Sunday, March 01, 2015

When Will They Get Their Act Together?


                                              http://www.montrealgazette.com/

Ralph Surette has had Stephen Harper's number for a long time. He's a veteran journalist and he knows a charlatan when he sees one. Bill C-51 is a superb example of how Harper operates:

Not that the bill doesn't have some good points -- but that's Harper's genius. He starts with a vaguely decent argument, then takes it to extremes -- but only to that precise extreme that can be muffled by the repetition of talking points.

But the bill itself is only the half of it. The deeper, ignored part is that the Harper government can't be trusted with laws of any kind. The omnibus bills delivered on short notice and passed in a whiz to avoid debate, the error-ridden bills passed with flagrant arrogance, the crippling of parliamentary committees and the abuse of parliamentary process at every level, the attack on the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and ultimately the two-faced hypocrisy of running a "law and order" government that abuses the law whenever it suits its ideology -- none of this gets into the talk. Harper is a repeat offender whose previous record is never taken into account.

What really disturbs Surette is that the opposition parties seem incapable of blowing the whistle on the prime minister:

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair has made himself into an effective prosecutor-style interrogator in the Commons, but 90 per cent of his performance doesn't get past the Ottawa bubble. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau muddles as we await further policy. Neither focuses the big picture. (The Green Party's Elizabeth May, on the other hand, does -- but hers is a small voice). Mulcair and Trudeau are both trapped in the business of scoring points on the 24-hour news cycle. That's Harper's rink, where he stickhandles around them handily. As long as the focus is on the here and now, yesterday's dirty tricks are forgotten.

Harper has given them lots to work with:

It has always baffled me, given the richness of the material, that the opposition leaders didn't do this: keep a crisp little mantra of the Harper record in their coat pocket and recite it every time they speak in order to keep the Harper agenda in view: the electoral fraud, the destruction of environmental and fishery laws, the crippling of the census (done to protect privacy, no less -- no sign of those concerns in the terror bill), the muzzling of scientists, the tax persecution of environmental groups and charities considered unfriendly to Harperism (even a bird-watching group in Ontario that called last summer for a pesticide to be banned had Revenue Canada sicced on them), the veterans, the hundreds of millions of tax dollars wasted to promote the party, the bung-ups in military procurement, the chopping up of the tax system for partisan reasons ...

When are they going to get their act together?


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saving Capitalism From Itself


                                                http://www.qohel.com/

The American economist  Richard Wolf maintains that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. Unchecked, it produces greater and greater inequality, until it collapses upon itself. Tom Walkom agrees:

Experts may tie themselves up in knots over the precise trajectory of inequality, depending in part on what is measured and when.
But the general point is beyond dispute: On its own, the free market is providing increasingly less equal rewards.
That inequality, in turn, hampers the very forces that favour the free market.

Thus, those who wish to preserve capitalism should protect capitalism from itself. Those protections include public pensions, public healthcare, unemployment insurance and public employment.

After the Second World War, business and labour reached a grand bargain, which included these four safety valves. But things changed:

Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government began the job of dismantling the so-called welfare state. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are finishing it.
But the factors that really killed the old bargain were globalization and the changing nature of work.

The old welfare state was built for a world where much of the workforce laboured in big factories.
Now, big factories are passé. The new normal is part-time work and alleged self-employment.

Rather than responding to changed circumstances, our politicians have been deer in the headlights. Walkom  has some suggestions about what they should do:

Build a national pharmacare program. This would continue the process, begun in the 1960s, of socializing the costs needed to keep workers healthy.

Reform the employment insurance system. The aim here should be to ensure that all who are involuntarily unemployed, including part-timers and the self-employed, have full access to EI.

Rebuild the entire collective bargaining system. Developed in the 1930s and ’40s, the current one was premised on a world of factory production. A new arrangement would have to take into account the dramatic new changes in work.

The Harper government has no such plans. But a new government -- if pushed -- might.


Friday, February 27, 2015

An Early Election?

