Saturday, September 20, 2014

Better Off?

                                                            http://yrfn.ca/

The latest Conservative campaign ad proclaims that we are all "better off under Harper." But the latest EKOS poll suggests that Canadians don't feel that way at all. Rather, they believe we have entered what Frank Graves calls the "Age of Stagnation:"

So in a very real sense, progress — the promise of a better life, security and the comforts of middle class membership — has stopped. Moreover, the evidence is that the momentum of this new world of “progress lost” is in the wrong direction. The trajectories all point downward. Their gloomy outlook on the present fades to black when citizens ponder the future; only around ten per cent of us believe the next generation will experience the progress achieved by the previous generations.

The number of people defining themselves as middle class has fallen precipitously in both Canada and the United States. Here at home, the portion of the population which has fallen behind their parents’ incomes at the same period in life rises from 15 per cent to 34 per cent to 44 per cent as we move from seniors to boomers to Generation X. The long fall of the middle class is already happening; around 20 per cent have dropped out of self-defined middle class status altogether.

Lots of pundits haven't cottoned on yet:

The New York Times even says Canada’s middle class is the richest in the world (not true, but compared to what Frank Bruni calls ‘America the Shrunken’, we’re around par). The right wing commentariat gleefully seizes upon half-facts and shaky research to suggest that (a) this is a non-issue that only worries liberal policy wonks, and (b) things are going swimmingly well and anyone who says otherwise is prone to panic.

So Harper has right wing opinion makers on his side. Perhaps that's why he confidently suggests he is leading Canadians into a brighter future:

But to the public at large, this isn’t really up for debate. Canada’s ‘world-leading’ middle class is convinced it is falling behind. The public overwhelming rejects the notion that this is a crisis manufactured by the liberal intellectual elite. Furthermore, 73 per cent of Canadians reject the notion that income inequality is not an important issue. Even in the more conservative, anti-establishment constituencies, a clear majority recognizes the importance of this issue.

Never has a prime minister and his government been so disconnected to Canada's citizens. But you knew that. Didn't you?


Friday, September 19, 2014

Magic Steve


                                    http://www.stonecoldmagicmagazine.com/

Between now and the next election, Stephen Harper will try hard to be a magician. He'll try to make his record disappear. Michael Harris writes:

That is a conversation Harper isn’t anxious to have, for any one of a number of reasons. The mismanagement and bottomless dishonesty on display during the F-35 acquisition process, for instance.

Then there’s the PM’s performance during the Wright/Duffy Affair. You remember how he treated the the truth on that occasion as a kind of multiple choice exercise in storytelling. Should the PM be subpoenaed to Mike Duffy’s criminal trial, he won’t have recourse to the ‘creative option’ — not without consequences.

Or recall the belly-flop of judgment that resulted in the appointments of Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter and several other weak links to powerful and sensitive positions.

There are lots of other things Harper doesn't want to talk about:

Certainly Harper’s not keen to talk about his calamitous record with the Senate — promising not to appoint any senators and then stacking the place with every idle Tory hack with a heartbeat. And then came the unconstitutional legislation to reform the Red Chamber, followed by the drive-by smear of Chief Justice McLachlin.

Or maybe Steve doesn’t want to talk about why he has spied on Canadians since coming to office in 2006, sticking the long nose of government deeper and deeper into its citizens’ privacy. In a police state, you might put union rallies, or a vigil for murdered native women, under surveillance — as they have been in Harper’s Canada. In a petro-state you might spy on a public discussion about the oilsands — but in a democracy? In Canada?

So, like a magician, he'll try to create distractions and change the subject:

Stephen Harper would rather talk about beheadings than the dead room he has made of public discourse in Canada — and his dismal record after eight years in power.

 He'll certainly talk about the other guys:

Brian Mulroney called Tom Mulcair the best leader of the Opposition since Diefenbaker. Harper says he’s not fit to run the country because … well, because he doesn’t excel in the corporate ass-kissing department. No lip-liner for Tom.

