Friday, October 20, 2017

Too Late

It's been a bad couple of weeks for Bill Morneau. Yesterday he said he will put his considerable wealth in a blind trust. Tim Harper writes:

Morneau finally did the right thing, placing his substantial assets in a blind trust and announcing he would begin divesting his interest in the family business, Morneau Shepell.

Except this was 2017.

This should have been done a couple of years ago, because, to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, it was 2015.

If the ship of state is ever to be put on an even keel -- a proposition that appears less and less likely -- loopholes for the wealthy have to be closed. That's what Morneau said he was trying to do, even as he continued to profit from those loopholes. Nathan Cullen cut to the quick:

Here’s the nub of the conflict charge, as raised by New Democrat Nathan Cullen, an unproven allegation that nonetheless brings some smoke.

When Morneau introduced Bill C-27, legislation to make it easier for federal employees to move to a targeted benefit pension, a move which would benefit Morneau Shepell, the company’s stock went up 4.8 per cent within days, Cullen says. Morneau, he said, would have made $2 million in five days from that jump. But it’s not known that Morneau was holding or selling stock at that time.

Justin Trudeau's Liberals ran as progressives. But the Minister of Finance can't unfurl that banner. It's too late.

Image: The National Post

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Total Screw Up

Surely, no man has screwed up more consistently -- and spectacularly -- than Donald Trump. Witness his treatment of the family of a dead soldier. Richard Wolfe writes:

This week the commander-in-chief has somehow contrived to drive to tears the grieving mother of one of his own special forces. Along the way, he boasted about his own outreach to gold star families, and defamed his predecessors’ record on the same.

All the while he shows no sympathy or urgency about millions of his own citizens struggling for several weeks without food, water and power in Puerto Rico.

Hugging people doesn’t take much skill or sensibility; just a touch of humanity. A real populist finds this kind of thing quite easy. If you want to be loved by the people, it’s a good idea to show a little love to the people in their hour of need. It worked for Evita Peron, Fidel Castro and even the ice-cold British royal family.

But Trump doesn't possess even that simple sensibility. The only thing he really knows how to do is pick a fight:

Not so much Donald Trump. According to the mother of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four Green Berets killed in action in Niger, Trump managed to “disrespect” her son and his widow, forgot his name, and told them he “knew what he signed up for.” This charming conversation took place while the family was traveling to the airport to receive the body of their beloved son and husband, leaving Johnson’s widow Myeshia in tears.

Naturally Trump has turned his multiple blunders into a political fistfight. He has blamed a Democratic representative traveling with the Johnsons for fabricating the account, telling reporters: “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.”

The sad thing is he probably thought he was being nice. The even sadder thing is that he still can’t be bothered to remember their name.

It's clear that Trump is unfit for his office. But, at times, one wonders if he's fit for anything. He's a total screw up.

Image: jadeluckclub

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Something To Keep In Mind

The Canadian aerospace industry just got shafted -- again. And Donald Trump got what he wanted. Tom Walkom writes:

The latest chapter of this ongoing saga began in April when American aerospace giant Boeing formally complained to the U.S. Commerce Department about Bombardier’s proposed sale of 125 C Series jets to Delta Air Lines.

Charging that the project had been improperly subsidized by the Canadian and Quebec governments, Boeing asked that an 80 per cent tariff be slapped on any C Series plane entering the U.S.

The Trump administration was more than agreeable. It imposed a preliminary tariff of 300 per cent, thereby making the Canadian-manufactured jet virtually unsalable in the lucrative U.S. market.

So Bombardier went to Airbus, which owns a plant in Alabama:

For Airbus, the arrangement is sweet. In return for letting Bombardier use its Alabama plant, it gets just over 50 per cent of the C Series project for free. It doesn’t have to pony up a cent.

Nor does it have to absorb any of Bombardier’s sizable $8.7 billion debt, much of which was incurred developing the C Series.

For Bombardier too, this is a good deal. By moving assembly from Canada to the U.S., it avoids the 300 per cent tariff and keeps the Delta sale alive. As well, it gets to locate its American production in a so-called right-to-work state that promises cheap wages and is vehemently anti-union.

While it no longer controls the C Series, Bombardier does get to keep a 31 per cent stake in the project for at least 7.5 years. And it can take advantage of Airbus’ global reach to market the jet.

And Donald Trump gets the jobs required to assemble the aircraft. Something to keep in mind during the current NAFTA negotiations.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Time Is Running Out

If you want to know what future resistance looks like, Chris Hedges writes, take a good long look at what transpired at Standing Rock:

Day after day, week after week, month after month, the demonstrators endured assaults carried out with armored personnel carriers, rubber bullets, stun guns, tear gas, cannons that shot water laced with chemicals, and sound cannons that can cause permanent hearing loss. Drones hovered overhead. Attack dogs were unleashed on the crowds. Hundreds were arrested, roughed up and held in dank, overcrowded cells. Many were charged with felonies. The press, or at least the press that attempted to report honestly, was harassed and censored, and often reporters were detained or arrested. And mixed in with the water protectors was a small army of infiltrators, spies and agents provocateurs, who often initiated vandalism and rock throwing at law enforcement and singled out anti-pipeline leaders for arrest.

No one should estimate what and who the resistors are up against:

The corporate state, no longer able to peddle a credible ideology, is becoming more overtly totalitarian. It will increasingly silence dissidents out of fear that the truth they speak will spark a contagion. It will, as in China’s system of totalitarian capitalism, use the tools of censorship, blacklisting, infiltration, blackmailing, bribery, public defamation, prison sentences on trumped-up charges and violence. The more discredited the state becomes, the more it will communicate in the language of force.

