Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Fetid Hotbox of American Fascism - Ann Coulter



She's xenophobic, racist and a bottomless pit of evil. Some, like Bill Maher, still imagine he can have a dialogue with this scumqueen but that is a self-serving contrivance of looking the other way.

Coulter has jumped into the Mexican baby fiasco to do what she does best - dehumanize those kids.  Coulter wants Americans and especially Donald Trump to believe those crying kids are "child actors."

Here are excerpts from The Atlantic writer, Megan Garber's powerful and disturbing essay, "How to Look Away."

These child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now; do not fall for it, Mr. President.” 
Ann Coulter, on Sunday, was speaking to that famed audience of one—Donald Trump—in the language whose grammar and idioms both of them understand intuitively: that of the Fox News Channel. But the pundit wasn’t speaking to the world leader so much as she was warning him. And she was concerned, she suggested, not so much for the presidential mind as for the American soul. You may be tempted, she suggested to the president and the larger audience, to feel for the children who wail as they are torn away from their families at the American border; resist that temptation. Do not feel for them; they don’t deserve it. Because they’re faking it. As Coulter reiterated on Tuesday, in a follow-up interview with TMZ: “They are trying to wreck our country through a political stunt.”

The images, moving and still, are searing, in part, precisely because they are images. They capture something in immediate and visceral and urgent terms that words, even at their frankest and most effective, cannot. The Getty photographer John Moore’s viral photograph of a 2-year-old girl sobbing as she watched her mother being frisked by an agent of the American government—the pink shirt, the matching shoes, the pudgy cheeks, frozen in an expression of despair and disbelief—is worth many more than a thousand words. The audioof children crying for parents who cannot come to comfort them—the recording a symbol of both human tragedy and governmental opacity—is wrenching, emotionally, precisely because it is, rationally, so raw and so real. And, therefore, so profoundly undeniable. 
And yet: Ann Coulter has been denying it. Her repeated accusation—“child actors weeping and crying”—is attempting to destabilize not just the facts on the ground, but also another kind of truth: the emotions most humans will feel, automatically, in response to children who cry in agony. Coulter’s warning to the world leader responsible for the tragedy—Do not fall for it, Mr. President—is a repetition of the logic deployed by some as a matter of moral reflex in response to the otherwise unimaginable, and otherwise inarguable, tragedies of Newtown, and Parkland, and so many others: They’re just actors, those people will insist. It’s all fake, they will assure. It is a moral claim as much as a factual one: You don’t have to act. You don’t even have to care. You can look away from this and still manage to look at yourself in the mirror.
Tragedies that need not be treated as tragedies at all, because the tragedies, in a fundamental way, are false: In one way, certainly, these are extremely fringe ideas—Ann Coulter, Coultering once more. But in another way—an ever more familiar way, as the Overton window flings ever more widely on its rusty hinges—they are not fringe at all. They have been summoned, instead, this week, across platforms that are decidedly mainstream. They have been, as it were, decidedly normalized
The press conference conducted by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday was, overall, dedicated to the proposition that the reporting coming out of the holding facilities along the American border—the audio, the video, the images of tiny bodies held in massive cages, as a portrait of the American leader looks on—is wrong. (“Don’t believe the press,” Nielsen said, echoing one of the core intellectual and emotional propositions of Trumpism.) 
... This is a moment in America in which people are talking, with mounting panic, about the slow encroachments of autocracy. One of the truisms of that discussion is the notion that a chronic condition necessary for a democracy to erode into something else is for the infrastructures of collective truth-telling to be allowed to crumble into disrepair. (Hannah Arendt’s prescient concernsweren’t just for the fate of facts, but also for a broader worry: that widespread cynicism would make facts, in some ways, irrelevant. That people would cease to believe that anything at all can be true.)

...When you hear a little girl screaming for her absent father, yes, you may, as a human person with a human soul, reply with automated empathy. You may recall, without trying to, those moments when you yourself were small, when you yourself were separated from your own parent, for an instant or the opposite—how impossibly tiny you felt, and how impossibly big the world was at that moment. You may recall, without trying to, all those times you, as a parent, could not find your child—all the panic, all the fear, all the love frantically seeking its home. You may feel it, just a very little of it, the pain of strangers that is not yours but in another way very much is. “[Children crying],” the image accompanying ProPublica’s stark audio informs you, against a screen that is infinitely dark, and the simple fact of the stark juxtaposition might make you cry. It might make you do what Rachel Maddow did on Tuesday evening, as she read from a breaking-news bulletin from the Associated Press about detention centers for very young children that are referred to, in the language of the state, as “tender-age” shelters: Break down. Lose your words. Erupt into involuntary tears.
It is precisely such an eruption, though—the connective tissue of a world that is at once sweeping and small—that many representatives of the United States, elected and not, are claiming to be false. You are being duped, they are suggesting—by the hysteria of the biased media, by the cherry-picking of images and truths, by your own easily manipulable humanity. On Tuesday, Corey Lewandowski, the former manager of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, made news on Fox News for, in response to a fellow guest’s mention of a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who had been separated from her mother, interrupting the story with a dismissive “womp womp.” The heckle was callous and glib and deserving of the have-you-no-decency drubbing Lewandowski got in response; it was in the service, however, of an argument that the fake news are at it again, refusing to show you the full truth, the full stakes. Tucker Carlson summed it up this way: To profess horror at the events taking place at the border, the host said on his show, is to capitulate to those who “care far more about foreigners than about their own people.” It is to have lost the battle, and with it, the war. This is a matter of us and them, Carlson knows. Your own weary heart might counter that the true subject here, as it always will be, is we—but your heart, he insists, is wrong.

This is no longer a debate, two sides of a coin. It is what Edmund Burke warned of when he wrote that "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

These Trump supporters, including the Trump trolls that beset these blogs, have crossed a line. They're no longer deserving of our audience and certainly not our civility. It's time for good men to act like it.

LIARS. Where Do Their Lies Stop, When?


What do Jeff Sessions, Kirstjen Nielsen, Donald Trump, FOX News and many of Trump's followers have in common? They're utter liars. They lie as easily as they breathe. They will lie about anything that they believe the Gullibillies will swallow - and that's a shipload of "anything."

When the tsunami of rage and disgust swept over the Executive Branch scumbags, they quickly tried to distract the collective idiocy by claiming they were only doing the very same thing that Obama had done during his presidency. It's the sort of thing scumbags do. And, as usual, it's a pack of lies.

"The Obama administration, the Bush administration all separated families," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters at the White House on Monday. "They absolutely did. They did — their rate was less than ours, but they absolutely did do this. This is not new."