                                                 http://www.evidentia.net/

Two days ago, rumours were circulating that we were in for an early election. So far, nothing has materialized. But, having mastered the art of fear and smear politics -- and having passed Bill C-51 -- Michael Harris writes that there are lots of reasons for Stephen Harper to call an early election:

It would let Harper campaign on terrorism, not his record. He has his emotional issue: “I am the strong man who will protect you from the beheaders.”

A defence brief recently obtained by the CBC under Access to Information implies Canada’s failure to procure the F-35s may be damaging our relationship with our international allies: “Canada often struggles to meet timelines to participate in international co-operative activities.” Read: Canada needs those F-35s so we can protect everyone by bombing the Middle East.

If Harper wins the election, Canada will get those planes, no matter what they cost, even though they may not be fully operational until 2019 due to a newly-discovered computer glitch with the plane’s main gun. Not a small problem, by the way — it could prevent the F-35 from firing during close air support operations. The Pentagon, which milks the American taxpayer like a prize cow, has denied there will be a delay.

Harper wouldn’t have to present a budget that he can’t balance.

He’d escape blowback from the Mike Duffy trial, where Nigel Wright might have to tell the truth under oath, instead of a carefully constructed version of the truth designed to protect the prime minister. Meanwhile, Patrick Brazeau’s preliminary inquiry is set to begin June 1. Mike Duffy’s trial will still be on at that point — bad timing for the PM.

The trial of Bruce Carson, a former senior aide to Harper, on charges related to a water purification company for First Nations starts September 8.

If Harper calls an early election, there will be confusion at the polls because of changes under the new Elections Act. Many voters will turn up without the proper ID — although you can bet Conservative voters will be well prepared. You now need two pieces of official ID, at least one with your street address. Yes, due to a hard-fought amendment, someone can vouch for your address if they know you — but you both have to swear an oath and that takes time, meaning long line-ups at the polls. Just what you need when you have to pick up the kids at daycare.

Harper has never been a man of principle. But he has always been a desperate opportunist. Is anyone taking bets?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Cabal Of Fools



You may have missed it. But, recently, the Harper government pulled funding for the Palestinian organization, MIFTAH, which is headed by Hanan Ashrawi. Paul Adams provides some context:

For more than twenty years, Hanan Ashrawi, an ethnic Christian and a moderate, has been a prominent Palestinian leader. In 2006 she was elected to the Palestinian parliament as a member of the Third Way, an almost laughably small party which has tried to provide a democratic, centrist alternative to the corruption of Fateh and the violent Islamism of Hamas — the two dominant Palestinian political factions.

She founded a non-governmental organization called MIFTAH; its mandate is human rights but it has carved out a role primarily as a promoter of women in Palestinian life.

But Ashrawi ran afoul of John Baird:


On his farewell tour of the Middle East a few weeks ago, Baird said Palestinians were crossing a “red line” — a favourite expression in the region when laying down an ultimatum — by accusing Israel of war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

In a press release, Ashrawi fired back that the red line Baird was trying to draw was a form of impunity for Israel, and she called Baird an apologist (that word again) for those complicit in war crimes.

In a strange little episode, Canadian officials abruptly demanded a letter of thanks from Ashrawi for their $27,000 contribution to MIFTAH. When it was not forthcoming, they cancelled the grant.

Adams points out that MIFTAH  receives the bulk of its funding from the Republican Party in the United States. It's not a left wing love child. But when John Baird said something stupid -- as he has done frequently -- Ashrawi called him out.

Our present government is petty and mean spirited. That's because it's led by a cabal of fools.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

They Own Him

                                                   http://pando.com/

It's been a relatively silent coup. The wealthy have successfully bought our political system. If you have doubts, consider two key pieces of Harperian policy -- income splitting and Tax Free Savings Accounts. Both policies amount to robbery of the federal purse. Rhys Kesselman writes:

Income-splitting has been extensively assessed and widely criticized for its revenue cost, its tilt toward higher-income families, and its failure to accomplish anything beneficial for the economy.

Soon the other shoe may drop: The Conservative Party of Canada’s second major tax promise from the last election was to double the contribution limits for Tax-Free Savings Accounts. 

