Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Social Democracy v. Socialism

 

We heard some Conservative Americans on the radio complaining about the rise of socialism. To them “socialism” is a very dirty word. It is about on par with child molester. I really think the issue of socialism will be very important in the next Presidential and Congressional elections.I hope so.  Many Conservatives think the Democrats are handing them the next election because they are going so radical. Is that true?

I know Trump has already been active in referring to the Democrats as leftists, or, even worse, radical socialists. They point in particular to Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and worst of all–the Green New Deal. Talk about a bevy of boogey men. Republicans think they are being handed the next election on a platter. As a result I think it is a good idea for us to be clear about what a socialist is and is not.

What is a socialist?  This is not as clearly defined as one might like. When I went to university we defined a socialist as a person who believed that the means of production should be owned by public. That does not mean there should be no private property, but I still think it goes too far.  I thought the definition had changed since then, but I have not found a better one. According to this definition, a socialist believes the infrastructure of production–such as factories, businesses, and the like should be socially owned, not privately owned.  In this sense of the word I have never been a socialist. Even in the days of my misspent youth.

I have been more attracted to the term “social democrat.” I would say that a social democrat is one who believes that the public should have significant control (not ownership) of the important private property, such as the means of production, but including other things–that can have a substantial impact on society.  Social democrats don’t want to own all these things. But they do want society to have social control exercised in a democratic manner over the vital instruments of social influence. This includes the means of production but many other things as well. “Democratic” means are important to distinguish Social Democrats from Communists. Communists clearly demonstrated how things go awry when democratic means are abandoned. Without democracy the apparatchiks are as bad as the capitalists.That control must be used for significant social goods, such as greater equality (not absolute equality), greater freedom, and greater fraternity. These are really the goals of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Some aspects will have to be controlled fairly tightly. Others hardly at all. The amount of control will vary greatly depending on how influential the instruments are and how pernicious their effects.

Social democrats don’t have a strict ideological position on what needs to be socially controlled and what not. As a result social democrats don’t have a principle such as ‘that government is best which governs the least’—the principle of libertarians and neoliberals.  Nor do Social Democrats believe by rote that people should be allowed to do anything provided it does not harm other people–classic liberalism. The people will democratically decide from time to time, how much control to exercise in particular circumstances and this can always be debated freely in each case under consideration. Social Democrats, unlike Socialists, Communists, or neo-conservatives are not governed by rigid ideology but by rational decision making on a case by case basis based on evidence, data, and careful thinking.

Social Democrats will not hesitate to use government as the means to their social democratic ends. Social Democrats do their best to keep out bias in decision-making. Social Democrats don’t have a recipe; they have a technique–i.e. reasoning based on the best evidence, analysis, and logical reasoning. These goals are humble and modest. That is one of the reasons I like them. Those are some of the reasons I call myself a social democrat.

Concentration Camps for Kids

 

Recently the US Inspector General issued a report on the crisis on the border.  That report found “dilapidated, dirty and unsafe conditions” in some American family detention centres where asylum claimants are being housed. There have been 6 recent deaths of children at these facilities in less than a year. Now it is a fact that children die. It is also a difficult task to house the children and keep them safe. But this shouldn’t happen.

Taking care of migrating children is now a billion dollar industry in the United States. Interestingly, it is dominated by 1 Non-governmental Organization that conducts the Southwest Key program.

The US government holds tens of thousands of immigrants in detention under the control of Customs and Border Protection (‘CBP’) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (‘ICE’).

According to Nicholas Kulish, an investigative journalist with the New York Times“This Non-profit” is actually a money making machine.”  He reported that their CEO was paid a salary of $1.5 million per year while their CFO earned $1million per year.

Unfortunately, at the same time as these executives were earning handsome sums, children at the border in detention centres served by Southwest Key Programs were getting sub-par food, clothing and shelter. The L.A. Times called these facilities “concentration camps.” That is rather inflammatory language.

