Saturday, March 31, 2018

Some Much Needed Perspective

Recently, the government announced that its "market debt" has exceeded one trillion dollars. The news was treated as a bombshell. Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page warned, “the $1 trillion threshold is extraordinarily important." But Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write that this is not the first time a Canadian government has hit that threshold:

Under current borrowing procedures “market debt” in its broadest sense exceeded 1 trillion in 2012-13. The government is not facing a structural imbalance between revenues and expenditures or a fiscal crisis; and deficit elimination is not a necessary requirement for fiscal credibility.

It all depends how you count and what numbers you leave out:

In the 2018 Budget, it is projected that “outstanding government and Crown corporation market debt will reach $1,066 billion in 2018-19, including $755 billion in projected year-end government market debt and an anticipated Crown corporation market debt for three of the financial institutions of approximately $311 billion”.

The debt of crown corporations did not used to be included in government debt figures. Like other corporations, they borrowed on the private market and that debt was treated as private debt. It was the Conservatives who changed that practice:

In the 2008 Budget, the Harper Government announced that the Government would consolidate the borrowings of the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC), the Farm Credit Corporate (FCC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) into the federal debt program, rather than having them borrow individually in the private market.  It was argued that consolidating the borrowings of these Crown corporations would reduce borrowing costs for them by eliminating the “agency spread”.
However, the budget also stated that the consolidation of these Crown borrowings would not have any effect on the federal government’s debt. This is because assets in the form of loans to these Crown corporations match federal borrowings related to these Crown corporations.  In fact, these three Crown corporations are in a net asset position.

The Liberals have re-instated the Conservative method of counting:

In the Debt Management Strategy for 2018-19, the two types of “market debt” are listed because the Government again requires borrowing authority from Parliament in order to undertake any new borrowings above certain limits. The Harper Government had suspended this long-standing requirement in the 2008 Budget. In the Liberals’ election platform, they promised to restore this requirement and the government did so in 2017. They are now being attacked by the Conservative Opposition for being “more” transparent and accountable to Parliament than they were.

So, while you listen to Conservative furor over the Liberals' mounting debt, knowing a little bit of recent history can provide some much needed perspective.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Competing On The World Stage

Canadian Journalism is in crisis. Michael Harris writes that a simple tax change could help stabalize the situation:

Canadian tax law has long provided incentives for companies to advertise in Canadian magazines, newspapers, and on television, but the tax code does not apply to digital media. If a Canadian corporation buys an ad in a foreign-owned newspaper or broadcast, it doesn’t get to count that as a business expense on its corporate taxes. This was to encourage Canadian newspapers and broadcast outlets to flourish against American competitors that benefit from enormous economies of scale. It was to ensure there was Canadian content created to protect our culture from being Disney-fied, and prevent us from becoming pale imitations of our information-spewing American cousins.

As things stand now, if Canadians buy advertising on Facebook or the Google platforms, they get a tax break:

Advertisements purchased on foreign web sites have always been — and remain today — fully tax deductible under the Income Tax Act. So Canadian companies now simply buy their ads on Google and Facebook — which take more than half the revenues and flood the marketplace — instead of sites owned by Canadian media companies. No one can compete with their audience size.

That doesn't solve the problem of the egregious lies that are posted on both platforms. One of the most egregious occurred a couple of weeks ago:

Emma Gonzalez, one of the leading voices of students demanding gun control in the United States, was recently photographed tearing up a rifle range target. But when her image was flashed across social media, it was the U.S. Constitution the student was ripping in two.
The gun nuts had their come-to-Jesus moment. These kids were not social activists in any positive way, they were subversives. It was all right there on the Internet. The real picture received less attention than the fake one.

There are some who would wonder why Canadians should get a tax break from an organization that is as effective as Dr. Goebbels' operation. The tax break wouldn't excuse the falsehoods. But if would help Canadian journalists compete on the world stage.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Very Interesting Election

The Ontario Liberals released their election budget yesterday. And they're making big promises. Tom Walkom writes:

It cements in place Wynne’s earlier commitment to universal pharmacare by eliminating the deductibles and user fees that 2.6 million seniors must currently pay when they use the Ontario Drug Benefit program.
It introduces a rudimentary denticare program for those not already covered by workplace or public plans.
And, as the piece de resistance, it pledges to introduce free daycare for all children from the age of two and a half until they reach kindergarten.
To help pay for this, it raises taxes by an average of $200 per person for the 1.8 million upper and middle income earners who make more than $95,000 a year.
Along the way, the budget promises much-needed money for those the Liberals have stiffed before, including hospitals, long-term care residents and the poor.

Kathleen Wynne is betting that -- as was the case with Justin Trudeau's Liberals -- Ontarians will be willing to tolerate deficits to get these things. And you can bet Doug Ford and the PC's will hammer the Liberals for their red ink.

But Walkom writes that the real question is: Can we trust you? In the past the Liberals have not kept all their promises:

Will the Liberals suddenly find their promises too expensive to implement?
Will they find, as they have before, that times have changed, that the fiscal situation has deteriorated and that, sadly, circumstances demand cutbacks and the privatization of public assets.

The NDP haven't released their platform yet. But Andrea Horwath seems to be signalling that she will outspend the Liberals.

Walkom calls the budget "a masterpiece of social democratic policy." But is it for real? We'll see. It should be a very interesting election.

Image: Global News

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Trump And Fox News

Robert Reich writes that Donald Trump is preparing for war. The war will be a war over his presidency -- and possibly a hot war to boot:

Trump is preparing for an epic war over the future of his presidency. This has required purging naysayers from his Cabinet and White House staff, and replacing them with bomb-throwing advocates like Bolton and Kudlow
Fox News is preparing for the same war, and has made a parallel purge – removing Trump critics like George Will, Megyn Kelly, and Rich Lowry, and installing Trump marketers like Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and Sebastian Gorka.

In this war, Fox News will serve as the state propaganda machine:

The membrane separating Trump’s brain from Fox News has always been thin, but in coming months it’s likely to disappear entirely.
We all know Trump watches an inordinate amount of Fox News, beginning in the wee hours with “Fox and Friends,” which provides much of the fodder for his morning tweets.
Trump has made John Bolton his National Security Advisor not because Bolton has valuable insights about foreign affairs, but because Bolton – for years, an on-air fixture on Fox News – is a showman who knows how to sell big lies and crazy ideas, and thereby help Trump in the looming battles.
As undersecretary of state for arms control in the Bush administration Bolton did more than anyone else to market the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. During his year and a half at the United Nations, Bolton was so outspokenly critical of the organization that he gained the devotion of xenophobic conservatives.

