employment insurance premiums are eligible to receive up to 50 weeks of maternity and parental benefits from the government."

Canadians will sing  the praises of a government which gives them a new tax break. But woe betide the government which takes a tax break away.


Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Hollow President

E. J. Dionne has Donald Trump's number. He writes in The Washington Post:

One of the most cynical quotations in history is also one of the most widely attributed. Let’s ponder the version associated with Groucho Marx: “Sincerity is the key to success. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

From the moment Donald Trump opened his quest for the presidency, this idea has defined him and served as an organizing principle of his politics.

It should be clear by now that Trump is an orange mass of insecurities, always worried about how his show is playing:

Everything that comes out of his mouth or appears on his Twitter feed is calculated for its political and dramatic effect. Trump is the exact opposite of what he tries to project: The thing he cares about is what others think of him. So he’ll adjust his views again and again to serve his ends as circumstances change. He’s not Mr. Fearless. He’s Mr. Insecure.

This is the most straightforward explanation for the fiasco created by the president’s mean-spirited decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Trump was trying to square incompatible desires: to look super tough on immigrants to his dwindling band of loyal supporters, and to live up to his expressions of “love” (you have to wonder why Trump throws this word around so much) for the 800,000 residents who were brought to the United States illegally as children, conduct productive lives and are as “American” as any of the rest of us.

And then, when the bad reviews poured in, Trump backed away from even his muddle of a policy. He tweeted that if Congress didn’t act, “I will revisit this issue!” So a six-month delay might not really be a six-month delay. It might be extended. Or maybe not. Who knows? Adding an exclamation point to your waffling doesn’t help.

The man lacks an inner core. His persona changes with his ratings. He's the a product of reality television. He's the hollow president.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

An Economic Ignoramus

Paul Krugman wrote yesterday that Donald Trump's decision to kill DACA was a "moral obscenity." But, on simple economic grounds, it's stupid:

First note that whatever you think about the economics of less-educated immigrants — most of the evidence suggests that they don’t depress wages, but that’s another discussion — none of it applies to DREAMers. Their educational and behavioral profile, as Cato notes, doesn’t resemble the average immigrant, let alone the average undocumented immigrant; they look like H-1B visa holders, that is, skilled immigrants we have specifically allowed in because they help the economy.

Beyond that, DREAMers are young — which means that they help the economy in not one but two big ways, because they mitigate the economic problems caused by an aging population.
One of those problems is fiscal: as the population ages, there are fewer working-age members contributing taxes to pay for Social Security and Medicare. A cohort of relatively high-wage, highly motivated people mostly in their 20s, likely to pay lots of taxes for decades, is exactly what the doctor ordered to make that issue less severe.

Beyond that, sending dreamers home will cause "a sharp slowdown in the growth of the working-age population, which means less incentive to invest in structures, factories, and more. (The demographic issue is why Japan, with low fertility and great hostility to immigration, entered a zero-rate regime a decade before the rest of us.) 

Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he says something stupid. But his actions prove that this supposedly smart business man is an economic ignoramus.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Not Getting All Shook Up

Donald Trump keeps threatening to tear up NAFTA. Tom Walkom writes that there's no need to panic. In fact, Trump may be doing us a favour:

We know that Canada and the U.S. are already at daggers drawn over a provision in the current deal that gives each member state a limited right to challenge one another’s trade practices before an independent tribunal.

Trump wants the provision scrapped altogether while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he won’t sign a deal without it.

The two countries also disagree vigorously over U.S. Buy America policies as well as Trump’s insistence that manufactured goods sold in the U.S. contain a specific amount of U.S. content.

Mexico’s government, which also is at loggerheads with Trump, is already working on alternative plans for trade diversification should the NAFTA talks fail. Trudeau would be wise to do the same.

The recent spike in gas prices has reminded Canadians just how closely the Canadian economy is linked to the American economy. When things get rough in Houston, the bad news is felt in Napanee. It would be wise to diversify:

Indeed, some diversification has already begun. The recently negotiated trade deal between Canada and the European Union, while fatally flawed in its details, is at least the right idea. So is the long-simmering but never-acted-upon plan to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan.

Canada has already signed a foreign investment pact with China and started work on a comprehensive trade deal. The foreign investment pact is lopsided in China’s favour. With luck, Ottawa will do better on any trade deal.

And, truth be told, we didn't do so badly before we put so many of our eggs in the NAFTA basket:

Canada traded quite handily with the U.S. before signing a formal free trade agreement with that country. It could do so again.

A recent study done for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out that even without NAFTA or its predecessor, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1989, most Canadian exports to the U.S. would face either zero or moderate tariffs.

