Thursday, September 29, 2016

That's When It Gets Tough



The pundits are increasingly sceptical about Justin Trudeau. Nevertheless, Gerry Caplan writes, the public's love affair with him continues. Even columnists for The Toronto Star -- which generally supports his initiatives -- are beginning to show their cynicism:


Take a column this past weekend by the scrupulously non-partisan Susan Delacourt. Like so many of her peers, Ms. Delacourt did not at all appreciate Stephen Harper’s open contempt for the press gallery. So for most reporters, Mr. Trudeau’s openness and accessibility was a breath of fresh air. Now his shtick has turned to hot air.

Mr. Trudeau’s press conference last week, Delacourt wrote in last Saturday’s Star, “was a remarkably answer-free encounter with the parliamentary press gallery, in which one had the sense the Prime Minister was trying to prove that he could smile and speak for 20 minutes without saying anything.” She offers this warning to the PM: Voters can “take only so many platitudes and winding, wordy detours around hard truths.” Harsh stuff.


And, likewise, for Tony Burman, the bloom is coming off the rose:

Similarly, Tony Burman, former head of CBC News, ridicules Mr. Trudeau’s speech at the UN last week (to a hall two-thirds empty, it was not often enough noted). Mr. Trudeau was peddling his usual “We’re Canadian and we’re here to help” rhetoric. Mr. Burman comments acidly: “If only life were that easy.” And a Globe cartoon shows Mr. Trudeau as all sizzle, no steak.

Smiling images will only get you so far:

These scornful and disappointed observations seem to me to encapsulate much of the reaction these days to Mr. Trudeau’s endless sunny days. Nothing is as easy as Mr. Trudeau always implies, from pipelines to reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. Yet he must produce something, indeed many things, in the next few months, or he’ll be a laughingstock. But of course he risks being a laughingstock if he fails to live up to his own hype. This is a man who increases expectations every time he speaks, who can’t seem to distinguish between aspiration and reality, and he’s doing himself no favours.

 All political honeymoons come to an end. And that's when it gets tough.

Image:  cbc.ca

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It Only Stokes Anger



In what Lawrence Martin calls The Anglosphere, conservatism is in crisis. He writes:

In the United States, the conservative brand has gone from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, to George W. Bush, to Mr. Trump, who was on display in full floral gory or glory (take your pick) in Monday night’s presidential debate. Canada has gone from the moderate Toryism of John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield and Brian Mulroney to the vanquishing of Red Tories and the conservatism of Stephen Harper (with Toronto’s Rob Ford thrown in for bad measure). In Great Britain, the Conservatives are in the thrall of those who want to put up walls.

The brand is increasingly about identity tests and xenophobic strains. It is home to, if not climate-change deniers, then many who are close to it. It is soft on guns. Its appeal is to aging whites, to the prejudices of the less-educated, to religious fundamentalists. It’s a time-warp version of modernism, one many Canadian Conservatives apparently think they can thrive on.

Rather than building a big tent, conservatives have doubled down on their base:

In recent years, Canadian Conservatives have been like some of the others with their obsession with appealing to the party base, to the prejudices of the base, for milking it for everything it’s worth. In this sense, the crisis in conservatism reaches beyond Mr. Trump. The “base” fixation was rarely what it is now in these countries. The parties normally sought to broaden their pitch, not narrow it.

Democracy requires openness to ideas and to people who are not like you. But for modern conservatives, people who are not like them are considered  members of the elite. That's Donald Trump's pitch line. It was also Stephen Harper's line.

That mindset doesn't encourage renewal. It only stokes anger.

Image: pinterest.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

His Word Is Not His Bond



Following last night's debate, NPR fact checked the statements of both candidates. It should come as no surprise that much of what Donald Trump says is patently untrue. Consider just a few examples:

Trump said, "You look at what China is doing for country in terms of making our product, they're devaluing their currency and there's nobody in our government to fight them."

According to Anthony Kuhn, NPR's International Correspondent, "In fact, over the past two years, Beijing has been selling off some of its roughly $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to prop up the value of its currency, the Renminbi or Yuan. This has contributed to a lower U.S. trade deficit with China. Beijing allowed the RMB to appreciate against the dollar for about a decade until 2014, leading the IMF to judge the RMB as fairly valued in May of last year."

Trump said,"Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio, they’re all leaving."