And the war will be an all out war -- a war in which there are no safe havens:

When the occupant of the White House and the sycophants surrounding him are prepared to do and use anything – including trade wars with China and possibly hot wars with North Korea and Iran – to win a political war at home, nothing and no one is safe.

Image: Daily Kos

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Trump's Consigliari

Last Sunday evening was a dark and Stormy night. Yesterday, Donald Trump's spokesman announced that Trump didn't believe a word Ms. Daniels said. But the real story isn't about the sex. It's about the cover up -- and how it was enforced by Trump's consigliari -- Micheal Cohen. Jonathan Chait writes that Cohen has a track record. And part of that record is about how he issues threats:

Daniels describes being approached by a man in a parking lot who threatened her: "a guy walked up on me and said to me, 'Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.' And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, 'That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.'”

It all sounds like something out of a Martin Scorsese movie. But that scenario fits Cohen:

Cohen is a Trump cultist, whose legal skills, such as they are, compose a small portion of his value to the Trump organization. His true value is as a goon. “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen said in 2011. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” In 2015, he told a reporter, “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

Trump has run the presidency the way he ran his family business -- like a New York mobster. And Cohen has been by his side ever since Trump lost the services of Roy Cohn:

Intimidating and threatening people who get in Trump’s way seems to be a recurring theme in his business interactions. There are many documented instances of this behavior. One victim of Trump’s shady financial maneuverings in Atlantic City received a phone call and was told, “My name is Carmine. I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.”

Trump is increasingly frightened. He knows that Robert Mueller is the guy who sent John Gotti to jail. He knows that he can't intimidate Mueller. But he can fire him. However, one wonders if Trump understands the firestorm that would bring on.


Monday, March 26, 2018

A Rare And Endangered Spieces

Elizabeth May talks the talk and walks the walk. Over the weekend, she was arrested in Burnaby. Michael Harris writes:

The Green Party leader was protesting Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion when she and Kennedy Stewart, the NDP MP for Burnaby South, were arrested at the gate of one of the company’s work sites Friday. So far, 100 protesters have been charged along with them, including the co-founder of Greenpeace.
The charge that the two politicians face is civil contempt for blockading a road. It’s not a criminal charge and the politicians are free to continue their protest of the pipeline project.

May's arrest brought howls from the usual suspects:

The boo-birds who have attacked May for her “illegal” protest, also like to paint her as zealot-in-chief of the anti-development, tree-hugging set. It is true May loves trees. She proved that 40 years ago as a 20-something protester in her epic fight against Big Pulp and Paper during Nova Scotia’s bitter spruce budworm wars.

But May is no wild eyed radical. She does not want to shut the Tar Sands down:

The Green Party leader does not argue that the tar sands should be shut down. In fact, she endorses the position taken by Unifor, the major union for tar sands workers, that Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion is a job and profit-sucker, as well as a threat to the environment.
Instead of sending diluted bitumen south, where the U.S. makes all the value-added profit, May says that solid bitumen should be processed or refined in Alberta for the Canadian market.

However, the Darwinian capitalism of this century decrees that society absorbs long term costs and companies reap short term profits. May is swimming against the stream. But, Harris writes, history shows that those who swim against the stream often change their societies for the better:

From Magna Carta to Martin Luther, from the Boston Tea Party to the French Revolution, individual rights and freedoms have advanced on the shoulders of a few souls brave enough to stand up to arbitrary measures that reduced their fellows to serfdom. And yes, they sometimes broke the law to do it. Elizabeth May, Canada’s Joan of Arc of the environment, is in that tradition.

May is the kind of politician who is not only rare. She is also an endangered species.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

What Will We Do About Myanmar?

When the slaughter in Rwanda occured -- twenty-five years ago -- the nations of the Western world pleaded ignorance. Gerry Caplan writes:

Many in the Western world were indeed ignorant about the situation, which is one of the explanations later adduced for the failure of the “international community” to intervene and stop the slaughter. Most Western newspapers and TV networks either didn’t know or didn’t care about a tiny nation in Central Africa called Rwanda. For many, their negligible interest in Africa was appeased by the first free election in South Africa, which happened to take place in the same month, April, 1994, that the genocide began.

The West made a collective vow that it would never  happen again. It did not take long before that resolve was tested:

The first test case − the “next Rwanda” − came soon enough, as the government of Sudan unleashed mass death against the Darfuri people in the west of the country in 2003. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote column after outraged column on his first-hand observations in Darfur. Movie stars investigated and spoke out. A worldwide grassroots campaign materialized. Thousands of Canadians added their voices.

However, even though

U.S. President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, both agreed that a genocide was being organized against the people of Darfur . . . somehow, that did not impact American policy. Despite the provisions of the 1948 UN Convention Against Genocide, neither the U.S. nor any other government took direct action against the government of Sudan.

And now we are faced with the slaughter of the Rohingya in Myanmar:

Millions around the world seem to care about the fate of the Rohingya, none of them with any power to intervene. The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, reports that Myanmar’s military have committed “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya people. Yet the UN Security Council is paralyzed, this time by China, just as it was paralyzed by Clinton’s America over Rwanda.

Will we do something?

Tony Burman, the excellent Canadian foreign-affairs columnist, [is] pressing hard for some kind of intervention – ANY kind, almost. Mr. Burman wants Canada to get involved, and we can surely be certain that when Bob Rae – a wise and sensible man — soon hands in his report as the federal government’s special envoy for the crisis, he too will call on Canada to take action of some kind.

We have volunteered to go into Mali. What will we do about Myanmar?

Image:  The New York Times

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hijacking The Internet

Jonathan Freeland writes that the Cambridge Analytica story reveals that the rich and the powerful have hijacked the internet. It was not supposed to be this way:

In its infancy, the internet was hailed as a harbinger of equality and liberty. The new gospel held that “information wants to be free” – free from censorship and free of charge. A new techno-utopia seemed at hand. Or as Zuckerberg defined his company’s purpose: “Facebook gives people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."
Thanks to social media, the internet had apparently decentralised power. In the old days, information was passed down from the mountain top – by a government, say, or a news organisation – to the crowd below. Now the crowd could speak to each other and to the world. At least one aspect of the techno-utopians’ early hopes seemed to have materialised.

