GOP’s ‘Trumpcare’ CBO meltdown

The CBO’s assessment of the GOP’s Trumpcare is not what they wanted. [Photo by 401kcalculator.org, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

The Congressional Budget Office is a bit like a theatre critic. For the people the most affected by what its officials write, it’s only as good as last its review. If it gives a good review, those officials are loved and praised for being perceptive geniuses. But give a bad review and they’re idiots, always wrong, and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Currently, the Republicans are in full “the CBO is a joke” mode because the assessment of Trumpcare released by the office Tuesday is bad, bad news for the long-term health of the bill. The findings that 24 million additional Americans will be uninsured by 2026 (which is two million lower than the White House’s own estimates according to some reports), that poor Americans are the group most affected and that seniors will pay five times as much for their insurance as they currently pay landed like a grenade.

As a result, the main GOP supporters of the new health care plan started a stylized dance around the assessment in a desperate attempt to discredit it. It’s completely disingenuous, of course, because in 2009 when the previous administration introduced the Affordable Care Act, it was the GOP howling in favor of the CBO’s estimates which at the time helped kill the idea of the single payer option.

Yet for all the negative mud slung at the CBO, it isn’t going to help the bill in the Senate where even Republican members of that chamber showed their dismay at the numbers of uninsured predicted in the assessment. Many of these senators were already skeptical about the chances for Trumpcare, especially those senators in states that had signed on to the Medicare expansion and had subsequently seen dramatic increases in of the number of citizens receiving health care. The additional news that seniors would ultimately see their health care costs rise was another body blow because if there is one block of people who can be counted on to vote, it’s seniors – a fact that all politicians, Republicans in particular, know.

The pro-Trumpcare forces led by House Speaker Paul Ryan are not getting much help from the president who, as he does in most cases, tells whatever group of people he happens to be with whatever they want to hear. There is a report this morning, however, that Trump is willing to move the rollback of Medicare and other changes to the insurance marketplace to 2018 from 2020 to appease hardcore conservative members who just want to totally blowup the Affordable Care Act, and are not happy with the bill as it now stands.

This would practically guarantee failure in the Senate because of the reasons stated above. One needs to ask then if this just becoming an exercise in ‘not my problem.’ It raises the possibility that the GOP is aware that Trumpcare may never pass and elements of the party are looking to blame other parts of the party for its collapse because they can’t blame the Democrats any more for anything.

This would produce widespread panic as failure on such a significant piece of legislation would send the Republicans into a tailspin and make plans for items like tax reform or infrastructure spending that much harder. It would also show people that while the GOP can sing in harmony when in opposition, once in government they cannot overcome the divisions in their own party. Add to that the impending investigation into the Trump administration’s connections with Russia and the exposure of Trump as an unstable, jealous provocateur over his unproven accusations of being wiretapped by Obama, and you’ve got a mess of gigantic proportions not even a year into Trump’s presidency.

Democrats need to be careful how they respond to all this. My advice is for the moment reach for the popcorn, sit back and watch it all unfold in front of them.

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Listening to the opposition… Carefully

It’s hard, but necessary, to hear what the other side is saying. [“The argument” by Kurt Bauschardt, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

One of my oldest friends in the world has become what I would consider a far-right conservative. His opinions on Muslims, liberals, the “left loonies” as he calls them, frequently infuriate me. He’s a big fan of posting links on Facebook from sites that I consider “fake news” that often feature stories that are wildly inaccurate or use grossly out-of-date photos or videos to create negative impression of more recent events. He’s been “unfriended” by many people he has known for a long time who no longer find his views palatable.

But that will never ever happen with me. As much as I sometimes find his views beyond the pale, he has every right in the world to hold them and even publicize them. And he’s not the only one. I have no intention of ever deleting or unfriending individuals whose views I find repugnant. It is vitally important that I know what others think and that I use every opportunity to engage them in debate and try to correct a misstatement or an incorrect fact. It doesn’t always work. There’s lots of proof that it’s hard to get people to change their views. But that’s okay. Now and then they raise valid points that I would totally miss if I had blocked them out.