Dr. Scott Allan of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States was more measured in his language, but his words were still chilling. He became a whistle blower. It was his job to inspect family residential centres run by the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these are operated by private contractors. Typically in those facilities minors were not alone but were accompanied by an adult, often a parent or sometimes 2 parents.  The facilities he inspected were different from centres without parental accompaniment.

According to Dr. Allan, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on PBS, “The medical community is united in opposition to housing minor children this way. Decades of research have shown that such detention is harmful to both their mental and physical health.”

Nicholas Kulish also interviewed by Amanpour,  added that the Trump administration, led by Sessions, was a government running from crisis to crisis without a comprehensive plan. The Trump administration was quick to back off when the public cried out.

Dr. Allan and his fellow inspectors of these detention centers were concerned since the first of such facilities was established by President Obama. Not Trump!

According to Dr. Allan, “We noticed systemic problems meeting their complex needs.” He noted that they had problems in getting adequate health care professionals, and problems interpreting the languages of the indigenous detainees. Not all of them spoke Spanish. This helped to make their medical problems “fraught and risky,” he said. “The facilities were not well planned to keep children safe,” he said. For example, his team found a lack of pediatricians.  The team of inspectors found that the facilities did not meet their own guidelines. As a result of their first report, President Obama shut down the facility that his team complained about.

Things got worse again under the Trump administration particularly as a result of their policy of child separation. It is well recognized that this policy was devised by Trump’s man—Attorney General Jeff Sessions—in order to put pressure on unwelcome asylum seekers. That basically meant all asylum seekers.

When the consequences of that policy became well known, the public revolted. After that  Dr. Scott Allan and his team inspected an increasing number of family detention centers. That policy, Dr. Allan pointed out, “would knowingly put children at risk of significant mental and physical harm and as physicians we had an obligation to raise the alarm We initially did so internally as we normally do, but when there was no timely response we were ultimately obliged to notify Congress with the whistle blower protection laws in the U.S.” They became whistle blowers against their own bosses! That takes a lot of courage.

This got for profit companies involved. They saw an opportunity for vast profits. As Nicholas Kulish said, “We’ve gone from non-profits that make profit to actual for-profit money making businesses.” Now “profit” is not a four-letter word. But sometimes it can lead to the gulag. 6 children have died this year in family detention centers in the richest country in the world.

Dr. Allan and his inspector team noticed that some young children were being give anti-depressants without medical assessments. They noticed children trying to commit suicide. Amidst all of this they noticed poor record keeping and poor attention to allergies of children. The health care was sub-par.  Dr. Allan summed up the problems this way,

“The central mistake we have made is to prioritize confinement over what we would have traditionally done at any time in our history, which was to prioritize care, health, and safety of children. We should be mounting a massive relief operation and a humanitarian operation which prioritizes early triage, assessment by qualified health professionals, and placement of children in community settings which has been done safely historically and that would result in safe conditions for the children. None of that would preclude an orderly process of adjudicating asylum claims, but we have made a critically careless mistake not consistent with our history in prioritizing confinement over care.”

Dr. Scott Allan and his colleague Dr. Panela McPherson reported to Congress as follows (in bare scientific language):

“The expansion of detention has resulted in increased reports of harm to children…The practice of detaining children and families is no longer an issue of policy dispute. It is willful policy that knowingly inflicted serious harm to children, including risk of death.”

We must also remember that Trump and Sessions would have made things even worseif they had their way and the public had not resisted. They wanted to detain children aloneto maximize pressure on the parents of the children to leave and abandon their asylum claims! This is what both of them wantedto do before the public outcry.

Dr. Scott has worked in immigration detention settings for nearly 40 years, but he was shocked when looked into the eyes of vulnerable children and women often vulnerable from a medical health perspective, and “it stuns me to have to report these findings,” he said.

The damning report by Dr. Allan’s team was produced internally for the government in 2018 and notwithstanding that report, in 2019 the program expanded. As Kulish said, “Not only is it continuing it actually is getting worse.” ]More and more people are crossing the southern border with Mexico, and though most of the asylum seekers are not Mexican, they are now crossing in remote pars of the country like Arizona where conditions are most dangerous. When they arrive to get care with Border Patrol the asylum seekers often are already de-hydrated and suffering from before they come to increasingly inadequate US facilities in the richest country in the world.

