Why Trumponomics won’t make America great again

The impulsiveness and shallowness of America’s president threaten the economy as well as the rule of law. Graphic: The Economist

Accordng to this article in The Economist: DONALD TRUMP rules over Washington as if he were a king and the White House his court. His displays of dominance, his need to be the centre of attention and his impetuousness have a whiff of Henry VIII about them. Fortified by his belief that his extraordinary route to power is proof of the collective mediocrity of Congress, the bureaucracy and the media, he attacks any person and any idea standing in his way.

Just how much trouble that can cause was on sensational display this week, with his sacking of James Comey—only the second director of the FBI to have been kicked out. Mr Comey has made mistakes and Mr Trump was within his rights. But the president has succeeded only in drawing attention to questions about his links to Russia and his contempt for the norms designed to hold would-be kings in check.

Just as dangerous, and no less important to ordinary Americans, however, is Mr Trump’s plan for the economy. It treats orthodoxy, accuracy and consistency as if they were simply to be negotiated away in a series of earth-shattering deals. Although Trumponomics could stoke a mini-boom, it, too, poses dangers to America and the world.

Trumponomics 101

In an interview with this newspaper, the president gave his most extensive description yet of what he wants for the economy (see article). His target is to ensure that more Americans have well-paid jobs by raising the growth rate. His advisers talk of 3% GDP growth—a full percentage point higher than what most economists believe is today’s sustainable pace.

In Mr Trump’s mind the most important path to better jobs and faster growth is through fairer trade deals. Though he claims he is a free-trader, provided the rules are fair, his outlook is squarely that of an economic nationalist. Trade is fair when trade flows are balanced. Firms should be rewarded for investing at home and punished for investing abroad.

The second and third strands of Trumponomics, tax cuts and deregulation, will encourage that domestic investment. Lower taxes and fewer rules will fire up entrepreneurs, leading to faster growth and better jobs. This is standard supply-side economics, but to see Trumponomics as a rehash of Republican orthodoxy is a mistake—and not only because its economic nationalism is a departure for a party that has championed free trade.

The real difference is that Trumponomics (unlike, say, Reaganomics) is not an economic doctrine at all. It is best seen as a set of proposals put together by businessmen courtiers for their king. Mr Trump has listened to scores of executives, but there are barely any economists in the White House. His approach to the economy is born of a mindset where deals have winners and losers and where canny negotiators confound abstract principles. Call it boardroom capitalism.

That Trumponomics is a business wishlist helps explain why critics on the left have laid into its poor distributional consequences, fiscal indiscipline and potential cronyism. And it makes clear why businessmen and investors have been enthusiastic, seeing it as a shot in the arm for those who take risks and seek profits. Stockmarkets are close to record highs and indices of business confidence have soared.

In the short term that confidence could prove self-fulfilling. America can bully Canada and Mexico into renegotiating NAFTA. For all their sermons about fiscal prudence, Republicans in Congress are unlikely to deny Mr Trump a tax cut. Stimulus and rule-slashing may lead to faster growth. And with inflation still quiescent, the Federal Reserve might not choke that growth with sharply higher interest rates.

Unleashing pent-up energy would be welcome, but Mr Trump’s agenda comes with two dangers. The economic assumptions implicit in it are internally inconsistent. And they are based on a picture of America’s economy that is decades out of date.

Contrary to the Trump team’s assertions, there is little evidence that either the global trading system or individual trade deals have been systematically biased against America (see article). Instead, America’s trade deficit—Mr Trump’s main gauge of the unfairness of trade deals—is better understood as the gap between how much Americans save and how much they invest (see article). The fine print of trade deals is all but irrelevant. Textbooks predict that Mr Trump’s plans to boost domestic investment will probably lead to larger trade deficits, as it did in the Reagan boom of the 1980s. If so, Mr Trump will either need to abandon his measure of fair trade or, more damagingly, try to curb deficits by using protectionist tariffs that will hurt growth and sow mistrust around the world.