There is a real danger among liberals and progressives to exist in an echo chamber where they only hear views that mirror their own. (I suppose it’s no different for conservatives or far-right alt-Reich proponents. But I’m not worried about them.) Although it’s far from the only reason that Donald Trump won the last election, the tendency of those on the left to totally discount any view that even carries a hint of conservatism definitely played a role in his victory. In the midst of the noise from alt-Reich party boys, the unhinged ranting of Alex Jones at Infowars, the poorly constructed lies of Breitbart, and the fake news being pumped out via Russia-supported fly-by-night websites, there were conservatives who were saying they were going to vote for Trump because they felt they had no other option, often despite the fact they weren’t all that crazy about him. But we in the left largely missed what they were saying because we had just closed their minds to anything that any scent of Trump support. That was a mistake.

But don’t want to get me wrong here. I’m not saying that liberals need to flail themselves over a missed opportunity. Nor that we must give weight to every lunatic far-right screed. Nor do I buy the warmed-over, pablum-like rhetoric about the coasts being “out of touch” with the “real America” of the flyover states in the middle. The coasts are just as much “real America” as any Midwestern spread of farmland. I reject the notion that because we value diversity, openness, education, science, democracy and a positive role for government that we are less American than anybody else. That’s just horse manure.

What I am advocating is that if those on the left value the things listed in the previous paragraph, we will have a better idea of how to defend those values if we listen to what the other side is saying. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to hear the great Molly Ivins speak at a conference. After she gave her talk she opened the floor to questions and one of the first ones was what advice she would give to those on the left about how to combat the ideas of the right. Her advice was to “read across the grain”, not to just read those things whose viewpoint you agreed with, but to look for the logic, or the lack thereof, in opposing viewpoints.

Because in the end there is no way that everyone in this country is going to be singing the same song or hold hands with each other in perfect harmony and unity. It’s a bit of a creepy idea and not very American. We can certainly strive for better understanding of each other and look for areas of agreement. Nevertheless, it’s important that those of us who hold progressive values fight for the things we believe in because it’s a battle that will never end. But knowing what the other side is thinking will help us craft successful outcomes that otherwise might elude us through our own ignorance.

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Trump’s twitter sleight-of-hand

By Tom Regan

[Photo by Rippie: Contra Censura!, Creative Commons]

By now everyone in the free – and not so free – world knows about Donald Trump’s tweets this past weekend that basically accused former President Barack Obama of being a felon. Trump’s accusation that Obama illegally wiretapped his phone and Trump Tower in New York has been dismissed by every knowledgeable authority in existence, but just like his allegation that three million people voted illegally in the November election, Trump says he plans to have the whole thing investigated.

It is yet another tweet from our thin-skinned, angry president with the short attention span that had opponents in an uproar and his supporters scratching their heads wondering just what he was trying to do.

But whatever he was trying to do, it worked.

Whether intentionally or because he can’t control his temper or ego, Donald Trump’s tweets have a habit of throwing the media and the public off the scent of the real story. The current real story concerns Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. The fact that Sessions lied to Congress about meeting Russians during the campaign is, as one pundit put it, “a big deal.” Sessions is the top cop in the country, and recusing himself from any further investigations involving the Trump campaign and its alleged connections to Russian attempts to sabotage the election is just window dressing. It’s the least thing he could do.

Yet Sessions’ predicament was more or less forgotten by midday on Saturday as the media, stunned once again by an early morning twitter storm from the president, was off on another wild goose chase, deploying its resources to hunt down yet another seemingly disjointed ranting from Mar-el-Lago.

Joe Scarborough first suggested (on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) a pattern to this behavior. Trump inevitably launches these tweet broadsides either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. When you look back at the tweets that have sent the media scurrying to either verify or debunk them, it’s always come after a really bad week and a need for Trump to change the story.

Whether it was his reaction to the size of his inaugural crowd versus that of the much larger Obama inaugural crowd, his accusation about the millions of illegal voters, or in this the charges leveled against his predecessor, Trump’s objective is to use the traditionally quiet news hole on Saturday mornings to blow up the media landscape. As a result, the Sunday morning talk shows to which he is so addicted are forced to discuss the fallout from his weekend twitter rantings rather than the mistakes and errors of his administration that have taken place during the previous week.

