Friday, July 03, 2015

They Never Offer Bribes

                                                 http://news.nationalpost.com/

This week, Pierre Poilievre made sure that the public saw him handing out cheques. Michael Harris writes:

There he was, in all his obsequious glory, standing beside the massive press run of the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit outbound cash flow. It looked like a reprinting of the Oxford English Dictionary, so thick were the sheaves of cheques. One hundred and sixty bucks a month for kids under six — and a brand new $60 a month for those 6 and over. Mind the fine print; the UCCB is taxable in the case of the lower income spouse. All is never quite what it seems to be in Harperland.

It's not a new strategy. It's been Standard Operating Procedure for a long time:

The hijacking of public money for private political use is not new with this crowd. You will recall that the Harperites actually posed beside giant ceremonial cheques bearing the logo of the Conservative Party back in 2009.

MPs like Colin Mayes, Larry Miller and James Bezan all tried to take political ownership of government funding cheques. The message was clear. Remember who butters your bread, forgetting it seems, that both this bread and this butter are publicly owned.

And, of course, there is that one billion dollars that has been spent on "public service announcements:"

Here is another one. The Harper government has spent nearly a billion public dollars in party advertising thinly disguised as public service announcements. It is a scandal much bigger than Ad Sponsorship, and includes the obscene costs associated with the PM’s nauseating photo-ops. That’s where the already-announced gets announced again and again, and then re-announced by lesser mortals at smaller PR events across the country.

It's all about buying votes. The Mike Duffy trial has made abundantly clear that, in Harperland, you can be charged with accepting a bribe, but nobody will offer you one.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Alone At Last

                                               http://www.quickmeme.com/

Stephen Harper's allies are abandoning him. At last count, 46 of the 166 Conservatives who rode into Ottawa in 2011 have left the Harper stable. Andrew Coyne writes:

It isn’t just the half-dozen ministers who have, just months before the election, announced their retirements, in some cases (John Baird) without so much as a day’s notice, in others (James Moore) without a word of acknowledgment from the prime minister. It isn’t the two dozen other MPs who will not be running again, or the notable absence of star candidates among the new recruits.

It is the palpable sense of other ministers maintaining their distance, in rhetorical terms at least, unwilling to indulge in the harshly partisan attacks he demands of his subordinates. The undying loyalists, the ones whose careers he promoted on just this basis — the Pierre Poilievres, the Chris Alexanders — will stick with him to the end. But that is pretty much all that remains, a dwindling palace guard of zealous staffers and the callower ministers. “The Harper government” used to be a branding exercise. It is now an almost literal description.

Harper has become, in Michael Harris' phrase, a Party of One. The numbers are bad and they keep getting worse:

Averaging the polls together, the ThreeHundredEight.com poll-tracking website shows the Tories sliding steadily all through the last two months, from a pallid 32 per cent at the beginning of May to a dismal 29 per cent at the end of June. Worse, only about five to seven per cent of non-Conservative voters would consider them as their second choice. 60 per cent of voters tell EKOS the government is moving in the wrong direction, versus just 32 per cent for the contrary.

Still, the folks in charge say it's steady as she goes:

The strategy is to stay the course, make no sudden moves, until voters return to their senses. Yet there are distinct signs of jitters in Conservative central command. Recent days have witnessed a pro-Harper political action committee launching and shutting down in the space of a week, followed by the production of an anti-Trudeau attack ad so grotesquely over the top — it features photos of ISIL victims just before their execution — it had even stalwart Tory supporters denouncing it.


Only the true believers are left -- and their numbers are dropping. Mr. Harper may, indeed, find himself alone at last.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Canada Day 2015

                                         http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.ca

Yesterday, Greece defaulted on its creditors. We are in yet another financial crisis. Jim Stanford writes:

No one can predict how the European drama will unfold next. Or how other after-effects of the 2008-2009 crisis (such as the coming rise in U.S. interest rates) will shake still-fragile economies around the world. What is certain, however, is that globalized, financialized, polarized capitalism is incapable of finding the stable and efficient equilibrium fantasized by conventional neoclassical economists. Repeated outbreaks of credit-fuelled, speculative exuberance are inevitably followed by panic, retrenchment, and recession. This will keep happening. We don't know precisely when the next crisis will occur, nor its precise proximate cause. But we do know another crisis will occur, with 100 per cent certainty. And we do know that the 99 per cent of humanity who do not possess enough financial or business wealth to support themselves without actually working for a living, will be asked again to bear the brunt of the subsequent pain and dislocation.