But recent revelations have shown us what has really been going on. Instead of upending the pyramid, social media have firmly entrenched the pyramid:

For what we now understand is that those at the top, the political parties or governments that could afford it, have been engaged in a radical act of recentralising power. They saw the way social media was working, empowering individuals and networks of individuals, and they decided to grab those same weapons for themselves.
What Cambridge Analytica promised its clients was a return to the old form of media distribution, with those at the top sending their message to the crowd below. Except this time, that message would be disguised as if it were the organic word of the crowd itself, spread virally from one person to another, with no traces or fingerprints left by those at the top. As a Cambridge Analytica executive said, unwittingly caught on film: “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow … it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

What's to be done? Freeland writes that there are several options:

It could be regulation; it could be anti-trust legislation to break up those tech giants that act as virtual monopolies. I like Derakhshan’s idea of obliging Facebook and others to open up a marketplace of algorithms: if you don’t like the current social media preference for popularity (retweets) and novelty (“latest”), you should be free to choose a different algorithm that acts on different values.

Unfettered algorithims -- like an unfettered market -- cause disasters.


Friday, March 23, 2018

When Stupidity Marries Insanity

Yesterday, Donald Trump announced $60 billion dollars of tariffs against China. Today, China announced its own tariffs on American goods. Paul Krugman writes that, when it comes to trade, China is a bad actor:

When it comes to the global economic order, China is in fact a bad citizen. In particular, it plays fast and loose on intellectual property, in effect ripping off technologies and ideas developed elsewhere. It also subsidizes some industries, including steel, contributing to world excess capacity.

But Trump's "solution" is no solution at all -- because he doesn't understand how China fits into the global trading structure:

China is, as some put it, the Great Assembler: Many Chinese exports are actually put together from parts produced elsewhere, especially South Korea and Japan. The classic example is the iPhone, which is “made in China” but in which Chinese labor and capital account for only a few percent of the final price.

When Trump starts a trade war with China, he also starts one with Japan and South Korea -- not to mention American companies like Apple. And,

by bumbling into a trade war, Trump undermines our ability to do anything about the real issues. If you want to pressure China into respecting intellectual property, you need to assemble a coalition of nations hurt by Chinese ripoffs — that is, other advanced countries, like Japan, South Korea and European nations. Yet Trump is systematically alienating those countries, with things like his on-again-off-again steel tariff and his threat to put tariffs on goods that, while assembled in China, are mainly produced elsewhere.

As is always the case, Trump's policies are rooted in appalling ignorance. Vanity Fair reports that Trump has told associates,"Now I'm fucking doing it my way." When Stupidity marries Insanity, their offspring will be Explosions. The only questions are:  How many and how big will they be? Now that John Bolton has been hired as Trump's National Security Advisor, there should be several big ones.

Image: Disability Arts Online

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Lesson To Keep In Mind

Martin Regg Cohn has just returned from a trip to the United States. And, as Ontario heads into an election -- with Doug Ford leading the parade -- he asked for advice from fellow journalists about how to cover a populist:

I asked an old friend, New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler, what lessons he has learned from reporting on Trump’s ascendancy. How do you cover a candidate while uncovering the contradictions?
“The only course for journalists is to keep our heads down, keep reporting, keep trying to separate policy from pronouncements and not be intimidated by either Trump’s defenders or those who attack us,” Landler told me. Public figures remain accountable, so their outlandish statements can hardly be ignored, but they can surely be parsed for context and accuracy.
I also asked an old colleague, the Toronto Star’s Washington bureau chief, Daniel Dale, for his unique perspective after first covering the Ford brothers from city hall, and then pioneering a new story structure that deconstructs Trump’s tall tales.
He cautioned against the media’s temptation to give wildly disproportionate space in mid-campaign to the loudest voices. Balanced coverage means not just fair reporting but equal time for the major players, so that those who are most controversial don’t get all the air time.
“One of the biggest failures of the media with Trump was letting him dominate the coverage … it got ratings,” Dale says. “You can’t let his tone and bluster suck up all the oxygen ... You have to be conscious of the balance.”

Cohn reminds his readers that Trump and Ford owe a lot to P.T. Barnum. There is a portrait of Barnum in the National Portrait Gallery. The inscription underneath the picture reads: "The greatest impresario of the 19th Century, P. T. Barnum was a shrewd judge of popular taste and an intuitive master of the art of publicity who tickled the public's imagination and gleefully exploited its credulity for more than 50 years."

Gleefully exploiting the public's credulity is what Donald Trump and Doug Ford are all about.

Image: Daily Mail

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Mad King

Robert Reich is a little guy who speaks with a big voice. He wrote two days ago that Donald Trump has become a mad king:

Before, he was constrained by a few “adults” – Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly – whom he appointed because he thought they had some expertise he lacked.
Now he’s either fired or is in the process of removing the adults. He’s replacing them with a Star Wars cantina of toadies and sycophants who will reflect back at him his own glorious view of himself, and help sell it on TV.

He's more than a narcissist. He's also a megalomaniac:

The man who once said he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and still be elected president now openly boasts of lying to the Canadian Prime Minister, deciding on his own to negotiate mano a mano with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, unilaterally slapping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, and demanding the death penalty for drug dealers.
For weeks, Trump has been pulling big policy pronouncements out of his derriere and then leaving it up to the White House to improvise explanations and implementation plans.

For the moment, Congress and the world seem to be ignoring him:

The Republican tax bill bore almost no resemblance to anything Trump had pushed for. Trump’s big infrastructure plan was dead on arrival in Congress. His surprise spending deal with “Chuck and Nancy” went nowhere. His momentary embrace of gun control measures in the wake of a Florida school shooting quickly evaporated.

But Trump Unbound is far from benign:

Trump could become so enraged at anyone who seriously takes him on that he lashes out, with terrible consequences.
Furious that special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his investigation, an unbridled Trump could fire him – precipitating a constitutional crisis and in effect a civil war between Trump supporters and the rest of America.

As I recall, the American Revolution was all about getting rid of a Mad King.