There is some debate over why he tweets so intensively at this particular time of the week. Some speculate it’s because his daughter and son-in-law, both Orthodox Jews, are observing Shabbat and are not around to temper his twitter tantrums. Perhaps. But adopting this viewpoint plays into the myth that Trump is incompetent and can’t be left alone for five minutes. It was this line of thinking that led his opponents in the Republican primaries to underestimate him, and then led Hillary Clinton and much of the media to do the same in the general election.

Trump is no dummy. Yes, he’s thin-skinned, has an ego the size of Jupiter, doesn’t like being the butt of comedians’ jokes and probably has very little idea about what it really takes to be the president of the United States. But he plays the media like he is a concert violinist. Years spent in the chaotic and cutthroat New York media market have made him a Jedi media master: “This is not the story you been looking for… There’s nothing to see here move along.”

Yet you can’t blame the media entirely for responding in this way. Journalists are supposed to follow the news of the moment, and when the leader of the free world regularly launches tweets like cruise missiles, it’s hard to ignore them.

And don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. Based on the track record of the first 45 days of this administration, there are going to be a lot of busy Saturday mornings.

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It’s always the cover-up

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

Many years ago, when I was in Grade Two at St. Dunstan’s Catholic Elementary School in Fredericton New Brunswick, I got into trouble with the nuns who ran the school. There was a fight in the school yard and I had seen it. The nuns wanted me to spill the beans on who was involved. I told them I hadn’t seen anything. They didn’t believe me and for the once and only time in my entire school career, I got the strap.

In the end, it wasn’t the fight in the school yard that got me. It was the cover-up.

It was a lesson I took to heart. Sort of. I’d like to pretend that from that point on in my life, I never engaged in another cover-up of any kind. But that would be a…cover-up. We humans, as a species, seem to think that if we refuse to acknowledge a situation, it will never come back to bite us. Telling the truth would always be the best answer. Yes, there would be repercussions, but not as many as there are once your cover-up gets exposed.

If there is one occupation that seems to suffer the most from the compulsive need to engage in cover-ups, it’s politicians. There are, of course, too many instances of this to name them all, so let us focus on two recent examples from the Trump administration in the United States.

Example one is the former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. First, he said he didn’t meet or talk with Russians about potential sanctions the then-Obama administration was about to level against Russia because of its meddling in the American election. Then the Washington Post discovered he had indeed had such discussions. This being the Trump administration, he might have gotten away with lying to the media and Congress – the Trump minions care little about them – but he made the mistake of lying to poor Vice-President Mike Pence, and that was a bridge too far. The cover-up got him in the end, and now Donald Trump has a National Security Advisor who is much less of a patsy and doesn’t like Russia very much.

Now we have the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He too told Congress he didn’t talk to any Russians and whoops! Now we know he did, thanks once again to the “failing” Washington Post (Sad). When the Attorney General, the “top cop” in the land misleads Congress and the public about a matter that is very much at the forefront of this administration’s troubles du jour, this is not a good thing. As I write this, it has just flashed across my screen that Sessions has recused himself from any investigation into any possible connections between the Trump administration, the Russians, and hanky-panky that took place during the 2016 presidential election. But this may only be the beginning of his troubles, as he might also find himself the subject of an investigation for lying to Congress.

Apparently, Attorney General Sessions did not get the memo about cover-ups being a bad idea.

There is a drip, drip, drip feeling here that is hard to ignore. As Chris Cillizza of the Post noted, where there is smoke, and smoke and smoke and smoke, there is likely to be fire. One is hard press not to wonder just how much of a cover-up is going on here, and just how many more Russians we are going to find hiding in the Trump administration’s corridors of power.

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Why are Canadians doing so much better than Americans?


Canadians are quickly moving farther ahead than Americans in important social, economic and political measurement. [Photo of Canada Day 2014 in Calgary, taken by Thanks for Visiting, Creative Commons]

The latest results are in and it’s not looking good for Americans as compared to their neighbors to the north. An article in Canada’s national news magazine, Maclean’s, lists a few of the ways that Canada has moved ahead of the United States in important economic, social, and political measurements.

