Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

In the politics of vitriol.

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

The emerging right-wing politics of Europe is spreading like a disease. First we had the self destructive BREXIT from the United Kingdom and now the threatening right in key countries such as France and Germany and even a smaller and usually cooperative Netherlands. Europe still has a way to go though to match the craziness of the current American experience.

And it is crazy. The strongest country in the world has self-destructively put an incompetent in command. And you would think that President Trump’s staunchest enemies would be from the left. They are not. The major block facing off with Trump are a few dozen Tea-Party Republicans in the House of Representatives. They call themselves the House Freedom Caucus.

These men are straight from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. They actually stopped the cancellation of Obamacare because they did not think the bill was destructive enough. They are challenging Donald Trump’s ownership of America’s right wing crazies.

The real concern though is that as Commander in Chief, Trump has found that he can play with live soldiers and real weapons. If Congress will not let him build his wall on the Rio Grande, he can still trade insults with a lunatic despot on the other side of the Pacific who wants a war. They each brag about the size of their rockets.

You would think that Trump would be smart to play nice with his neighbours when he is new to his job. Instead he insults the Mexicans and patronizes the Canadians. If he thinks he can divide and conquer, he is definitely going about it the wrong way.

In the meantime, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has watched Trump play directly into his game. Putin must be giggling in his sleep and planning his next walk-in take-over.

The travails of the complex Middle East are obviously far above the level of understanding of Trump. A key ally there, Turkey, is falling under the rule of a dictator, the Israelis remain hard-nosed and intransigent, Russia keeps the pot boiling in Syria, the hard-line politicians of Iran are trying to challenge the theocratic rule of the Ayatollahs, Pakistan, when not arguing with India, gives safe haven to Afghan insurgents and the Saudi’s are stirring the pot in Yemen. It is no tourist paradise.

And judging by the Conservatives contesting the current Conservative Party of Canada leadership, some of that hard-right thinking is starting to drift into Canada. It will be interesting when we get a chance to analyse the voting by the new and old members of that party.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Mother of all Bombs: No oversight required?

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

During his presidential campaign, President Trump promised to bomb the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) brigands in the Middle East back to the Middle Ages. He now seems to have given America’s generals carte blanche to do that. The only problem is that the ISIL fanatics involved in Afghanistan are already living in what is very much a Middle Ages world.

The American generals recently used a MOAB, popularly called the ‘Mother of All Bombs,’ and which also means Massive Ordnance Air Blast on a target in Afghanistan. It is a conventional high explosive, guided bomb device and was used for the first time by the Americans on an area of Achin in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan. The huge bomb contains 10,000 kilograms of high explosive and its three-kilometre diameter blast area would have obliterated a large number of poppy growers along with their crops and families. The generals were hoping that the force of the bomb would crush the tunnels and caves in the area which are believed to be used by the ISIL forces.

And that is a great deal of ordnance to expend without civilian oversight when American forces are heavily involved in an undeclared war in the area.

The Achin area is east of Kabul on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The proximity of the border provides ISIL with convenient resupply and troop movement from Pakistan. Most of these fighters are Pakistani who speak the local Pashto language.

But it is the lack of civilian oversight in the use of a MOAB that is of the most concern. When the generals start carpet bombing with these things they will endanger the lives of Afghans and ISIL fighters alike. Mind you, bombs of this size and capability do not come cheap. Nor can they be delivered by a conventional bomber. They have to be dropped from the largest air transport planes that the Americans have.

President Trump cannot just give up his oversight responsibility as Commander-in-Chief of the American forces. He can only abrogate his oversight at serious risk. Collateral damage might just be a statistic to the generals but the statistics are the civilians being placed in harm’s way. It is the Commander-in-Chief who has the ultimate responsibility.

It makes you wonder though: If the American generals used a few of those ‘Mothers’ on targets in Pakistan, would it help slow down the endless war in Afghanistan?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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You think Trump got it right in Syria?

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

There were pictures in North American papers the other day of Trump and his key advisers in a small room at his Florida resort. The captions explained that they were being briefed on options in Syria. The question that has to be asked: Is a strike against one airfield any kind of solution?

Does the world really need tit-for-tat gamesmanship?

Is this a Trump era solution? Trump can bawl about babies being killed all he likes but babies have been routinely murdered in Syria for the past six years, to the despair of the world, and there is no permanent solution in sight.

Trump is an ass. He is being congratulated for 58 out of 59 Tomahawk missiles being able to find their general target area. And it only cost a little over a million (US dollars) for each missile. Based on the after pictures, Syrian Leader Bashar al-Assad could have the base operational again in about two weeks if he wants. Just one surgical nuclear weapon would have made the air base unusable for about 2000 years.

