Sunday, July 05, 2015

There Are Reasons For Harper's Slide


                                                http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Six months ago, it looked like the prime minister was well on his way to his fourth mandate. The public supported his entry into the war on ISIS. They were scared of the terrorists Mr. Harper said were just outside the gates. And the economy seemed to be doing well. But, Michael Warren writes, things have changed:

Today we are losing that war and public support has dropped dramatically. It’s becoming clear the only way to defeat ISIS militarily is to put allied troops on the ground. But that’s too controversial to contemplate before the election. Chances are the Islamic State will consolidate its territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya and continue terrorizing western countries at will. Over the next few months Canadian voters will be reminded of this grim reality on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the terrorist attacks on Parliament Hill and in Quebec created a climate of fear, amplified and exploited by the government, which provided the prime minister political permission to re-craft the balance between Canadian freedoms and security by writing tougher anti-terrorism laws. Eighty two per cent of Canadians favoured the idea of such legislation. But support had been cut in half by the time the final Bill C-51 was introduced. It was widely criticized for giving CSIS too much power without sufficient oversight and for encroaching on our freedoms and privacy.

And what of the economy? When the Conservatives met their pledge to balance the budget, and with a $7-billion surplus no less, the government’s economic strength seemed unassailable. Add to that the Tories’ promise to spend the surplus on a slate of populist policies — income-splitting, increased limits on tax free savings accounts, expanded child care benefits — and the Conservative outlook could hardly have been sunnier. But for many voters that’s a distant memory.
Since then the opposition parties have advanced their own proposals for income transfers and child-care schemes that have broad voter appeal. Moreover, Canada’s economy shrunk for the first time in four years in the first quarter. Even Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz described the economy’s first three-month performance as “atrocious.” 

Add to that the revelations which have come out of the Duffy trial and the prime minister starts to look like the Incarnation of Incompetence. There are three months to go before the election. Recent history suggests that a lot can happen in three months. Things can change dramatically. So making predictions about victory are certainly premature.

Just ask Stephen Harper.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

A Grave Mistake


                                               http://news.nationalpost.com/

The story of the Harper Party's rejection of Ches Crosbie's candidacy in Avalon tells you much more about Stephen Harper than it does about Mr. Crosbie. Stephen Maher writes:

It is part of the culture of the distinct society of Newfoundland to have a bit of fun, to mock oneself, one’s fellows and, especially, one’s betters, who must either laugh or lose face.

So Crosbie put on a Stephen Harper wig, a kilt, a seal-skin vest, took up a wooden sword and performed the final, bloody scene of Macbeth, in which, in this version, Stephen MacHarper confronts Mike MacDuffy, swearing he will not “yield to one of Senate born.”

“Before my body, I throw my political friends,” Crosbie declaimed. “Lay on, MacDuffy, And damned be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’ ”

Mr. Harper makes jokes at other people's expense. But if there's one thing he won't -- or can't -- do, it's to laugh at himself. And the National Candidate Selection Committee doesn't believe in laughing at Harper's expense, either:

Crosbie didn’t learn that some humourless mainlanders disliked this until Monday, when he got an email from Dustin van Vugt, executive director of the Conservative Party of Canada, informing him that the National Candidate Selection Committee had held a meeting.

“The NCSC has disallowed your candidacy as a potential nomination contestant for the Conservative Party of Canada,” Van Vugt wrote.

There were three reasons, the party said: the MacHarper skit, his role in a lawsuit by Labrador residential school survivors and an innocuous interview he gave to the Hill Times, the newspaper that covers Parliament Hill.

The problem, you see, is that Crosbie claimed he would be an independent voice for the good burghers of Avalon. The Harper Party will have none of that. Maher writes:

I don’t think Harper’s palace guard cares about the Crosbies or about Newfoundland’s tradition of satirical humour.  They care about winning, and they have a script to follow. It calls for candidates to stand silent while Harper stands at centre stage, sternly warning that only he can protect our families from terrorists.

Yet another reminder that Canada is ruled by a paranoid, humourless man. Extending his stay at 24 Sussex would be a grave mistake.


Friday, July 03, 2015

They Never Offer Bribes

                                                 http://news.nationalpost.com/

This week, Pierre Poilievre made sure that the public saw him handing out cheques. Michael Harris writes:

There he was, in all his obsequious glory, standing beside the massive press run of the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit outbound cash flow. It looked like a reprinting of the Oxford English Dictionary, so thick were the sheaves of cheques. One hundred and sixty bucks a month for kids under six — and a brand new $60 a month for those 6 and over. Mind the fine print; the UCCB is taxable in the case of the lower income spouse. All is never quite what it seems to be in Harperland.

