Sunday, March 26, 2017

That's Not His Style



Americans were in danger of losing their health care last week. They dodged a bullet. But there is a bigger danger looming. Tony Burman writes:

During a visit to South Korea earlier this month, Rex Tillerson, [Donald] Trump’s secretary of state, announced what appeared to be a dramatic change in American policy toward the nuclear threat of North Korea.

Since the diplomacy of the past 20 years has “failed,” he warned, pre-emptive military action against North Korea is now “on the table.” Tillerson’s warning reflected the U.S. government’s worry that Kim’s renegade regime is accelerating its nuclear program.

Having lost big time in Congress, Trump will not take Korean threats -- which are not new -- lying down:

This nuclear challenge has confronted several American presidents since the 1990s. It has also frustrated China, North Korea’s neighbour and chief economic benefactor, which potentially stands to lose the most if the Korean Peninsula descends into chaos.

This sudden reference by the Trump administration to the possibility of pre-emptive military action against North Korea has rattled the region. There are few informed analysts who see this option, if pursued, as anything but a certain catastrophe.

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is thought to be widely dispersed throughout the country. No single military strike could destroy it. North Korea also has an even larger stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Analysts believe that an attack would give Kim’s regime ample time to hit back immediately at neighbouring South Korea and at U.S. military bases in the region.

The potential death toll from such a conflict would be breathtaking. South Korea’s capital city of Seoul has a population of more than 10 million and is only about 50 kilometres from the border. 

Mr.Trump was willing to throw 14 million people off medicare. Would the lives of 10 million Koreans lay heavily on his conscience?

Burman writes that "rather than a pre-emptive strike, what is needed is increasing economic and diplomatic pressure — in tandem with China — to rein in the North Korean regime."

We saw how Trump operates last week. That's not his style. Nor is it Kim Jong Un's.

Image: Daily Express

Saturday, March 25, 2017

No Man To Do Business With



Yesterday was quite a day. The Republican repudiation of Barack Obama's health care bill went down to defeat. Ezra Klein doesn't mince words:

Let’s be clear about what happened here. The American Health Care Act failed because it was a terrible piece of legislation. It would have thrown 24 million people off insurance and raised deductibles for millions more — and the savings would’ve gone to pay for tax cuts for millionaires. It broke virtually all of Donald Trump’s campaign promises, and was opposed not just by Democrats but also by Republicans.

This is a failure for Speaker Paul Ryan on many levels. He wrote this bill, and when the speaker takes over the process like that, the upside is it’s supposed to create legislation that can pass. On this most basic task, Ryan failed, and failed spectacularly.

But beyond the legislative and tactical deficiencies, the AHCA reflected a deeper failure of moral and policy imagination. Ryan spent the latter half of Barack Obama’s presidency promising to repair the Republican Party’s relationship with the poor (remember Ryan’s “poverty tour”?). He’s spent every day since the passage of Obamacare saying the Republicans could do better. This is what he came up with? The GOP put their greatest policy mind in charge of the House of Representatives and they got ... this?

Donald Trump staged a hostile takeover of an intellectually and morally bankrupt party. He is the prefect CEO for such an organization. He now claims that he will move on to tax reform and building a wall which the American people -- not the Mexicans -- will pay for.

But it won't be easy accomplishing those objectives. He also plans to build the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines. However, the same kind of public opposition to Trumpcare will greet those projects.

Yesterday, Mr. Trudeau applauded the rebirth of Keystone XL. Not a wise move, Justin. Just ask all those Americans who almost lost their health care what it's like to do business with the Great Orange Id.

Image: Sputnik News

Friday, March 24, 2017

Incompetence At State



Rex Tillerson recently told the Journal Review, "“I didn’t want this job, I didn’t seek this job,” but he took it because "“my wife told me I’m supposed to do this.” He may be having second thoughts. Certainly others are. Jonathan Freedland writes that Tillerson's remarks could be read as:

a coded admission that he knows he is not qualified to be secretary of state, that he’s in way over his head – but we shouldn’t blame him, because it wasn’t his idea. On this reading, the secretary of state is, if anything, pointing an accusing finger at his boss: I know I’m rubbish at this, but it’s Trump’s fault for picking me.

Jonathan Malthorpe is more blunt. Tillerson, he writes, is "clueless:"

His priorities so far are to toady to the world’s autocrats (perhaps reflecting the instincts of his boss in the Oval Office), while maintaining Washington’s role as the leader of a 60-year alliance of democracies is well down his list of concerns.

Tillerson’s tour of Asia last week appears to have given China a diplomatic coup and unsettled Washington’s Asian allies. They already had good reason to be twitchy after Trump jettisoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a 12-nation trade and security agreement aimed at containing China’s regional power ambitions — and opined that Japan and South Korea should perhaps get their own nuclear weapons instead of relying on the U.S. for their defence.

And now it has been announced that Tillerson is going to skip a summit of the foreign ministers of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) next month. He wants to be in the U.S. for a planned visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

That Trump would appoint someone who is so clearly unqualified for the job is not surprising. After all, Trump is clearly unqualified to be president. But, when the blind appoint the blind to important positions, disaster waits in the wings:

Trump has just sent a budget proposal to Congress that envisages cutting the State Department’s funding by 30 per cent and slashing other soft-power agencies in a similar way while throwing money at Defense and other armed agencies. This proposed budget won’t survive the process of going through Congress in recognizable form. They never do. But the virgin document speaks volumes about Trump’s view of the world.

It's Trump's vision of the world that's the problem. And, clearly, Tillerson's State Department is not going to champion an alternative universe.