There are other nations eager to buy the goods and services Canada produces. Canadian governments have tried before to make the country’s economy less reliant on the U.S. Pierre Trudeau’ so-called Third Option, including his brief dalliance with economic nationalism, was an expression of this idea.

Trump takes pleasuring in rattling those he perceives as his enemies -- and he sees everyone as his enemy. We shouldn't get all shook up.



Monday, September 04, 2017

North Korea's Nukes

Over the weekend, North Korea claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb. The test, Michael Harris writes, brought universal condemnation:

Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, slammed Kim Jong-un for his “reckless” action.

India “deplored” the nuclear test, which it claimed had “gone against the objective of the de-nuclearlization of the Korean Peninsula.”

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the North Korean test with what he described as “the utmost vigour,” a lawless act that the UN Security Council should deal with expeditiously. He forgets that when France was blowing up paradise in the South Pacific with its nuclear tests, Charles de Gaulle had this to say by way of justification: “We are compelled to acquire the most powerful weapons of the age.”

And therein lies the problem. The nations condemning North Korea already possess nuclear weapons.  They have no intention of giving them up. And there are recent lessons about what happens to countries that do give up their nukes:

Compare that [Kim's nuclear program] to the route chosen by Col. Muammar Gaddafi — to give up his weapons of mass destruction program to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein. Instead, Gaddafi’s regime crumbled, and he ended up on the wrong end of a bayonet. Kim was 19 years old when that happened but I’m betting he remembers it like yesterday.

The reason Kim is pursuing nuclear weapons is that he has seen that they are the ultimate sanctuary for anyone who possesses them. India, Pakistan, and Israel all obtained nuclear weapons despite the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which came into force in 190 nations in 1970. Those countries have faced no consequences for that.  Instead, they took their place in the hierarchy of powerful nations of the world not to be trifled with.

 So far, that insight seems to have alluded our present generation of Western leaders.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Look At The Connections

For the moment, Hurricane Harvey has taken the focus off Donald's Trump's connections with Russia. Ruth Marcus writes that it's important to keep your eyes on Trump's Russian business partners:

While he ran for president, Trump was simultaneously — and secretly — pursuing financial opportunities with a foreign adversary. Not just any adversary, but Russia, a country described by his party’s previous presidential nominee as the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” And not just pursuing financial opportunities in Russia, but actively seeking the help of at least one senior Russian official to gain government approval for the project.

Once again: This is not okay. When you run for president, you cannot — you should not — put yourself in the position of using that candidacy as a door-opening business opportunity. You cannot — even if the prospect of winning seems remote — put yourself in a position of being financially beholden to a hostile foreign power.

Trump Tower Moscow was not another instance of Trump as unabashed cross-promoter-in-chief, like using the campaign press corps to help tout the reopening of his Scottish golf course. It represented something much more disturbing, even unpatriotic.

And recall what Trump said during the campaign about his Russian connections:

“For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted in July 2016. This past January, as Trump prepared to take office, he reiterated, “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” Shades of Bill Clinton — it depends on what the meaning of “have” is.  

And, after he assumed office, Trump still maintained he had no important ties to Russia:

As recently as his interview this summer with the New York Times, Trump disingenuously played down his financial interests in Russia. “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? . . . They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one.” Including the one he was pursuing while running for president, but failed to mention.

The connections are there. They've been there for a long time. Hurricane Harvey is an opportunity for Trump to change the channel. Wise observers should not follow his lead.


Saturday, September 02, 2017

It Pays To Have A Plan

Hurricane Harvey has laid bare the truth about Houston. Doug Saunders writes:

It is one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States: Its north, east and south are at least 90 per cent non-white, while its centre and west are mostly white. These non-white neighbourhoods are home to 81 per cent of the city's open drainage ditches, 78 per cent of closed landfills, 84 per cent of carcinogen emitters and 88 per cent of hazardous waste sites, as well as 94 per cent of its worst schools. In January, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development found Houston in violation of the Civil Rights Act for its discriminatory housing policies.

It is America's most economically segregated city, with chasms of asphalt between the upwardly mobile and the 600,000 undocumented residents making $20 (U.S.) a day. And its sprawl and isolation prevent Houston from building efficient mass-transportation and energy solutions, making it one of the least ecological cities – a problem that, if not fixed, will contribute to a rise in the size and intensity of future hurricanes.
Houston's underlying problem, as with Hurricane Harvey's underlying problem, is its lack of a plan. It is an unplanned, randomly sprawling city whose oceans of asphalt have exposed it to the worst ravages of nature and the worst human responses. It needs to be built back better.

Time will tell if the city will be built back better. But, to do that, there has to be a plan. And, up until now, Houston -- like much of the United States -- has been fighting against developing a plan. The red flags signalling the dangers of climate change should be flying in the United States and around the world. 

To date, they're hard to find.

Image: Houston Chronicle