It's not a new strategy. It's been Standard Operating Procedure for a long time:

The hijacking of public money for private political use is not new with this crowd. You will recall that the Harperites actually posed beside giant ceremonial cheques bearing the logo of the Conservative Party back in 2009.

MPs like Colin Mayes, Larry Miller and James Bezan all tried to take political ownership of government funding cheques. The message was clear. Remember who butters your bread, forgetting it seems, that both this bread and this butter are publicly owned.

And, of course, there is that one billion dollars that has been spent on "public service announcements:"

Here is another one. The Harper government has spent nearly a billion public dollars in party advertising thinly disguised as public service announcements. It is a scandal much bigger than Ad Sponsorship, and includes the obscene costs associated with the PM’s nauseating photo-ops. That’s where the already-announced gets announced again and again, and then re-announced by lesser mortals at smaller PR events across the country.

It's all about buying votes. The Mike Duffy trial has made abundantly clear that, in Harperland, you can be charged with accepting a bribe, but nobody will offer you one.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Alone At Last

                                               http://www.quickmeme.com/

Stephen Harper's allies are abandoning him. At last count, 46 of the 166 Conservatives who rode into Ottawa in 2011 have left the Harper stable. Andrew Coyne writes:

It isn’t just the half-dozen ministers who have, just months before the election, announced their retirements, in some cases (John Baird) without so much as a day’s notice, in others (James Moore) without a word of acknowledgment from the prime minister. It isn’t the two dozen other MPs who will not be running again, or the notable absence of star candidates among the new recruits.

It is the palpable sense of other ministers maintaining their distance, in rhetorical terms at least, unwilling to indulge in the harshly partisan attacks he demands of his subordinates. The undying loyalists, the ones whose careers he promoted on just this basis — the Pierre Poilievres, the Chris Alexanders — will stick with him to the end. But that is pretty much all that remains, a dwindling palace guard of zealous staffers and the callower ministers. “The Harper government” used to be a branding exercise. It is now an almost literal description.

Harper has become, in Michael Harris' phrase, a Party of One. The numbers are bad and they keep getting worse:

Averaging the polls together, the ThreeHundredEight.com poll-tracking website shows the Tories sliding steadily all through the last two months, from a pallid 32 per cent at the beginning of May to a dismal 29 per cent at the end of June. Worse, only about five to seven per cent of non-Conservative voters would consider them as their second choice. 60 per cent of voters tell EKOS the government is moving in the wrong direction, versus just 32 per cent for the contrary.

Still, the folks in charge say it's steady as she goes:

The strategy is to stay the course, make no sudden moves, until voters return to their senses. Yet there are distinct signs of jitters in Conservative central command. Recent days have witnessed a pro-Harper political action committee launching and shutting down in the space of a week, followed by the production of an anti-Trudeau attack ad so grotesquely over the top — it features photos of ISIL victims just before their execution — it had even stalwart Tory supporters denouncing it.


Only the true believers are left -- and their numbers are dropping. Mr. Harper may, indeed, find himself alone at last.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Canada Day 2015

                                         http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.ca

Yesterday, Greece defaulted on its creditors. We are in yet another financial crisis. Jim Stanford writes:

No one can predict how the European drama will unfold next. Or how other after-effects of the 2008-2009 crisis (such as the coming rise in U.S. interest rates) will shake still-fragile economies around the world. What is certain, however, is that globalized, financialized, polarized capitalism is incapable of finding the stable and efficient equilibrium fantasized by conventional neoclassical economists. Repeated outbreaks of credit-fuelled, speculative exuberance are inevitably followed by panic, retrenchment, and recession. This will keep happening. We don't know precisely when the next crisis will occur, nor its precise proximate cause. But we do know another crisis will occur, with 100 per cent certainty. And we do know that the 99 per cent of humanity who do not possess enough financial or business wealth to support themselves without actually working for a living, will be asked again to bear the brunt of the subsequent pain and dislocation.