But immigration advocates and former Obama administration officials say that's just not true: The Obama administration did not have any kind of widespread practice of separating children from their parents. Trump's policy aims to prosecute every single illegal border crossing, including asylum-seekers. The government separates children from their parents or legal guardians because the adults have been referred for prosecution for illegal entry into the United States. 
The idea that this is simply a continuation of an Obama-era practice is "preposterous," said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School. "There were occasionally instances where you would find a separated family — maybe like one every six months to a year — and that was usually because there had been some actual individualized concern that there was a trafficking situation or that the parent wasn’t actually the parent."
Once custody concerns were resolved, "there was pretty immediately reunification," Gilman told NBC News. "There were not 2,000 kids in two months — it’s not the same universe," she added.
Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, Cecilia Muñoz, said the Obama administration did consider a similar policy, but determined it heartless. 
"The agencies were surfacing every possible idea,” Muñoz told The New York Times in an interview recently. "I do remember looking at each other like, ‘We’re not going to do this, are we?’ We spent five minutes thinking it through and concluded that it was a bad idea. The morality of it was clear — that’s not who we are."
That is who Donald Trump is. He's more than a deviant, serial sex-offender, philandering, thieving and cheating narcissist. He's a sociopath, devoid of empathy, guided by no moral compass, a predator to all who fall within his reach. He's a despotic scumbag and it's time to realize those who follow and promote him, those who venerate him, evangelical or not, are no better. Donald Trump is an evil man, remarkably even eerily like evil men from the past. He breaks bread with kindred spirits such as Erdogan, Orban, Duterte, Kim and Putin.

Trump is evil and no one, especially no American, can refuse to see it. Our history books are full of what happens when people look the other way. For me, I merely have to look above my desk to see the pips and badges of the Canadian Fusiliers, the Oxford Rifles and the Essex Scottish, regiments in which my dad served and went to war to remind me of the evil that lurks in men such as Donald Trump.


New Series - It's a FUBAR World Now


From time to time I'll be posting articles under the title, "It's a FUBAR World now."


FUBAR is an old military acronym that took SNAFU up a notch as shown in the illustration above. It means "Fu@ked Up Beyond All Recognition." FUBAR stories can be funny, bizarre, sad, infuriating - anything that depicts how our civilization is becoming FUBAR'ed.

First a mild one. Tigers. From The Guardian an account of how there are more tigers living in captivity in the US, often domestically, than there are in the wild around the world. Few of these captive tigers are sheltered in zoos. A lot of them are living in peoples' homes, sometimes in their backyards, a situation that often ends in gunfire.


Seven thousand of the big cats live in US captivity, whereas, despite increases, there are as few as 3,890 wild tigers worldwide. Most of the captive animals are kept in unregulated conditions, as the BBC reported last week. Only 6% are housed in zoos or facilities approved by the US Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The rest live in private breeding facilities, back yards, even urban apartments. In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a rescue dog.
In 2011, an owner of exotic pets in Zanesville, Ohio, released his menagerie into the community; 18 tigers and other animals were shot to protect people. In 2001, Texas was forced to pass a law demanding owners register their animals after a pet tiger ripped off a young boy’s arm. “Since 1990, there have been hundreds of dangerous incidents involving big cats in the US. Four children lost their lives and dozens of others lost limbs or suffered other often traumatic injuries. Nineteen adults have been killed and scores have been mauled,” says Debbie Leahy, the manager for captive wildlife protection at the Humane Society of the United States.


This one goes out to the guys at Burger King. As you may have heard, the FIFA World Cup is underway in Russia. To celebrate the great event the Russian branch of Burger King set up a great promotion - free burgers for life for any woman who gets impregnated by a participating soccer player.
On Tuesday the burger chain announced a promotion on VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, offering women 3 million Russian roubles ($47,000) and a lifetime supply of Whoppers if they get impregnated by football players competing in the World Cup. 
Shortly after announcing the campaign they pulled it due to backlash. Burger King posted a statement on VK apologizing and said it had removed all materials related to the promotion. However, evidence of the stunt lives on in screenshots.
 I was going to wrap this up with a report on how municipalities in the US (and some in Canada) are making their homeless disappear by giving them bus tickets to other cities, sometimes long-distance trips to other states and provinces. I think I'll pass. Domesticated tigers and Russian burger promotions is probably about all you - or I - can stomach in one sitting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

John Meachem Sees America as "Three Universes Colliding"


This is one of those clips you really need to watch.

He said What???


I just spotted this on the innerwebs. It's supposedly a tweet by Republican stalwart, Bill Kristol.


And Now a Word from James Hansen



The scientific community stands in awe of the accuracy of the uncanny accuracy of James Hansen's climate change predictions delivered 30 years ago. For his part, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Institute says he takes no pleasure in being so prescient.

Now Hansen is back to warn that our leaders are "failing miserably" in responding to this existential threat. Guess what leader is close to the top of Hansen's "worst" list? C'mon, Liberals, you know who it is.

Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake. 
“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.” 
Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues. 
Three decades of diplomacy has blossomed into an international consensus, albeit rattled by Trump, that the temperature rise must be curbed to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. But in this time emissions have soared (in 1988, 20bn tons of carbon dioxide was emitted – by 2017 it was 32bn tons) with promised cuts insufficient for the 2C goal. Despite the notable growth of renewable energy such as solar and wind, Hansen believes there is no pathway to salvation without a tax on carbon-producing fuels. 
“The solution isn’t complicated, it’s not rocket science,” Hansen said. “Emissions aren’t going to go down if the cost of fossil fuels isn’t honest. Economists are very clear on this. We need a steadily increasing fee that is then distributed to the public.”
...“Poor Jim Hansen. He’s a tragic hero,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard academic who studies the history of science. “The Cassandra aspect of his life is that he’s cursed to understand and diagnose what’s going on but unable to persuade people to do something about it. We are all raised to believe knowledge is power but Hansen proves the untruth of that slogan. Power is power.” 
That power has been most aggressively wielded by fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and Shell which, despite being well aware of the dangers of climate change decades before Hansen’s touchstone moment in 1988, funded a network of groups that ridiculed the science and funded sympathetic politicians. Later, they were to be joined by the bulk of the US Republican party, which now recoils from any action on climate change as heresy.
“Obama was committed to action but couldn’t do much with the Congress he had,” Oreskes said. “To blame the Democrats and Obama is to misunderstand the political context. There was a huge, organized network that put forward a message of confusion and doubt.” 
Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who testified at the same 1988 hearing about sea level rise, said the struggle to confront climate change has been “discouraging”. 
“The nasty anti-science movement ramped up and now we are way behind.” 
“I’m convinced we will deal with the problem,” he said. “[But] not before there is an amount of suffering that is unconscionable and should’ve been avoided.”

I wish I could believe Oppenheimer's assurances but I cannot. For starters, he's committing the "original sin" of treating climate change as a stand alone problem. It simply is not. It is tightly interwoven with other major, man-made threats, especially overpopulation and our massively excessive consumption of essential resources.

Climate change is a global problem but, even if their impacts are not uniform, so too are overpopulation and over-consumption. Because these are global problems, each in its own right rising to the level of existential, they require global solutions, collaborative efforts by all nations. They are tightly connected, bonded in fact, that you cannot successfully deal with one unless you deal successfully with them all.

Because these are global threats demanding global responses we will have to ensure a high degree of global stability, especially among those nations that will be the "first and worst" impacted. These nations also tend to be the most impoverished and vulnerable. Not all by any means but most. A lack of global stability, the rise of chaos, may shred our prospects of dealing with this basket of existential challenges.

We must also recognize that the developed nations that have the greatest ability to respond to these challenges are also now receiving early onset climate change impacts. Our own resilience may be sapped, weakening our ability to respond and undermining our national and collective will to act even as the challenges multiply and worsen.

The Face of Barbarism. What, We're Surprised?


The only thing that surprises me is that we have looked the other way for so long.


What did we imagine we were dealing with after this?





Right Now, It's a Spectator Sport. Before Long It Could Become a Blood Sport.



