Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Illness Is Now A Pandemic


Donald Trump personifies what ails the United States. Jared Yates Sexton writes:

Throughout the first year of his presidency and the entirety of his campaign, Mr. Trump has shown an otherworldly ability to be on the wrong side of every significant issue. Now, with record-low approval ratings and a track record of bad judgment, it's time for Americans to realize the stark, cold truth: our president embodies the most pressing ills of our nation.

Every time he opens his mouth, he makes a situation worse. His latest debacle is his support for Judge Roy Moore -- a man who, like Trump, has been accused of sexual assault:

Mr. Trump has shown time and again a deep disrespect for women, and seems stuck in a patriarchal past that is both crumbling by the day while still maintaining a desperate stranglehold on our culture.

And then there is Trump's fixation on wealth:

 Mr. Trump's constant fixation on material possessions and his life's work of amassing wealth for no other purpose than the amassment itself, is indicative of two of America's most pressing issues: the widening wealth gap between the haves and have-nots, and unrestrained greed. In the interests of both, Trump's Republican Party is currently pushing legislation to grant a tax cut for wealthy Americans that will simultaneously punish the middle and working classes – a bill that, on the surface, seems to have no other purpose than to further enrich the wealthy and punish the poor.

Trump personifies the illness which currently threatens the United States. In fact, it's an illness which has refused every attempt at a cure for the last thirty-five years:

The truth of the matter is that Mr. Trump personifies a backward worldview that prevents America from moving forward and realizing its potential. His actions are regularly misogynistic, racist, ignorant and authoritarian. On issues that are black and white – both in terms of ethics and public opinion – including freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the removal of Confederate statues, he stands firmly on the side of the wrong and vocal minority.

The illness is now a pandemic.

Image: Natural News

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Rubber Hits The Road



The Trudeau government is very good when it comes to making promises. But, when it comes to delivering on them, their expertise is questionable. That's the message behind the week's Auditor General's Report. Susan Delacourt writes:

Ferguson’s devastating report has described a government that can’t even pay its public servants properly or figure out how to provide results-based service to citizens on one of the most basic aspects of government: taxation. “Check against deliverology” would be a good alternative title for this latest report — especially the parts about the Phoenix payroll debacle and the Canada Revenue Agency’s dismal treatment of taxpayers. 
According to the AG’s report, only a little more than one-third of the calls placed to Canada Revenue Agency were answered, either by a live agent or by an automated service. Worse, in nearly one-third of those calls, the information relayed by CRA to taxpayers was incorrect. One-third of the calls.

You can bet that the opposition will zero in on this information, comparing it to the rosy "mandate tracker" which the Liberals have been trumpeting.

Every government is ultimately judged on the distance between its rhetoric and its performance. Mr. Trudeau is a gifted salesman. But he's going to have to brush up on his management skills.

Image: promisekeepers.ca

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Nasty Folks Behind Him


As Senators like John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have distanced themselves from Donald Trump, some progressives have speculated that Trump may be gone sometime after 2018. But William Anderson writes that their rejoicing is premature:

The possibility of a Republican overthrow of Trump has been considered, even from within his inner circle. Vanity Fair recently reported that months ago, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon warned Trump "the risk to his presidency wasn't impeachment, but the 25th Amendment -- the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president." In addition to this, a source told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, "Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." 
However, we cannot simply rejoice at such possibilities. If one thing is certain, it's that with or without Donald Trump as president, we'll still have to contend with white supremacy and its supporters, who elected this president in the first place. Moreover, we will still have to contend with the violence of capitalism. The forces that pushed Donald Trump to the forefront of the US empire are intrinsic to the US project, and they will not go away with him, should he be cast out. If something happens that removes this president from office, it will be no shock to see those who once praised and used him quickly separating themselves from his name and administration. He may well be tossed asunder as the president "everyone" despised. Yet the millions of people who elected him will still be working, living and voting again, based on the same principles that motivated them to vote for Trump.

Trump's people may be a minority. But, thanks to the Electoral College, they are an influential minority:

Presidents are powerful, but more powerful than them are capitalism's controllers, working in the background, directing for their interests. White supremacy, too, is a grounding undercurrent of this country's history and present-day functioning. If the Trump presidency concludes, we will still be faced with a powerful system of oppressions. Until we confront the systems that enabled Donald Trump's rise to power, we'll always be at risk of seeing someone like him empowered again.