On this Canada Day, we need to remember that those who presently hold the reins of power are manically devoted to the same neo-classical economics that has caused our recurring financial crises. And it doesn't have to be that way:

This pattern of repeating crisis and growing polarization is hard-wired into the DNA of modern capitalism: an economic system organized around the self-serving decisions of a surprisingly small and privileged segment of society. This crisis, no different from the last or the next, was not an unpredictable, unpreventable, one-off occurrence: a "black swan" event. Rather, it was the predictable, preventable result of an economy that puts the interests of financial wealth above the interests of the vast majority in working and supporting themselves. And it will happen again, unless and until we change the fundamental rules of the game.

Stanford writes that,  just as Naomi Klein suggested in The Shock Doctrine, these crises are organized for the benefit of the fabulously wealthy few:

She showed how ruling elites regularly take advantage of moments of fear and confusion, arising at moments of economic, social, or even natural disaster, to enforce painful changes that they were preparing for years -- but that most people would not tolerate under "normal" circumstances.

Today is a day to reflect on what we've become. And what we've become -- particularly in the last decade -- is an ongoing tragedy.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paying To Be Lobotomized

                                             http://www.bewareofthedoug.com/

We are awash in images, Chris Hedges writes. And that makes it easy for corporate propagandists to succeed. It's been that way for quite awhile:

The entrapment in a world of nonstop electronic sounds and images, begun with the phonograph and radio, advanced by cinema and television and perfected by video games, the Internet and hand-held devices, is making it impossible to build relationships and structures that are vital for civic engagement and resistance to corporate power.

We have become, Hannah Arendt wrote, "atomized" -- unconnected and illiterate individuals. And, as long as we are unconnected, corporate power brokers will succeed by simply numbing and dumbing down the nation's citizens:


Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.

The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas. The fascination with the image swallows the time and energy required to attend and maintain communal organizations. If no one reads, why censor books? Let Noam Chomsky publish as much as he wants. Just keep his voice off the airwaves. If no one attends community meetings, group events or organizations, why prohibit them? Let them be held in near-empty rooms and left uncovered by the press until they are shuttered.

The object of a totalitarian state is to keep its citizens locked within the parameters of official propaganda and permanently isolated. Propaganda and isolation make it difficult for an individual to express or carry out dissent. Official opinions, little more than digestible slogans and clich├ęs, are crafted and disseminated by public relations specialists on behalf of the power elite. They are repeated endlessly over the airwaves until the public unconsciously ingests them. And the isolated public in a totalitarian society is unable to connect its personal experience of despair, anxiety, fear, frustration and economic insecurity to the structures that create these conditions. The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality.  

In Canada, all this has been accomplished with public money. We are paying to be lobotomized.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Better Than The News

                                                  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/

HarperPAC had a lifespan of one week. Given Mr. Harper's use of American political consultants and tactics, it's passing strange that an idea which has so much currency south of the border should die so quickly in the Great White North. If you wonder why the political action committee did not make it into the prime minister's arsenal, Michael Harris writes, remember that Mr. Harper seeks control -- of everything:

In less than a week, three of Harper’s old buddies, one of whom shared a past with him at the National Citizens’ Coalition, pulled the plug on HarperPAC. Not only that, but they promised to return all the money they had collected. (I would like to see the list of donors.)

Why did they do that?

In a word, they were poaching the Harper brand and Himself was not pleased. It was like stealing the formula for Coca-Cola. In fact, Harper was reportedly so displeased that the party and the prime minister were plotting a legal battle to force the shutdown before the group voluntarily disbanded.

It's all rather bizarre. When he was head of the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue for third party advertising. But that was then. This is now. And now:

It is all about controlling the message. As his political woes deepen, Harper has a habit of moving away from substantive discourse and doubling down on the emotional and irrational. He is a master channel changer and his success begins where debate ends.

The last thing Harper and his apparatchiks want is a reasoned discussion about the Iraq Mission against ISIS. Literally everything being done in Iraq and Syria has been done before — there and elsewhere — and failed; sending in the trainers, boots on the ground, partnering with Iran, arming the Kurds, and hoping for a political alliance between Shia and Sunni factions forged by the government in Baghdad.
Here is a number to keep in mind. At the peak of the second Iraq War, the U.S. had 505 bases manned by 166,000 troops in country. A total of $25 billion U.S. was spent training and equipping of the Iraqis with virtually nothing to show for it. 

Mr. Harper is doing  everything he can to make sure the facts don't get out -- whether on Iraq or climate change.  He proclaims -- in the words of Kory Teneyche -- that, "We're better than the news. We're truthful."