Trump has people in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Europe a bit worried about how we'll fare in a trade war with the United States. We're told we could be heading toward a recession, a drop in GDP of perhaps 2 per cent.

Trump's abuse of America's traditional allies is small potatoes. The Big Show is the Clash of the Titans, Washington versus Beijing. There's the one to watch because it's possible that could end in fireworks.

It would be much less worrisome if America had a mentally sound president. It doesn't. It has Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is in the White House and the reasonable people, the boys in the long pants, are pretty much gone. Trump has now surrounded himself with some pretty sketchy types like Pompeo, Bolton, Navarro and Haspel. They're the sort who can play on Trump's worst instincts, his deranged sense of grievance, his fears and every base instinct - they are legion. Trump embodies a malignant narcissism. He's extremely sociopathic, utterly lacking in empathy. He's impulsive and more than a little sadistic. These are the foundational attributes that Donald Trump has consistently exhibited his entire life. They're also America's Achilles Heel.

Trump may be attempting to restore America's dominance in the world. He can't. America's days as the world's industrial powerhouse are over. Trump blames that on foreign predators. Not hardly. It was America's industrial giants that, unleashed by globalism, offshored their manufacturing operations to low-wage, minimal-regulation regimes abroad. The United States quite deliberately transitioned to a "fire" economy - finance/insurance/real estate.

A few years ago I read a fascinating analysis by an American labour economist about the state of industrialism in his homeland and why so much of it was gone for good. He pointed out that manufacturing generates stable albeit modest returns on investment. Typically it's something in the range of 3 per cent. At the same time, the fire economy, Wall Street, was generating returns of 9 to 12 per cent. To encourage financial investment the feds began cutting capital gains taxes. The Triumph of the Rentier Class. Trump has no appetite for undoing that.

Do we imagine Chairman-for-Life Xi hasn't taken the measure of Trump and the box he's in? Do we think only Trump will ruthlessly exploit every opportunity, every vulnerability?

Could Trump's trade war be the very opportunity Xi has been looking for? This could be China's opportunity to cement its ascdendancy. History tells us that most of these superpower transitions lead to warfare. That was predictable when ships were made of oak, cannon were cast iron and fired grape shot. This transition will be the first we've seen in the Nuclear Age.

I would bet that Xi has a critical advantage. He can probably weather the domestic reaction to a recessionary trade war much better than Trump. Trump's base will be hit. The Gullibillies are quite vulnerable. But it will be the Kochs, the Coors and the Adelson's who will be gunning for him if they see he's launched a ruinous trade war without much chance of success. They're already incensed with Trump's trade wars. They'll be unforgiving if Trump loses his war with China or winds up groveling for terms. And let's remember who owns America's "bought and paid for" Congress.

Trump is no Simon Bolivar but he may wind up as America's Don Quixote. He cannot endure humiliation and he's now surrounded with people like Bolton, Pompeo, Navarro and Haspel. With those people steering Trump, it's Xi's advantages that I find truly worrisome.

Remember, America is flying solo this time. It has viciously turned on its allies.

Let's hope this doesn't get out of control.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Neil Macdonald - "This Is America"



In Neil Macdonald's considered opinion, Donald Trump is no aberration. If anything, he says that Trump "represents the true soul of America."

Along the southern border, families with the will and the heart to flee misery and seek asylum are being torn apart — the parents charged and prosecuted and deported, rather than welcomed through open doors. Their children, alone and terrified, sit numbly in tent cities erected by ICE, Donald Trump's freshly empowered immigration enforcers, who keep visiting do-gooders away, even papering over windows to hide what's going on within.
A woman sent back to Guatemala without her son tearfully wonders if she will ever see him again. 
A former Republican first lady compares the detention centres to the Japanese-American internment camps of the Second World War.

A former military general, and former CIA and NSA director, noted that other governments have separated children from parents, tweeting a picture of Auschwitz-Birkenau's railroad spur.

Most of the criticism has invoked morality, or Christian values. But this president is clearly uninterested in either, despite his closeness to evangelical Christian leaders and his own avowal of faith.

He's sensed that his voters, which are really what count, want ruthlessness, and that they can easily be persuaded to see it as patriotic: a notion he eagerly promotes.

Any criticism he treats as just politics, the easiest course of action in a country where even Supreme Court decisions are regarded as partisan.


The stated purpose of his policy is to make it clear to the world that having the "will and the heart" to get to the shining city on the hilltop will leave you in prison and your children at least temporarily orphaned. Trump wants to build an actual wall around the hilltop city, one with no doors, topped with concertina wire. Judging from his successes so far, he likely will.

Tearing Up the Neighbourhood

As for America's race issues, suffice it to say that white America has not had so bold a champion since George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. Take a moment and look at Virginia's new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Corey Stewart, backed and praised lavishly by the president.

Which brings us to [Reagan's] hilltop city's free ports, humming with commerce. Trump is single handedly putting an end to that, too, making something else clear to the world: rules-based trade and commerce is for chumps.

To him, America's allies are weak fools – he actually taunts them publicly – who need to understand that what counts is American power, against which they cannot prevail. Either they accept his terms, or he crushes them. Already, he's labelled their exports a threat to America's national security.

Trump's War Against Truth and Democracy.
As journalism professor Jay Rosen has persuasively argued, Trump is clearly winning his war against the media, an institution Trump has described as a great danger to America. 
Fact-checking, the essence of journalism, no longer matters much, says Rosen, because it carries no consequence. 
Politicians, caught lying, used to at least stop repeating the lie, even if they wouldn't admit having lied. Being a proven liar was just too uncomfortable. No longer. Trump lies easily and overwhelmingly; he couldn't give a toss about fact-checkers, and neither do his supporters. 
The brazen lie is now of no more consequence than serial philandering or consorting with foreign enemies who want to corrupt elections. 
Donald Trump, who loves winning, is winning. He is beating America's allies, he is crushing America's media, he is demonizing and desiccating American law enforcement, and hinting that in the end, he might even use his pardon power to sweep away rule of law. He has in fact already done so. 
In her op-ed for The Washington Post, Laura Bush asked for compassion, kindness and morality. This is not America, she argued
Well, yes it is. Trump is America, and America, it turns out, isn't so exceptional after all.
No good will come to Canada if we have political leadership that will not accept reality. America is no longer our ally or even our friend. It has fundamentally changed even if so many Americans have not. America's "bought and paid for" Congress won't stand up to their homegrown despot. Neither will America's ideologically compromised Supreme Court.

Ordinary, decent Americans are being subverted as much as anyone else. Today their own Supreme Court ensured they will still be electorally abused by gerrymandering.

The Western alliance needs to gather and figure out how we're going ahead against this new America. We have to cut ourselves loose from this ogre.


There's a Lesson for Us in This.


Canadians have always taken for granted our "special relationship" with the United States and the longest undefended border in the world, yada, yada, yada.

Integrating our economy with America's seemed like a no-brainer. Hey, they're just next door. They're our only "next door." One thing led to another and eventually we integrated other aspects of our national identity such as our foreign and military policy. In many ways we were the dutiful branch plant to Washington's Head Office.

For years I've been questioning if we hadn't lashed Canada's boat too tightly to America's leaky ship. Were we making ourselves unduly vulnerable to the vagaries and fortunes of the American state?