The difference is that between an admonition and a conviction.

Looking at all those rich white men (and one young and rich Trump relation) around that table makes you wonder who really made the decision? It was a bad decision in any event. It was made in retaliation and in anger and because they could.

Better people than Donald Trump and his Merry Men have addressed the Syrian situation and have been found wanting. When a dictator such as al-Assad spends his idle afternoons in Damascus thinking up new ways to kill his county’s people, there are no simple solutions. And having Vladimir Putin of Russia stick his oar into the desert sands of the Middle east is not exactly helping the problems.

But what is America doing on this Holy Crusade? If we heard Mr. Trump correctly last year, we thought he wanted nothing to do with the Middle East. And yet, he thinks he can bomb the ISIL brigands back to the Middle Ages. He just has no idea how to do that.

You would think that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with his background with ExxonMobil could explain the politics of oil and the Middle East to him. Maybe Mr. Trump is more of a coal guy.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Airing the rants of the Right.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Canadians are too politically correct to accept a politician such as right-wing Geert Wilders who has been running in the Netherlands for that country’s parliamentary elections yesterday. At one point the pollsters were suggesting that the right-wing anti-Islam, anti-EU politician’s Freedom Party could get as much as 20 per cent of the popular vote. And in Holland, with proportional representation, that means 20 per cent of the seats.

But the question needs to be raised in Canada as to whether it is better to air those opinions or suppress them?

First, we know that Wilders and his party will not be able to be part of the government. The Dutch Liberals under Mark Rutte with more than 25 seats will be putting together the coalition that will rule for the next four years. There is no way that they would invite Wilders to be part of that coalition.

From the sidelines, Wilder will be shrill in his ongoing message of hate.

But does that not give us more time to refute the garbage he spouts?

And you should bear in mind that, compared to Wilders, President Trump is a diplomat.

Our home-grown right, such as M.P. Kellie Leitch have to use code words for bigotry or they would face the wrath of their own party.

The problem in Canada is that with our first-past-the-post electoral system is that the major political parties have to take the “big tent” approach to gather the voting support for a majority. You get the Liberals running with a broad left-wing appeal and then ruling with right wing gusto. The Conservatives never seem to mention their denials of women’s and gay rights during an election but you know the pressure is always there. And the New Democrat’s attempts at right-wing promises create their own nemesis.

Our failure in North America to face these issues directly could be part of the reason that so many of us were wrong in calling last year’s American election. From Hillary Clinton on down the chain, we failed to see the real strength of Trump. He was feeding the chauvinism, he was building a wall of ignorance, he believed in the bigotry. And he told the biggest lies.

We have to accept the blame. We have to block bastards like Trump. Their lies must be exposed. Their causes challenged.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Does President Trump have an agenda?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

It is hard to get your mind around this one. There was an opinion piece in a major Canadian newspaper by a political science professor who posited that President Donald Trump and his henchman Steve Bannon have a plan to split the world with Vladimir Putin. You would have a hard time imagining this plot. It is fanciful and requires far more co-ordination than a building project. And it deals with people who like to go their own way.

Frankly, “Making America Great Again” is stretching Trump’s showmanship to the limit. He has no idea how to do that either. For him to play in world politics with someone like Putin would be like sending him out to pinch hit in a World Series game without a bat.

And to give Steve Bannon some of the credit for this supposed plot is even sillier. Bannon is a self-centred egotist who rivals Trump in that category. He is the only Tea Party advocate we have ever heard of who has nastier things said about him by Republicans than Democrats. He is despised on both sides.

But Bannon would be the last person to plot with Putin. Hell, Bannon would have had a hard time negotiating with Adolph Hitler. They both might be anti-Semites but as a Harvard MBA, Bannon would consider fascism passé.

What is really surprising is how long the Trump-Bannon relationship has survived. Neither one of them expected Trump to win the presidency and that might be the bond. Bannon brings Trump good luck?

But the professor’s theory is that Trump’s America will help dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and encourage the break-up of the European Union. This would give Putin free reign in Eastern Europe and he could finish re-assembling the USSR to its former glory.

What is wrong with this silly scenario is that there is no logic to helping Putin rebuild if there is no balancing assembly going on in the West. Yet here is Trump insisting on a stupid wall to beggar Mexico instead of helping industrialize the country as an ally.

And the really dumb part of the entire scheme is the part about damaging the NATO alliance. Those countries are the best customers for the U.S. military-industrial complex and provide hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs for Americans. Trump is telling America’s allies to spend more not less.

