Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 Days And Counting

Peter Wehner, in the New York Times, has an instructive evaluation of Donald Trump's first one hundred days in office:

The early days of the Trump presidency have been marked by extraordinary ineptitude. We saw it right out of the gate, with his botched executive order barring refugees from particular countries. Since then the missteps have piled up: the failure of the Republican House to pass the American Health Care Act; petty arguments with allies; the conscious decision to leave hundreds of key appointments unfilled, which in its faux populism is more significant than it may appear.

Taken together (and of course I am leaving a lot out), these developments paint a portrait of a man who was wholly unprepared to fulfill his primary job requirement — to govern competently and well. At some level, Mr. Trump knows this. As he put it this week, “I thought it would be easier.”

He thought it would be easier. Trump's unbridled ego led him to believe that he was up to the job. But, time and again, he has proved that the job is too much for him:

This has been something of a theme of the Trump presidency. One telling moment came when the president, speaking to the nation’s governors about his health care plan, said: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” A second came when Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany reportedly had to explain over and over again to Mr. Trump that he could not make a trade deal with Germany directly but only with the European Union. A third came when Mr. Trump, in describing his conversation with President Xi Jinping of China about North Korea, admitted, “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.”

His judgement has proved feeble. More than that, he doesn't know how to do politics:

Effective political leaders are able to mobilize public opinion on behalf of their agenda, surround themselves with wise advisers who will challenge them and ask hard questions. They’re organized. They pay attention to details. They avoid creating unnecessary distractions and they stay clear of scandals. They find ways to work with the opposition party and they see the pattern of events sooner than the rest of us. And they know themselves, including their own weaknesses.

Trump sold his ignorance of politics as his strong suite. Unsurprisingly, it has turned out to be his Achilles Heel. As president, he is -- to use one of his favourite words -- a disaster.

Image: The Burning Platform

Friday, April 28, 2017

No Teachable Moments

Michael Harris was not impressed by the final Conservative leadership debate:

For what felt like hours, the candidates alternated between snarking at their colleagues and making grandiose claims about their own fitness for high office — the latter usually amounting to a reference to the real jobs they had before stumbling into the distorted universe of contemporary politics.

The more the hopeful talked, the more it became apparent that defeat has taught them nothing:

Former House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer offered fresh proof that his party is where dinosaurs go when they retire. With a smarmy smile pasted on his youthful face, Scheer insisted that the Conservatives were not crushed in the last election by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals because of their policies in government.

Heavens, no. It wasn’t the dysfunctional fighter jets without price-tags, the snitch line, the long string of deficits and the burgeoning national debt that put an end to a decade of Harperian bliss. Nor was it the serial lying, the politicization of the Justice department, the RCMP and just about every other department of the public service that could be brought to heel by executive intimidation.

It wasn’t a hopelessly one-sided Middle East policy, the abandonment of Canada’s veterans, the instinct to bomb first and talk never, or the personal destruction of the PMO’s enemies in trumped-up police investigations and show trials. (Luckily for the rest of us, the biggest one — the Duffy trial — went terribly wrong for the government.)

No, see … the policies were great. Canadians loved them. It was just that they weren’t explained properly, said Scheer, pointing a rhetorical finger at rivals Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch. He, grinning Andrew, will be the Explainer-in-Chief and bring the voters back to the CPC tent, or boat, or whatever it is.

There was one exception. Michael Chong's time as a Conservative has taught him a few things:

Chong, who took on Harper as a Conservative minister and paid the price, knows that without a credible environmental policy — including a carbon tax — the Tories will never win in a city like Toronto. Now, facts may not matter much in this race, but I can’t be the only one who remembers that Stephen Harper proposed a cap-and-trade system in 2006 and 2008 — years in which the Conservatives won federal elections.

Chong has learned something. The rest of the pack have had no teachable moments.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

O'Leary's Out

Kevin O'Leary has dropped out of the Conservative leadership race because, he says, he can't get support in Quebec. That was obvious on the day he announced his candidacy. Even though he was born in Montreal, he never lived outside Quebec's Anglophone bubble. But, Paul Wells writes, there is another reason why O'Leary's candidacy failed:

The lesson, which a lot of people seem slow to learn, is that conspicuous success over here does not constitute any kind of guarantee over there. Politics is its own set of skills and challenges. If you can’t speak in a way that inspires at least part of your audience, if you can’t make others want to give their time and energy, if you can’t make hard choices, stand withering abuse, organize your way out of a paper bag—if you can’t do politics, then politics doesn’t care what you can do.