Before Trump I never imagined that an American president could exploit this "special relationship," weaponize it and turn it against us. However this sadistic son-of-a-bitch has spent his entire life discerning and then exploiting the vulnerability of others. He's a predator, always has been. He's left a mountain of devastation in his wake - investors, lenders, creditors - anyone who gets within range.

Before Trump I don't think any of us imagined we would be where we are today but here we are. Our willing integration with the United States is our Achilles' Heel. If America turns schoolyard bully, we have to hand over our lunch money or take a pounding.

Yeah, but surely that's just Trump. He might be gone in a couple of years. Only it's not just Trump. Congressional Republicans, other than a few who aren't seeking re-election, are doing nothing to defend this "special relationship." Any idea that the "bought and paid for" legislative branch is Trump's co-equal, capable of independent action and holding Trump in check,  is now a dark farce.

This isn't a trade dispute. It's an attack. That "special relationship" business is nonsense. You can't have a relationship, special or otherwise, without two parties.

Canada needs to re-align dramatically but it may already be too late for that. At least we can come to our senses and realize America may no longer be our friend.

The American Caliphate

It's a testament to how utterly fucked up American evangelicals have become that they now worship* the least Christian president in their nation's history. Team Trump will even defile the Bible to justify taking little Mexican kids from their parents and tossing them into cages.

Nesrine Malik has seen this all before just like anyone who grew up in the Arab world.
To those of us who grew up in the Arab world, where Islam is often invoked by “secular” regimes in order to stem political opposition, and who are accustomed to this charade of piety, there is something chilling yet comforting in observing the authoritarian evolution of the Trump administration. There is a reason why some of those regimes will not do away with blasphemy laws, so handy are they in purging political opponents. It is chilling to see religion used this way in a supposedly sophisticated, liberal democracy, and in particular this element of it, which reduces politics to mere compliance. But it is comforting, in a macabre way, to have it proved that nowhere in the world have humans evolved beyond instrumentalising religion to justify tyranny. The most bewildering thing about US dictator creep isn’t that it’s happening: it’s that it is happening with such predictability
The terror of the Trump doctrine is not in its innovation but in its imitation. The last few months are a testament to the fact that history is not past, that the passage of time does not necessarily imply progress. The words Sessions quoted were used in the 1840s and 50s to justify slavery. When abolitionists argued that slavery was cruel, and that separating families was a violation of religious ethics, they were met with the argument of religious compliance with the law. John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post: “Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century – and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity – it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.”
The invocation of piety is also familiarly threadbare when the behaviour of this holy sovereign, allegedly with God’s will vested in him, is taken into account. Trump is a man mired in allegations of infidelity committed across the course of his three marriages. His church attendance was summed up in his statement that he had “never asked God for forgiveness”, and he referred to communion as “my little wine” and “my little cracker”. Yet he received 80% of the white evangelical vote. Of his unlikely Christian support base, Amy Sullivan, in the New York Times, says: “Decades of fearmongering about Democrats and religious liberals have worked. 80% of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.” 
This is the most sinister and most powerful element of the dictator’s playbook: the pact with the base. Every policy, every utterance, becomes about what it signifies to its target audience rather than what it objectively means.  
Where others see panicked children and parents mad with distress when ripped away from their offspring, Trump supporters decipher the scene in terms of what Trump is projecting: your fears are real, your will is done, and I am its executor. Once this line of communication has been established, there is little that can disrupt it, no appeal to emotion or logic that is fruitful. It is a feedback loop that is not about values or religion or even conservatism. It is about prejudice against the other and anger at liberals, the perceived enablers of the other. 
To those Americans shocked that ancient biblical texts preaching obedience to the law are being uttered by senior White House officials, those of us who have gone through the anguish of holy texts being used to justify crimes against humanity can extend much empathy but no comfort – and the certainty that there is more to come.

*When I wrote that American evangelicals now "worship" the least Christian president in their nation's history, I used the word deliberately. No matter how odious Trump is, no matter how immoral, no matter how persistently devilish the man-boy is in feeding them a steady diet of lies after lies, they have reverence for Donald Trump. They venerate him. They extend to him their faith-based stupidity, suspending disbelief, even abandoning the powerful teachings of their Christ for this anti-Christ. They are, as I noted at the start of this post, wilfully "fucked up."

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Oh, That Kind of Lawyer. Cohen Seems Ready to Roll.


It was reported last week that long time Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, was changing lawyers. At first word was that he wanted something a little downscale, less costly, someone who knew how to take on federal prosecutors from the New York southern district.

The remarkably accurate McClatchey News claims to have learned what Cohen's really looking for in his new counsel - somebody really good at plea bargaining.

And at least one wealthy friend was recently asked by Cohen to consider buying a pricey New York apartment that the embattled embattled Trump "fixer" with over a decade of business ties to Donald J. Trump is attempting to unload amid mounting legal bills, according to a source who spoke with the potential buyer. Cohen, his father Fima Shusterman and other family members own numerous properties in the New York area. 
A lawyer who turned down overtures from Cohen’s camp said he did so because he wasn’t experienced in plea deals, which he said was one of the areas of strength Cohen had been seeking in new legal representation. 
If Cohen agrees to cooperate with federal investigators in return for leniency, legal experts say, it could mean huge trouble for Trump, since the lawyer straddles both the political and business empires of the real estate mogul. While the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York has reportedly been investigating Cohen's personal business dealings including a once-thriving taxi company, Cohen could become a star witness against the president if he became a government witness and had information pertinent to Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller's broad investigation into Russia's 2016 meddling in the U.S. election. It was Mueller's office that referred certain information about Cohen to New York prosecutors.

Is the Mooch Staging a Comeback


CBS News is reporting that Sarah Sanders Huckabee or Huckabee Sanders, whatever, and her understudy, Raj Shah, are looking to bail out of the asylum known as Donald Trump's White House.

Several other lower-level positions in the communications department left vacant in recent weeks are likely to remain unfilled, with more departures expected in the coming weeks, according to a former official. 
Numerous staffers have left the White House over the last several months, some voluntarily and others having been forced out. Those departures include Hicks; Jared Kushner's top communications aide, Josh Raffel; homeland security adviser Tom Bossert; National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton; Trump personal aide John McEntee; director of White House message strategy Cliff Simms; communications aide Steven Cheung; congressional communications director Kaelan Dorr; assistant press secretary Natalie Strom; and deputy director of media affairs Tyler Ross.
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied turnover dating back to the Reagan administration, published a report that tracks senior-level departures of the Trump administration compared to previous presidencies. She told CBS News that the sheer number of top-level exits indicates a troubling inconsistency in the ranks of those who see the president on a regular basis.

"So many people haven't even stayed in these jobs to master the learning curve," Tenpas told CBS News. "You don't hear much about the importance of expertise. This is a White House that doesn't seem to value that or understand the consequences of it. It's kind of one of those things where we may not know the vulnerability of lacking expertise unless there is a crisis -- or a crisis that may have been averted had a person been in the room." 
...Sources close to the administration fear that while Mr. Trump has been able to bring in a handful of senior, high-profile replacements like national security adviser John Bolton, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there aren't many more qualified people willing to sign up for such an unpredictable high-wire job. 
..."Nobody wants to come in," a source close to the administration said. "So they've gone through two rounds and now they're at third tier of people who are just lucking out -- battlefield promotion ends up promoting people who aren't qualified for the position."

