Friday, December 02, 2016

Californians Know A Con Job When They See One

Around the world, Neo-liberalism is triumphant -- but not everywhere. Robert Reich writes that, in the recent American election, California -- which used to be a pilot project for Milton Friedman's economic prescriptions -- overwhelming rejected Donald Trump:

In sharp contrast to much of the rest of the nation, Californians preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin. They also voted to extend a state tax surcharge on the wealthy, and adopt local housing and transportation measures along with a slew of local tax increases and bond proposals.

Perhaps that's because Californians know something that the people in Trump's Heartland don't understand. Consider:

For years, conservatives have been saying that a healthy economy depends on low taxes, few regulations, and low wages.

Are conservatives right? At the one end of the scale are Kansas and Texas, with among the nation’s lowest taxes, least regulations, and lowest wages.

At the other end is California, with among the nation’s highest taxes, especially on the wealthy; toughest regulations, particularly when it comes to the environment; most ambitious healthcare system, that insures more than 12 million poor Californians, in partnership with Medicaid; and high wages.

So according to conservative doctrine, Kansas and Texas ought to be booming, and California ought to be in the pits.

Actually, it’s just the opposite.

For several years, Kansas’s rate of economic growth has been the worst in the nation. Last year its economy actually shrank. 

Texas hasn’t been doing all that much better. Its rate of job growth has been below the national average. Retail sales are way down. The value of Texas exports has been dropping.

California has rejected neo-liberal orthodoxy. And that rejection has made all the difference:

California leads the nation in the rate of economic growth — more than twice the national average. If it were a separate nation it would now be the sixth largest economy in the world. Its population has surged to 39 million (up 5 percent since 2010).

California is home to the nation’s fastest-growing and most innovative industries – entertainment and high tech. It incubates more startups than anywhere else in the world. 

Californians have their problems. When it comes to climate change, they are enduring the brunt of Nature's assault. But the state -- whose population is larger than Canada's -- knows that Neoliberalism is a con job.

Image: 8

Thursday, December 01, 2016

We May Be Cooked

Surveying what has been happening in Europe and the United States, Jonathan Manthorpe asks, "Is Liberalism dying out?" He writes:

Only in Canada (and Portugal) does the seemingly archaic and decidedly retro 20th-century notion of small-L liberalism — or, if you prefer, social democratic centralism — survive unchallenged.

Everywhere else among Canada’s cultural kith and kin, what has become known as ‘populism’ has taken power, or is poised to take power, or is busy fermenting in the streets and on the opposition benches.

Consider the evidence:

It was populism that propelled to victory the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union in June’s referendum. Donald Trump applauded the Brexit victory as a trailblazer for his own populist route to the White House.

It is populism that got Viktor Orban elected Hungary’s prime minister in 2010 and has kept him in power since. Populist parties have the most parliamentary seats in Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Switzerland and Italy. In Norway, Finland and Lithuania, populist parties are in governing coalitions. Populist parties are represented in the parliaments of all other European countries — including Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel remains an increasingly lonely champion of social democracy.

In France, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, sees the Trump and Brexit victories as beacons lighting the way for her own push for the Élysée Palace in the presidential elections in April and May. The selection at the weekend by France’s centre-right Republicans of former prime minister (and conservative Catholic) Francois Fillon as their candidate ensures the election will be fought on Le Pen’s ground. The socialists — whose current leader Francois Hollande is the most unpopular president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 — are not in the game.

In Austria on Sunday, Norbert Hofer of the populist Freedom Party is odds-on to win the presidency. In Holland, current polls indicate that Geert Wilders and his radical anti-Islamist Party for Freedom will win power in the elections scheduled for March. In next September’s elections for the Bundestag, odds are good that the populist party Alternative for Germany, whose support has grown with the influx of about one million Syrian refugees, will win seats in the federal parliament for the first time.

There is a dark tide rising which not only threatens democracy but also the planet. We may be -- figuratively and literally -- cooked.

Image: Tastefully Simple

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He's Beginning To Stumble

Lawrence Martin writes in today's Globe that Justin Trudeau is beginning to falter. First, there was the sound and fury over Castro -- although  much of the noise was the consequence of short historical memory. Beyond that, today's media is decidedly right-wing. Forty years ago,

there was no giant conservative chain like Postmedia, which is the preponderant print voice in many of the country’s big cities and which fields conservative commentators in greater number than progressives. Today the right side has the balance of power in the print media and has gained ground at the CBC where a conservative has been appointed to head up its new on-line commentary service.

More serious is the unfolding cash for access story:

The other rhubarb, the cash-for-access story, is one that stings because although it’s an age-old political practice it contravenes the clearly worded pledge Mr. Trudeau made before coming to power. To wit: “There should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.”