On this Canada Day, we need to remember that those who presently hold the reins of power are manically devoted to the same neo-classical economics that has caused our recurring financial crises. And it doesn't have to be that way:

This pattern of repeating crisis and growing polarization is hard-wired into the DNA of modern capitalism: an economic system organized around the self-serving decisions of a surprisingly small and privileged segment of society. This crisis, no different from the last or the next, was not an unpredictable, unpreventable, one-off occurrence: a "black swan" event. Rather, it was the predictable, preventable result of an economy that puts the interests of financial wealth above the interests of the vast majority in working and supporting themselves. And it will happen again, unless and until we change the fundamental rules of the game.

Stanford writes that,  just as Naomi Klein suggested in The Shock Doctrine, these crises are organized for the benefit of the fabulously wealthy few:

She showed how ruling elites regularly take advantage of moments of fear and confusion, arising at moments of economic, social, or even natural disaster, to enforce painful changes that they were preparing for years -- but that most people would not tolerate under "normal" circumstances.

Today is a day to reflect on what we've become. And what we've become -- particularly in the last decade -- is an ongoing tragedy.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paying To Be Lobotomized

                                             http://www.bewareofthedoug.com/

We are awash in images, Chris Hedges writes. And that makes it easy for corporate propagandists to succeed. It's been that way for quite awhile:

The entrapment in a world of nonstop electronic sounds and images, begun with the phonograph and radio, advanced by cinema and television and perfected by video games, the Internet and hand-held devices, is making it impossible to build relationships and structures that are vital for civic engagement and resistance to corporate power.

We have become, Hannah Arendt wrote, "atomized" -- unconnected and illiterate individuals. And, as long as we are unconnected, corporate power brokers will succeed by simply numbing and dumbing down the nation's citizens:


Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.

The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas. The fascination with the image swallows the time and energy required to attend and maintain communal organizations. If no one reads, why censor books? Let Noam Chomsky publish as much as he wants. Just keep his voice off the airwaves. If no one attends community meetings, group events or organizations, why prohibit them? Let them be held in near-empty rooms and left uncovered by the press until they are shuttered.

The object of a totalitarian state is to keep its citizens locked within the parameters of official propaganda and permanently isolated. Propaganda and isolation make it difficult for an individual to express or carry out dissent. Official opinions, little more than digestible slogans and clichés, are crafted and disseminated by public relations specialists on behalf of the power elite. They are repeated endlessly over the airwaves until the public unconsciously ingests them. And the isolated public in a totalitarian society is unable to connect its personal experience of despair, anxiety, fear, frustration and economic insecurity to the structures that create these conditions. The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality.  

In Canada, all this has been accomplished with public money. We are paying to be lobotomized.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Better Than The News

                                                  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/

HarperPAC had a lifespan of one week. Given Mr. Harper's use of American political consultants and tactics, it's passing strange that an idea which has so much currency south of the border should die so quickly in the Great White North. If you wonder why the political action committee did not make it into the prime minister's arsenal, Michael Harris writes, remember that Mr. Harper seeks control -- of everything:

In less than a week, three of Harper’s old buddies, one of whom shared a past with him at the National Citizens’ Coalition, pulled the plug on HarperPAC. Not only that, but they promised to return all the money they had collected. (I would like to see the list of donors.)

Why did they do that?

In a word, they were poaching the Harper brand and Himself was not pleased. It was like stealing the formula for Coca-Cola. In fact, Harper was reportedly so displeased that the party and the prime minister were plotting a legal battle to force the shutdown before the group voluntarily disbanded.

It's all rather bizarre. When he was head of the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue for third party advertising. But that was then. This is now. And now:

It is all about controlling the message. As his political woes deepen, Harper has a habit of moving away from substantive discourse and doubling down on the emotional and irrational. He is a master channel changer and his success begins where debate ends.