Image:The Smirking Chimp

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Conspiracy, Not Collusion

Donald Trump  keeps claiming that there has been no collusion with Russia. But Robert Mueller isn't investigating collusion. He's investigating conspiracy. Christian Farias writes:

Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager and a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, became the first person in Mueller’s crosshairs to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. This curious, catchall offense also appeared in the February indictment of 13 Russian trolls, all of whom were charged with “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

And, the more Mueller interviews individuals, the more conspiracy charges appear to be on the horizon:

Which brings us to this past weekend’s revelations about the role Cambridge Analytica, the data-analytics firm closely associated with Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign, played during the presidential election. Twin reports in the New York Times and The Guardian shed light on a staggering data-mining operation that resulted in the firm improperly obtaining tens of millions of Facebook profiles, which it then exploited for political micro-targeting. Or as Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower who leaked this information put it, the technology he helped create with Cambridge Analytica was “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”
There’s nothing criminal about swaying voters, and neither the Times nor the Guardian account is conclusive as to how Cambridge Analytica may have aided Russia’s election meddling, if at all. But this bit in the paper of record suggests the special counsel is already on to something: “While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by the Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine.” Mueller, for his part, has already asked the firm for the emails of any employees who did work on behalf of the Trump campaign. And even Julian Assange has accused Cambridge Analytica’s CEO of attempting to obtain from WikiLeaks damaging emails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Based on the precedent Mueller has already set, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect his office to bring a fresh round of federal conspiracy charges against actors — whether that be Assange, executives at Cambridge Analytica, or other intermediaries — who attempted to impair the lawful functions of the government by concealing activities that they should’ve disclosed to, say, the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department. “A method that makes uses of innocent individuals or businesses to reach and defraud the United States is not, for that reason, beyond the scope” of the law of conspiracy, the Supreme Court said some 30 years ago.

I suspect that Mueller has a strong case about Trump's money laundering. But when it comes to Russia, the big word is conspiracy.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The Wrong Side Of History

Things are starting to get nasty out in British Columbia. Michael Harris writes:

In the last few days, approximately 30 Canadian citizens have been arrested for opposing Kinder Morgan’s pipeline extension in British Columbia.
Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck granted the U.S. oil company a permanent injunction to keep protesters away from the construction zone.
A day after that, the Mounties moved in and arrested an unlikely group of villains — Indigenous leaders and “water protectors.” These are middle-aged moms and housewives worried about native rights and the environment, and the odd university student.

The painful truth -- and it is painful -- is that Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley are on the wrong side of history. They are "a little like the mayor of Asbestos, Quebec before the Jeffrey mine closed — desperately trying to market a product headed for the ash heaps of history."

As someone who used to live half an hour away from Asbestos, and whose job depended on a student population which partially came from there, I can testify that what hit Asbestos was an earthquake. Asbestos is now known for its huge empty hole in the ground -- and we no longer live there.

Either way, an earthquake is coming.  But it will be bigger if Kinder Morgan goes through. The danger to BC's coastline cannot be overstated -- not if you pay attention to the science:

In fact, the science is not on anyone’s side, as internationally acclaimed Canadian scientist David Schindler wrote last week in the Vancouver Sun.
This is how complete the government’s ignorance is on the question of the impact of a major spill of diluted bitumen on the B.C. coast. According to Schindler, no one really knows if the stuff would sink or float. No one knows the actual effect on marine life. No one knows how long it would hang around in the event of a major spill. There is a reason. No one has conducted the ocean research.

Trudeau and Notley are caught between a rock and a hard place. When that happens, history shows it's wise to err on the side of caution. And, as Harris says, the prime minister and the premier are on the wrong side of history.

Image: The Council Of Canadians

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What Goes Around

Max Boot is no liberal wingnut. He was on the conservative side of the political spectrum long before Donald Trump got there. Boot writes that Trump is perfecting the Big Lie:

The Post reports that he began his presidency by making an average of 4.9 false or misleading statements a day. Lately, like a Stakhanovite, he has ramped up production to an average of six falsehoods a day.

He refers to the lie Trump told Justin Trudeau, then he moves on to other lies:

Like Trump’s claims that Gen. John J. Pershing slaughtered Muslims, or that his inauguration drew record crowds, or that he would have won the popular vote if millions of illegal immigrants had not voted, this is another example of a would-be dictator’s desire not just to sneak lies by us but to shove them down our throats. Trump is signaling that he doesn’t care what the truth is. From now on the truth will be whatever he says, and he expects every loyal follower to faithfully parrot the official party line.

There was the lie about Rex Tillerson's firing:

The White House initially claimed that Tillerson had been notified the previous Friday that he was being let go, but on Tuesday Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, contradicted that spin by telling reporters that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his firing and had just found out about it. Goldstein was immediately canned and, in a significant bit of symbolism, replaced with a former host of “Fox & Friends,” Trump’s favorite TV show. 

And, on Friday, Trump fired Andrew McCabe:

The same vindictiveness was apparent in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision Friday night to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe after 21 years of service, just more than 24 hours before he was due to receive his pension. The excuse apparently was McCabe’s supposedly unauthorized communications with the media about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, followed by alleged attempts to mislead investigators. But Trump’s gloating tweet makes it obvious this was punishment for telling the truth about the Maximum Leader’s attempts to obstruct justice and end an investigation into his links to the Kremlin.

Apparently, Mr. Trump has never learned one of life's first maxims: What goes around comes around. Rest assured it will.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Not The Man

The latest poll suggests that Doug Ford will be the next premier of Ontario. Alan Freeman hopes the poll has it wrong:

The new Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and would-be premier of our largest and most powerful province, gave an interview this week to CBC Radio in Ottawa. It was frightening, not so much because of his lack of ideas or his ideological bent but his ignorance of what’s actually going on in Ontario, his lack of any policy knowledge or basic facts.
What he did demonstrate, like Donald Trump, was an ability to repeat slogans that appeal to people who feel they’re being over-taxed, over-regulated and generally abused by elites, in this case the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne.

Like Trump, Ford is a fraud. He poses as a regular guy. He's not:

First off, it’s important to remember that Doug Ford is not everyman. He’s a wealthy businessman whose father was a Conservative politician and legislator. Yet Ford wears his apparent cluelessness like a badge of honour.

The ordinary guy is not clueless. He may be angry. He may feel that his options are limited. It's true that some of his friends are clueless. Problems arise however, when we elect clueless people. Ford says that Ontario is "a disaster." His conclusion betrays his ignorance:

Now, it’s true that hydro rates in Ontario are too high but they’re not the highest in North America. According to an annual survey by Hydro-Quebec, average rates for residential customers in Toronto in 2017 were 16.3 cents per kilowatt hour, more than double the cost in Montreal but a lot lower than the 29.67 per kilowatt paid by residents of New York City. Likewise, large-power customers paid a lot more in Ontario than Quebec but less than in Boston.
And Ontario is hardly an economic disaster. There are plenty jobs around. In fact, Ontario’s jobless rate in February was 5.5 per cent and economic growth in 2017 was an impressive 2.7 per cent.
Last year’s average unemployment rate in Ontario was the lowest since 1989 and TD Bank recently reported that one of the province’s major economic challenges is the scarcity of labour. And what does Doug Ford promise? “We’re going to start creating jobs,” he said. To be filled by whom? Does he have any clue about the true state of the province’s economy?
In fact, many of the economic problems facing the province result from that economic dynamism, growth that has been too concentrated in the Toronto region, leading to housing costs that are out of the range of middle-income families and congestion that risks strangling the economic engine of the province.
Ignorance will solve none of these problems.