And Justin? Justin is a callow little defiler of young brides and his father was a slut — or at least that was the gist of Ezra Levant’s recent unhinged rant on the person the polls keep saying will be Canada’s next prime minister. As Scott Feschuk cleverly put it on Twitter, this was Ezra’s “magnus Trudeau-pus … the masterpiece Ezra has been working toward all his life: Trudeau steals a kiss.”

And he'll rely on other folks like Ezra Levant to do his talking for him. When it's all said and done, maybe Ezra will make Magic Steve go away.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harper's War On The CCPA


                                                            http://deslibris.ca

The Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives is in Mr. Harper's sites. Linda McQuaig writes:

Of course, we’re all familiar now with how Stephen Harper suppresses information that contradicts his agenda: blocking the collection of statistics, muzzling government scientists, auditing charities that critique his policies. And yet, somehow the news that the Harper government is conducting a harassing audit on the CCPA manages to break fresh ground.

This time there’s no recourse to the pretence that the audit was random. A Canada Revenue Agency document, obtained through Access to Information, makes it clear that the organization is being audited because its research and educational materials were considered “biased” and “one-sided.”

Does that mean that the Fraser Institute operates without bias? In fact, Fraser is only one of several right wing think tanks in Canada:

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.

CCPA takes a different point of view -- and a much more vigorous approach to its research:

It would be a stretch for the Fraser Institute, for example, to make a claim of academic rigour. Every year, the institute receives widespread media coverage for its “Tax Freedom Day” — designed to make Canadians feel overburdened by taxes — but the research behind this PR gimmick is shoddy, based on wild exaggerations, flawed math and chicanery, according to an analysis done by tax expert Neil Brooks.

For instance, by failing to factor out inflation and income growth, the Fraser researchers concluded that over the previous four decades taxes on Canadians had risen by a staggering 1,550 per cent … when, in fact, they had risen by about 40 per cent, Brooks showed.

And, so, the Harperites have declared war on the CCPA. Imagine what would happen if voters concluded that their government had lied to them shamelessly and consistently.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mistaking Malevolence For Moral Clarity


                                                      http://www.smh.com.au/

Stephen Harper is a nasty piece of work. Just how nasty was made clear recently when he refused to allow wounded Palestinian children into Canada for medical treatment. Andrew Mitrovici writes:

What plausible excuse could Harper have for standing on the sidelines when so many of Canada’s allies — including Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Egypt — already have provided safe havens or medical aid to scores of wounded children?

Harper’s PR flacks have claimed that it would be too risky to move those kids from whatever is left of their shattered homes in Gaza for treatment in Canada. That’s crap. We know it — everybody knows it, including the geniuses in the PMO who came up with that line of spin.

So much of what Harper says is crap. But this kind of crap reveals the man at his most craven. And it stands in stark contrast to his pledge to offer medical assistance to Ukrainians who need it. In a recent speech to the Canada-Ukraine Federation, Harper said:

 “Let me say at this point just how pleased I am to be able to support the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and the worthy cause that’s brought us all here together tonight and to salute the medical personnel who will be going to the aid of Ukrainians bloodied in the Euromaidan protest and affected by the ongoing conflict. Congratulations to everyone supporting this great cause,” Harper said. “It is, my friends, sadly too late to help the heavenly hundred who were slain simply for the crime of seeking a better country … We can help those who survived and lived to continue the struggle.”

This is the man who some insist is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? Obviously, they have mistaken malevolence for "moral clarity."


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

He Could Care Less


                                                                 http://joyhog.com/

If yesterday served as any indication, Stephen Harper isn't going anywhere. I confess I've had my doubts he'd make it to the next election. But, as Chantal Hebert writes, it's getting harder and harder for him to exit gracefully:

As of now the odds of an orderly pre-election transition to a different Conservative leader will lengthen dramatically with every passing week.

In theory Harper could still decide to call it quits before the next campaign. Some of his predecessors left much later in the pre-writ period.

In his day Brian Mulroney did not grace successor Kim Campbell with more than a few months to make her mark before she had to face voters. Mulroney’s mandate was in its fifth year when he resigned.

Pierre Trudeau also allowed the fourth anniversary of his return to power to pass — albeit by only a few days — before he took his now famous walk in the snow in 1984.