A deeper problem is that Trumponomics draws on a blinkered view of America’s economy. Mr Trump and his advisers are obsessed with the effect of trade on manufacturing jobs, even though manufacturing employs only 8.5% of America’s workers and accounts for only 12% of GDP. Service industries barely seem to register. This blinds Trumponomics to today’s biggest economic worry: the turbulence being created by new technologies. Yet technology, not trade, is ravaging American retailing, an industry that employs more people than manufacturing (see article). And economic nationalism will speed automation: firms unable to outsource jobs to Mexico will stay competitive by investing in machines at home. Productivity and profits may rise, but this may not help the less-skilled factory workers who Mr Trump claims are his priority.

The bite behind the bark

Trumponomics is a poor recipe for long-term prosperity. America will end up more indebted and more unequal. It will neglect the real issues, such as how to retrain hardworking people whose skills are becoming redundant. Worse, when the contradictions become apparent, Mr Trump’s economic nationalism may become fiercer, leading to backlashes in other countries—further stoking anger in America. Even if it produces a short-lived burst of growth, Trumponomics offers no lasting remedy for America’s economic ills. It may yet pave the way for something worse.

A complete transcript of The Economist’s interview with Mr Trump is available here.

Receding glacier causes immense Canadian river to vanish in four days

A view of the ice canyon that now carries meltwater from the Kaskawulsh glacier, seen here on the right, away from the Slims river and toward the Kaskawulsh river. Photograph: Dan Shugar/University of Washington Tacoma

An immense river that flowed from one of Canada’s largest glaciers vanished over the course of four days last year, scientists have reported, in an unsettling illustration of how global warming dramatically changes the world’s geography.

The abrupt and unexpected disappearance of the Slims river, which spanned up to 150 metres at its widest points, is the first observed case of “river piracy”, in which the flow of one river is suddenly diverted into another.

For hundreds of years, the Slims carried meltwater northwards from the vast Kaskawulsh glacier in Canada’s Yukon territory into the Kluane river, then into the Yukon river towards the Bering Sea. But in spring 2016, a period of intense melting of the glacier meant the drainage gradient was tipped in favour of a second river, redirecting the meltwater to the Gulf of Alaska, thousands of miles from its original destination.

The continental-scale rearrangement was documented by a team of scientists who had been monitoring the incremental retreat of the glacier for years. But on a 2016 fieldwork expedition they were confronted with a landscape that had been radically transformed.

Kaskawulsh glacier map

While the Slims had been reduced to a mere trickle, the reverse had happened to the south-flowing Alsek river, a popular whitewater rafting river that is a Unesco world heritage site. The previous year, the two rivers had been comparable in size, but the Alsek was now 60 to 70 times larger than the Slims, flow measurements revealed.

The data also showed how abrupt the change had been, with the Slims’ flow dropping precipitously from the 26 to 29 May 2016.

Geologists have previously found evidence of river piracy having taken place in the distant past. “But nobody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes,” said Shugar. “People had looked at the geological record, thousands or millions of years ago, not the 21st century, where it’s happening under our noses.”

Between 1956 and 2007, the Kaskawulsh glacier retreated by 600-700m. In 2016, there was a sudden acceleration of the retreat, and the pulse of meltwater led to a new channel being carved through a large ice field. The new channel was able to deliver water to the Alsek’s tributary whose steeper gradient resulted in the Slims headwater being suddenly rerouted along a new southwards trajectory.

In a geological instant, the local landscape was redrawn.

Where the Slims once flowed, Dall sheep from Kluane National Park are now making their way down to eat the fresh vegetation, venturing into territory where they can legally be hunted. The formerly clear air is now often turned into a dusty haze as powerful winds whip up the exposed riverbed sediment. Fish populations are being redistributed and lake chemistry is being altered. Waterfront land, which includes the small communities of Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, is now further from shore.


Sections of the newly exposed bed of Kluane Lake contain small pinnacles. Wind has eroded sediments with a harder layer on top that forms a protective cap as the wind erodes softer and sandier sediment below. These pinnacles, just a few centimeters high, are small-scale versions of what are sometimes termed “hoodoos.” Photograph: Jim Best/University of Illinois

A statistical analysis, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that the dramatic changes can almost certainly be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. The calculations put chance of the piracy having occured due to natural variability at 0.5%. “So it’s 99.5% that it occurred due to warming over the industrial era,” said Best.