So where does O'Leary's departure leave the Conservatives? Still confused: 

Is Maxime Bernier now the heir-presumptive? Maybe. This would be a remarkable outcome: handing the party of Stephen Harper to a man who believes that, on the scale of what’s possible and needed to restrict the role of government in the nation’s life, Harper did nothing significant. If Harperism was about a partial rehabilitation of social conservatism on one hand, and a steely incrementalism on the other, Bernier rejects both hands. On social questions he’s a libertarian. On economic questions he has no interest in moving slowly.
If not Max, then who? Andrew Scheer (medium-right) and Erin O’Toole (rightish) have been fighting for the mantle of Harperite continuity. Each of their campaigns is sure they see a path to victory. The rest of the field is a mix of quirky gambles (maybe Conservatives want a carbon tax! Maybe Kellie Leitch isn’t a self-animated golem!), social conservative proof-of-concept candidacies, and tragically misfiring former ambassadors, whom I won’t name but, you know, Is-Chray Alexander-way.

They are a fractious bunch. But what are we to make of O'Leary's bid for power? Like Donald Trump's presidency, it was an ego trip. Unfortunately, Trump was elected. In O'Leary's case, Canadians dodged a bullet. 

Image:  Yahoo News Canada

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All The Way To The Bank

Today is the day Donald Trump reveals his plan to revamp the American tax code. The Wall Street Journal reports that the cornerstone of his plan will be to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. Dylan Mathews writes:

This will be sold as a boost for small businesses, and it is, but it is mostly a huge giveaway to the rich — including the president himself.

More than two-thirds of income at pass-through companies (so named because their structure makes them exempt from the corporate income tax, and their profits are instead taxed upon distribution to shareholders) goes to the top 1 percent

The plan creates a massive loophole with which ordinary people can evade taxes. Instead of just working for, I could form DylanCorp LLC, contract with Vox to provide writing services, and pay a 15 percent rate on DylanCorp’s earnings rather than my current 25 percent rate. For rich people paying a top rate of 39.6 percent (or the top individual rate of 33 percent that Trump proposed during the campaign), the incentive to do this will be even larger. A new study finds that when Kansas exempted pass-through income, the result wasn't more investment or growth but a surge in this kind of tax avoidance. This is not good policy.

But it gets really interesting when you stop and consider that the Trump Organization is a pass through company: 

It’s also a really, really huge giveaway to Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and the entire Trump family. The Trump Organization isn’t a “C corporation.” It doesn’t pay corporate income tax. Instead, it’s structured as a collection of pass-through enterprises, so the vast majority of income accruing to Trump and his family is taxed through this system. Trump almost certainly pays the 39.6 percent rate on his earnings, so he’s cutting his own top tax rate by more than half. It’s the most transparently self-interested policy he’s proposed since taking office, and it will likely save him tens of millions of dollars.

Of course, we don't know exactly how much money he will save, because we haven't seen his tax returns: 

Here’s the thing, though. We don’t know exactly how big a giveaway to Trump this is, because we don’t know what’s on his tax returns. We have no idea. We have a few details from his 2005 return, which suggests that he gets tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in pass-through income annually. That return also implied that without the alternative minimum tax, which Trump wants to repeal, he would have paid less than 3.5 percent of his income in federal income taxes. Cutting the pass-through rate while repealing the AMT would probably reduce his tax burden to roughly half that level. Instead of paying $38 million, he could've paid less than $3 million.

Trump claims he is the voice of the little man. But every day he is president, he laughs his way to the bank. 

Image: Getty Images

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Inversely Proportional

Donald Trump has us in his sights. Yesterday, he slapped a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber. Next, he'll take aim at Canadian dairy farmers. Tom Walkom writes:

What he was signalling in his off-script remarks about Canada is that the NAFTA talks between Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City will be very, very tough. Canadian officials presumably knew this already. In a draft letter to Congress leaked late last month, some of Trump’s overarching goals in renegotiating NAFTA were laid out.

These included elimination or diminution of Canada’s supply management system in dairy and poultry. They also included opening up Canadian government procurement to U.S. firms while maintaining the U.S. right to buy American.

He wants Canada to dismantle any trade barriers, such as supply management, that inconvenience the U.S. Simultaneously, he wants the U.S. to retain the right to erect trade barriers of its own.