Even Border Patrol acknowledges that it is not equipped to handle these claimants, particularly the young women with infants. As Kulish said, “Many of the people in Border Patrol are not trained or equipped to deal with people in this sort of peril.” The big problem, according to Kulish, is that Border Patrol, and the entire Trump administration, is treating the problem as a law enforcement issue, rather than care needed by desperate people.

Comparing the America family detention centers along the southern border “concentration camps” is not actually helpful. What counts is that they are shameful and show a startling lack of empathy for desperate people. To treat the most vulnerable people the way Border Patrol has done is disgraceful.

Trump keeps saying things like they won’t fund soccer balls, or education, or legal representation for children and is convinced that his base will approve.  Millions of Americans approve of what he is doing. There is of course a huge divide in the United States today. Trump’s base loves what he is doing. Progressives are appalled. The issue is not Trump. He is hopeless. I really don’t care what all of this says about Donald Trump. Trump is not important. I do care about what all of this says about Americans. Many of them are my friends. Not all Americans support Trump, but millions do. What kind of a country is that now?

Why waste time talking about Trump?

 

Some have raised many important issues in messages to me as a result of my blogs. I could bore you with a long diatribe. I tend to that to people. So I will bore you with a shorter diatribe. Some will say not short enough. So be it.

To begin with, as has been suggested by others, I don’t think it is useful to waste a lot of time haranguing Donald Trump. Frankly, he is not worth it. Yet he is the American President and as we know, every time the US coughs Canada gets a cold. As well, it scares me just to think he has his finger on the nuclear button. And it is a big one you know. And it works.

More importantly, about 50 million people voted for him and many of those still like him.  This really scares me. Many people just want to see Trump go away. I do. But that will not end much. Who will those 50 million support the next time? Someone even worse? Trump is just a symptom of a disease.

I think Trump is a demagogue with authoritarian tendencies. Similar potential leaders have had significant support all over Europe. This is an international phenomenon.

If you have time, I urge you to read a marvelous (and short!) book by Timothy Snyder called On Tyranny. Snyder is an expert historian who is familiar with how tyrannies have arisen in the last century. Remember that Hitler was elected before he became a dictator. He did that by preying on the fears of people and finding scapegoats.

Part of the reason so many people voted for him, I believe, is that people, particularly in the US, have for more than a hundred years been accustomed to making important decisions without the benefit of reason. They have made decisions on the basis of faith, rather than reason. They are used to doing that.

Kurt Anderson has written a book on the subject called Fantasyland. So far I have just read a brief summary in Atlantic magazine. I am waiting for the paperback. Sometimes it hurts to be a cheap Menno. His thesis is that Americans have spent 500 years making important decisions on the basis of fantasies rather than reason. They believe on the basis of what they want to be true, rather than on the basis of what the evidence supports. Trump is just part of that process. Many people, particularly people who are unemployed or underemployed, believe Trump can help them, even though the evidence does not support that conviction. Yet they believe it. They have abdicated their reason.

A lot of people are in despair. Around the world. That is understandable given how the lot of most people has seriously deteriorated in the last 40 years, while the lot of the elites has risen sharply. Inequality has risen by astonishing amounts. Rich people have done amazingly well while ordinary people have seen their incomes decline.

The people who have not done well and daily see how well others have done, because the modern media makes sure that everyone knows, are filled with resentment. Resentment is an explosively dangerous force. It is blind to reason. Near home a few years ago a dairy farmer was mad at his wife who wanted a divorce and got so angry that he burned his barn down with all of the cows inside. And he did that  after cancelling his fire insurance. If he could not have it all no one else would have any of it. It was totally irrational. People consumed with resentment can do that.

About a year ago, a man in Alberta who was facing a divorce from his wife, murdered her and their children. If he could not have his family no one could. So he killed them all and then killed himself. Again it made no difference how irrational this was. People blinded by resentment can do that.