The Yukon region is extremely sparsely inhabited, but future river piracy could have catastrophic effects on towns, villages and ecosystems that have sprung up around available water, according to an analysis accompanying the paper, by Rachel Headley, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. “If a river changes course so drastically that the drainage basin no longer reaches its original outlet, this change might eventually impact human and biological communities that have grown around the river’s original outlet,” she said.

I’ve visited the Yukon several times, spending months exploring every wonderful nook and cranny from every corner of the Yukon. I loved nature’s bounty offered there, as well as the various people and cultures of the Yukon. I’m old now, but would love to have the opportunity to visit that incredible land once more before humanity changes it forever.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserve and are the military’s eyes and ears in the north.

They provide patrols and detachments for national-security and public-safety missions in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada that can not conveniently or economically be covered by other parts of the CAF.

The Canadian Rangers protect Canada’s sovereignty by:

  • Reporting unusual activities or sightings;
  • Collecting local data of significance to the CAF; and
  • Conducting surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required.

Canadian Rangers by the numbers:

  • Approximately 5000 – current number of Canadian Rangers;
  • Over 200 – number of communities where Canadian Rangers live; and
  • 26 – dialects/languages spoken by Canadian Rangers, many of whom are Aboriginal.

The Rangers’ Tasks

The Canadian Rangers are the military’s eyes and ears in the sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada. Appropriately, their motto is Vigilans, meaning “The Watchers.”

As members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Canadian Rangers:

  • Conduct and support sovereignty operations:
  • Conduct sovereignty and surveillance patrols and training
  • Conduct North Warning Site patrols
  • Report suspicious and unusual activities
  • Collect local data of military significance

Conduct and assist in CAF domestic operations:

  • Conduct coastal and inland water surveillance
  • Provide local knowledge and expertise
  • Participate in search and rescue operations
  • Provide support in response to natural or man-made disasters and humanitarian operations
  • Provide assistance to federal, provincial/territorial or municipal authorities

Maintain CAF presence in the local community:

  • Instruct and supervise youth in the Junior Canadian Rangers (JCR) Program, a program that has significantly improved the quality of life of young people in the most isolated areas of Canada
  • Support and participate in events in the local community (such as Yukon Quest, Canada Day, and Remembrance Day)

Canadian Rangers in the past have

  • Conducted routine search and rescue operations;
  • Provided assistance during the avalanche at Kangiqsualujjuaq in northern Québec;
  • Provided support during the drinking water crisis in Kashechewan, Ontario; and
  • The Rangers perform their tasks exceptionally well and are extremely valuable to the CAF.

US immigrants make sub-zero trek for slim chance at asylum in Canada

A man who claimed to be from Sudan illegally crosses the US-Canada border into Hemmingford, Quebec, in Canada. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

His wet clothes frozen stiff and feet sinking into the deep snow, Mamadou allowed himself a shred of hope when he glimpsed a faint light in the distance.

Many hours earlier, he had set out for the border just as the sun was setting, trudging through thick woods near Plattsburgh, New York, towards Canada.

Temperatures plunged to -15C and a bitter wind whipped snow-laden tree branches into his face. Several times, he was forced to wade through rivers or lakes.

“I was so cold. I was soaked. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said the 46-year-old, choking back tears as he recalled his ordeal earlier this month. “I didn’t know where I was going – I had no map, no lamp, no light – nothing.”

What he did know, he said, was that he had no other option. “Because I’m no longer safe in the United States, and in my country – I’m going to be killed.”

Mamadou, whose full name is not being published for his protection, decided to cross into Canada after more than a decade of living legally in the US.

He had fled from the Ivory Coast in 2006 soon after rebels killed his father and burned down his family home.

American authorities denied his request for asylum, but a judge allowed him to stay in the country on the grounds that deportation would endanger his life. Mamadou found work – legally – as a taxi driver in New York: “I worked hard and paid taxes.”

But when Trump was elected president of the US, Mamadou, a Muslim, wondered nervously what the news might mean for him. The answer came swiftly: in early March, immigration officials visited his apartment in the Bronx.

After their third visit – each time Mamadou was out working – he decided to seek refuge in Canada.

Days later he took a taxi to a border crossing near Plattsburgh, and explained his situation to Canadian immigration officials. They denied his asylum request, pointing to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits most people who have already sought asylum in the US from making a refugee claim in Canada.