For instance, Canadians live an average of 2.5 years longer than Americans. They are six times less likely to find themselves behind bars. They are the 6th happiest people in the world, while Americans are in unlucky 13th place. Almost 60% of Canadians have a college degree while in the United States it’s only 46%.

The libertarian Cato Institute ranks Canadians as the sixth freest people in the world, while the US can be found in 23rd place. The conservative Heritage Foundation puts Canada ten places higher than the US for economic freedom. Home ownership is 5% higher in Canada and Canadians earn more money per capita than Americans. Yet, Canadians also work 80 fewer hours per year than their American cousins and take an extra three days of vacation.

One of the stats that matters the most in a free society is press freedom. Reporters without Borders ranks Canada 18th, which is not what it should be, but the US limps in at 41st. (Yes, 41st.)

Oh, did I also mention that Canadians also have universal healthcare?

But why? Why has this happened? What differences have created this startling result between these two neighbors?

Let’s start with size. There are about 320 million people in the US, and only about 1/10 of that in Canada, despite the fact that Canada is a larger country. Finding the right mixture of economic and political policies for that many people is much more difficult. There is a reason that countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland rank so high in many measurements of a successful society. Countries with smaller populations are just easier to govern in most cases.

Military spending is also another very important factor. The United States spends more than Canada on the military by a gagillion dollars. Money that could be used to alleviate poverty, create the best healthcare system in the world, provide a college education to every American, is spent instead on weapons to keep the US at the top of the superpower food chain. Meanwhile, Canada’s spending on any military necessity is anemic, largely because Canadians count on the US to protect them in times of trouble.

Yet the most important differences are cultural and political. If America had a motto, it would be “every tub on its own stand.” (Which is actually Harvard’s unofficial motto.) There are many pluses to this view of the world. Individual Americans deal with failure better than any nationality in the world, and are quick to pick themselves up off the mat and make a new start. On the other hand, however, many Americans have a hard time caring about other people in the world, let alone other Americans. And the fractured US system of government, that is so local in so many places (and in such a large country), provides benefits but it makes it very difficult to install any national programs that would help all its citizens.

Canada is a nation largely created by its geography. Living in a much harsher climate, the importance of working together just to survive was important in early Canada. It’s an attitude that has remained regardless of the fact that most Canadians no longer live in danger of the elements. And the Canadian system of parliamentary government, while it certainly has its problems, does make it easier to create those much needed national programs.

There are other factors of course, but those listed above may be among the most important. Canada is far from perfect (it’s record on its treatment of its indigenous peoples is abysmal) but appears to be on the rise. As the United States moves into four years of Donald Trump as its president, it’s very likely it will continue to drop in all of the categories mentioned above.

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It can’t happen here, eh

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [Photo by Alex Gulbord, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

When Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here, a semi-satirical novel about a dictator defeating FDR and taking over the United States, it was generally assumed that he was writing about what would happen if Louisiana politician Huey Long became president of the United States. Fortunately for the United States, and unfortunately for Mr. Long, it didn’t happen. Long was assassinated in 1936.

An American political novel from the 30s about the threat of democratically elected dictatorship may not seem relevant to Canada today. Many Canadians, particularly those in the middle and on the left, clearly think that the kind of right-wing, populist, anti-governmental wave that swept Donald Trump into power in the United States could never happen in a liberal and progressive country like Canada.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it certainly could.

Sobering evidence that this could indeed happen in the great White North was revealed yesterday. For the past 15 years, the international public relations firm Edelman has issued an international “trust index” that basically measures the amount of trust that citizens of a variety of countries have for institutions like the media, non-governmental organizations, business and the government. On Tuesday they released the latest information on Canada and what it showed was disturbing – that basically Canada is poised for the same kind of populist “eruption” that recently brought Donald Trump to power in the United States.