There is as yet no direct evidence of kickbacks or quid pro quos in what the PM and his ministers have done. On the question of openness and integrity, this government has shown more of it than their predecessors, who last we looked were embroiled in a cover-up scandal on Senate expenses that saw them trying to falsify a Senate report, misleading the House of Commons and offering testimony at the trial of Mike Duffy that was risible.

That said, the cash-for-access story could have legs, lots of them. Examples keep popping up. Liberals’ heads keep popping down. The Conservatives have them on the defensive and with Mr. Trudeau facing difficult decisions on upcoming nettlesome files, they are likely to keep them there.

And, yesterday, the Liberals approved Kinder-Morgan and the pipeline to Wisconsin. Both pipelines are on existing routes. Perhaps Trudeau feels that's a safe strategy. But recent events in the U.S. and the UK suggest that, these days, there is no such thing as a safe strategy.

Image: 123RF

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Playing The Victim

The present crop of conservatives are a strange lot. They are, Scott Reid writes, nothing like their predecessors:

Conservatives used to campaign on rugged individualism and the projection of strength. Those of the modern breed are a whimpering litter of easily wounded weaklings. And they just can’t shut up about it.

Exhibit A is the President-Elect of the United States:

Almost daily, Donald Trump takes to Twitter to complain about the slights and insults inflicted upon him and, by extension, his millions of supporters. He is a 70-year old white male billionaire set to assume the full authority of the presidency of the United States. Outside of comic books, it’s impossible to imagine someone with greater access to personal power. And yet, he persistently rallies his followers with claims that he, and they, are subject to humiliating treatment by powerful, threatening forces. Like comedians and Broadway musicals.

Across the pond, it's more of the same:

Consider the messages underpinning the appeal of Marine Le Pen or the disaffection that fuelled Brexit. It’s a familiar litany of propagandized harms. Immigrants are taking your jobs. Sharia law is set to sweep our cities. Dollars spent on the EU could fund the National Health Service. And to quarrel with these arguments is to be branded as some sort of reverse-bully — with minorities portrayed as menacing scolds and bigotry applauded as politically incorrect courage.

And, in Canada, the Conservative Party is populated by the same kind of whiners:

Kellie Leitch moves from caucus nobody to number one in the Conservative leadership contest by reminding the rank and file that she is permanently under attack for the audacity of her views. Recently, her campaign went so far as to blame a break-in at her home on unscrupulous, dangerous leftists. So rattled was she by the violent intentions of these anonymous, tax-hiking multiculturalists that she had to withdraw from a leadership debate. The police, meanwhile, reported that there was no evidence that anyone — on the left or the right — had broken into her house. Never mind. It made for a good fundraising email.

There are no profiles in courage in this crop. Reid correctly calls them "Crybaby Conservatives."

Image: Pinterest

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fools That We Are

These days, when it comes to public discourse, nuance is nowhere to be found. Michael Harris writes:

There is no public discourse, just an ongoing screed between those fighting for the controls. It’s not just sex, lies and videotape that is used to bring the opponent low — but a hearty boot to the meat pies if you can manage to get the other guy down. The mayhem etiquette of cage-fighting has vanquished any vestige of the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Welcome to Trumpland and the skewed reality of the alt-right.

Making matters worse, we have entered the Age of Dishonesty and Deception as author Ralph Keyes calls it, where casual dishonesty has become a pandemic in public life. What does that mean? All the whoppers no longer come from Burger King.

 Consider the reaction to Justin Trudeau's statement following the death of Fidel Castro:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lamented the passing of a world leader and family friend, and offered condolences to the Castros in the name of a deep friendship between the Canadian and Cuban people that runs back to the days of his father, Pierre Trudeau.

Stephen Harper’s son, Ben, called Trudeau’s statement about Castro “an embarrassment for Canada.”
Since Ben’s father set the record in that department, perhaps he could offer further enlightenment to the Great Unwashed. Perhaps Ben might share his wisdom on the subject of his father’s words of praise for the despot who ran Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, when he died. The record shows that Harper spent $175,000 to send Governor-General David Johnston to Saudi Arabia to personally convey his condolences. Nice treatment for a misogynistic dictator with a human rights record far worse than Castro’s.

US Senator Marco Rubio saw Trudeau’s remarks as flowers for a brutal dictator, misplaced compassion for a political thug who brought opposition to his revolution to an abrupt end against a wall or deep inside a prison.

No one remembers Fulgencio Batista, the dictator Castro replaced. Donald Trump  has made degraded discourse and outrageous lying normal. And we follow the Pied Piper, fools that we are.