Yesterday, in his speech to the converted, Harper focused on his record -- insisting that the country is better off because he's been prime minister:

Harper’s single-minded focus on the government’s record — including a lengthy but essentially par-for-the-course segment on foreign affairs — suggests that there has been a belated shift in the thinking of Conservative strategists.

Having spent months on attack mode only to enter a pre-election year behind the Liberal party, it seems they have come to the conclusion that they need to reintroduce Harper to voters more than they need to continue to try to pre-emptively destroy Trudeau’s public persona.

Obviously, he hasn't been reading sources of contrarian opinion or the polls:

In a recent Abacus poll Harper scored more poorly than his main rivals in virtually every leadership category, with his poorest marks earned for attitude.

As he told the last Conservative convention in Calgary -- the one that shut out the media -- he could "care less" what his opponents think. When the election comes, it will be interesting to see how much  his "care less" policy is worth.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Hubris Is Alive And Well


Some economists saw the Great Recession coming. Certainly Robert Reich did. But, as Paul Krugman writes in this morning's New York Times, an army of economists missed the boat. They did so for a number of reasons:

Clearly, economics as a discipline went badly astray in the years — actually decades — leading up to the crisis. But the failings of economics were greatly aggravated by the sins of economists, who far too often let partisanship or personal self-aggrandizement trump their professionalism. Last but not least, economic policy makers systematically chose to hear only what they wanted to hear. And it is this multilevel failure — not the inadequacy of economics alone — that accounts for the terrible performance of Western economies since 2008.

During those decades, economists focused on idealized models. And,

starting in the 1980s it became harder and harder to publish anything questioning these idealized models in major journals. Economists trying to take account of imperfect reality faced what Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, hardly a radical figure (and someone I’ve sparred with) once called “new neoclassical repression.” And it should go without saying that assuming away irrationality and market failure meant assuming away the very possibility of the kind of catastrophe that overtook the developed world six years ago.

Some economists  -- like Joseph Stiglitiz -- got the post crisis right. However,

all too many influential economists did — refusing to acknowledge error, letting naked partisanship trump analysis, or both. “Hey, I claimed that another depression wasn’t possible, but I wasn’t wrong, it’s all because businesses are reacting to the future failure of Obamacare.”

There was a great deal of historical evidence to support the notion that counter-cyclical spending was necessary to reboot ravaged economies:

but European leaders and U.S. Republicans decided to believe the handful of economists asserting the opposite. Neither theory nor history justifies panic over current levels of government debt, but politicians decided to panic anyway, citing unvetted (and, it turned out, flawed) research as justification.

And, so, those who got it wrong led the way. It was not the first time this happened. It happens whenever hubris is given full sway.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Daffy's In Charge


                                                        http://www.poxteer.com/

Last week was a banner week for the Harper government. It announced the ratification of FIPPA. And it also announced a reduction in EI premiums -- not for employees, but for employers. David MacDonald writes:

The idea is that small businesses with a payroll of under about $550,000 a year will have a portion of what they paid in EI refunded to them. Only the employers get some of their money back, not any of the workers. Also, this is at a time when EI is so restricted that six out of 10 unemployed Canadians can't even get it.

This is going to cost half a billion dollars a year, but will only amount to a maximum of $2,200 per business. Even with this miniscule amount, Minister Oliver is flogging this as a job-creation strategy. Well if $2,200 is going to incentivize behaviour that can go either way and you don't even have to hire anyone -- you can get it by doing nothing.

It might help a bit if that money went into the hands of employees -- who would spend it -- and create some demand in the economy. But it won't do much for business. And, in fact, it will restrain job creation:

Say you're a business just over the $550,000 payroll cap. Why not just fire your summer student or cut back her hours to get yourself under the cap? Your reward for firing a student…a tax break! What if you pay minimum wage and don't want to invest in training? Your reward for sitting back and doing nothing…a tax break! Now what if you want to expand your business but you're close to the payroll cap? You may well think twice before hiring that person and losing your tax break.

What will the EI cut do? Simply add to the pile of dead money sitting atop the Canadian economy. Proof yet again that the Harperites are stuck in an ideological trough -- and that Daffy Duck is in charge of the store.