Edelman executives who released the report called its findings “dramatic” and said that the same kind of wave of ingredients that fueled populist uprisings in the United States and Britain are coalescing in Canada. Confidence in the government of Justin Trudeau for instance, has dropped dramatically. While some drop-off is to be anticipated after a year in government, it was much more than expected, from about 55% to 45%. Meanwhile, a staggering 80% of Canadians said they thought that the county’s “elites” were out of touch with ordinary citizens. Almost 2/3 said they didn’t have faith in the country’s leaders to effectively tackle the issues facing the nation. And 50% of Canadians said that they felt immigrants were damaging the country’s culture and economy.

On the one hand, it’s been quite the year in international politics and it would be foolish to assume that Canada would be totally passed over by the nativist wave that swept through the United States and much of Europe. On the surface a 45% approval rate is not disastrous for Trudeau. On the other hand, it would be sheer folly to ignore what this report demonstrates: That government is not connecting with ordinary Canadians, that the government is not doing its job in helping Canadians understand the benefits that immigrants bring to the country, and that the government has ignored the consequences of globalization on the lives of many of its citizens.

There is some evidence that Trudeau may understand what’s happening. His recent decision to skip the summit of world leaders in Davos and instead embark on a cross-country series of town hall meetings would seem to indicate that he senses the political peril of ignoring the common folk to hang out with global elites.

There is little doubt that Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, however, sees the political opportunity of this populist moment. She has seized on the fact that many Canadians are unhappy with the status quo, and hopes to use that populist sentiment to capture the leadership of her party and ultimately 24 Sussex Dr.

Fortunately, Trudeau has at least two years before he has to call another federal general election. It is quite possible that the populist wave will ebb first. The tumultuous first few weeks of the Trump administration in the United States has already dampened the enthusiasm of many for that kind of government, including among a good number of those who voted in. But Donald Trump is an odd and unpredictable fish, and if you’re counting on his erratic behavior to make your argument for progressive policies, then you’re just throwing a Hail Mary pass and hoping for the best.

If Canada wants to avoid the same kind of populist eruption that’s happening in much of the rest of the world, there’s real, hard work to be done to repair the trust between Canadians and their government. And it needs to start right now. Slick, “sunny” PR opportunities are not going to change a thing.

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Technology real job-killer in US

by Tom Regan

As technology, like solar, continues to improve, employment in fossil fuel industries will become less viable. There will be many new jobs in these new technologically advanced industries, but only for those with the education and skills needed to develop, manufacture operate or repair their products. (Photo by Eneco, Creative Commons)

It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a living. The money is good. It can be a bit boring sometimes however – you tend to do the same thing every day. But you’ve been doing it for a long time. And now that you’re in your late 40s, maybe early 50s, you can see yourself just riding this job into retirement.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there’s a very good chance that within the next 10 years, maybe even sooner, you’re going to lose your job. But what takes your job away won’t be that your company switched production to China or Mexico, it will be technology. Maybe something as simple as a piece of software, or as complex as a robot – regardless it will allow your employer to lower costs and improve productivity. And you’ll be out in the street.


Pres. Donald Trump loves to complain that China and Mexico have been stealing jobs from American workers and that he plans to bring those jobs back. And you can see why this campaign promise resonated with so many people – there are five million fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States now than there were in 2010. Bringing those jobs back is nice idea but it’s totally pie-in-the-sky and not doable. Because the truth is that even if you brought those manufacturing jobs back they would probably be taken by a machine and not a human.

There’s a lot of recent research to back this up. A study by two Ball State professors showed that between 2000 and 2010, 87% of manufacturing jobs were lost to technology and not to trade. If that’s not bad enough, a report from McKinsey showed that 49% of worker activities can be replaced by technology. And that number is only going to grow, particularly in jobs that require repetitive tasks. Jobs, for instance, like in accounting, food preparation, or even some aspects of journalism, will be replaced by machines or robots that can do the job faster and allow increases in productivity.