Put simply, there could be another Trump -- a smarter version of the same. Trump is a nasty piece of work. But the real problem is the nasty folks behind him.

Image: wsj.com


Monday, November 20, 2017

Ego Is No Substitute For Intellect



Word has it that NAFTA re-negotiations are not going well. Robert Samuelson writes that's because Donald Trump has misdiagnosed the problem:

What made America great in the 1950s and 1960s were the strength of its economy and the recognition that freer trade was a powerful political force promoting prosperity and cementing Western alliances. 
It is this system that Trump is repudiating on the grounds that it has backfired on American workers and firms. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said in his trade speech Nov. 10. Poor trade agreements and abuses by our trading partners have caused U.S. trade deficits, the president said. 
To be sure, the United States should be more aggressive in pursuing trade complaints against countries that steal intellectual property (patents) or engage in dumping and illegal subsidization of exports. 
Still, these are not the major sources of our trade deficits. That distinction belongs to the dollar’s status as the major global currency, used to conduct trade and cross-border investment. 
This drives the dollar’s value higher, making U.S. exports more expensive and U.S. imports cheaper. Given the nature of the resulting trade deficits — and as is obvious from the economy’s present state — the United States can achieve “full employment” and run trade deficits simultaneously.

 Trump, of course, understands none of this. Ego is no substitute for intellect.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Happens When You're Half Educated



The founders of Facebook and Google are horrified by what they have wrought. John Naughton writes:

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves. 
The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies. 
It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? 

The answer, Naughton suggests, lies in the education each of the founders of these technological giants received:

Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. 
As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”

We are still living in the world C.P. Snow described in The Two Cultures, where the sciences and the humanities are not on speaking terms:

He lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other – with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.

Snow believed that the truly educated person should be steeped in both the sciences and the humanities. And so, here we are, in a world where some very bright and influential people make stupid decisions.

Image:wikipedia


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mad As Hell



It used to be that, when the economy was doing well, the politician at the head of the parade did well, too. But Allen Freeman writes that, even with a vibrant economy, Justin Trudeau's numbers are sinking:

There were always exceptions to the rule that linked the economy and politics — but now the rule itself has to be tossed aside. Voting intentions now seem to be completely divorced from the state of the economy. 
How else can we explain the results of a recent Nanos Research poll that seems to show many Canadians giving the Trudeau Liberals virtually no credit for the current buoyant state of the Canadian economy? According to the poll, only 25 per cent rated Trudeau’s performance as an economic manager as good or better, while 36 per cent saw that performance as poor or very poor.

Denis Cordere, the now former Mayor of Montreal has experienced the same phenomenon:

In Montreal, Denis Coderre just got voted out of the mayor’s office after a single term during which the city experienced the kind of boom times that have escaped it since the 1970s. Property values are up. Unemployment is at record low levels. Tourism is soaring. The city increasingly is seen as a global centre for gaming technology and artificial intelligence research.
Yet Coderre, who obviously underestimated his opponent, got no credit for the good times.

And then, of course, there is the circus to the south of us. How to account for what's going on? Freeman says the public is just plain mad:

I think this stems from the cultural moment we’re in now in western democracies — the widespread urge to give the middle finger to the ‘elites’ no matter what they do, or don’t do. Voters are quick to blame politicians the moment things go wrong but are much less likely to give them any credit for anything positive. It’s as if voters are looking for an excuse — any excuse — to throw the jerks out of office at the earliest opportunity.
All of this doesn’t bode well for the good conduct of public policy. There used to be an assumption that if politicians did the right things economically (especially early in a term) and could show tangible benefits to the public, they had a good chance of being rewarded for it. In this new world of constantly irritable voters, ready to turn their moods and their votes on a dime, forget good policy.

We are living in Howard Beales's world. The voters are made as hell and they won't take it anymore.

Image: stevecurtin.com


Friday, November 17, 2017

Sleepwalking To Extinction



The nations of the world have been meeting in Bonn trying to map out a strategy for dealing with climate change. But we face another crisis -- which, in itself, is related to climate change. William Rees writes:

Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations. But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise. 
On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others. (Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment.”)

We are the dominant species -- and we have been crowding out all the others:

Competitive displacement has been going on for a long time. Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent! 
One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century. Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95 per cent to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000). And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970. Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.

We have adopted the mantra of exponential growth. It has become our measure of success. But consider:

The past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years. 

All of this is unsustainable. But we continue to follow the same old patterns -- sleepwalking to extinction.

Image:  USA Today