Justin Trudeau's approach, so far, has been to make reasoned arguments on Canada's behalf. But, when dealing with Trump, Trudeau should abide by one overarching principle: the size of Trump's ego is inversely proportional to the size of his brain. The more you stroke his ego, the more his brain ceases to function.

This has become a case of personal -- not mutual -- advantage. Canadian trade policy should focus on taking advantage of a dim witted president and government. 

Image: News Corpse

Monday, April 24, 2017

With Whom He's Dealing

Michael Harris'  disenchantment with Justin Trudeau continues to grow. He is particularly bothered by Justin's attempt to soothe the Great Orange Id. He writes:

It is true that Trudeau has vowed to stand up for Canada and the values of this country. But one has to think that defending supply management and the dairy industry against the free trade wet dreams of the state of Wisconsin may not be a noble enough fight to satisfy his critics. What about Trump the bigot and hater — the guy whose own scientists are marching against him as our scientists did against Harper. After all, evolution is only a theory, right?

The political opposition is already smelling blood in the water on bigger files. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has repeatedly demanded that Trudeau stand up directly and denounce Trump’s “racism and hatred” as embodied in his doomed travel ban directed at Muslims.

Trudeau’s supporters argue, with a degree of honesty and accuracy, that he needs to be careful because of the special economic relationship with America. But according to a poll done for the Globe and Mail, Canadians don’t have much use for the Donald. A majority wants Trudeau to stand up against the US president — even if it leads to a trade war.

Harris contends that what we are seeing is a schizophrenic Trudeau, who stands with a man who stands for the opposite of what the prime minister proclaims:

Trudeau banishes two of his own caucus members after they were accused of unwanted sexual encounters with two female MPs of another party. Trump champions both Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, despite their long and sordid history of viewing women at Fox News as part of their star power perks packages.

Trudeau brought gender balance to his cabinet. Trump’s cabinet looks like a board meeting of the original members of Augusta National Golf Course. Trudeau brings Malala Yousafzai to Parliament Hill and gives her honorary Canadian citizenship. Trump defunds the global maternal health organization (the United Nations Population Fund), and fat shames ex-beauty queen Alicia Machado.

Trudeau proclaims his commitment to protecting the environment, while Trump cancels Obama’s climate change measures and appoints a man to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, whose idea of celebrating Earth Day is re-opening a coal mine.

Dancing with the Donald only leads to disaster. Harris warns Trudeau that Trump " has no friends; just family members, hangers on, and patsies."

Justin should know with whom he's dealing.

Image: CBC

Sunday, April 23, 2017

He And They Are Insane

Yesterday, Donald Trump announced that he will hold a "BIG" rally to celebrate his first one hundred days in office. Henry Giroux writes that there is little to cheer about:

Rather than address climate change, the threat of nuclear war, galloping inequality, the elimination of public goods, Trump and his vicious acolytes have accelerated the threats faced by these growing dangers. Moreover, the authoritarian steam roller just keeps bulldozing through every social protection and policy put in place, however insufficient, in the last few years in order to benefit the poor, vulnerable, and the environment.

A neo-fascist politics of emotional brutality, militant bigotry, and social abandonment has reached new heights in the United States. Think about the Republican Party call to eliminate essential health benefits such as mental health coverage, guaranteed health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of Meals on Wheels program that benefit the poor and elderly.

Trump's signature achievement -- if you can call it that -- has been to establish a culture of cruelty in the United States:

Under these circumstances, everyone is viewed as either a potential terrorist or narcissistic consumer making it easier for the Trump machine to elevate the use of force to the most venerable national ideal while opening up lucrative markets for defense and security industries and the growing private prison behemoth.

It's worth noting that the man Trump selected to fill the empty Supreme Court seat cast his first vote last week -- to execute a man in Arkansas.  And all the while,

the government propaganda machine has turned into a comic version of a failed Reality TV series. Witness the daily spectacle produced by the hapless Sean Spicer. Spicer dreams about and longs for the trappings of Orwell’s dystopia in which he would be able to use his position as a second rate Joseph Goebbels to produce, legitimate, and dictate lies rather than be in the uncomfortable scenario, in which he now finds himself, of having to defend endlessly Trump’s fabrications. For Spicer, the dream of the safety of Orwell’s dystopia has given way to the nightmare of him being reduced to the leading character in the Gong Show. Actually, maybe he is the confused front man for our stand-in-president who increasingly resembles the psychopath on steroids, Patrick Bateman, from the film, American Psycho—truly a symbol for our times.

Trump and his supporters are going to celebrate this? He and they are insane.

Image: Hollywood Reporter