So why is more attention not paid to this? There are probably two answers: 1) American businesses like to make money and cut costs. Their concerns are for their shareholders and not for their employees. If making more profit means replacing humans with machines, then so be it. They just don’t like to talk about it a lot; 2) it’s much easier for unemployed 50 year-old white guys to blame foreigners or outsiders than to blame technology. The steelworker in Pennsylvania has a much easier time blaming his lost job on a worker earning less in China, then struggling with the fact that technology made his job redundant.

Yet there is a way to combat this problem. It’s called education. For instance, in late 2016 there were over 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States, numbers similar to what were available before the 2008 recession. There is, however, another important factor. Most of these jobs require what are known as “high skill sets” which means that they require a level of education that will enable any worker to operate technologically advanced machinery. To go back to our steelworker in Pennsylvania, chances are he or she is not interested in returning to school to learn a whole new skill set. It’s just much easier to complain about China and Mexico.

Meanwhile, most other Americans are ignoring the writing on the wall. A study by the Pew Research Center show that 80% of Americans think that their job will existed in its current form in 50 years. It’s just whistling past the graveyard.

It boils down to this. American jobs are being lost to technology, not to trade. The answer is education and improved skills but that requires much more investment in education. And based on who Pres. Trump just named as his Secretary of Education, the befuddled Betty DeVos, there is a serious question whether that will happen or not. Pres. Trump can rant all he wants about China and Mexico but that won’t stop American jobs from disappearing. And unless he faces the real issue, it’s only going to get worse.

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Canada prepares for ‘war’ with US

By Tom Regan

Is Canada going to war with the United States? No, not really. But you might say that some elements of the Canadian government are being put on a political ‘wartime’ footing.

Montana/Canada USA Border boundary crossing north of Eureka on Highway 93. (Photo by Spend a Day Touring LLC, Creative Commons)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made some questionable decisions lately, including the sudden decision to drop the plan to change the way Canadians elect members of Parliament. While there are some good reasons for his decision to do so, his way of dealing with the matter shows that over a year into his term he still having some problems figuring out the right way to do things.
One of the things that he has figured out the right way to deal with, however, is the Canadian relationship with the United States. Canada’s relationship with the United States is, at the moment, the most important economic one it has. (Ask me which one is the most important 10 years from now and I might say China.) While that relationship has had its ups and downs, particularly over issues like softwood lumber and cultural issues, it has been dependable and stable for decades.

That was then. This is now.

And now comes in the form of Pres. Donald Trump, a man whose ideas on how to effectively govern the most powerful nation on the planet could be written down on the back of a matchbook cover. Perhaps the most accurate description to be seen so far of Mr. Trump’s governing style was put forward by former liberal staffer Warren Kinsella who described Mr. Trump as a “monkey with a machine gun.” Trump’s habit of tweeting out policy at 3 AM in the morning when he’s restless and bored means anyone dealing with his administration needs to be nimble and one step ahead of the game.

And this is where Canada has perhaps shown the way for other nations in how to deal with Mr. Trump by creating a “war room” in Mr. Trudeau’s riding office in Papineau Québec. The office, headed by liberal political veteran Brian Clow, is designed to help coordinate the Trudeau government’s response to Mr. Trump’s unpredictable whims and fancies. As described in The Hill, which covers government and political issues emanating from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the office will seek to ensure “integrated outreach across government, so that any projects or talks already underway continue to be worked on.”

Perhaps the most accurate description to be seen so far of Mr. Trump’s governing style was put forward by former liberal staffer Warren Kinsella who described Mr. Trump as a “monkey with a machine gun.”

The genius in this idea is that it will prevent the Trudeau government from “fighting the last war” – in other words move it away from conducting negotiations and outreach in the bureaucratic ways that used to work in the past, but are quite irrelevant in the age of social media and Mr. Trump’s ‘in the moment’ bulldozer style of public policy. Making sure that all government departments are coordinated and singing from the same hymnbook in their dealings with the Trump administration is also key. If you want to see how chaotic mixed messages can be, take a look at what’s happening south of the border right now, where government departments are sometimes called upon to respond to initiatives they didn’t even know were happening.