And that's precisely the point. And, because Ford would bring preening ignorance to the premier's office, he's not the man for the job.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Trudeau And Trump

Lately, things have not being going well for Justin Trudeau. He's still trying to recover from his gaffe filled trip to India. But, thanks to Donald Trump, he has the opportunity to burnish his bona fides. Lawrence Martin writes:

The U.S. President has upped his reputation for running a gong show with his admission that he had no idea what he was talking about when telling the Prime Minister the United States runs a trade deficit with Canada.
He just made it up, the President admits on an audio feed from a private fundraiser on Wednesday. Didn’t know what he was talking about.
The confession, a rather unique one in the annals of relations between presidents and prime ministers, is a big boost for Ottawa negotiators in the trade debate, undercutting the credibility of the American posture. The Canadian side has been making the point about the U.S. having a surplus repeatedly over the last year. Washington has twisted statistics and data to claim otherwise.

Canadians have long suspected that Justin doesn't have his father's backbone. But Donald Trump is the perfect foil.  And Trump's economic advisor can also give Justin a boost:

In fact, Mr. Trudeau has the upper hand and it is getting stronger. Larry Kudlow, the President’s newly appointed director of the National Economic Council, says it makes no sense to go after Canada. While alleging that Mr. Trudeau is “a left-wing crazy guy,” Mr. Kudlow added that exiting NAFTA “would be a calamitously bad decision.”
Mr. Trudeau has been right it to make it clear to the President there won’t be any capitulating on trade negotiations in order to avoid tariffs. If a trade war breaks out, Canadians are likely to support their PM. Standing up to presidents when there are grounds to do so has worked in the past. It will likely work with this drama king.

Of course, Justin could step in it. But make no mistake. He knows Donald Trump can serve his interests.

Image: MTL Blog

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Newsflash: Donald Trump Is A Liar

Donald Trump is a liar. And he brags about it. The Canadian Press reports that:

U.S. President Donald Trump boasted in a fundraising speech in Missouri on Wednesday that he made up information about trade in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to a recording of the comments obtained by The Washington Post.
The newspaper said in a report posted on its website that Trump had insisted to Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbour to the north without knowing whether or not that was the case.
Trump said on the recording that after Trudeau told him the U.S. does not have a trade deficit with Canada, he replied, “Wrong, Justin, you do,” then added, “I didn’t even know … I had no idea.”

The only true statement in the speech was "I had no idea." But that doesn't matter. For Trump, the lie is more important than the truth:

Trump regularly bemoans a trade deficit with Canada and complained about it in late February by saying: “We lose a lot with Canada. People don’t know it. Canada’s very smooth. They have you believe that it’s wonderful. And it is, for them. Not wonderful for us.”

This even though a document he himself signed says exactly the opposite:

A different story is told in the recently released 2018 White House “Economic Report of the President” — an annual document prepared by Trump’s own team which bears his signature and contradicts a number of trade statements and policies already articulated by him.
One example involves the supposed trade deficit with Canada. Trump keeps insisting it exists, but the document he signed states Canada is among the few countries in the world with whom the U.S. runs a surplus.
The document states: “The United States ran a trade surplus of $2.6 billion with Canada on a balance-of-payments basis.”

As a former deputy mayor from New York City said long ago, "I wouldn't believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized."

Image: Time Magazine

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

No Donald Trump

For those of us who worry that Doug Ford is Donald of the North, Tom Walkom has a calming message:

Forget the comparisons to Donald Trump. Doug Ford, Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative leader, is very much a homegrown phenomenon. 
If he and his party win the June provincial election, it will be for homegrown reasons.

Walkom believes there is a common thread that winds through Ontario politics:

Ontario is usually a Red Tory province. Voters tend to elect parties, whether they call themselves PC, Liberal or New Democrat, that promise the Red Tory formula of fiscal rectitude and moderately progressive social policy.
But every now and again, when they believe matters have swung too much to one side or the other, Ontarians elect a more radical government — one that promises to purge the system and restore balance.

 Ford could be another Mike Harris or Bob Rae:

If Ford does become premier on the promise of delivering fundamental change, he will be following in the footsteps of Bob Rae and Mike Harris.
Rae’s NDP was elected in 1990 by an electorate that had grown weary of then-premier David Peterson’s governing Liberals but was not prepared to vote in the Tories.
The voters were not necessarily opposed to Liberal policies. But they did chafe at the governing party’s unbridled sense of entitlement.
In the next election, in 1995, Harris’ PCs were elected with a sweeping mandate to restructure a public sector that the voters thought was badly out of kilter.
The Harris years were marked by both radical change and conflict. In 2003, the voters decided it was time for a rest and returned the Liberals to power.

And Ford is not a white nationalist:

Unlike Trump, Ford has not fanned the embers of white nationalism and nativism. Indeed, his Ford Nation backers are marked by their racial and ethnic diversity.
Unlike Trump, Ford levels no complaints against immigrants. Quite the reverse.

Susan Delacourt writes that Ford has more in common with Stephen Harper than Donald Trump.

We shall see.

Just a brief word on Stephen Hawking. He was a man who faced seemingly insurmountable barriers and accomplished so much. He represented what is best in all of us.

Image: Huffington Post

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sears On Ford

In some ways, Doug Ford is like Donald Trump. But, Robin Sears writes, Ontario's Liberals and Dippers would be wise not to treat Ford the way the Democrats treated Trump:

It seems likely that without serious discipline both the NDP and the Liberals will make the same mistake as the American Democrats did with a curiously similar nightmare in 2016.
Attacking Donald Trump for a year in primaries drove into the ground a dozen serious GOP competitors’ campaigns. For every attack on his ineptitude, his vulgarity and his complete absence of preparation for the role, Trump would smirk, roll his eyes and say, “Of course, the elites will say that about me! What better proof do you need that I’m on your side, not theirs.” Doug Ford will play the same card.

The Conservatives were extraordinarily inept when it came to choosing a leader:

The astonishingly inept performance of the Conservative leadership election team has delivered a one-term municipal councillor — who lost on popular vote, and in the number of ridings won — to be on the verge of taking power of Canada’s second most powerful government.

And it's the party's -- and Ford's -- own ineptitude that Sears believes is the best line of attack for both the Dippers and the Liberals:

My best guess as to where each is likely to go is to jump on gaffes that they have prodded Ford into: he is a very green, hot-tempered and unprepared candidate.
One can easily see the second-tier Team Ford being incapable of imposing enough discipline to ensure that at a talk show, evening rally, or worst of all, television debate, Ford is not goaded into saying something inappropriate on any of a dozen subjects.

