Thursday, July 31, 2014

Retirement Is For The Rich


                                                                                 http://lewisbarton.com


There used to be a social contract in this country. One of the clauses in that unwritten document was,"if you work hard all your life, you can retire in comfort." But neo-conservatives have shredded that contract. Linda McQuaig writes:

The notion of retirement security in exchange for a lifetime of hard work — a central element in the implicit social contract between capital and labour in the postwar years — has been effectively tossed aside, as corporations have become more insatiable in their demands and governments have increasingly abandoned workers.

Stephen Harper has relentlessly spearheaded the corporate agenda:

Stephen Harper’s government hiked the eligibility age for Old Age Security benefits to 67, effectively depriving all future Canadian retirees of two years of basic retirement income.
And it has steadfastly refused to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan, leaving retired Canadians with an average income of $18,000 a year in public pension benefits — far less than what a full-time minimum wage earner makes in Ontario.

The prime minister has no intention of halting the juggernaut:

And now, the Harper government is engaging in a fresh frontal assault on the retirement incomes of beleagured Canadian workers.

In what amounts to a radical overhaul, it announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.

All of this has been done under the radar. And the Harperites intend to keep it that way. It makes it easier to serve their clientele:

Employers now want to be able to fundamentally rewrite the terms of those workplace pension deals so that, if the market plunges and the pension fund declines, the pay-outs will be less — in effect, shifting the risk from the company to the retiree.

When it comes to new hires, many employers now offer only the new-style pensions. But the legislation proposed by Harper would create a way for employers to open up existing pension deals — effectively changing the rules in mid-stream, after workers have spent years paying into their plans.

While employees wont be able to afford retirement, CEO's will do just fine:

The Royal Bank, the country’s largest bank, switched over to the new-style pension system in 2011, so that all new employees will be obliged to face a risky pension future.

RBC CEO Gordon Nixon didn’t see the need to modify his own pension deal, however. When he retires later this week at the age of 57, he’ll receive a pension of $1.68 million a year, which will rise to an even more comfortable $2 million a year when he turns 65.

It's another example of how the champions of accountability are doing everything they can to remain unaccountable.

The new rule is: only the rich get to retire.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Enemy At The Top


                                                                        http://www.reuters.com/

Vladimir Putin's ascension to the Russian presidency for a third term was greeted with widespread public protest and charges of electoral fraud. Devon Black writes:

Putin had hoped to re-take the presidency with confidence and a strong mandate. Instead, the pressure was on him to solidify his tenuous political position.

Putin did so by stoking nationalist fervor, crafting a narrative of a Russia beset by enemies, inside and out. Putin told a story of traditional Russians fighting back against both physical and existential threats.

And, so, he moved into Crimea and he keeps pushing the envelope.

Lawrence Martin writes that Stephen Harper's vision of economic prosperity was founded on four pillars -- jobs, taxation, trade and pipelines. But, "other than taxes, where they have cuts to boast about, the pillars are starting to look wobbly."

So, faced with unhappy citizens, both men have turned to nationalism -- which is a decidedly double edged sword. Black writes:

Again and again, history has shown that when politicians try to turn the angrier form of nationalism into political advantage, they lose control. Most recently, Europe has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic violence — related in part to the conflict in Gaza, but also linked to the rise of far-right nationalist parties like France’s National Front.

We should be wary when our own politicians try to exploit certain flavours of nationalism for political gain. There’s nothing wrong with, for example, celebrating Canada’s athletic achievements, as Prime Minster Harper did when his Vancouver Olympics jacket became ubiquitous on the 2011 campaign trail. But Harper has taken to peppering his speeches and policy positions with militaristic bombast.

Putin and Harper are creating straw men in an attempt to divert attention away from themselves. If Russians and Canadians begin to realize that the real enemy is within -- worse still, that he sits at the top of the political pyramid -- both men will be finished.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

He Must Be Laughing

                                                           http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/

An op-ed  appeared in yesterday's Globe and Mail under Stephen Harper's name. Whoever wrote the piece claims that,"Our duty is to stand firm in the face of Russian aggression." On the same day, in The Tyee, Tom Henheffer also wrote an op-ed, on the subject of the CRA's audits of Canadian non-profits, like PEN:

In effect, our government is censoring an anti-censorship organization. It makes me wonder, is this really Canada? If so, it’s a country I'm having a hard time recognizing.

So what is the justification for creating this clear chill on free speech?

Well, no one really knows. These audits overwhelmingly target environmental groups opposed to oilsands development. Many of these are the same organizations former Natural Resources and current Finance Minister Joe Oliver called out as being "radical groups" trying to undermine Canadian development. Yet the government maintains it has no control over who the CRA investigates.

Lawrence Martin was stationed in Moscow during the Cold War. He has noted that Harper's information control is reminiscent of what went on in Russia before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly there was no such thing as free speech.

Yet Mr Harper presents himself as a Crusader for Individual Liberty. Vladimir Putin must be laughing.

We will be in  Montreal for the next couple of days. But I plan to be back at this keyboard on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Have They No Decency?



When Justice Anne Mactavish struck down the Harper government's ban on medical care to refugees, she wrote that the ban amounted to "cruel and unjust treatment." The phrase did not emerge new and full blown from the lips of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Gerry Caplan writes:

These exact words – “cruel and unusual punishment” – resonate in history. They were written into the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and were then repeated in the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution: “Cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” These are not words used loosely.