Another smart thing the Trudeau government did is make former Lieut. Gen., now Liberal MP, Andrew Leslie (Orléans, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs minister, focused on Canada-U.S. relations. The Canadian-American military relationship is important one, and Mr. Leslie’s time working with the Americans, especially in Afghanistan, will serve him well. (There are already signs that the US military is not happy with Pres. Trump – witness the recent leak by three different officials at the Pentagon about how poorly planned the recent raid on Yemen was.) Considering the number of former military people now serving the Trump administration, having a solid relationship with them can only benefit Canada in the long run.

There will be pressure on Trudeau to not be too chummy with Trump, or face the kind of public backlash that greeted British Prime Minister Theresa Mays’ public relationship with The Donald. On the other hand, however, Trudeau cannot afford to be too standoffish or else he risks the wrath of a man known for his childish vengeful attacks on those he sees his opponents. Creating a war room to deal with the US and its new administration is one way of ensuring that Canada’s best interests will be looked after.

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The fight for facts

by Tom Regan

It’s been about 20 years since I had my first brush with the way people can twist or deny facts to suit their own political agendas.

I had accompanied a friend, an experienced reporter who had spent many years in the Middle East, to hear her give a talk to a group in Boston. My friend was articulate, balanced, and insightful in her presentation of what she had learned and seen during her many years covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues in the region.

But what then happened remains with me to this day. The group, who were particularly anti-Palestinian, basically took many of the things that she had said and turned them completely around in their meaning. It was like my friend had said the color was red and her audience repeated back to her ‘you said it was blue.’ My friend tried to correct this misunderstanding, but despite her efforts, this group was only hearing what it wanted to hear. Or to put it another way, they had already made up their minds what the facts were, rightly or wrongly, and they would not be convinced otherwise.

The label “fake news” is being tossed around whenever people read, see or hear a news report they disagree with. (photo by Zeptonn, Creative Commons)

This is a dangerous time for facts. Not only because it is often difficult to sort out meaningful ones from information that just might be background noise, but the political environment in this country has become so charged and divided that both sides want to ignore the veracity of events and words and create their own interpretation that suits their own agendas.

This is particularly the case right now with supporters of Donald Trump, but it is a problem that crosses the political spectrum.

The recent excellent piece by longtime Wisconsin conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes in the New York Times outlines how conservative media was too gung ho in undermining the legitimacy of mainstream modern media. The idea was, in his words, to challenge the interpretation of events as depicted in much of this media, which conservatives saw as too biased towards liberals, and add nuance and understanding to the interpretation of political events so that they didn’t seem so one-sided. What happened, however, was the conservative media just denounced everything that traditional media published or broadcast as lies, misinformation or, as we would say in current parlance, “fake news.”

The result, Sykes argues, is that many conservatives now won’t believe anything traditional media publishes and as a result ignored many of the legitimate warning signs about Donald Trump’s stability, temperament and truthfulness.

As I noted above, liberals can ignore facts as completely as conservatives. Many of the same liberals who would praise NASA scientists for their work on climate change, will denounce scientists who say that GMOs won’t not harm humans, regardless of the scientific evidence, or regardless of what group of scientists wrote the report. Even reports that say we need to be careful with GMOs, but say that overall, their benefits outweigh any harm, are still dismissed. Their belief that GMOs are harmful is more important to them than many studies that would say otherwise. As well, it seems that, like conservatives, the more evidence that is presented that GMOs are overall harmless, the stronger the belief becomes that they are dangerous. Holding their position is more important than changing their view.

The battle to restore legitimacy of facts will be a difficult one. In this postmodern world in which we live, subjectivity matters above all. And there is some validity to the idea that we should not accept facts at face value, but do our best to deconstruct them to find the real truth at their core. But that requires effort, effort I’m not sure that people are willing to make. It’s just so much easier to let your cultural or political beliefs dominate your life rather than question whether or not they are true. If this continues, facts will indeed become an endangered species.