But one of the fun parts of teaching political science is that reality is something else.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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One man’s tweak.

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Maybe we can just tweak this situation while discussing the twits who Twitter. And why does Donald Trump’s White House menagerie remind us of that awful daytime TV serial, The Young and the Restless?

Quickly though, before the next episode in this ongoing saga, did you cotton on to Donald Trump’s strategy with Prime Minister Trudeau? Trump was actually suggesting that since he and Trudeau were the good guys, the two white men could gang up on the smaller Mexican. Trump is an old hand at ‘divide and conquer.’ It is one of the oldest ploys in the developers’ book.

And if Trudeau was foolish enough to go along with Trump, the one thing he can count on: Canada would be next! Trudeau has to ensure that any so-called ‘tweaking’ of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is done with three parties at the table. It will not really be two against one. You have to remember that the U.S. has about three times the population of Mexico and Mexico has about three times the population of Canada. It is only in gross domestic product that Canada becomes the second step.

And while Canada does considerable trade with Mexico, the substantial deficit in payments in pesos for Canada would be better balanced if Canadians stopped taking winter vacations in Mexico—or a lot more Mexicans visited Canada.

The real problem with the trade between Mexico and the U.S. is not the lack of a wall between the two countries but the barriers that do exist. The extremes of the income disparities in Mexico and the mean-spirited deals of American manufacturers are seriously suppressing Mexican labour rates. Today, they are forcing Mexican labour to accept a much lower wage rate than that to which they are really entitled. If the drug cartels in Mexico, for example, could turn their attention to labour organization in their own country, they could potentially become rich, legitimate, perform a worthwhile service and raise the average income to living wages.

Alternatively, if Donald Trump was the least bit sincere about his pledge to make America great again, all he would have to do is refuse to import any product into the U.S.A. that used any labour that is paid less than 60 per cent of that paid to the average American manufacturing employee.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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May comes; May goes.

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Did you see that lovely picture of British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump holding hands outside the West Wing? It was all the lady came to Washington to get. And it was all she wanted.

You really do not think anything substantive was agreed to, did you? It was entirely a public relations gesture for both parties. Trump had just been told to get stuffed by the president of Mexico. He needed some other country to reassure him that he really was the boss man in Washington. This guy is going to need constant reassurance.

May’s objective was to build some standing back home in Westminster. She is in nothing but trouble with the Brexit file in the Commons. If she cannot win a vote for her handling of the file, her entire house of cards collapses. Without getting the Brexit vote through the Commons, she can lose everything—not the least, her job.

But this lady is determined to hold on to her position. She is also much smarter than the late Baroness Thatcher. May’s handling of Trump was masterful. She played that misogynistic bastard like a Steinway. She eased him through the diplomatic rough spots until he was eating out of her hand. No doubt she hurried to her digs afterwards for a good bath.

But it is still a gamble for her to use the Trump in the way she did. The United Kingdom can hardly replace the billions of Euros in trade with Europe with some few U.S. dollars of growth some new trade with America might provide. And England would need a new Marshall Plan to pull it out of penury if the United Kingdom loses Scotland and Northern Ireland to the European Union. Imagine England and a dyspeptic Wales trying to survive as a quaint tourist attraction across the Channel from a thriving E. U.

May’s major problem is that her opposition will ask ‘so what’ if President Trump liked her? Will he remember her tomorrow when someone else catches his eye? The visit was nothing more than an exercise in optics. It worked, but for how long?

What Theresa May did not realize is that while she made Trump’s Best Friend Forever list, he has the attention span and loyalty of a sexually active 16-year old.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Butt out Ms. Fonda.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

While it is so very nice of actor Jane Fonda to lend her celebrity concern to the rape of the environment for tar sands in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canadians should certainly say ‘Thank you.’ It all helps, but celebrity endorsements and support can come across as self-serving and really do not carry much credibility. Celebrities can carry negative images as well as positive. And if they attract the wrong audiences, how is that helpful?

An example of this was in the 1970s when the New York advertising agency for the American Multiple Sclerosis Society showed some members of the Canadian executive a new flight of commercials that they thought we would like to use on Canadian television. The commercials were of Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra urging people to help in the fight against MS. They were excellent quality and professionally produced and there would be little effort involved in getting Canadian stations to use them as public service announcements.

All we had to do was put our Canadian society’s name on them and use them. The agency people were quite surprised when we said ‘No thanks.’