The Conservatives market TFSA's as the salvation of the little man and they now propose to double contribution limits:

Yet doubling the TFSA limits would share the deficiencies of income-splitting as public policy — or even surpass them. It would drain revenues from both federal and provincial treasuries, with deceptively small initial sums adding up to costs far greater than those incurred through income-splitting. The long-run benefits would be far more sharply skewed toward the wealthy and high-earners. And doubling the TFSA limit would not benefit the economy in tangible ways.

Once the existing TFSA provision has fully matured in 40 to 50 years, it’s estimated to cost the federal treasury up to $15.5 billion annually — more than seven times the cost of income splitting. Provincial treasuries were insulated from the revenue impacts of income-splitting; they will not be so lucky with TFSAs, losing up to $9 billion per year when the scheme matures.
The government’s vow that TFSAs will never be considered in federal income tests for tax and benefit provisions carries further revenue costs. By mid-century, TFSAs will raise the Guaranteed Income Supplement’s cost by $2.8 billion annually and reduce recovery tax from Old Age Security by $1.2 billion annually. These figures are the official estimates; the sums projected by an independent analyst run far higher.

Stephen Harper argues that the age for Old Age Security must be raised because we don't have the money to pay for it. But he doesn't tell you why the money won't be there.

The wealthy could not ask for a better servant. And they will see that he is properly compensated. They own him.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Look Somewhere Else


                                               http://www.cepec-tortues.fr/

Stephen Harper talks tough. But when things get tough, Harper hides. Andrew Mitrovica writes:

The prime minister, simply put, is a nasty piece of work. His every act and statement is a product of a petty, parochial political calculus; the quaint notion of ‘nation-building’ isn’t part of his lexicon. And like any unrepentant bully, Harper prefers adversaries who can’t fight back — hence his venomous attack on Radio-Canada journalists.

When people fight back, he heads for cover:

You probably saw this iPolitics report — about how the PM quietly invoked parliamentary privilege to escape being grilled by lawyers representing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Not exactly the stuff of profiles-in-courage, is it?
The NCCM sued Harper and his freshly departed PR guy, Jason MacDonald, for libel after MacDonald appeared on Sun News Network to slime the NCCM by insisting it “has documented ties to a terrorist organization … Hamas.”

Anyway, the NCCM argues that MacDonald’s attack had his boss’s implicit, if not explicit, approval. Make no mistake, the explicit intent of that slur – based on laughable, discredited information culled from an obscure court case heard in the backwoods of the Lone Star state – was to malign all the loyal, hard-working Muslim-Canadians working at NCCM as Hamas sympathizers or worse. When Harper and company refused to retract and apologize, the NCCM sued the pair last May.

The overall effect, of course, is a blot on Harper’s carefully cultivated tough-guy image. A bad hombre wouldn’t hide behind his lawyer’s pinstriped pants. No sir. He would waive parliamentary privilege, agree to appear at discovery with his former spokesman — who, by the way, is still being represented by a government-hired lawyer — put his hand on a Bible and say: Fire away.

If you're looking for heated rhetoric about Muslims or Russians, Harper's your man. But, if you're looking for courage, look somewhere else.


Monday, February 23, 2015

A Non-Liberal State


                                            http://www.notable-quotes.com/

Last week, Ralph Nader declared that Stephen Harper was unsafe at any speed. Michael Harris writes:

According to the former U.S. presidential candidate and long-time consumer advocate, this prime minister is a combination of Chevrolet’s doomed Corvair and Dick Cheney: A lemon and a warmonger — all rolled up into a consumer dud begging for a recall.

With police state powers about to be handed to Canada’s spy agency based on a factitious threat, Nader pointed out that the PM’s talents run to hyperbole, not to truth-telling or accuracy. (Time allocation has once more killed sensible debate on major legislation, this time it’s Bill C-51.)

“When Prime Minister Harper says jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced, one is entitled to say ‘oh really?’. What about Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin? It is just a wild exaggeration,” Nader said.

Speed is what Harper is all about. There was little debate. He declared closure and sent the bill off to committee. That's dictatorship, not democracy. There are interesting parallels, writes Harris, between Stephen Harper and Viktor Orban, the man who has sabotaged Hungary's newly won democracy. Orban recently told The Guardian:

We are parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them. We have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society. The new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”

Exactly.