People in the modern world are not only resentful of their loss of money, and status, they are deeply insecure. Capitalists, as we all know, have been forced in recent recessions to lay off workers. That is hard and it is profoundly unnerving to those laid off. This has happened over and over again. As a result many people, particularly after the most recent recession feel a deep sense of insecurity. Even though capitalism has produced amazing wonders, it is deeply flawed if it needs to create such misery. Such a system is broken.

This has happened all over the world, but particularly in places like Appalachia, in the US. Many there are resentful and desperate. They justifiably gave up on both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who can blame them? But they turned to an unlikely source for help. Donald Trump. A billionaire that had no empathy for them. As I have said before, “Trump has the empathy of a turnip.” But at least he heard them. Clinton was deaf. No wonder people turned to Trump over Clinton.

I have little doubt that his supporters will be disappointed in Trump. He is no savior. Voting for him was also deeply irrational. Many people in the United States wanted a personal wrecking ball who would destroy the system. I have met such people on my current trip to the United States. There are surprisingly many of such people. It did not matter who would be hurt by Trump’s actions. It did not matter that he would not help them. As we know he has done nothing for them. He has drastically reduced taxes on the wealthy and unsurprisingly very few people still believe that the way to help poor people is to give money to rich people. That is what Trump and many Republicans believe.

I am not trying to create class divisions as one person suggested to me. As Warren Buffet, hardly a leftwing radical, said, ‘for the past few decades we have been in a class war and my class has won. The rich people.’ The class war, if there is one, or was one, is over. Donald Trump is just the culmination of that process.

I fear that rich people in the US in particular have seized the government to their own advantage and are blind to the damage they have done. They have got temporary benefits as a result, but do not see how the resentment is building up and how dangerous that can be. How will the resentful people explode next time? Who will be the next wrecking ball? This is one of the reasons I say that capitalists are the greatest danger for capitalism.

I really think, the rich people have done a massive disservice to everyone–not the least to themselves! And not least to the system that brought them such prosperity. I am not a revolutionary. They are.

Donald Trump has the Empathy of a Turnip

 

I also heard an excerpt from an interview of Donald Trump in a July 2008 on the Howard Stern show. This shows the real Trump, if there is such a thing. It relates to an incident at Mar-a-Lago, Trumps estate for rich cronies and wanna be cronies. An 80-year old man fell from a stage to the hard marble floor and the blood started to flow.Here is how Trump described the incident entirely in his own words:

“I was at Mar-a-Lago and we had this incredible ball, the Red Cross Ball, in Palm Beach, Florida.

And we had the Marines. And the Marines were there, and it was terrible because all these rich people, they’re there to support the Marines, but they’re really there to get their picture in the Palm Beach Post.

So, you have all these really rich people, and a man, about 80 years old – very wealthy man, a lot of people didn’t like him – he fell off the stage. 

So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died.

And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away.

I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him. He’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible.

You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed colour. Became very red.

And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away

What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room.

They come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher.

They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side.

I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK.

It’s just not my thing.”

 This is a picture of Donald Trump by the man himself. Other people’s blood and pain is just not his thing. What is his thing? The stained marble floor. The rich people who are upset. He gives no thought–absolutely none–to an 80-year old man lying on the floor in blood. Donald Trump has the empathy of a turnip!

This is the same man who said about how disgraceful it was in Parkland Florida that the armed security guard stayed outside the school during the entire shooting incident in which 17 students were slaughtered by a former student with an AR-15 automatic rifle, and that he really believes he would have run into the school to confront the young man with a machine gun even if he had no weapon. This statement comes from the man who got 5 medical deferments from serving in the Vietnam War because the family doctor said he had a sore foot, an injury that Trump later discounted. Stephen Colbert said that he did not believe Trump because he did not believe that Trump could run. The story is about as believable as any other Trump ever told–not at all in other words.

Are you Scared Yet?

 

Some of my friends are scared of coming to Arizona. They think that ever since Donald Trump entered on to the political scene, and then shockingly became President, the USA has gone mad and therefore they want to give it a wide berth. I thought that was going a bit far. Is it?