It's best for both parties to concentrate on Ford's inability to do things -- rather than to make the election a referendum of Ford. Making the American election a referendum on Trump allowed Trump to win.

Image: Narcity

Monday, March 12, 2018

Willy Loman In The White House

Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman goes to the core of the American character. Willy Loman, the chief protagonist, fervently believes in the American Dream. And he believes that the key to that dream is being "well liked." E.J. Dionne writes:

All presidencies are shaped by the personal proclivities of the occupant of the Oval Office. But we have not had a president who focused so much energy on appearing to be strong and who, like the playwright Arthur Miller’s salesman Willy Loman, so desperately wants to believe he is “liked.” These drives are the biggest threats to Trump himself, and, I fear, to our republic.

Donald Trump's need to be liked drives everything he does. Consider the two initiatives he launched last week -- his decision to put tariffs on steel and aluminium and his decision to meet with Kim Jong Un:

The tariffs may, in fact, serve him well in the short-term. Note that Trump initially reached his decision to impose them when he was feeling “angry” and “increasingly isolated,” as Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey wrote on March 3. With the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller gathering steam and other scandals dominating the airwaves, Trump did what he always does: He sought to change the subject and shake up the news cycle.
But there is more. If Trump and the Republicans have reason to worry that the political energy of his foes could play out in substantially increased Democratic turnout in this November’s elections, there is a second danger almost as serious. His working-class supporters — the key swing group in the states that gave him his Electoral College victory — have little to show for his presidency.

Recent economic data confirm that things are not getting better in Trump Country:

While last Friday’s robust jobs report provided continued good news overall, it found that wages were nearly flat. And as Post blogger Greg Sargent observed last week, economic growth remains concentrated in the states that rejected Trump. “Trump Country” is not experiencing the renaissance he predicted, in part because he could not have kept his outsized promises in the first place.

Along with the tariffs, Trump's  meeting with Kim allows him to cast himself as The One And Only:

On Friday the White House conditioned the entire initiative on “concrete steps” from North Korea without specifying them. But there was a Trumpian point to it all. He was doing something no other president dared do while casting himself in a starring role.

Stars are stars because the public likes them. And the measure of how well they are liked is ratings. Trump consults his ratings as passionately now as he did when he appeared on The Apprentice.

However, the problem of wanting to be well liked -- Willy Loman's brother-in-law, Charley tells him -- is that it's always based on crude self interest. In the end, such a man is "a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

In the end, that's all that Donald Trump brings to his job. He's Willy Loman in the White House.

Image: Digital Theater Plus

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Mob That Is Mad As Hell

Martin Regg Cohn offers a succinct summary of the Ontario PC leadership race:

Mere months before the election, the province’s official Opposition sacrificed its leader in a scandal over sexual misconduct allegations; surrendered its official campaign platform in a policy panic; revealed the “rot” and internal wrongdoing in its nominations and machinations; and, finally, bungled the vote count virtually from start to finish, and ultimately in the aftermath.

Yesterday's vote count confirms two things: The party is deeply divided and it's deeply incompetent. Still, polls indicate that just about any PC leader can beat Kathleen Wynn. After the vote count fiasco, perhaps Andrea Horwath can run a "pox on both your houses" campaign and win.

But Horwath has her own problems. The last election revealed that she really doesn't have progressive credentials. And the memories of Ontario's last NDP government -- under Bob Rae -- haven't faded.

One thing is certain: the party of Bill Davis no longer exists. It has morphed into a mob that is mad as hell.

Stay tuned.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Twins: Donald and Bibi

The water Donald Trump swims in keeps getting warmer. Bibi Netanyahu also finds himself increasingly in hot water. Jonathan Freedland writes:

Trump was born into serious money, while Bibi was educated in a series of prestige institutions. Yet both pose as the plucky champion of the excluded, persecuted by the same permanent, snooty elite that has kept the little guy down for so long. “We are being attacked all the time, every minute and every hour,” Netanyahu complained on Thursday. “Listen to Israeli citizens who support us and who want justice.”

But the courts in Israel are hearing evidence from those who want justice from Bibi:

Case 1000 centres on allegations of old-fashioned bribery: gifts of cigars, champagne and the like to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, from a pair of billionaire businessmen who, the PM admits, he helped out, including on “tax issues”. Case 2000 alleges that Netanyahu sought to cook up a deal by which he would use the law to hurt one newspaper in order to boost the economic fortunes of its rival, in return for warm coverage from the latter.
Case 4000 is similar, an offer to a media tycoon to ensure state policy favourable to his telecoms company, in return for positive coverage of Netanyahu from a news website owned by the magnate. What could prove most serious is Case 3000, which accuses some of Netanyahu’s most trusted consiglieri of fraudulently profiting from Israel’s purchase of submarines from a German company. (The PM is not yet officially a suspect in the submarine affair, but as Aluf Benn, editor of the liberal daily Ha’aretz, told me, this threatens Netanyahu most because it touches on the military and national security – areas Israelis regard as “sacred”.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the evidence supporting cases of money laundering, obstruction of justice and Russian influence peddling keep piling up.

It's no wonder both men greeted each other so warmly at their White House meeting five days ago. There may not be many differences between the two men. But there are differences in their political systems. Freedland delineates them:

The big difference is in their countries’ systems. Ultimately, the only real recourse against Trump is political, by bringing impeachment proceedings in Congress. But in Israel, as the attorney general clarified this week, the law – enforced by institutions doing their jobs, in the face of intense political pressure – demands that an indicted prime minister leave office, no matter how strong his political position.

It will be interesting to see what happens to both men.

Image: The Times Of Israel

Friday, March 09, 2018

Wile E. Coyote

Apparently, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are going to talk to each other. The news should be viewed in the light of an opinion from a former C.I.A. analyst. David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post:

“Beep beep” was the subject line of an email message I received a few weeks ago from former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, as Kim Jong Un was accelerating his diplomatic charm offensive. “So typical,” wrote Carlin in his brief text. “The North Koreans as Road Runner, the U.S. as Wile E. Coyote.”