But the agreement only applies at official border crossings; if refugees can slip into the country elsewhere along the 5,500-mile frontier, they are eligible to make a claim. He decided to slip across elsewhwere.

“But I didn’t know if it was Canada or the United States,” he said. The clue was in a street sign that read arrêt – or “stop”, in French. Relief overcame him as he realised this was the end of his nine-hour trek. Seconds later, he collapsed.

A police officer on patrol found him on the side of the road, clinging to life. As Mamadou lay unconscious, paramedics cut his frozen clothes and shoes off with scissors. Four hours later, he came to in a local hospital. He was still shivering and unable to speak, and his feet were swollen from frostbite.

His ordeal hints at the extreme risks being taken by some to make an asylum claim in Canada, said Mamadou’s lawyer, Éric Taillefer. “We found him,” he said. “But what if there’s someone we haven’t found? I really hope we’re not going to find a body in the spring.”

For months, advocates on both sides of the border have been urging the Canadian government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, arguing that doing so will allow asylum seekers in the US to simply apply at official border crossings rather than making hazardous journeys.

So far the Canadian government has said it has no plans to suspend the agreement.

In Mamadou’s case, the agreement has resulted in a cruel twist. In Canada, asylum seekers are only allowed one chance to make a claim – a chance that Mamadou used up when he was first denied refugee status at the border crossing.

If he hadn’t applied first through proper channels and only crossed through the woods, he would now be eligible to make a refugee claim. Instead, he now faces deportation to the Ivory Coast, said Taillefer. His lawyers are pushing for him to be granted the right to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, hoping he might be the exception in a program with a success rate of around 3%.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Canada lobbies against Trump push for biometric screening for visiting U.S.

trumpbiometricsborder

Canada has launched a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign against a push by Donald Trump to subject all visitors to the United States to biometric screening – such as finger-printing, retina scans or facial recognition tests – upon both entry and exit.

The U.S. President’s call for the stepped-up use of such technology, meant to monitor whether non-Americans are staying in the country longer than permitted, was issued in last Friday’s executive order on immigration, but has mostly flown under the public radar amid controversy around a ban on travellers from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries.

Among Canadian officials, however, it has sparked concerns of massive slow-downs in border traffic of both people and goods, particularly at land crossings – prompting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to raise the issue during a phone call this week with John Kelly, the new U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Mr. Goodale’s office confirmed.

That conversation appears to have been the start of an ongoing effort by Ottawa to head off the screening plan during a 100-day period in which Mr. Kelly has been tasked – per the executive order – with “expedit[ing] the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travellers to the United States” and reporting back to the President on his progress.

A senior Canadian official expressed optimism that Canada will be joined in making that case by U.S. jurisdictions that would stand to suffer – ranging from border states whose economies are closely integrated with Canada’s to tourism-reliant states such as Florida.

Such arguments against biometric entry-exit screening have proven persuasive in the past. As implied by the executive order’s wording, the proposal to biometrically register all non-Americans who enter and exit the U.S. is not new. It has in theory been government policy since its inclusion in an immigration bill signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. Its implementation was among the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and Congress has passed several laws mandating it. But neither presidential administrations nor legislators have followed through on it, with appropriations for implementation defeated or removed from legislation when they have intermittently been introduced.

Instead, the U.S. has settled for biometric screening only of some visitors entering the country, primarily at airports and sea ports – and, notably, not at major land crossings with Canada. To the extent it has monitored who is exiting, other than a few biometric pilot projects, it has been through other measures – including an agreement with Canada, struck in 2011, in which the two countries inform each other when visitors return home.

Ottawa appears optimistic that the success of that recent data-sharing will help it make the case that Canadians should be exempted from any new entry-exit measures. But it is also struggling with unpredictability of a new presidential administration that has thus far displayed very different priorities from any previous one.

While Mr. Trump called for exit-entry biometric screening during last year’s campaign, it is not known how strongly he feels about the matter and how much he might try to compel the Republicans’ congressional and Senate majorities to push through related measures. But it has previously been identified as a top priority by Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Senator who is set to be confirmed as Attorney-General, and who is already considered to be one of the most influential members of Mr. Trump’s administration.

Read the complete article on The Globe and Mail web site here.