Happy Father's Day Everyone (who qualifies, that is)


Ever notice how nobody says "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" in a flattering, positive sense. But if your kid, just once, is on the run from the cops, you'll never hear the end of it.

Happy Father's Day!!!


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Just Say "No" to You Know Who


An Ipsos poll released Friday finds that 70 per cent of Canadians intend to boycott American goods.
Seventy per cent of Canadians say they will start looking for ways to avoid buying U.S.-made goods in a threat to ratchet up a trade dispute between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, an Ipsos Poll showed on Friday. 
The poll also found a majority of Americans and Canadians are united in support of Trudeau and opposition to Trump in their countries’ standoff over the renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
...Canadian respondents also signalled approval of the united front their politicians have shown, with 88 per cent saying they welcomed the support of politicians from other parties for the Liberal government’s decision to push back on tariffs. 
The Ipsos Poll of 1,001 Canadians and 1,005 Americans – including 368 Democrats, 305 Republicans and 202 Independents – was conducted June 13-14. It has a credibility interval of 3.4 percentage points.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thoroughly Nice People


Naomi Schulman points our that it's often genuinely nice people who empower thugs like Donald Trump.


T

Supremes Side With Law Societies, Nix Christian Law School



It's a bleak day for BC's Trinity Western University.

The Supreme Court has upheld the right of provincial law societies to reject the graduates of a proposed Christian law school over a rule that prohibits students from having sex outside of heterosexual marriage. 
The ruling may end the dream of Trinity Western University, of Langley, B.C., to open a law school. The B.C. government withdrew its approval of the law school after the Law Society of B.C. refused to license its graduates. 
“It is inimical to the integrity of the legal profession to limit access on the basis of personal characteristics,” the court said in a 7-2 decision. (There were two 7-2 decisions, in separate cases involving the B.C. and Ontario law societies.) “This is especially so in light of the societal trust enjoyed by the legal profession.”

The case was one of the most widely watched freedom of religion cases in Canadian history. A record 26 groups, mostly from the faith, same-sex and legal communities, intervened, offering the court legal arguments and social context.
Unlike the hedonistic hell pits that pass for typical Canadian universities, Trinity frowns upon sex, drugs and rock'n roll. And, definitely, no homos - nope, never, absolutely not.

Oddly enough, though, the school's teams are called the "Spartans." I'm not sure they thought that one through given that Spartan warriors were supposedly dead keen on pederasty, man-boy love.



Manafort Off to Jail


Former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has new digs. He's off to the Greybar Hotel at least until his trial commences in September.  Witness tampering, not the brightest move.

The Guardian Praises Canada - At Least Our Libraries


The Brits are still taking the piss out of us for electing Rob Ford's evil brother and for the Tar Sands and Trudeau's Trans Mountain Memorial Pipeline. However...

The folks at The Guardian are positively gushing over the state of Canada's libraries. They reckon they're the world's best.

Public libraries throughout the western world are struggling. Britain has closed hundreds since 2010, reduced hours in others and replaced many paid librarians with volunteers. In Belgium, an advocacy group called Public Libraries 2020 aims to “challenge outdated perceptions” of libraries – in part by cajoling politicians to set foot inside one. In North America, staff per visitor has fallen across the board since 2012, and circulation and visits are dropping. The “disruption” of Silicon Valley – in which Uber replaces taxis, Airbnb replaces hotels and Netflix replaces video stores – has many governments asking: why pay for physical book repositories when you can get so much reading material online?

And yet researchers from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf have ranked Canada as having the best public library systems among 30 major cities studied. (All three Canadian cities included – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver – came in the top 10.) 
You can see why. Readings and events at the 575-seat theatre at the Toronto reference branch are free, and you’d be well advised to book your ticket early: a recent appearance by Roxane Gay sold out in 88 seconds. Sensibly, the researchers also rated the libraries on the availability of snacks – behind me is a cafe with Balzac quotes on the walls and urns of Margaret Atwood-themed coffee. Not bad, though no match for Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque, where you can get a risotto dinner with wine.
The Toronto reference library hosts Hand-a-thons, in which school groups use the 3D printers along with Arduino robotics kits to make working prosthetic hands. In the maker space a printing press, for self-publishing paperbacks, smells comfortingly of hot glue. There’s a podcasting studio and a green screen, where actors, models and real estate agents come to take headshots. A colleague is usually present to help answer questions about the scanners or photo suites, my guide explained, but right then he was setting up the VR superhero demo in the gallery.

“Access to information and pathways to learning were the great equalisers of the 20th century,” says Vickery Bowles, Toronto’s head librarian. “In the 21st century, we’re increasingly dependent on access to online services, and understanding of and comfort with that technology.”

Bowles sees a vital role of the public library in strengthening civic discourse and enabling political participation. Right now, the library is offering workshops on how to run for office or get involved in an election campaign (disclosure: I will be a paid panellist on a planned event in the library’s On Civil Society series). “We’re seeing more and more challenges to our democratic values and principles,” she says.

Pre-Dystopian India. It's Real.



200,000 people in India die every year from lack of access to clean freshwater. India's groundwater resources are failing. Up to 70% of what freshwater India still has is contaminated.

By 2030 the situation is going to grow worse, far worse, according to a government think tank.

The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India's 29 states, says the crisis is "only going to get worse" in the years ahead.
It also warns that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 despite increasing demand. 
This would also threaten food security as 80% of water is used in agriculture. 
Indian cities and towns regularly run out water in the summer because they lack the infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home.
Rural areas are also badly affected by a lack of access to clean water. 
They cannot rely on groundwater due to erratic rains and the fact that the groundwater is increasingly used for farming when monsoon rains are delayed or insufficient.
As cities and towns grow, the pressure on urban water resources is expected to increase - the report estimates that demand will be twice as much as available supply by 2030.

...But what remains alarming is that the states that are ranked the lowest - such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in the north or Bihar and Jharkhand in the east - are also home to nearly half of India's population as well the bulk of its agricultural produce.
Meanwhile, India's air pollution problems are also worsening. In the capital, Delhi, smog levels are so bad they're defeating monitoring equipment.

Smog more toxic than can be measured by monitoring devices has blanketed the Indian capital this week, months before the start of Delhi’s traditional “pollution season”. 
A thick haze was visible across the city from Tuesday and some government pollution monitors have recorded concentrations of 999 – the highest they can measure – as dust storms kicked up in nearby Rajasthan state blanketed the region. 
Though the billowing clouds of dust and sand were blamed for the immediate spike in pollution levels, the sight of dense smog engulfing Delhimonths before winter has underscored a growing awareness that harmful air is a year-round problem for the city.

Well Worth a Read. 1965, June Callwood's, "In Defence of the Parliamentary Press Gallery."


A blast from the past and a breath of fresh air. June Callwood's stirring defence of the Parliamentary Press Gallery as it then was when journalists and politicians truly despised each other.