Image: The Road To Cuba

Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Black Days In July

It's been almost half a century since the assassination of Martin Luther King and the urban infernos that followed his death. That's two generations, and many people have no memory of that time. But we may be returning to that time. Linda McQuaig writes:

I’ve always been amazed at the way Americans routinely describe their country as “the greatest democracy on earth,” without considering how that characterization fits with its history of genocide against Native Americans and more than two centuries of slavery.

The fact that slavery was central to the American experience is rarely acknowledged, with little attempt to make amends for this atrocity — as South Africa did after apartheid or Germany did after the Second World War. There’s been only a belated apology, from the U.S. House of Representatives, in 2008, after decades of pressure.

And certainly the emerging Trump administration is in no mood to offer apologies:

The soft, itchy underbelly of American racism has been given a good scratching by Trump, who for years kept alive birther attempts to discredit the first black president.

Whatever damage Trump is likely to do around the globe, at home — under the guidance of master provocateur Bannon — he is almost certainly going to pick a fight with the Black Lives Matter crowd, despite their reliance on peaceful protests in the face of routine police killings of unarmed black men.

And when those tensions are further inflamed, the man who will be there to ensure justice is done will be Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator whose racial comments led to his rejection as a judge by the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate in 1986.

Consider Sessions' record on race relations:

Less well known is the insidious role Sessions played in preserving Alabama’s long history of separate and unequal education. In the 1990s, 30 of the state’s poorest school districts and a disability rights group successfully challenged the system, with an Alabama judge ruling it unconstitutional.

Sessions, then Alabama’s attorney general, fought to ensure ongoing inequality, using his office to wage a fierce two-year battle to overturn the decision — which was eventually upheld by the state’s supreme court.

Given Sessions’ history, it’s not hard to imagine how, as the nation’s attorney general, he’ll clamp down on black street protestors, stripping away their civil liberties and emboldening police — moves that will lead to more anger, violence, further clampdowns, mass arrests, etc.

Gordon Lightfoot's song "Black Day in July" may, once again, be getting a lot of air play. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Calling The Kettle Black

We live in the Age of Misplaced Faith. A stunning example of what this means for ordinary people is CETA -- the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Murray Dobbin writes:

The federal government makes its own "reality" by crafting "facts" to fit its policy objectives -- no matter how outrageous they are when put to the test. Three numbers stand out in the talking points of federal governments under both Harper and Trudeau: that CETA will increase GDP by $12 billion, that it will create 80,000 jobs and that the newly created wealth will boost income by $1,000 per family.

But economist Jim Stanford debunked these numbers long ago -- pointing out in 2012 that the federal trade department simply took the $12-billion figure (itself a highly dubious figure) "[a]nd divided it by the number of families in Canada. That assumes that every additional dollar of GDP translates directly into family income. In fact, higher GDP never fully trickles down into income..." The money that does find its way into income goes mostly to the wealthy.

The $12-billion figure came from a study commissioned by Canada and carried out by three EU economists. Stanford pointed out that the model used made some outrageous assumptions:
"[c]onstant full employment (so no one can be unemployed due to imports), balanced trade (so a country's total output cannot be undermined by a trade deficit), no international capital flows (so companies cannot shift investment abroad), and no impact from fluctuating exchange rates."
Stanford called the study "outrageous." He was being far too polite. It was outright fraud. Anyone paying even cursory attention to the Canadian economy knows that not one of these assumptions holds. We haven't had full employment for decades, we have been experiencing trade deficits for years, NAFTA resulted in the shifting of billions of investment dollars to Mexico and China, and our exchange rate has been all over the map.

A recent study from Tufts University took a long look at CETA and arrived at these conclusions:

  • "CETA will lead to a reduction of the labour income share. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on firms and transferred onto workers will raise the share of national income accruing to capital and symmetrically reduce the share of national income accruing to labour. 
  • By 2023, workers will have foregone average annual earnings increases of €1776 in Canada and between €316 and €1331 in the EU depending on the country.
  • CETA will lead to net losses of government revenue. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on governments by international investors and shrinking policy space for supporting domestic … production and investment will reduce government revenue and expenditure. 
  • CETA will lead to job losses. By 2023, about 230,000 jobs will be lost in CETA countries, 200,000 of them in the EU, and 80,000 more in the rest of the world [the study projects a loss of 23,000 Canadian jobs due to CETA in the first seven years].
  • CETA will lead to net losses in terms of GDP. [D]emand shortfalls nurtured by higher unemployment will also hurt productivity and cause cumulative losses amounting to 0.96 per cent of national income in Canada..."

Mr. Trudeau lambasted Mr. Harper for his misplaced faith. It was the pot calling the kettle black.