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The fantasy life of Americans

In the fantasy world of America, globalization can be stopped dead in its tracks, and blue jeans will still sell for $20 a pair at Sam’s Club. Manufacturing jobs long vanished will be returned, despite the onslaught of automation (Driverless cars anyone?). There is no need to improve education or skills

Front of a Sam’s Club. (Photo by WalMart, Creative Commons)

because all those old jobs will be coming back. Jobs that are currently filled by immigrants, some of them undocumented, will be filled by Americans eager to do the work that right now a Bangladeshi, or a Mexican, or a Chinese worker do for next to nothing. Obamacare can be wiped away, and healthcare in America won’t be a problem. Despite the rising oceans, and soaring temperatures, climate change does not exist and Americans can burn as many fossil fuels as they wish.

Oh it’s a wonderful world. Lollipops and unicorns and everybody wins the lottery under Pres. Trump. Too bad it really doesn’t exist and never will.

You have to give Donald Trump credit, however. He realized that Americans would rather live in a fantasy world than in the real one. The real one scares them with the challenges that it creates, and Trump persuaded enough Americans that he could create that fantasy world that they so desperately long to live in. But like all fantasy worlds, the point is that it never really existed in the first place. Trump is a snake oil salesman above all, however, and he knows what his audience wants to hear and what they want to believe. And so America will spend the next four years trapped in a fantasy.

But it’s still just a fantasy.

For instance, take globalization. There are some serious problems with globalization for sure, and there is little doubt that it needs some major tweaks. But get rid of it altogether? Do Americans really understand what that means? Do you really think that American workers would make blue jeans for, say, $100 a month in order that their fellow citizens could drop down to their local Target and pick up a pair for, oh, $20-$30? That American workers would be willing to live like Bangladeshi workers? I won’t even answer the question because it’s too ridiculous. But that is what they want. When the day comes will Americans happily pay $150 for the blue jeans that they want? Again, I leave that to your imagination. And let’s remember it just won’t be blue jeans. It will be shoes, clothing all kinds, televisions, cell phones, cars, toys – almost everything that we use in our everyday lives whose price is low because of globalization will rise dramatically in price once it goes away.

Let’s take climate change. Republican leaders like Gov. Rick Scott in Florida don’t even want to acknowledge it exists. Most members of Trump’s new cabinet don’t really believe in it, or at least say they don’t at the behest of the big oil and coal companies who happily support their political campaigns. But climate change is real. Just ask the American military which has named it one of the most serious threats to the country in their past two reports on the dangers the country faces in the coming decades. Increased migration caused by climate change will dwarf what we are seeing in Syria, rising sea levels that threaten to put even Gov. Scott underwater, increased incidence of bizarre weather, more damaging storms, increasing conflicts around the world over dwindling resources caused by climate change – the US military outlined it all. Seems Americans are willing to say how much they value the military but really don’t want to listen to it. Especially if it upsets the fantasy of bigger cars and lots of gas.

Or take undocumented workers. Do you really believe that Americans are willing to spend hours daily under a burning sun picking lettuce or strawberries or potatoes, or to make sure that your lawn in your garden look just right for minimum wage, or that your fast food hamburger stays cheap because the people working behind the counter are willing to work for next to nothing in often abysmal conditions for longer than a week or so. If you do believe that, then you’re a fool.

Because here’s the truth about many, many Americans. They want their lifestyle without having to work for it. And this is true of whether they live in New York City or Des Moines Iowa or on a farm in Arizona or one in North Dakota. There might be different shade to the fantasy depending upon the part of the country that you live in, and the myth you have built up yourself about how “self-reliant” you are, but it’s still basically the same fantasy. After years of being fed lies about the fantasy (by both Democrats and Republicans it should be noted), it’s now embedded in the American psyche like an iron peg hammered into the frozen ground. And Donald Trump knew it, play to it, manipulated it, and won with it.

It would be easy to write about this all day: about the Middle East, about terrorism, about our relationship with Russia and China, healthcare etc., etc. Americans do not want to deal with reality. It’s just too difficult, time-consuming, expensive and hard. Americans would need to be deeply self-reflective and thoughtful about their place in this country, the world and yes even the universe to make the decisions that need to be made into escape our fantasy lives.

But we all know that’s not going to happen, and Pres. Trump knows that most of all. The best we can do is try to find those little bits of reality that will come floating along when the fantasies he promotes start to look threadbare.

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