Politicians no longer rise in the House to praise their eyes and ears. Prime ministers view them darkly. In recent years, the gallery has endured insult at public meetings, such as last summer's Couchiching Conference; on television shows, such as the CBC’s Inquiry; in magazines and in newspaper editorials; from politicians in the House, politicians on the hustings, politicians bellying up to the bar A mari usque ad mare and, most unforgivably, from its own members. Along with such epithets as “drunks,” “incompetents” and “deadbeats,” the gallery has been belabored with “dull and pedestrian” (Frank H. Underhill), “servile'’ (John Diefenbaker) and “mediocre” (Douglas Fisher). 
In addition to this rude harassment, the press gallery currently is facing a crisis in its housing arrangements: it is about to be evicted from its snug quarters, three rooms and the corridor in the heart of the Parliament Buildings, for no good reason except that the space annually is condemned by the dominion fire commissioner as a fire hazard, is provided rent-free and costs Canadian taxpayers more than one hundred thousand dollars a year, operates untidily as a blind pig for the distribution of bootleg booze throughout Parliament Hill, and has been described by its most charitable admirers as a slum area and a disgrace.
...Among the milder opinions of a taut MP from Jasper-Edson. Progressive Conservative Dr. Hugh Horner, are the convictions that members of the gallery turned against John Diefenbaker because he didn't provide them with free liquor and that the entire gallery hates the entire House of Commons ever since MPs voted themselves a salary increase. "We got a raise and the gallery didn't, so they're sore,” he declares. "Ha, most of them couldn't be elected dogcatcher.”

...The gallery retaliates with the charge that the average MP's notion of impeccably fair journalism is when his speech is printed in its entirety on the front page of his home-town newspaper. "They don't grasp the nature of news,” explains the CBC’s respected television commentator. Norman DePoe. “There’s no drama in a daily item that ‘Flight 539 has landed at Malton after an uneventful flight and all passengers are safe.’ ”
The bitterness of parliamentarians toward the press in Ottawa can be traced back to the Great Pipeline Debate of 1956, when the Liberal government used closure to terminate discussion in a rebellious House. The press gallery found itself caught up in a spirit of flaming outrage and abandoned all pretensions of writing impartially. The Speaker, for instance, was described as “crooked” and a “self-seeking Liberal hack”; one reporter compared the unhappy man, to his disadvantage, with a bank robber.
... Many observers are inclined to blame the gallery's poor housing for any deficiency in the quality of its literature. “Those conditions wouldn’t be tolerated in a factory," asserts Grattan O'Leary. “It's just not possible to write well in such a mess." 
The Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery's quarters are indeed a wondrous sight. They have the impact upon a newcomer, approaching them along the austere marbled and cathedral-roofed corridors of the Parliament Buildings, of stumbling upon a Hogarth saloon in Westminster Abbey. There is, to begin with, bedlam: Teletype machines clattering against a vibrato of fifty typewriters, a hoarse squawk-box voice paging newsmen, telephones ringing, voices tiered to be heard over or under the uproar, radio reporters cupped over telephone hook-ups with their stations and the sweet lost sound of a cuckoo clock, a possibly not significant gift from a departed gallery member. 
The décor is Early Squalor, with sprightly touches of dust, empty beer bottles and solitary galoshes. When the main newsroom became crammed with antique oak desks, stalagmites of yellowed Hansards and elk-horned coat racks during the gallery's rapid wartime growth, Mackenzie King suggested that the overflow make temporary use of the broad corridor just outside. That was twenty years ago, when the gallery was less than half its present size. By actual count, a stretch of the corridor that connects the hallowed House of Commons gallery with the hushed Senate gallery now contains thirty-two desks, fifty-eight filing cabinets, fifteen coat racks, twenty-four bookcases and a festoonery of wastepaper baskets, cigarette machines, electric fans, water-coolers. Teletype machines, telephone booths and whiskey cartons rakishly stuffed with old budget debates.
The overall effect is not enhanced by the gallery's unique coalition of newsroom and bootlegging establishment. In a tradition dating back to the dark days of 1921, when politicians and press moved into the rebuilt Parliament Buildings and found them prohibition-dry, the press gallery has operated as a benefactor to the thirsty of all political faiths, but most especially writers.
...The raffish operation is sustained because, by happy chance, it is invisible: everyone on Parliament Hill pretends it doesn’t exist. When the Speaker in 1961 coarsely referred to the press gallery as “that blind pig on the third floor” in a written order to the sergeant-at-arms, he was informed of his error and obligingly erased the offensive phrase from the inter-branch journals of the House. There has been no further fuss, except the minor flutter caused when press gallery beer was delivered one day in a Government of Canada van. "Only happened once,” comments the sergeant-at-arms grimly. 
Even without its roguish sideline, the press gallery presents a disheveled picture, unmistakably stamped with the calculated neglect of a landlord hoping to have his lease broken. The paint is peeling, the windows dirty, the debtors’-auction leather chairs in the lounge are sprung and cracked. The government has been trying to rid itself of this eyesore for many years: it now is nigh on to frantic.
The Radio Boys
Douglas Fisher offered a particularly unpleasant experience a year ago because of an edited tape. The west coast’s jovial Jack Webster dropped in to Fisher’s office and the two struck up a fast rapport. Webster asked permission to tape-record an interview, during which he asked Fisher what he thought of the press gallery. Fisher, responding to Webster’s blithe mood, answered cheerfully that the members were a bunch of "lushes, drunks and incompetents.” Ed Murphy, a gallery member who represents a number of radio stations, obtained the tape and inserted his own voice for Webster's, retaining Fisher’s reckless reply. It was used on Ottawa's CFRA and the gallery reeled like a dowager confronted with a dead cat. Murphy’s deceit was overlooked, but Fisher was judged a bounder. He was obliged to apologize in writing.
I post these excerpts apropos of nothing at all save a few terrific memories almost lost to the ravages of time. For good and bad, those days are gone.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Free World Has a Bad Case of the Trumps. But That's Only a Symptom.


Brit journo, Paul Mason, is no friend of America's Mango Mussolini but, like a growing chorus of critics, he sees Trump as a symptom of a greater contagion. Mason has a few interesting ideas about what should be Act II for the developed nations. I can't say that I embrace them or even fully understand them but we find ourselves in a mess and we have to begin thinking about where to head next.

From The New Statesman:

With the G7, we knew it was coming. Trump ran on the slogan “America First” and has delivered on it: he has promoted economic growth at the expense of the US’s lenders, and by saddling future generations with unpayable debts; created jobs at the expense of America’s competitors and launched a trade war.

For certain, Trump looked stupid and, with hindsight, weak throughout the entire two days. He got pushed by his diplomats and the other leaders into signing a document he didn’t believe in. But that doesn’t matter: because, in the geopolitical turmoil that is about to deepen, the USA has three important things: the dollar, the world’s biggest military and a $6trn debt to the rest of the world.

Three years ago, in Postcapitalism, I outlined two scenarios if the world’s elites refused to contemplate a break from the free market economic model. The first was long-term stagnation and austerity. In the second: 
“The consensus breaks. Parties of the hard right and left come to power as ordinary people refuse to pay the price of austerity. Instead, states then try to impose the costs of the crisis on each other. Globalisation falls apart, the global institutions become powerless and in the process the conflicts that have burned these past twenty years – drug wars, post-Soviet nationalism, jihadism, uncontrolled migration and resistance to it – light a fire at the centre of the system.

The Last True Believers
... There were only two committed defenders of globalisation in its old form – Macron and Justin Trudeau - and, as they will now find out, the changed situation will soon force them, too, into measures needed to survive the breakdown of a rules-based order.