Two suspects identified in deadly Quebec City mosque attack

A police officer and his dog look for evidence near a home in the area of a Quebec City mosque on Monday January 30, 2017. A shooting at a Quebec City mosque left six people dead and eight others injured Sunday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

A police officer and his dog look for evidence near a home in the area of a Quebec City mosque on Monday January 30, 2017. A shooting at a Quebec City mosque left six people dead and eight others injured Sunday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Two men were in custody after a mass shooting Sunday night at a mosque in Quebec City that killed six people and wounded several more, and was condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “a terrorist attack on Muslims.”

Court officials in Quebec City identified the suspects as Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed El Khadir. They were to be arraigned Monday afternoon.

Investigators do not believe any suspects beyond the two men in custody remain at large and they would not comment on identity of the attackers, motives or methods.

“This is an extensive investigation,” said superintendent Martin Plante of the RCMP, noting four police forces are working together on the ongoing probe.

“In a terrorism investigation, there are ideological, religious or political motivations at play,” Sup. Plante said. “There are activities pursued by individuals that want to cause worry to the public through a violent act.”

Police appeared to be in close contact with Quebec City’s nearby Laval University but university officials would not confirm unverified information that the gunmen were students there.

More in The Globe And Mail article here.

UPDATE:

Alexandre Bissonnette was charged late Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder using a restricted firearm for a shooting spree in a Quebec City Mosque that has shaken the community, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Though police and politicians have spoken of terrorism since the 27-year-old university student allegedly opened fire just after the last prayers on Sunday, he was not charged with any terrorism-related offences.

The young man did not have a previous criminal record and was known as an introvert, and a victim of bullying in school.

Posts on his Facebook page show he “liked” Donald Trump, French Front National leader Marine Le Pen and Mathieu Bock-Cóté, a Quebec City columnist known for his pro-nationalist and anti-multicultural views.

Bissonnette’s father is listed in the sales deed of the house as an investigator. And according to Bissonnette’s Facebook page, which has since been taken offline, his grandfather was a decorated war hero.

But his page does not reveal a great deal about his possible motivations.

A fellow university student however, who also knew Bissonnette from high school in Cap Rouge, said he had developed radical views.

“He was not necessarily overtly racist or Islamophobic, but he had borderline misogynist, Islamophobic viewpoints,” said Vincent Boissonneault, who studies International Studies at Université Laval.

“Unfortunately that’s become more or less acceptable these days.”

Source.

Canada’s new bird

Canada's new official bird; the Gray Jay aka Whiskey Jack

Canada’s new official bird; the Gray Jay aka Whiskey Jack

Canada’s new offical bird has a bit of heritage; “whiskey-jack”, was taken from Wiskedjak, Wisagatcak, Wisekejack, or other variations of a word used in the Algonquian family of aboriginal languages of eastern Canada to designate a mischievous, transforming spirit who liked to play tricks on people.

A trickster eh.

The Gray Jay has a reputation; a fearless and venturesome behaviour which earned it many colloquial names such as “meat-bird” and “camp-robber”.

This I can personally attest to, having had the little robber more than once brazenly walk up to my campstove and grab a piece of well-done bacon without even a thank you chirp. While I was right there cooking the bacon.

No, I didn’t shoo it away. I was impressed with his/her style. Nothing shy about that bird.

Hinterland Who’s Who continues;

Description

The Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis is only slightly smaller than a Blue Jay and, silhouetted against the sky, the two birds are surprisingly similar, although the Gray Jay is a somewhat slower and weaker flier than its southern relative. Close up, the Gray Jay can hardly be confused with any other bird.  Its back and tail are a medium gray and the underparts a slightly lighter shade, but the head has a quite striking and unique pattern of black and white. The short, black bill, the large dark eyes, and the thick, fluffy plumage, help give the Gray Jay a soft, rounded appearance that most people find highly appealing. For the Gray Jay, of course, the thick plumage is what keeps it warm on long winter nights or in cold snaps when the temperature may be 40 below zero for days at a time.

Juvenile Gray Jays just out of the nest are very different from the adults, being a uniform, sooty gray colour all over their bodies. Young and old are so distinct, in fact, that they were at first thought to be different species. Juveniles begin their first moult in July, however, and by the end of August they essentially look just like the adults.

You may read more about Canada’s new offical bird here.