When it comes to foreign affairs, Ignatius believes that the United States has become a "cartoon villain:"

[Trump's] strategy, if you can call it that, has been to disrupt America’s traditional economic and security relationships and commitments. He must imagine that this gives him new leverage, but mostly the result has been a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Ignatius enumerates examples of that strategy:

Trade is the most obvious example of Trump’s clumsiness. While our economic competitors in China move to seize the commanding heights of technology, in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics, Trump is trying to protect jobs in steel, coal and other industries that have been in decline for nearly 50 years. He seems determined to transform the United States into a lagging indicator, rather than a leading one.
Trump’s most untidy mess is the Middle East. He proclaims his willingness to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. But strangely, he’s leaving the heavy lifting to European allies, which are drafting tougher provisions on Iranian ballistic missiles, on inspections of Iranian military sites and on the “sunset” of the agreement. Oh yes, they’re also lobbying Congress to support these moves.

And when it comes to the United States two greatest foes, Trump sits on his hands and cheers:

As for Russia and China, the United States’ two great power rivals, what strategy has Trump adopted? With Moscow, he has mostly sat on his hands; with Beijing, he’s been the biggest cheerleader for “president for life” Xi Jinping. He accompanies these weak policies with his usual tough talk.

If Trump's foreign policy is a Road Runner cartoon, the anvil will fall on his head.

Image: Indy100

Thursday, March 08, 2018

That Meeting In The Seychelles

Robert Mueller has another cooperating witness. His name is George Nader. Mueller is interested in Nader because of a meeting he attended. Andrew Prokop reports in Vox that Nader met with Erik Prince and a Russian representative in the Seychelles:

Nader helped organize, and attended, that curious Seychelles meeting on January 11, 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. The meeting brought together Erik Prince, Trump donor and founder of the private security company Blackwater, with Kirill Dmitriev, who manages a Russian sovereign wealth fund and is thought to be close to Vladimir Putin.

Prince is the brother of Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos:

Anonymous sources have long claimed to reporters that the purpose of the Seychelles meeting was for Trump’s team to covertly communicate with Putin’s team. After all, it happened just weeks after Jared Kushner reportedly told the Russians that he wanted to set up a backchannel through which they could communicate.
But Prince has hotly denied that that’s what happened, including in sworn testimony last year. He said he just made the Seychelles trip for business reasons, that he was in no way representing Trump, and that the meeting with Dmitriev was both entirely unplanned on his end and completely uneventful.

It appears, however, that Nader is contradicting Prince's story:

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett reported Wednesday that Nader is saying the meeting was “an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin” — and that Mueller has other evidence to that effect, as well.
If Prince was acting on the Trump’s team behalf, it would demolish months’ worth of denials from both him and the White House that he was doing any such thing. And it would raise serious questions about just why, exactly, all parties involved were so set on keeping the Seychelles meeting secret.

There is a clear pattern to all of this. When Trump and his associates issue a denial, there is usually something percolating up to the top. And Mueller captures everything -- even the last drop.


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Hit The Swing States

Canada has to respond to Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminium. But the response must not equal Trump's stupidity. Lawrence Martin writes:

You have to threaten him, says former free-trade negotiator Gordon Ritchie, with retaliatory measures that inflict real political damage. “Go after the swing states,” he says. Send Mr. Trump a message that if he persists with his plan, Ottawa will target imports from Pennsylvania, from Ohio, from Wisconsin, from Florida.
They are all states that are critical to his political prospects. They are heavily dependent on Canadian trade whether it be in machinery, metals, pharmaceuticals or agricultural products. Canada, which is the leading export destination for 38 states, is Florida’s No. 1 economic partner. Measures could be taken such as changes to tax rules for snowbirds “that would be a real gut punch,” says Mr. Ritchie.

It seems clear, that with an election going on in Pennsylvania, Trump's tariffs are meant to garner votes there. The Canadian response should be predicated on taking votes away from Trump. And, in the end, the Congress has to approve all trade treaties:

A show of tougher Canadian resolve might help spur Congress to stop Mr. Trump. Though the President has the authority to negotiate international trade agreements, the Constitution grants Congress power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” A 1962 trade law that allows the President to impose tariffs if required by national security is cited as the basis for his measures. But in the case of Canada, a long-time ally and defence supporter, it is a demonstrably specious contention.

One suspects that Congressmen and women will vote in their own self interest. And their self interest doesn't coincide with Trump's self interest -- or analysis: 

In the annals of bilateral relations, it is hard to find examples of a presidential action so shoddily conceived as this one. It wasn’t thought out. It was blurted out. On national security it makes no sense. On trade deficits (with Canada there is none) it makes no sense. On China, purportedly the chief target, it makes no sense in that it hurts American allies more.

Trump's actions are colossally stupid. Canada's should be wiser -- much wiser.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

You Can't Go Home Again

Christine Elliott has run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives three times. The first two times she lost. Martin Regg Cohn writes that she was the right choice then and she's the right choice now. But this time the party platform represents a return to pre-historic times:

Modern sex-education in our schools? Roll it back to the 20-year-old curriculum we had two years ago, say most of the leadership rivals.
A future-oriented environmental policy on global warming? Put it in the deep freeze, the candidates chorus, lest they be burned at the stake by those fiery grassroots.
Walking a tightrope between Tory party diehards and the rest of Ontario — a living, breathing, provincial body politic that grasps global warming and gets sex-ed — isn’t as hard as it sounds. In normal circumstances, it’s easy as apple pie and fruitful lies.

But Doug Ford has been calling the tune -- and Mr. Ford "rarely knows what he’s talking about, but at least he knows what he believes in."

So, once again, the party is twisted in knots -- because it fails to recognize what the American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote eighty years ago: You can't go home again.


Monday, March 05, 2018

Hot Air

Michael Harris believes that all of Donald Trump's tariff talks will amount to nothing:

My two cents worth is that Trump’s tariffs will fizzle like just about everything else he says. As always, the cycle is the same, first comes the rhetoric, then the weasel words, and finally the reality.
It would pay everyone to remember that Trump conducts himself like a narcissistic, flimflam man off his meds. He resides in a mansion of hyperbole and vanity mirrors. It hardly matters what he says anymore because he so rarely does what he says anyway.

Trump's recent trade rhetoric fits a now well estblished pattern. In the end, it's hot air -- nothing but air:

Remember all those women Trump was going to sue for their “fake” claims that he sexually assaulted them. He never launched a single lawsuit.
Remember how Mexico was going to pay for the Trump Wall? Congress has now been handed the tab.
Remember how he was going to scuttle Obamacare and how “easy” it was going to be to replace it? There is still no replacement for Obamacare.
Remember how Trump warned that the special counsel in the Russia investigation would be crossing a “red line” if he investigated Trump’s business dealings? Mueller is now investigating the whole damn clan, including the president, and he’s still on the job.