The last thing Harper and his apparatchiks want is a reasoned discussion about the Iraq Mission against ISIS. Literally everything being done in Iraq and Syria has been done before — there and elsewhere — and failed; sending in the trainers, boots on the ground, partnering with Iran, arming the Kurds, and hoping for a political alliance between Shia and Sunni factions forged by the government in Baghdad.
Here is a number to keep in mind. At the peak of the second Iraq War, the U.S. had 505 bases manned by 166,000 troops in country. A total of $25 billion U.S. was spent training and equipping of the Iraqis with virtually nothing to show for it. 

Mr. Harper is doing  everything he can to make sure the facts don't get out -- whether on Iraq or climate change.  He proclaims -- in the words of Kory Teneyche -- that, "We're better than the news. We're truthful."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Death Of The Liberal Party?

                                               http://blogs.theprovince.com/

Jeffrey Simpson asks a question which needs asking. Peter C. Newman tried to answer it after the last election. But, like Mark Twain's first obituary, his answer proved to be premature.  What is happening these days, however, raises the question yet again -- because, at the moment, the traditional Liberal coalition simply isn't there. Simpson writes:

Quebec, the federal Liberals’ bastion from 1896 to 1980, has not voted a majority of seats for that party in 35 years. Quebeckers spent many years and six elections refusing to think about participating in governing Canada, or even being much interested in federal affairs by voting for the Bloc Québécois. When they ditched the Bloc, francophone Quebeckers did not return to the Liberals, but voted en masse for the New Democratic Party, which remains their preferred federalist option.

The Prairie West had departed the Liberals more than half a century ago. Voters that comprise two other elements of the Canadian political mosaic split more recently from what had been the grand Liberal coalition.

French-speaking minorities outside Quebec in New Brunswick, northern and eastern Ontario and Saint Boniface in Manitoba used to be the most faithful of Liberals. Most of the ridings with these minorities have not voted Liberal in many elections.

Similarly, Liberals used to dominate Ontario’s industrial cities (or parts thereof): Windsor, St. Catharines, Hamilton, (the east part of) London, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Cornwall. They don’t hold these seats any more, in part because private-sector union presence has dwindled. Liberals, not New Democrats, used to win a majority of these voters.

In 1990, when Jean Chretien won the  Liberal leadership, he was called "yesterday's man:"

He had been in and around politics for most of his adult life before becoming leader. It was said that he had lost touch with his native province, Quebec; that he was a terrific handler of files that someone smarter than himself had crafted; that he was corny, folksy and likeable but lacked the gravitas to be prime minister.

Not enough people understood that, as one of his female cabinet ministers once said (privately of course), he had “balls of steel.” Cross him and you paid a price. He had been underestimated politically throughout his career, and had not been accorded the respect of intellectuals and senior strategists in the Liberal Party. It was asserted that he did not know enough about the world; that he did not read his briefing notes; that complexity was his enemy; and that in due course all these alleged weaknesses, and others, would do him in.

But all of those years in the cabinet had made him a very smart politician. It remains to be seen if Trudeau knows what Chretien knew.

I'll be away tomorrow. But I should be back on Monday.



Friday, June 26, 2015

Another Willy Loman


                                                 http://chicagocritic.com/

Stephen Harper believes in marketing. His career has been based on his firm conviction that he can sell anything to Canadians. But, Michael Harris writes, the sales pitch isn't working like it used to:

As we begin the bumpy descent towards the October election (assuming it will be called), there is only one question to be answered: can Harper (assuming he runs) market his way to victory in the most important election in the country’s history?

The PR-as-reality machine has slipped its gears. Consider the economy. Aren’t we really better off with Steve, the CPC fondly asks? Not according to this year’s first quarter numbers for the GDP, which took the country half-way to a recession.

As for balanced budgets — if you go one-for-seven in baseball you end up on the bus that takes you from the bigs to the boonies. It took Harper seven years to balance his first budget.

The picture of Dean Del Mastro making his way in handcuffs and leg irons to a waiting police van blows a hole in the tough on crime sales pitch. A sizable number of Harper's caucus isn't buying it anymore:

Nearly three dozen non-offering MPs — that’s a sizeable percentage of the whole crew. When you add in cabinet lunkers like John Baird, Peter MacKay and James Moore, not to mention small fry like Christian Paradis and Shelly Glover, you have to start wondering about the captain. After all, these people are professional wind-sniffers. They smell defeat.

The man who was hell bent to re-make Canada in his own image is beginning to look like another Willy Loman.