Image: slate.com

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Small, Cautious Budget



Kevin Page writes that yesterday's budget was not a history making event:

From a fiscal vantage point, Budget 2017 was a very small event. There’s about $6 billion in new federal resources cumulatively planned for the next six years. By comparison, Budget 2016 allocated about $11.5 billion in new resources in year one, rising to $14.5 billion in year two.

The Liberals are still going to run deficits, but they're investing in nothing new and nothing big. And there's not much of a plan:

What will we get for the $140 billion addition to our stock of debt over the next 6 years?
We are doubling infrastructure spending over the next ten years. Budget 2017 lays out where this money will go. Still, there is no national needs assessment — no national or sectoral plan. If there is no plan, how can we hold the government to account?

Budget 2017 lays out a strategy to strengthen skills and innovation. It may be a good strategy but it’s not a plan. There are commitments to review existing programs and to work with the provinces to strengthen labour market agreements. This is all good — but why did we not do the spending review before Budget 2017, so that we would have resources to fund new priorities and programs?

Why the caution? The reason, we're told, is that Donald Trump -- ever the disruptor -- hasn't laid out his plan. And, until he does, we are going to tread water.

Like the rest of the world, we're waiting for Donald. But perhaps. like Godot, he'll never show up.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Pivotal Moment



Last week's meeting between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel was -- to put it mildly -- awkward. Joseph Ingram writes:

Take a close look at the body language on display at that press conference. What we saw was not the courteous warmth typical of a first encounter between two world leaders with common interests and similar world views. Rather, we saw what looked like an encounter between a wiser, more confident, more mature leader and a petulant, scornful child. And no handshake. No doubt, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his erstwhile populist allies in France, Germany and Italy were heartened.

As Trump pursues his American First agenda, he diminishes his -- and his country's authority throughout the world:

Already we see the baton of global leadership being pulled from America’s grip. President Trump’s criticism of trade alliances, and his subsequent withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to suggest that the partnership be resurrected — with China replacing the U.S. as the pact’s lynchpin. The Latin Americans are not far behind him.
There is a growing recognition out there that the Trump/Bannon world vision is one of tightly-controlled European nation states, which — along with Russia — could serve as a white Christian bulwark against Islam and the ‘invasion’ of those job-stealing non-white hordes arriving from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In the minds of those now running the White House, the West should be dominated by strong Christian nations — the U.S. and Russia, through their respective spheres of influence — with South Asia dominated by an emerging Hindu-run India, and East Asia by China, tempered in its ambitions by an emboldened Japan.

Which means that Canada has to rethink its role in the world. And, as unnerving as that world is, Canada may have a new place in it:

Because of these developments, Canada — as the United States’ racially and religiously diverse neighbour to the north — finds itself today in a critical geo-strategic position, linked as it is (economically, culturally and militarily) with the U.S., while simultaneously reflecting many of the core liberal democratic values of today’s EU. And if Europe continues to reject alt-right populism, as it has in Austria and the Netherlands (and may well do in France and Italy), President Trump and the U.S. will find themselves even more isolated.

Canada needs to walk a very fine line here. It must balance its economic and security relationship with the United States (one which, in any case, needs to be diversified) with the interests of its partners in Europe, the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. To ensure the long-term survival of our liberal democracy and economic security, Canada must establish a more symmetrical balance — one guided not just by American economic imperatives but equally by the core progressive values it holds. Values like openness and transparency in the electoral process, ensuring the tools for economic success are widely available to all citizens, defending cultural tolerance and diversity and fighting climate change.

This is a pivotal moment. We will have to decide how to handle the pivot.

Image: puresurethoughts.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

With A Capital L



Yesterday was a bad day for Donald Trump. If there was one thing that yesterday's hearing made clear, it is that Trump is a Liar --with a capital L. David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:

I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about — among many other things — Obama’s birthplace, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.

The question is, how long will he be able to get away with it? Apparently, he'll be able to avoid accountability for quite awhile. The Republicans on the committee focused on the leaks, not the lies. And Sean Spicer

went before the cameras and lied about the closeness between Trump and various aides who have documented Russian ties. Do you remember Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s campaign, who ran the crucial delegate-counting operation? Spicer said Manafort had a “very limited role” in said campaign.

Lies. With a capital L.

Image: Pinterest

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Koch Party


When David Koch was the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980, he and his running mate, Ed Clark, advocated the abolition of public schools, social security and taxation. They garnered one percent of the vote. Koch took the appropriate lesson from the experience. Third parties in the United States are non starters. If you seek political power, you have to capture one of the two major parties. And so, Linda McQuaig writes, Koch and his brother Charles set out to take over the Republican Party:

Operating mostly behind the scenes, and driven by an abiding hatred of government and anything that smacked of distributing wealth more broadly, the Kochs invested massively over the next few decades in creating a vast network of think-tanks, academic programs, front groups, political action groups and campaigns, lobbyists and politicians, as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer documents in her powerful book Dark Money.

With the election of Donald Trump, they have achieved their objective:

Trump's independence may be overstated; his vice president, Mike Pence, has been a major recipient of Koch money and was Charles Koch's first choice for president in 2012. Pence has brought Koch operatives into the White House and shows signs of becoming a Dick Cheney-style puppet master. For that matter, the Kochs are only an impeachment away from having their guy running the free world.

The role of Koch money in shaping Republican politics gets surprisingly little media attention. But it helps explain the otherwise baffling behaviour of Republican politicians scrambling to justify stripping health coverage from their constituents and using the savings to pay for $600 billion worth of tax cuts for the rich. Awkward.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in the "freedom caucus," who've been heavily funded by the Kochs, consider the proposed reform too generous to the disadvantaged.

Who says you can't buy a government?

Image: rabble.ca