The question: “what do we do?” should be on the minds of all political people who understand, from the example of the 1930s, what happens when a rules-based order is fragmented. But it’s not. 
The reason for is that, for 30 years, neoliberal ideology has been founded on the perfection and unchangeability of the current system: not just of the free market economic model and free trade, but of a global order underpinned by unipolar American power, Chinese isolationism and a Russia contained and constrained by its economic weakness.
Mason's Question - What Then Must We Do?
...what do we do about long-term economic stagnation, which has led to a rush for the exits from the multilateral global system, posing the possibility of trade wars, the fragmentation of the global finance system, military conflict and a threat to the global architecture that protects universal human rights? 
I fear the moment is past where that question can be answered inside a global institution. Indeed, the true global institutions, like the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements must be asking themselves searching questions about who they will serve in future. Is it conceivable that, within 20 years, the IMF will become a tool for China to impose its values and economic doctrines on the world, as it was for the US in the 1980s and 1990s? Is it conceivable that a globally co-ordinated central banking system can survive when treasures and central banks take up the game of beggar thy neighbour in earnest? 
...The answer is: design and execute a new kind of capitalism that meets the needs of people in the developed world. The design is not impossible: the elements of it lie in the provision of universal basic incomes or services, a Green New Deal, rapid automation and the creation of increased leisure time, massive investments in education, and an end to outsourcing, offshoring and privatisation. 
We can either do this collectively, as Europe, or the G7, or as NAFTA. Or, more likely, as a series of national projects where borrowing to invest, printing money where necessary and stimulating moderate inflation creates the same - albeit unstable - synergies as in the “thirty glorious years” after 1945. 
...We now need an alliance of parties, movements and individuals who are not going to fight for the system that has failed but to imagine a new one: a capitalism that delivers prosperity to Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy, if necessary by not delivering it to Bombay, Dubai and Shenzhen. 
Is that an argument for economic nationalism? No, rather an internationalism that says to the rest of the world: if the developed, democratic countries of Europe, America and Asia collapse into authoritarian rule, the 400-year upswing of industrial societies alongside democracy will have, once again, stalled - and, with China's inevitable hegemony, it might go into reverse.

Der Spiegel Conducts a Biopsy on Liberal Democracy and the Authoritarians Seeking to Destroy It


Der Spiegel has published a two-part special on the rise of authoritarianism and the threat it poses to the continuation of liberal democracy. Not surprisingly, the focus is on Trump, Putin and Xi.


Trump is continuing his assault on the widely accepted norms regarding how a president should behave. He has the "absolute right" to pardon himself in the Russian affair, he recently claimed -- and then he went off the rails in Canada, picking fights with his allies and revoking his support for the summit's closing statement by sending out a tweet from Air Force One as he left. Trump, to be sure, is an elected president, but he is one who dreams of wielding absolute power and sees himself as being both above the law and above internationally accepted norms of behavior.

The upshot is that global politics are currently dominated by a handful of men -- and only men -- who have nothing but contempt for liberal democracy and who aspire to absolute control of politics, of the economy, of the judiciary and of the media. They are the predominant figures of the present -- and the decisions they make will go a long way toward shaping the future ahead. The globalized, high-tech, constantly informed and enlightened world of the 21st century finds itself in the middle of a slide back into the age of authoritarianism.

And this is not merely the lament of Western cultural pessimists, it is a statement rooted in statistics. A recent study by the German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung found that 3.3 billion people live under autocratic regimes, while the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit found that just 4.5 percent of the global population, around 350 million people, live in a "full democracy." In its most recent annual report, issued in January of this year, the nongovernmental organization Freedom House wrote that in 2017, "democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades." It went on to note that "the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press and the rule of law are under assault and in retreat globally."

How can this global trend be explained? Are autocrats really so strong, or are democrats too weak? Is liberal democracy only able to function well in relatively homogeneous societies where prosperity is growing? Why do so many people doubt democracy's ability to solve the problems of the 21st century, challenges such as climate change, the tech revolution, shifting demographics and the distribution of wealth?

The optimistic Western premises -- that greater prosperity leads to more freedom, increased communication leads to greater pluralism, and more free trade leads to increased economic integration -- have unraveled. Following the end of the Cold War, the American political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan said in 1996 that Western democracy was "the only game in town." Now, though, it would seem to have lost its attraction. The expectation that democracy's triumphant march would be impossible to stop has proven illusory. China is currently showing the world that economic success and societal prosperity are also possible in an authoritarian system.
..."Until recently, liberal democracy reigned triumphant. For all its shortcomings, most citizens seemed deeply committed to their form of government. The economy was growing. Radical parties were insignificant," writes the Harvard-based German-American political scientist Yascha Mounk in his book "The People vs. Democracy." But then the situation began changing rapid: Brexit, Trump's election and the success of other right-wing populist movements in Europe. The question, Mounk writes, is "whether this populist moment will turn into a populist age -- and cast the very survival of liberal democracy in doubt."
The Western political system, Mounk writes, is "decomposing into its component parts, giving rise to illiberal democracy on the one side and undemocratic liberalism on the other." The one, he argues, is dominated by manipulated majority opinion while the other is controlled by institutions such as central banks, constitutional courts and supranational bureaucracies like the European Commission that can operate independent of direct, democratic debate. 
"Take back control" was the slogan used by the Brexiteers during their successful campaign. Indeed, the feeling of living in an era in which they have lost control is likely a common denominator among all European populists. Taking back that control is something they all promise.
...These days, it is rare that democracies collapse under attack from armed, uniformed adversaries. Such images belong to the past; the coup d'état has become a rarity. On the contrary, many autocrats have come to power by way of the ballot box, govern in the name of the people and regularly hold referenda to solidify their power. 
But once in power -- in Turkey, Venezuela or Russia -- they bring the institutions of democracy under their control. They tend not to be committed ideologues. Rather, they are strategists of power who used ideologies without necessarily believing in them themselves. Furthermore, they don't generally wield violence indiscriminately, another difference to the murderous regimes of the past. Sometimes, a journalist loses their life, or an oligarch ends up in jail. But otherwise, the new autocrats are much subtler than their totalitarian predecessors. Generally, a timely threat issued to insubordinate citizens suffices. And they are particularly adept at the dark art of propaganda. They know that many people have become insecure and are afraid of the future and foreigners. They have learned how to augment those fears, so they can then pose as guarantors of stability.
...Migration, climate change, technological development, demographics: Nowhere are such challenges so openly discussed as they are in Western democracies. Yet we often seem unable to address them. Freedom, it would seem, is not a necessary precondition for entrepreneurial or societal creativity. 
That is an extremely uncomfortable realization. The belief that the guarantee of individual freedoms makes our system superior to others is at the very core of our self-image. What if it's wrong? 
There are, at the very least, alternatives. China seems to have found one of them.

For many centuries, Chinese civilization was extremely well developed culturally, technologically and militarily. But around 200 years ago, the West left China behind, a development connected to the Renaissance, to science, research and weapons technology. None of that, though, is merely a Western privilege anymore, which is why that era could now be coming to an end. It is not an inevitability, but it is certainly possible.