Marilyn Geewax reports, "Unemployment in Michigan is 4.5 percent; Ohio rate is 4.7 percent. Both are better than the national average of 4.9 percent." 

Trump said, "Under my plan I will be reducing taxes tremendously from thirty five percent to fifteen percent for companies, small and big businesses." 

Danielle Kurtseblen writes, "The conservative Tax Foundation estimates that his plan would reduce federal revenue by $4.4 trillion to $5.9 trillion over the next decade, which is a lot, but down from $10 trillion in his original plan.

Some of that could be offset by economic growth, but even using “dynamic scoring,” the foundation says the plan cuts tax revenue by $2.6 trillion to $3.9 trillion over 10 years. (The higher figure is if the 15 percent business tax rate is applied to “pass-through” entities.) The biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s tax cuts are the wealthy. The top 1 percent of earners see their after-tax income rise by between 10.2 percent and 16 percent. Overall savings would be less than 1 percent.

Trump claimed that he never called climate change a "hoax."

According to NPR, "Actually, Trump has called climate change a "hoax" on several occasions. He said on Meet the Press that he was joking about China's role. As PolitiFact noted: "On Dec. 30, 2015, Trump told the crowd at a rally in Hilton Head, S.C., 'Obama's talking about all of this with the global warming and … a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean, it's a moneymaking industry, OK? It's a hoax, a lot of it.' "

The original source for the “hoax” quote was a tweet Trump sent in 2012. He said the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. 

Take a look at the NPR link. Trump is a serial fabricator and a serial bankrupt. His word is not his bond.

Image: cnn.com

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ottawa, A D -- After Duffy



Last week, two of the movers and shakers in the Prime Minister's Office announced that they were giving back part of the money they had received to move from Toronto to Ottawa. They were followed by two other staffers -- for Ministers Dion and Bains -- who refunded another $55,000 to the federal coffers. Michael Harris writes:

After asserting that they had broken no rules, the PM’s prodigal aides followed a step further in [Mike] Duffy’s shoes. They both claimed that there were elements of their relocation expenses that made them feel uncomfortable at the time, just as Duffy had testified in his own defence. 

But then they went further:

Butts and Telford expanded the Duffy Doctrine. In their ‘mea culpa,’ they said they now felt strongly that the rules they followed in filing their moving expenses were so utterly, egregiously, and inherently wrong that they voluntarily returned a portion of their jammy reimbursements. 

The Conservatives, of course, were cackling -- forgetting that it was they who made the rules:

If the rules are, as Conservative MP Candice Bergen claims, a personal ATM for the current government and its minions, it was Stephen Harper who handed out the debit cards. In fact, Harper’s PMO approved nearly $325,000 in relocation expenses during its tenure, including $93,000 in moving expenses for one senior ministerial aide. In court, they call that a precedent. 

But arguing over who made the rules is pointless. Since Senator Duffy's trial, things have changed. Our age is still officially recorded as "A.D." But, in Ottawa, that acronym has taken on new meaning. From henceforth it will mean "After Duffy."

Image: orleansstar.ca

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Putting Money Where Her Mouth Is



Recently, Health Minister Jane Philpott informed the province of Quebec that she intended to enforce the Canada Health Act. Tom Walkom writes:

The Canada Health Act is the federal statute governing medicare. It lists the standards provinces must meet if they are to receive money from Ottawa for health care. And it gives the federal government the right to cut transfers to any province that doesn’t meet these standards.

In particular, it imposes a duty on the federal health minister to financially penalize any province that allows physicians operating within medicare to bill patients for extra, out-of-pocket fees.

However, the federal government has only rarely penalized provinces which allowed extra billing:

Compared to the billions the federal government spent on health transfers over the period, these penalties were pittances. But they did make the point that medicare is indeed a national program.

And in every province except B.C., where the issue has morphed into a constitutional court case, the extra-billing problem was apparently resolved.

There, Dr. Brian Day has launched a court case, claiming that extra billing is a practice that is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the case succeeds, medicare -- as a defining Canadian institution -- will be finished. Someone has to meet the challenge head on. That task has fallen to Philpott.