Journalist Michael Wolff, for some strange reason, was allowed to occupy the Whitehouse for weeks. He sat around and interviewed as many people as he could. He had a couple of conversations with President Donald Trump, talked frequently with Trump’s strategic advisor Steven Bannon, and numerous other Whitehouse officials. He learned a lot about Trump and his administration. During this time he gathered enough material for a book that is now on the bestseller lists, because of all that he revealed about that administration and all the people that work inside it.

One of the things that Wolff revealed hardly seems controversial. This is that Trump reads absolutely nothing. He has probably only read one book in his entire adult life and that was his own book, which he co-wrote with his ghost author–The Art of the Deal. No wonder he said this was his favorite book after the Bible of course. Can you imagine naming your own book? Trump has no shortness of ego. To call him a narcissist seems wildly understated.

By itself this is scary. After all one would expect the leader of the richest, most powerful, most influential country in the world to be a person of wide experience and learning. But not only does Trump not read, he does not listen either. He won’t listen to what anyone has to say (except the pundits on Fox News and some other similar thinking Internet sites and blogs.) He only listens to complements about himself. He does not even listen to his own advisors. He has the attention span of a young teenager totally incurious about anything that does not deal with him directly. He loves to learn what others think and say about him. That’s it. That is the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger–and it is “big” and “it works.” Excuse my bad language, but is it surprising that his own Secretary of State called him “a fucking moron?”[1]

He has been President now for a year and has still not appointed a science advisor. The science advisor is the person who gives impartial advice to the President on issues that either affect science or would benefit from scientific input. For example, he has had to deal with what many have called the most important issue of our generation–climate change. If ever there was an issue that cried out for scientific advice this it. Yet President Trump has made the important decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord without the benefit of independent scientific advice. He is entitled to the best of scientific advice and has chosen not to seek it. Presumably he gets his scientific advice from the media pundits on Fox Channel instead. Can you imagine choosing to follow an empty-headed bombastic political pundit rather than a person of science? That is exactly what Trump has done.

In the meantime in April of 2017 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 410 parts per million when for decades scientists have known that anything amount beyond 350 parts per million is dangerous. This level is higher than anything the world has experienced in 3&1/2 million years!

What has Trump done about this in one year in office? Nothing positive. Who is advising him? No scientists that’s for sure. He has removed restrictions on coal production when the use of coal is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. He has removed restrictions on transporting bitumen from the Tar Sands of Alberta that were imposed by President Obama who had a first rate science advisor when Tar Sands production is massively worse for the atmosphere than conventional oil production. All of this was done by a man who does not read without the benefit of the best scientific advice.

Perhaps we should stop worrying about what Trump and Kim Jong-un are doing with their nuclear weapons. Are you scared yet? If we are not scared perhaps we “a fucking morons.”

[1] I might apologize for the bad language, but I think the actual words have to be included to give the true flavour of the incident

Sand Box Diplomacy

While we live in Arizona, everyday we wakeup in the morning and wonder what crazy things Donald Trump will say or do. Pretty well everyday there is something.

Recently, like almost every day, we have been “blessed” with stories about tweets from the so-called ‘Leader of the Free World.’ I don’t consider him that, but he does. The latest brings tweeting to a whole new level. The tweet was part of an exchange of sorts with Kim Jong-un the leader of North Korea i.e. the leader of the unfree world. Kim had reported earlier that at his desk was a button that he could press to launch nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. That did not sit well with Trump of course.

Trump responded with a tweet that said, “Will someone from his depleted and food starving regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger one and more powerful one than his, and it works.” It is  almost inconceivable that two grown men would act this way. What is even more inconceivable is that both of them have control of nuclear weapons that could kill millions of people. We see childish schoolboys with nuclear weapons threatening each other and risking the lives of millions of people, both with very limited intelligence. This is what the world has come to. How did it happen? At least North Korea had no choice in a leader. That is their excuse. What is America’s excuse?