...Now we have Donald Trump, a man who apparently gets along better with political leaders like Duterte, Erdogan, Xi and, most recently, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un than he does with democratic leaders like Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Based on what he says in person and on Twitter, based on his plans and the way he makes personnel decisions, based on the way he mixes his office with his business empire and, finally, based on the way he constantly insults the news media, he seems to be more of a wannabe autocrat than a reliable proponent of liberal democracy. 
In their new book "How Democracies Die," political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write that Trump had wanted to follow the playbook of an authoritarian ruler. But the president "has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized."  
Still, the long-term damage is likely to be immense. The populists of this world now have an ally in the White House and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell even said recently that he hopes to strengthen conservative, anti-establishment movements in Europe. Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon was recently in Rome celebrating Italy's new government as the next domino in a complex chain that, he says, will ultimately lead to the EU's collapse. 
It used to be that America promoted the spread of democracy. These days, however, it is promoting the spread of populism. 
The autocrats and illiberals of the 21st century have many similarities. They are both racist and nationalist, and they constantly evoke an external threat that must be kept in check. They also harbor distrust of real or perceived elites, of the privileged who have purportedly forgotten the language of the common people. They make campaign promises that can only be financed through massive borrowing and huge debts. They despise democratic institutions. 
They also share a penchant for promising to restore some grand past. Trump's motto is "Make America Great Again." President Putin promises the Russians national glory. Erdogan conjures up the return to the greatness of the Ottoman Empire. Viktor Orbán has erected statues throughout his country commemorating Hungary's glorious past. In Poland, the PiS has even passed a law forbidding any share of the responsibility for the Holocaust being attributed to the Polish nation, as if historical truth was subject to present-day law. 
History, they believe, must be a source of pride. Otherwise, it is false. 
The opposite can be observed in liberal democracies. Admitting responsibility for past crimes is practically one of their structural characteristics. This is not only true of Germany, but also of the United States, where the debate continues today over slavery and its consequences. French President Emmanuel Macron has described his country's colonialism in Algeria as a "crime against humanity." 
No modern democracy believes it can avoid coming to terms with its past. Under that tacit agreement, only those who learn from the crimes of their grandfathers can create a better society. 
But authoritarian forces reject this claim, it is one of their trademarks. For AfD Chair Alexander Gauland, the Nazi era is only "a speck of bird shit " relative to the achievements of Germany's long history and his party is calling for the country to turn its back on its culture of remembrance of the atrocities it committed during WWII. 
Among Brexiteers in Britain, there is no small number who would like to restore the lost British Empire. In Donald Trump's America, white nationalists glorify racism in the southern states that were defeated in the Civil War with the president's tacit approval.

Vast Patronage
Once they come to power, enemies of liberal democracy have another commonality: corruption. Almost all of them are corrupt. And this despite the fact that almost all have risen to power on the pledge that they will put an end to corruption. 
This also applies to Donald Trump, who as president benefits his own family business, issues pardons to political friends and whose daughter Ivanka suddenly benefited from Beijing registering trademarks for her company in the course of negotiations with China.  
...After 1945, liberal democracy provided the framework for European unification, the social welfare state and the Ostpolitik policies of detente between Western and Eastern Europe. None of these achievements was without conflict. But that was also the point: identifying problems, offering solutions, mediating conflicts and building societal consensus time and again. It was one of the reasons why liberal democracy prevailed in the Cold War. It also happened to be economically and militarily superior. It was simply the better system. 
But these days, that's no longer considered a given. 

'Democratic Recession' 
American political scientist Larry Diamond refers to the finding that the number of functioning democracies is shrinking again as the "Democratic Recession." But why? "The most important and pervasive answer is, in brief, bad governance," he wrote in a January 2015 essay in the Journal of Democracy. 
In fact, the reversal of liberal democracy's global reputation coincided with serious failures on the part of the West: the disastrous Iraq War, which began under false allegations and undermined the credibility of Western parliamentary systems around the world, and the global economic crisis, which shook confidence in the Western economic order after 2007. 
...This list could go on and on. Climate change, demographics, technological development, the coming transformation of the working world and the distribution of wealth are but a few items on that list.

...With the Marshall Plan, liberal democracy once had its own New Silk Road. If the money that the U.S. pumped into Europe between 1948 and 1952 were translated into today's dollars, it would amount to about $135 billion. The idea was to make Western Europe liberal, democratic and able to stand up to the Soviet Union. That was the plan. And it worked, as we now know.

And it wasn't just about money. Liberal democracy in Germany was also reinforced by the soldiers sent by the Americans, the British and the French who were stationed in the country for almost 50 years. It was supported by educational programs, economic cooperation and through institutional interdependencies. These efforts all had to be fought for and implemented with an enormous amount of effort - all in the belief that this system was the best one possible. And that it is beneficial to democracies when other countries adopt the system as well.
Our problems today are different than they were then. Germany no longer has any war rubble to clean up. At issue today are the consequences of global capitalism and technological developments, migration and the fear of refugee influx. But we were once able to solve such problems. Merely recalling those times isn't enough.

Preston Goes "Full Churl" on Trudeau



Whatever he might once have been, Preston Manning has become the old man sitting on the front porch rocker yelling at the Future to "get the fuck off my lawn."



Some of you may be too young to recall with clarity the heady days when Preston's racist-laced Reform Party muscled the Progressive Conservatives from their Parliamentary perch in the post-Mulroney years. It was an Alberta-centric pack of rednecks who had no time for those darn Quebeckers, especially if they were named "Trudeau." Preston became leader of the Opposition, ditched his prairie shitkicker duds, the uber-nerd hairdo and got fitted for contacts. He even brought this peckerhead into federal politics as his right hand man.


Yet for all his quirks, Manning was a capable parliamentarian and, at the time, I considered him the most dangerous MP from Western Canada.

Apparently Preston still finds mention of the "Trudeau" name a pain in the goiter. He seems particularly vexed at the federal government's decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline but if there's one thing even worse it's Trudeau's carbon pricing initiative.

Like a bitter old man, Preston attacks Trudeau's policies but without any cogent reasons other than "why it's Trudeau, dammit." Yet the really odd part is that Manning has been all over the board on climate change, petro-pollution and carbon pricing in the past. Let's be kind and just call him "flexible."



When in Rome - Call the Emperor a "Demagogue"?



It's one thing to know Donald Trump is a demagogue. It's another thing to say he's a demagogue. It's something altogether different to go into the American capital and say:
"When people feel their economic future is in jeopardy; when they believe their children have fewer opportunities than they themselves had in their youth; that’s when people are vulnerable to the demagogue who scapegoats the outsider, the other -- whether it’s immigrants at home or foreign actors."
That was part of a speech foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland delivered last night in Washington where she received Foreign Policy magazine's 'diplomat of the year' award.

Freeland offered a brief history of the formation of the G20 and G7, and how international rules-based order came to be. And although those systems spread across the world and created positive change, the assumption that democracy was inevitable everywhere was wrong, Freeland said. 
“The saddest example for me is Russia. Even China, whose economic success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is one of the great accomplishments of recent times, stands as a rebuke to our belief in the inevitability of liberal democracy. 
“And within the club of wealthy Western nations, we’re seeing homegrown anti-democratic movements on the rise. Whether they are neo-Nazis, white supremacists, incels, nativists, or radical anti-globalists, such movements seek to undermine democracy from within. 
“The idea that democracy could falter, or be overturned in places where it had previously flourished, may seem outlandish. 
“But other great civilizations have risen -- and then fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different. Our prime minister likes to say about our country that Canada didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort. The same can be said of democracy itself.”