At the time the Canadian MS Society was coming out of its shell and determined to become a multi-million dollar health agency. You do not do that with celebrity endorsements. We had to let Canadians know we were dealing with a crippling disease that creates huge costs for our health care system. We had to make Canada the leader in neurological research and coordinate it with research around the world. And it is working.

The MS Society is the third best known health agency in Canada today. It is one of the best run agencies. It is not surprising when you hear that the people working on Heart and Cancer helped us get there. Smart agencies are cooperative agencies.

But protecting our environment in Canada is an even tougher challenge. We do not need celebrities. Nor do we need the growing breed of celebrity environmentalists. You are dealing with highly organized greed when you deal with tar sands exploitation. You are dealing with large businesses. You are dealing with people who can outspend you in the news media, in social media, in political IOUs and in impressing the politicians. You not only have to stand in front of the pipeline bulldozer; you have to mean it.

And you have to remember that bitumen is the bitch you are fighting. The truth might not set you free but you can get people wondering why nobody wants to convert large amounts of bitumen to ersatz crude oil on the Prairies?

We promised at the Paris environmental summit that Canada would do its part. Sending bitumen to other parts of the world to process is not doing our part. Our world cannot sustain it.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The Roman God Janus is smiling.

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Looking both back and forward is a trick of a God such as Janus. Humans find it easiest to look ahead as we enter a new year. We have already written off the year behind us as a bad dream. And we have much excitement to look forward to in 2017.

In North America, the circus is coming to town in Washington with the inauguration of Donald Trump as President. Canadians might feel they have a ringside seat for this presidency but we can only hope to avoid the splatter.

Nobody here is worried about Trump building a northern wall to eliminate illegal immigration but then the Mexicans are not all that worried either. We can also expect that rewriting the North America Free Trade Agreement will not be of particularly high priority for the Trump administration either.

And we will have our home-grown turmoil in Canada as well. The first move of the American Kinder Morgan pipeline company to resume twining its pipeline to Burnaby, B.C. will set the drums pounding throughout the mountain forests. There will be troubles.

And, speaking of pipelines, corporate greed being what it is, watch for further ruptures of the Husky pipeline near the North Saskatchewan River. This is an old pipeline working at high pressure to pump more heated tar sands bitumen than it was originally designed to carry. And the sooner CBC stops calling it oil, the sooner fat-cat Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan will get his comeuppance.

Nor is the entire world just waiting for Mr. Trump. Dictator Bashar el-Assad has his own designs for his fiefdom of Syria and there are still scores to settle. The flimsy Russian-Turkey ceasefire in Syria might not be recognized by the Syrian murderer of women and children.

While Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel might think he can treat outgoing President Obama rudely, not all others agree. Great Britain might jump in to support Netanyahu but they just need to get everybody off the Brexit file for a bit. The rest of the world diplomatic corps is a tight community and they will wait an opportunity to show Netanyahu up for his bad manners towards Obama and his Secretary of State. America has always been a very good friend to Israel and Netanyahu needs to smarten up.

The New Year promises to be an interesting rollercoaster ride. Buckle up!


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Sending cannon fodder to Latvia.

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

In 1941 Canada came to the aid of the British Empire and sent troops to Hong Kong. The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were supposed to be a deterrent to war. Of the 1975 Canadians who tried to help defend Hong Kong, quite a few less came home after War II from the Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Our government has learned little from history as it prepares to send 450 troops to Latvia to discourage Russian aggression towards its neighbours. Along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, we will form a division to face off against thousands of Russian tanks. This is supposed to be an open-ended posting for Canadian troops. There will be similar NATO forces based in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.

It is not clear what these forces will be expected to do if Russian troops decide to annex any of these countries. Since the Canadian troops will be provided with transport vehicles, it is assumed that they will have an option to jump into the vehicles and get out of Dodge.

That was not the case with the troops trying to stop the Japanese at Hong Kong. They had nowhere to go and they lasted less than two weeks under attack by four times the number of a battle-hardened enemy. They were surrendered by the civilian governor of Hong Kong who likely had no idea how the Japanese despised and treated soldiers who surrendered to them.

But those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. NATO has drawn a line in the sand using live troops from the organization’s member countries. They are defying an egotist such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin with this living line.

This is not a deterrent. It has all the character and assuredness of thumbing your nose. A deterrent is submarines armed with nuclear missiles in the North Atlantic. All Mr. Putin needs to know is where the line is and be assured of what will happen if he crosses it.

The Russian leader has already annexed Crimea and created chaos in Eastern Ukraine with a supposed Ukrainian militia who all speak Russian. He needs to be dealt with firmly but with respect. It means we have to listen to his concerns and he has to listen to ours. Diplomacy requires it.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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