Native leader Tom B.K. Goldtooth sees the battle in existential terms:

This world is heading towards economic systems that continue to eat up life itself, even the heart of workers, and it’s not sustainable. We’re at that point where Mother Earth is crying out for a revolution. Mother Earth is crying out for a new direction.

As far as a new regime, we’ll need something based on earth jurisprudence.A new system away from property rights, away from privatization, away from financialization of nature, away from control over our … DNA, away from control over seeds, away from corporations. It’s a common law with local sovereignty. That’s why it’s important we have a system that recognizes the rights of a healthy and clean water system, ecosystem. Mother Earth has rights. We need a system that will recognize that. Mother Earth is not an object. We have an economic system that treats Mother Earth as if she’s a liquidation issue. We have to change that. That’s not sustainable.

This is not just a battle for one nation's soul -- although the battle for the American soul is seminal. This is a battle for the future of the planet. And time is running out.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Could He Be Right?

Sometimes irony is entertaining. Sometimes it hurts. Tom Walkom points to the irony of Donald Trump's insistence on American content rules as part of NAFTA:

Under NAFTA, automobiles manufactured anywhere in North America may be sold duty-free in Canada, the U.S. or Mexico.

Since, at $2.45 (U.S.) an hour, Mexican wages are a fraction of what they are in the other two NAFTA countries, this is a powerful incentive to locate production there.

As a recent report by former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin shows, this is exactly what has happened. Rubin calculates that the number of auto jobs in Mexico has quadrupled over the past decade. Over the same period, auto manufacturing jobs shrank by 26 per cent in Canada and 28 per cent in the U.S.

Which brings Walkom to Unifor's strike against GM's plant in Ingersoll:

Their demands did not focus on the usual issues such as wages. Rather employees sought ironclad assurances from GM that Ingersoll would continue to be the lead plant in North America for production of the popular Chevy Equinox sport utility vehicle.

Earlier this year, GM moved production of its Terrain model to Mexico from Ingersoll — at a cost of 400 Canadian jobs. The CAMI workers and their union, Unifor, wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again.

What the union wants is what Canadian politicians of various stripes used to insist upon:

Until recently, it was the position of the New Democratic Party. A little further back, it was the position of the Liberal Party.

Justin Trudeau may reject economic nationalism as dangerous. But his father, Pierre, did not. Indeed, Pierre Trudeau recognized that sometimes even the most cosmopolitan of nations need to protect themselves from the buffeting winds of the global economy.

It was a principle enshrined in the old Auto Pact. All of which begs the question: Could Donald Trump be right about something?


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Eminently Sensible

There has been a lot of fury about Bill Morneau's tax changes. His failure to disclose the full story behind his French villa hasn't helped his cause. But the main problem he has faced is that his changes aren't simple enough to understand. Robin Sears recalls a conversation he had with New Zealand's former finance minister, Roger Douglas -- who introduced the developed world's first GST:

“Listen,” he told me, “our bloody income tax systems — personal and corporate — look like bloody Swiss cheese! And, by the way, so do yours. Every country has more loopholes and giveaways in its income tax system than they can count. And any finance minister who claims he can fill even half of them is either lying or stupid or both,” he added.

He went on, that with a VAT or GST he could equally tax a rich man’s mink coat purchase and a working boy’s hamburger — everyone pays. He conceded that some cheating was always possible if cash and no receipts were involved, but he added, it was a lot easier to catch a GST cheat than an income tax cheater, with the help of a good tax lawyer.

It’s not regressive, depending on what we do with the revenue, Douglas argued. He planned to take a big slice of the GST revenue and give it back to those who needed it most — and did, setting up a generous rebate structure. His pioneering was copied all over the developed world. As Douglas said that day, when you want to get a big tax reform done quickly you need to do three things: keep it simple, open and transparent.

These days citizens -- with justification -- feel that legislators are deliberately trying to pull the wool over their eyes. The Republican health care plan was cobbled together behind closed doors. Then they tried to push it through without hearings. It failed. Somebody's missing something.

Morneau shouldn't expect any tax change to slide through without tough parliamentary oversight. And, if it looks like he's playing a shell game, his proposed changes will never get off the ground.

Roger Douglas' advice was eminently sensible.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Another Canary In The Coal Mine

Everyone these days focuses on the middle class as the engine which drives the economy. However, Susan Delacourt writes, the shuttering of Sears stores across the country tells the story of what has happened to the Canadian middle class:

Retail analysts have been warning for some time now that e-commerce is threatening the very nature of shopping.

Those same analysts are saying, however, that you can’t draw a straight line between the rise of digital shopping and the downfall of the big stores like Sears or Zellers.

“The bigger thing is the shrinking of the middle class,” Barry Nabatian, market research director of Shore-Tanner Associates, told Ottawa’s local CBC Radio morning show this week. 

Neo-liberal economists, like Joseph Schumpeter, call it "creative destruction." But there's nothing creative about it:

The current troubles in the Canadian retail business have at least three dimensions, fallout-wise. When things go badly, we have to worry about the people who work in the stores, the people who shopped in the stores, and, as a Star story pointed out this week, all the businesses that supply the shops, too.

“The list of suppliers left in the lurch by the Sears Canada insolvency reads like a who’s who of retail and it circles the globe,” the Star’s Francine Kopun wrote, describing the tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars Sears owes to a vast array of businesses whose products fed into the once-great store empire.

That's a lot of destruction. The death of Sears is another canary in the coal mine. There have been several since the financial meltdown ten years ago. But the powers that be don't appear to be paying attention.