Friday, September 22, 2017

What's the Diff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The First Crooner Won't Be The Last

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

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

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

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

And the first crooner won't be the last.

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Grand And Dangerous Fool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The Guardian

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taxing Wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: MinnPost

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Dippers' Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some Small Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Golden Mean Has Disappeared

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Sanders is driving wedges into his own party: 

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

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

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

Image: slideplayer