 There is a reason, however, for all the hot air:

Coincidentally, a Pennsylvania Republican in the heart of steel country is set to face the people in a special election in just over a week. Trump is desperately trying to hold onto the congressional seat vacated when the pro-life Republican incumbent was found to have counselled his mistress to have an abortion.

Trump can only think short term. He doesn't have the attention span for sustained thought. So we'll  see how sustained Trump's tariffs will be.

Image: Pinterest

Sunday, March 04, 2018

An Orange Idiot

For awhile, it looked like Donald Trump was going to declare war on North Korea. Now it's beginning to look like he's declaring war on . . . the world. Paul Krugman writes:

We’ve known all along that Donald Trump is belligerently ignorant about economics (and many other things). But up to this point that hasn’t mattered much. He took office amid a sustained recovery that began under his predecessor, and that recovery had already lifted the U.S. economy to the point where “normal” policy rules apply: interest rates are above zero, monetary policy is effective again, so short-term economic management is in the fairly reliable hands of the Federal Reserve, not the chaotic Trump White House. What the president didn’t know couldn’t hurt us.

It's now abundantly clear that his ignorance could hurt all of us. He simply doesn't understand trade:

Trump has always had a thing about trade, which he sees the way he sees everything: as a test of power and masculinity. It’s all about who sells more: if we run a trade surplus we win, if we run a trade deficit, we lose.
This is, of course, nonsense. Trade isn’t a zero-sum game: it raises the productivity and wealth of the world economy. To take a not at all random example, it makes a lot of sense to produce aluminum, a process that uses vast amounts of electricity, in countries like Canada, which have abundant hydropower. So the U.S. gains from importing Canadian aluminum, whether or not we run a trade deficit with Canada. (As it happens, we don’t, but that’s pretty much beside the point.)

He has no idea how closely integrated the world economy has become:

We live in an era of global supply chains: just about everything produced in America (and everywhere else) uses inputs produced in other countries. Your new car may well have a chassis assembled in the U.S., an engine and wiring system made in Mexico, electronics from Korea and China, and, of course, steel and aluminum from Canada.

So, when he raises tariffs on products from other countries, he sets off a tit for tat cycle:

So we can’t “win” a trade war. What we can do is start a cycle of tit-for-tat, and when it comes to trade, America — which accounts for 9 percent of world exports and 14 percent of world imports — is by no means a dominant superpower.
A cycle of retaliation would shrink overall world trade, making the world as a whole, America very much included, poorer. Perhaps even more important in the near term, it would be highly disruptive.

Put simply, Krugman writes, Trump's actions are "surpassingly stupid." With each passing day, it becomes clearer that the president of the United States is an Orange Idiot.

Image: TRUMP

Saturday, March 03, 2018

It's Coming Apart

The pace of Robert Mueller's investigation has been stunning. And it's a big investigation. Paul Koring writes:

It’s bigger, much bigger both in scope and gravity. This isn’t about whether Bill Clinton lied under about sex with an intern or whether high officials in the George W. Bush administration deliberately outed a CIA agent. In geopolitical importance it’s far greater than Iran-contra on Ronald Reagan watch. In terms of political skulduggery, it eclipses whether Richard Nixon was trying to rig his own re-election in 1972.
At stake is whether Donald Trump’s inner circle colluded with Russians in what amounted to an attack on the United States by subverting its democratic electoral system to serve Moscow’s interests. Trump defiantly insists there was no collusion but he has since been forced to retreat from the first line of defence in which he dismissed talk of Russian meddling as “a hoax.”
Even if Trump was blithely unaware of Vladimir Putin’s clandestine scheme to subvert the 2016 presidential election, and even if Trump’s claims of “no collusion’ prove true, Mueller’s fast-paced probe is now focussed on the president and his innermost circle. And for Trump, the innermost circle is family: daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner, and favoured son Donald Junior are the president’s closest and perhaps, only trusted, confidants.

So far, the most significant person to cop a plea has been Rick Gates:

Gates worked for Paul Manafort, whose myriad and profitable ties to Moscow and pro-Russian factions in Ukraine have resulted in more than two dozen serious charges including money laundering. Gates, long Manafort’s junior partner peddling influence abroad, stayed on the Trump campaign after Manafort was ousted over his Kremlin connections. Gates was also on Trump’s transition team, was close to right-wing ideologue Steve Bannon and remained a player in the White House for months after Trump became president. He evidently knows a lot and knows that Mueller put him behind bars unless he tells all.
John Dean, the White House counsel whose decision to come clean was the turning point that sunk Nixon’s presidency and therefore knows a thing or two about such things believes the Gates flip may be pivotal.
“If Gates can testify that Manafort was acting with Trump’s blessings, it’s the end of his presidency,” said Dean.
Flipping Gates could be regarded as Mueller seeking to strengthen the case against Manafort but a close reading of the indictments and the sweet deal Gates was offered also suggests bigger targets.

The next big target is Jared Kushner. And Mueller's investigation into Jushner will be when the Trump presidency really comes apart.

Image: Jerusalem Post

Friday, March 02, 2018

It's Going To Be Awhile

In Tuesday's budget, the Liberals announced the beginnings of a national pharmacare program. But, later in the week, Bill Morneau told the Economic Club of Canada, "We need a strategy … that deals with the gaps but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.”

That gap is glaringly apparent here in Ontario, as well as other provinces. Tom Walkom writes:

In Ontario, those under 25 have publicly funded access to necessary drugs. Except for welfare recipients, those between 25 and 65 do not.
Most provinces have some kind of catastrophic drug coverage. But only those who must spend vast chunks of their income on pharmaceuticals qualify.
In short, the Canadian drug system is unnecessarily complicated and not very fair. It is also unnecessarily expensive — in part because the administrative costs associated with private insurance are high and in part because the drug companies can get away with charging exorbitant prices.

Pharmacare -- like medicare -- must be a universal program. There are good reasons for making it universal:

It is like medicare in this and offers the same advantages — including the efficiencies of a single-pay system. It costs governments money but creates savings for everyone else.
Study after study calculates that — as with medicare — the savings outweigh the costs.

But it seems to take time for that fact to sink in. Consider the history of medicare:

When Canadian medicare was being debated in the 1960's, a similar division arose between those who wanted a full scale universal program and those who, like Morneau today, merely wanted to fill the gaps.
The gap-fillers were tenacious. Ontario Premier John Robarts, a Conservative, refused to bring his province into medicare until 1969. Alberta didn’t join until then-premier Ernest Manning, a fierce opponent of universal social programs, retired.

It looks like it will be awhile before we see phramacare.

Image: Jacques Boissinot - Canadian Press