He points out that they were at the heart of Joseph Welsh's response to Senator Joseph McCarthy:

“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

We have insisted -- at least until recently -- that our elected officials display a modicum of decency. But any sense of decency disappeared with Stephen Harper. Caplan writes that "cruel and unusual treatment" is at the heart of two other Harper policies:

The prostitution bill has a similar cast of characters – the justices of the Supreme Court, who ruled that government must take all steps possible to assure the safety of prostitutes; much of the rest of the country who disagree on much but agree the bill actually would put prostitutes in even greater danger than they are now; and a minister of justice, Peter McKay, who has proved himself completely indifferent to the safety of such women. Is this not simple callousness?

And last, of course, there is the case of Omar Khadr:

Finally there is the case of Omar Khadr, a young man who to whom fate has been cruel since his birth to a twisted family. There are at least seven separate possible reasons for showing compassion for Mr. Khadr, and the Harper government has consistently dismissed every single one of them with scorn and derision. He was a child under international law when his father forced him to become a soldier. He may well not have killed anyone. He himself was badly wounded. He was involved in a war, when killing another soldier is not a crime. He confessed under torture. He pled guilty to end his Kafkaesque nightmare. He was convicted in a U.S. military court that flouted basic principles of justice. Canadian prison officials have found no evidence that he “espouses attitudes that support terror activities or any type of radicalized behaviour.”
Yet he drives Harperland crazy with fear and loathing. They feel no mercy.

In fact, there is much that drives Harperland crazy. And their lack of decency underscores their irrational loathing.


Friday, July 25, 2014

He Would If He Could


                                                                       http://theinternetpost.net/

Stephen Harper and his minions have been complaining loudly about the power of "special interests." But, Steve Sullivan writes:

When Stephen Harper headed up the National Citizens Coalition, he filed a constitutional challenge against the Elections Act. He claimed the law’s spending limits on third-party advertising during elections was an infringement on his freedom of expression rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to the logic offered up by many Conservatives lately, what the boss did back in 2000 amounted to an attempt to undermine Parliament. Dan Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, recently told CBC that interest groups are trying to “… do an end-run around our democratic process and turn to the courts where it seems some judges are quite happy to engage. This can result in decisions contrary to what have been decided in our democratic process.”

The Harperites are nothing, if not hypocritical. They would prefer that there was no Supreme Court to second guess their decisions. However:

The courts play an essential role in our democracy by interpreting and applying the laws passed by government — acting as both check and balance on the other two branches of government, the executive and legislative. No true democracy anywhere in the world gives governments unlimited powers. In Canada, the job of the courts is to make sure that what the government does is consistent with the charter and the Constitution. Our legal rights mean precisely nothing if governments can override them simply by passing a law.

While they loudly celebrated the anniversary of the War of 1812, they let the 25th and the 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pass without notice, even though,

time and again, Canadians have told parties and pollsters that they treasure the Charter of Rights — that it’s part of the bedrock of our society, something that unites us.

But Stephen Harper has never been about uniting us. He has found success by dividing us. And, if he could abolish the Charter, he would.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

There's Only One Word For It -- Tyranny

                                                       http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/

In the wake of the news that the Harper government has directed the CRA to audit PEN Canada, Linda McQuaig asks,"Why is Harper punishing charities while letting tax cheats off the hook?"

This beefing-up of tax audits of charities is particularly striking when compared to Harper’s laid-back approach to auditing the real bad guys: corporations and citizens using offshore tax havens to cheat the government out of billions of dollars in revenue.

Indeed, the allocation of an extra $13 million to carry out audits of charities has taken place even as the government slashes the overall Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) budget by $250 million over three years and lays off hundreds of auditors.

Meanwhile, as worldwide pressure has grown for a clampdown on tax havens, Ottawa announced last year that it was ramping up its efforts to investigate offshore tax evasion. But it only allocated $15 million — over five years — a piddling amount, given the existing departmental cuts and the sheer scope of the offshore problem.

A CRA auditor provides value for money:

In Canada, an experienced international tax auditor typically costs Ottawa about $100,000 a year, but brings in ten times that amount in revenue, according to sources.

Internal CRA documents, obtained under access-to-information by Sen. Percy Downe, reveal that an infusion of $30 million by Ottawa in 2005 to counter “aggressive international tax planning” resulted in the collection of an extra $2.5 billion over four years.

Presumably, that is why the auditors have been sent in to monitor an organization with an annual budget of  $240,000 -- while "the illegal caching of money offshore by Canadian companies and individuals results in an annual revenue loss to Canadian governments (provincial and federal) of about $7.8 billion, according to Dennis Howlett, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadians for Tax Fairness."

The problem is that PEN had the audacity "to criticize the government for muzzling scientists in the civil service, and for spying on Canadian citizens alongside U.S. intelligence agencies."

There is only one word for it -- tyranny. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Real Battle Has Begun

                                                      http://www.fordefables.co.uk/

The Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday that Stephen Harper on the witness stand is an unlikely prospect. The Canadian Press reports:

Stephen Harper's office says it's "difficult to imagine" the prime minister would have any relevant information to share in the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy.

Spokesman Jason MacDonald says in an email that the PMO has responded "fully and freely" to requests for assistance from RCMP investigators.

He adds the Mounties have made it clear they don't believe Harper has any knowledge of Duffy's alleged wrongdoing and that there would be no reason for the prime minister to be involved should Duffy's defence team attempt to have him testify.

So we can expect that Stephen Harper will do everything he can to avoid being questioned in court by Donald Bayne, Duffy's attorney. Bayne would destroy the prime minister's shifting narrative and -- worse still -- the myth  that Stephen Harper is the smartest guy in the room.

 That outcome must be avoided at all costs. And, so, the real battle has begun.