But it's imperative that Justin Trudeau stand behind her by providing the money to defend medicare. Originally, medicare was a 50/50 proposition. Half of the costs were to be born by the provinces and half by the federal government. In 2013, CUPE released a report on Healthcare spending. The fifty-fifty split was ancient history. According to the report,

the federal government covers only one fifth of provincial health spending, where it used to cover half – and it wants to scale back further. The 2004–2014 Health Accord provided stable funding after deep cuts in the 1990s. It has brought the federal government’s cash share of provincial health spending up to 20 per cent1 from a low of 10 per cent in 19982 and part way to its original 50 per cent share. The current federal government wants to reverse this progress. 

The "current federal government," of course, was the Harper government. When Stephen Harper headed the National Citizens Coalition he advocated dismantling medicare. These days, Dr. Day has taken Harper's place.

Minister Philpott has signalled that the line has been drawn. But, if she is to succeed, the prime minister is going to have to put money where her mouth is.

Image: The Canadian Press

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Facts That Don't Suit Its Agenda



Andrew Coyne used to sing the praises of the Harper Party. That was before he discovered that they were not who they claimed to be. Stephen Harper may be gone, but his party is still a fraud. Take the issue of putting a price on carbon. Coyne writes:

The party of free markets, rather than support a plan that relies on the quintessential market instrument — prices — favours the most costly, intrusive and regulatory-heavy approach imaginable: the very approach that has so signally failed to date. The party of personal responsibility favours sparing people the costs of their economic choices, either socializing them via subsidy or disguising them via regulation.

All of the party's leadership candidates -- save one -- are vehemently opposed to putting a price on carbon:

Yet the position of the Conservative party, and of virtually every one of its leading lights, is flat-out opposition to carbon pricing, in whatever form. Of the federal party leadership candidates, only one, Michael Chong, has come out in favour. The other 87 or so are all opposed. The official line remains the same: it’s a “tax on everything,” and they want no part of it.

But, like it or not, a tax is on its way:

British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008. Alberta will have one in place by 2018. Ontario and Quebec are implementing cap-and-trade regimes. That’s 80 per cent of the country, by population, where carbon pricing is now law. And in six weeks the government of Canada will formally commit the country to the Paris climate accord, together with its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, UN-speak for emissions reductions target. By year’s end, the Trudeau government has signalled it will have a national carbon price in place, with or without the provinces’ cooperation.

The Harper Party has never been who and what it claimed to be. And it has never been able to deal with facts that don't suit its agenda.

Image: lautensblogspot.com

Friday, September 23, 2016

On The Edge Of Insanity


The "American Dream" used to be summed up in two words -- upward mobility. And, after World War II, almost everyone in the United States was upwardly mobile. Ben Fountain writes in The Guardian:

The biggest gains occurred in the post-second world war era of the GI Bill, affordable higher education, strong labor unions, and a progressive tax code. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, median household income in the US doubled. Income inequality reached historic lows. The average CEO salary was approximately 30 times that of the lowest-paid employee, compared with today’s gold-plated multiple of 370. The top tax bracket ranged in the neighborhood of 70% to 90%. Granted, there were far fewer billionaires in those days. Somehow the nation survived.
Democracy’s premise rests on the notion that the collective wisdom of the majority will prove right more often than it’s wrong. That given sufficient opportunity in the pursuit of happiness, your population will develop its talents, its intellect, its better judgment; that over time its capacity for discernment and self-correction will be enlarged. Life will improve. The form of your union will be more perfect, to borrow a phrase. But if a critical mass of your population is kept in peonage? All its vitality spent in the trenches of day-to-day survival, with scant opportunity to develop the full range of its faculties? Then how much poorer the prospects for your democracy will be.
“America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.” So wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column of 6 January 1941, an apt lead-in to her husband’s State of the Union address later that day in which he enumerated the four freedoms essential to American democracy, among them “freedom from want”.

There is a lot of want in The United States these days. But, besides economic want, there is a growing inability among many Americans to think critically. And this inability is fostered by what Fountain calls the "Fantasy-Industrial Complex." Just as the Military-Industrial Complex threatened American democracy, so too does the Fantasy-Industrial Complex. There is now another American Dream:


the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim. The week after 9/11, Susan Sontag was virtually crucified for pointing out that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand how we came to this point”. For this modest proposal, no small number of her fellow Americans wished her dead. But if we’d followed her lead – if we’d done the hard work of digging down to the roots of the whole awful thing – perhaps we wouldn’t still be fighting al-Qaida and its offspring 15 years later.

And, so, the Middle East is worse -- much worse. And the United States is teetering on the edge of insanity.