Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

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.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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!

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

The Trump – Thatcher triangle.

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Trump finally did it. He lost it all over a mosquito. It was enough to make you wonder if the mosquito was real or imagined. And it was an example of the root cause of our society’s problems. Out of a 70-minute speech, social media lit up with 15-seconds of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump trying to kill a mosquito.

And it finally told us why we could never believe in Trump as President of the United States. He reminds us too much of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990. It is true: Trump in drag would even look like Margaret Thatcher.

While often defined as a political libertarian, Thatcher was to, to say the least, heavy handed. Her autocratic style had somewhat more direction than Trump’s. She was definitely better focussed. They hardly called her “The Iron Lady” for no reason.

The best social media comment on Trump’s “Mosquito” speech was by Republican strategist Stuart Stevens. He said “A concerned family would be talking about taking car keys away from Donald Trump not giving him nuclear codes.”

But in this age of 140-character assessments and assassinations, people should have listened to all 70 minutes of his distorted speech. The best part was when he threw his speech notes in the air and the rest was off the wall rather than off the top of a deranged mind. And he totally lost it when he tried to defend his defence of the late Iraqi leader Sadaam Hussein.

It reminds us of Baroness Thatcher in her dotage. A writer had agreed to do a ‘repair’ on an interview with her for a chapter in a book. The only problem was there was very little in her answers to suggest that she understood the questions. What the publisher received was a very interesting summation of what she might have said—had she understood the questions.

There is no question that Trump can afford writers to write sensible speeches. He is not good at it but we have also seen him use a teleprompter. What is obviously wrong is that he changes his mind. What we get in speeches by Trump is a constant flow of him changing his mind. These are not speeches, they are rants.

In this sense Trump and Thatcher are of a kind. It is as though the ghost of Baroness Thatcher resides in the Bermuda Triangle and communicates in some way with Trump to give him her political strategy—such as it is.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

Amigos, meet the elephant.

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

The so-called Three Amigos met in Ottawa this week. It was nothing more than a public relations exercise. Nothing substantive could be resolved. The American, Canadian and Mexican leaders simply tried to ignore the problems their countries face. They certainly did not want to talk about the elephant in the room; Donald Trump.

With Barack Obama finishing his second term this coming January, there was little he could contribute to the meeting—other than rhetoric. (That was the first time we have ever seen a teleprompter used in the House of Commons.) He is out come January and either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump will take over. And the chilling prospect of a possible win by Trump in the American elections is not a warm thought for any of the leaders of the three countries.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had the most to gain in this meeting. With a gross domestic product per capita that is about 20 per cent of each of his northern neighbours, he has the toughest job. In a country noted for corporate corruption, political corruption, police corruption and drug cartels, Mexico’s cheap holidays and cheap labour are not always bargains.

And as a third partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico has the most to benefit from the relations. When political demagogues such as Donald Trump rail against open borders and trade agreements, both Canada and Mexico have reason to be concerned.

The convoluted three-way handshake Justin Trudeau tried to initiate during a photo-op was an excellent example of the relationship between the three countries. Everyone was doing his own thing and all Trudeau could do was hug both of them.

What everyone needs to bear in mind is that Canada and Mexico are very much the junior partners in NAFTA and we are at the mercy of American dominance. For Donald Trump to rail against NAFTA in his speeches shows just how ignorant the man is of the reality. All Canada and Mexico can hope for in NAFTA is a degree of fairness. Both countries are at the mercy of states that pass Buy America and Right to Work (anti-union) laws and the American Congress is complicit.

While Canada can easily sooth the Mexican concerns with this country, Mexico will long remember the walls already built by the U.S. to close out their country. For Trump to say he will have Mexico pay for his wall is not only very silly but a very serious insult.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Scotland the brave will carry on.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

You have to admit that there might just be more smarts in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. With a 62 per cent vote to remain with the European Union, Scotland is unlikely to go the route of Brexit. And if the only way to remain is to separate from the United Kingdom, so be it. When they recently voted to stay with the UK, there seemed little reason to separate; now there is.

The situation in Northern Ireland is quite different and needs a separate discussion from what is happening in Scotland. And before you accuse Scotland of having a ‘neverendum referendum,’ it needs to be realized that most Scots were of the opinion that Brexit would be defeated. They were even more surprised than the English bookies by what has happened.

There is of course a great deal of anger building on the continent of Europe. Nobody likes to be rejected. Imagine how people feel in London which also voted strongly to stay. It will take a lot of that bloody English stoicism to carry on through this mess. There was a great deal of that in that brief news conference in front of Downing Street by Prime Minister David Cameron.

It should be an important opportunity for the European Union to deal more effectively with the need for reform. The serious lack of leadership in the European Union has been met so far by the German and French leaders. That can hardly continue if there is not to be more countries fleeing the cloying morass of dealing through the European headquarters in Brussels.

It is particularly amusing that Canada’s parliamentarians are studying vote reform when it is so obvious that proportional voting and single-transferable voting are causing much of the problem for Members of the European Parliament (MEP). The lack of direct election and knowing your MEP has certainly contributed to the parliament’s problems and lack of effectiveness. Who knows if Canada’s parliamentarians will pay attention?

If there was no other reason for Scotland and Northern Ireland to depart the United Kingdom, it is the prospect of Brexit drum-beater MP Boris Johnson succeeding the departing David Cameron. A populist Conservative Johnson has delusions of his role in life and will not be happy to lose either Scotland or Northern Ireland from a less influential (diss)United Kingdom.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is there life after Brexit?

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

While Babel-0n-the-Bay was urged to produce a morning line on the Brexit vote, the decision was made that it was far too close to forecast. And it was. Along with the disappointment of the morning after, the in-box contained a 1900-word diatribe on our ‘pompous’ Brexit commentary. Never has 400 or so words of comment produced so much vitriol.

It is freely admitted that the Brexit commentary was far too casually handled and poorly edited. We all need a good editor. And it is also admitted that this ignorant colonial can never get the names of Great Britain, the United Kingdom and its various subjects and components right but who cares that much? Canadians learn all that stuff in grade school and quickly forget about it. You have to also swear allegiance to the Queen when you join the Canadian Air Force but you forget about it after you leave.

We were also accused of taking liberties in using the royal ‘we.’ In years of teaching writing to business people, the point was always made that only a child writing to mommy from camp starts sentences with ‘I.’ The point is that mommy cares about you; people receiving a business letter from you do not. If you write about what others care about, you will get their attention.

Obviously we did that with this gentleman. He told us he was annoyed as hell. He disagreed with our opinion. Oddly enough, that is also our objective. While reasonably confident in our opinion, we do like to receive comment from readers to keep us on our toes. This gentleman showed us how angry older men can get. He wanted to put a trapdoor under our toes and a noose around our neck.

He sees corporatism as the problem and the neoliberalism of the politicians as the support structure that maintains the corporatism. A former Brit, he sees his adopted country of Canada as being ruled by foreign corporations and decries our politicians’ desire for mounting numbers of free trade pacts. He just does not recognize that the problem is more about political laziness and carelessness than plotting.

The writer sees Babel-on-the-Bay’s ‘lordly’ take on Brexit and the Brits as an example of our failure to understand that everything was going down the drain for the average person in the UK. Frankly we also read a lot of bigotry and ignorance in the scenario. The entire fiasco could not have been better directed by England’s famed Boulting Brothers.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me