Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Big Blue Propaganda Machine


 Jeff Sallot offers some perspective on the Big Blue Propaganda Machine:

How big is the propaganda machine? Well, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported last year the government employs no fewer than 3,300 communications staffers whose primary function is to make the government look good. The cost to taxpayers is $263 million a year.

The total number of journalists in the press gallery — your independent watchdogs on government — is less than 300. And no newspaper, television network or other Canadian media outfit has anything like the funds the government has available to manufacture propaganda. With these vast resources, the government had every reason to believe it could pull a fast one . . .

Sallot then goes on to report how the propaganda machine was used against information commissioner Suzanne Legault. But Legault is only the latest target. Think Mike Duffy, think Helena Geurgis, think Patrick Brazeau. And then think about the upcoming election.

The ad wars have begun. And the Conservatives are absolutely convinced that they can pull as fast one.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Raising Those At The Bottom

                                          http://www.pilgrimagepodcast.com/

There has been a lot of discussion about the 1% of us who are fabulously wealthy. A new OECD report, In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, suggests that concentration of wealth at the top does not promote economic growth. And taking our cue from recent economic research, our current political discussion is focused on cutting the rich down to size.

But Clive Cook suggests that a careful reading of the report leads to a different conclusion. We need to  focus our efforts on raising the economic prospects of those at the bottom of the income distribution:

How does the growing gap between low incomes and average incomes hold back growth? The study ventures some plausible ideas. This one is top of the list:

A main transmission mechanism between inequality and growth is human-capital investment. While there is always a gap in education outcomes across individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds, the gap widens in high-inequality countries as people in disadvantaged households struggle to access quality education. This implies large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility.

That means we should be making major investments in public education at all levels and employment opportunities the improved schools would support:

The policy agenda this seems to recommend would focus on improving the schools that serve low-income families, and on raising the incomes of the households concerned — through lower taxes and higher wage subsidies. The study also backs efforts to get more women into the workforce and to enable people to move from irregular or part-time employment to proper jobs.

Quite simply, the neo-conservative agenda we have been living with for the last forty years has put the cart before the horse. Rather than rewarding the wealthy for creating mythical jobs, we should be helping those at the bottom get the jobs which keep the economy growing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Empty Chair

                                           http://www.westernfreepress.com/

An empty chair can symbolize a lot of things. John F. Kennedy's empty rocking chair symbolized the loss a nation felt after the president's assassination. But, in Stephen Harper's case, an empty chair at the consortium's leaders debate would symbolize many things -- none of them good.

To begin with, an empty chair is a pregnant emblem for a leader whose most salient characteristic is arrogance. Michael Harris writes:

Canada’s national political conversation has been emptied out by a sitting prime minister who is contemptuous of anything he can’t control. He believes that he can pay his way to re-election through the black magic of marketing and the usual bribing of the electorate with taxpayers’ money. There is nothing left but Harper’s cynicism – and his personal conviction that Canadians don’t want to talk about government anymore.

And that arrogance has led him to conclude that he has no obligation to talk to anyone:

When you think about it, Harper has never really wanted to talk with anyone other than the country’s corporate elites, and then really only a few resource peddlers. He talks at the rest.

He doesn’t answer the Opposition in parliament. Harper has never convened a first minister’s meeting where the premiers as a group could talk with him about the state of the country. Instead he talks down to them, if he talks to them at all.

Harper didn’t want to talk with Chief Theresa Spence about tangible ways to improve the lives of First Nations people some time before there is a human colony on Mars. He doesn’t talk with organized Labour about anything. He has more interaction with cats and chinchillas than journalists.

But, more than anything else, an empty chair at the consortium debate would symbolize Harper's cowardice:

Harper might be able to spin the 2015 election process into a vast electronic cattle-drive. That, after all, is what he has done with governance in Canada. But avoiding the huge audiences of the TV debates being staged by Canada’s major broadcasters can also be viewed as chickening out on the rumble.

At least Patrick Brazeau climbed into the ring with Justin Trudeau. Perhaps Harper has figured out what Brazeau never did – that underestimating your opponent can make you look weak. At the same time, hiding away from the electorate is no place to be for a man who keeps telling everyone he’s a leader. Then again, Harper is no stranger to hiding from things.

When historians write the saga of the last ten years, Stephen Harper may go down as the prime minister who hid in the closet. That's why his chair was empty.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Follow The Money

                                                    http://www.10tv.com

Recently, Linda McQuaig asked a question which, so far, has stayed under the radar. Who, she asked, owns Stephen Harper? Mr. Harper has done his best to keep the answer to that question secret:

In the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership race, Harper disclosed some of his donors but kept secret 10 of the major ones. A list of donors to Harper's Conservative party leadership race two years later was at one point posted on the party's website but has since been removed.

At the time of those races, it was legal for leadership contenders to receive unlimited donations from corporations, including foreign-owned businesses operating in Canada.

Which led McQuaig to wonder if  the Koch Brothers are somehow connected to Harper:

In the recent U.S. congressional elections, the Koch brothers helped secure the victory of an unlikely band of far-right extremists who control both the House and Senate.

Among some 3 million political ads for both parties, there wasn't a single mention of the issue of income inequality -- either for it or against it, says Sam Pizzigati, editor of a newsletter on inequality at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

We do know that the Koch Brothers support the work of the Fraser Institute, one of Harper's most vehement enablers. But, even if the Kochs have not contributed to Harper's rise, we should know who did. It's instructive to remember that Karl Heinz Schreiber gave Brian Mulroney the money to fund his first campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Schreiber did not give Mulroney money out of the goodness of his heart. We now know what he wanted in return.

Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. You find out all kinds of things when you follow the money. If Harper has not made it easy to do that, it's probably because he knows what happened to Richard Nixon after Woodward and Bernstein took Mark Felt's advice.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Have The RCMP Become Politicized?


                                                    http://www.canada.com/

On Tuesday, the RCMP  announced that it had arrested ten young Montrealers who were off to join the jihadist hordes in the Middle East. And, almost immediately, Stephen Harper flew to Quebec to remind nous autres that his government was tough on jihadists. Interestingly enough, almost as soon as the Mounties arrested the youngsters, they let the kids go.

Which raises the question, is there a political alliance between the RCMP and the Conservative government? Tom Walkom asks his readers to consider some recent history:

In 1999, the Mounties, accompanied by a television crew, raided the home of then British Columbia’s NDP premier Glen Clark. Clark was charged with breach of trust and accepting a benefit. His political career was destroyed. The New Democrats were trounced in the next election.
Three years later, Clark was acquitted of all charges.

A month before the 2006 federal election, the RCMP announced they were undertaking a criminal investigation of then federal finance minister Ralph Goodale over the leak of confidential tax information about so-called income trusts.

That scandal eventually turned out to be less than it seemed. Goodale and his aides were eventually vindicated, although a senior bureaucrat was charged and convicted.

But the income-trust affair did help sink Paul Martin’s Liberal government, allowing Harper to become prime minister.

An independent investigation into the Mounties’ handling of the affair found that the force had broken no rules because there were none to break.

No party is completely spared the fallout from RCMP investigations. The force’s decision to charge former Conservative senator Mike Duffy for allegedly accepting a bribe from former Harper top aide Nigel Wright has done the prime minister no good.
But the puzzling decision not to charge Wright for offering that alleged bribe promises to mitigate any political damage to the Conservatives.

Mere coincidences? I'm not so sure.


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Man Who Would Be King

                                                  http://www.theguardian.com/

Yesterday, the broadcast consortium announced that all the party leaders -- except Stephen Harper -- had agreed to attend a debate in French and a debate in English. Harper, you see, only plays by the rules he makes. And sometimes he breaks those. Think of his fixed election dates.

Such "imperial vanity," Michael Harris writes, may eventually sink Harper:

A politician can get away with a lot — until he starts rubbing the public’s face in his indifference to the rules mere mortals must obey. With Harper, we’re getting pretty close to that point.

So here’s another question: Can Stephen Harper — by the simple act of stamping his foot, taking his bat and going home — derail the national leaders’ debates? Will this decision turn into another yawner, as was the contempt of Parliament finding against Harper, or a step too far for a man infamously averse to playing fair?

The prime minister does not intend to -- you'll excuse the expression -- "reform." His recently announced infrastructure program again shows his obsession with making the rules:

An even more dangerous course of action for a party already known for partisan cheating is the government’s new Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. A better name would have been the Canada 150 Elect Conservatives Program; the deadlines for tapping into the fund are ridiculously tight, and the Opposition is accusing the government of gerrymandering the program for blatant political gain. The man who might be Canada’s next prime minister, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, didn’t mince words. To him, the program is a “slush fund” underwritten by the public for the benefit of Conservative MPs.

The man who would be king assumes that Canadians will accept anything he does. A better student of history might recall all the kings who were deposed -- starting with mad King George III.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Always Rigging The Game

                                                  http://www.opednews.com/

From the beginning, everything Stephen Harper has done has had one objective: to rig the game in his favour. His latest foray is his attempt to legislatively re-write history. Steve Sullivan writes:

So far, Harper has limited himself to offending democracy and the law. Now he’s re-writing history. Buried in his government’s latest omnibus budget bill is an amendment to the Access to Information Act which denies people the opportunity to make access to information requests for data from the defunct long gun registry.

Big deal, right? The data was destroyed months ago, when the Harper government repealed it. But this amendment is backdated to the day the government introduced the bill to kill the registry — not the day the bill became law. It also would protect the RCMP and other government officials from any lawsuits or prosecutions linked to the destruction of the registry data — retroactively.

Time and again, Harper has sought to place himself above the law. And, time and again, the Supreme Court has told him the the law takes precedent over his wishes:

Stephen Harper is not a good loser — and he’s been losing a lot lately. The Supreme Court justices barely gave themselves time for a bathroom break last week before they came back and shot down the government’s argument that Omar Khadr deserved more time in a federal penitentiary — the third humiliating court defeat for the government on the Khadr file, if anyone’s counting.

But, if he can re-write the law on the gun registry, why not re-write the law on Khadr?

Will Harper amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to say that all teenagers who went to Afghanistan in 2005 and killed a U.S. soldier cannot be sentenced, even in another country, as a young offender? Could he amend his Life Means Life Act — which is not even close to being law yet — to retroactively apply to anyone named Omar Ahmed Khadr so he can never be released from prison unless Stephen Harper personally says it’s okay?

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recently pointed out that had the Martin government taken Harper's tack, there would have been no investigation of Adscam and no Gomery Commission:

Legault herself speculated about what the Liberals could have done a decade ago in order to eliminate the threat of the sponsorship scandal, had they been in a position to do what Harper is doing right now. “Because this could have been done, you know, to erase the authority of the auditor general in 2005 when she was investigating the sponsorship scandal,” she said.

So the man who rode to power on the sponsorship scandal is trying to make certain that Paul Martin's fate is not his own.

It's always about rigging the game.