Friday, November 30, 2012

Truly Progresssive



Zach Paikin echoes something The Disaffected Lib wrote about yesterday: Canada needs a truly progressive political party. A simple coalition of opposition parties, Paikin writes, will not be enough to defeat Stephen Harper:

Even if the parties pursued joint nominations in Conservative-held ridings, their leaders could undermine those nominations with gaffes. Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty know the kind of damage a few poorly-chosen words can do at the riding level. Imagine the devastating consequences for, say, a jointly-nominated New Democrat if a Liberal leader made a statement opposing his party’s policies during an election.

A coalition of convenience will not be enough to bring Harper down:

Teaming up with other parties to beat Harper is a reactionary, not progressive, strategy.

A progressive party needs to create a vision of its own that is not primarily rooted in opposition to someone else’s vision. That vision has to be original, compelling and easy to communicate. It also has to be national. Morally speaking, the traffic light parties simply don’t have enough in common to justify keeping a Liberal candidate from running in Conservative-held ridings.

The Lib reminds his readers that parties on the left are in opposition because they bought into the corporatist agenda -- and Stephen Harper beat them at their own game:

 I read a lot of nonsense about what the "left" should be doing or how the "progressive" parties should be doing this or that.   And each time I see those references I ask myself, "what 'left'" or "what 'progressives'?"

There was a time when most everything on the other side of the Conservatives could be considered left or at least slightly centre-left.   Then Harper showed up with his prime directive to shift Canada's political centre far to the right and fix it there.   And, with a great deal of help from people with names like Ignatieff and Layton, that's exactly what he's done.

As the Liberal Party tries to reinvent itself, it should remember recent history and have the courage to make a genuine turn to the left.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Republican Denial



"Denial," Mark Twain wrote, "ain't just a river in Egypt." And so, as John Boehner insists that raising taxes on the rich is off the table -- and Obamacare must be on the table -- Republicans continue to live, Frank Rich writes in Fantasyland:

As GOP politicians and pundits pile on Romney in defeat, they often argue that he was done in by not being severely conservative enough; if only he’d let Ryan be Ryan, voters would have been won over by right-wing orthodoxy offering a clear-cut alternative to Obama’s alleged socialism. In truth, Romney was a perfect embodiment of the current GOP. As much as the Republican Party is a radical party, and a nearly all-white party, it has also become the Fantasyland Party. It’s an isolated and gated community impervious to any intrusions of reality from the “real America” it solipsistically claims to represent.

William F. Buckley used to say that he had devoted his life to keeping the crazies out of the GOP. But, now that the party is completely at the behest of America's right wing, the crazies are in charge. Their ascendance was underscored by a recent poll conducted by Right Wing News, which:

surveyed 43 popular conservative bloggers to determine the “worst figures in American history” two years ago. Jimmy Carter, Obama, and FDR led the tally, all well ahead of Benedict Arnold, Timothy McVeigh, and John Wilkes Booth.


Perhaps the most memorable example of denial was Karl Rove's refusal to acknowledge the numbers from Ohio on election night. But he was not an outlier. He represents the Republican mainstream:

Nor, for all the panicked Republican talk about trying to make the party more inclusive and rational, is there any evidence that the GOP base wants to retreat a whit, whether on immigration or gay marriage or reproductive rights or the reinstatement of Jim Crow–era roadblocks to voting in states like Florida and Ohio. Or that any Republican leaders with actual power (as opposed to the out-of-office Jeb Bush) want to, either. The right is taking solace from exit-poll findings that more Americans still label themselves conservative than liberal and still think government does too much. A moderate putsch led by Olympia Snowe in exile, or David Frum, David Brooks, and Michael Gerson from op-ed pages, or Meghan ­McCain on Twitter, is not going to get very far. 

Those who are presently in charge of the GOP would do well to remember the party they replaced -- the Whigs.  Political parties which can't deal with reality eventually die.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Open Warfare



With Bill C-377, the Harper government has declared open war on labour. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star that:

The real target of Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s private member’s bill is union financing.

To be precise, the target is the automatic check-off — also known as the Rand formula. Mandated by law in six provinces (including Ontario), it requires all employees in a bargaining unit that has democratically chosen a union to pay union dues.

It’s a particularly Canadian solution and is named after Ivan Rand, the Supreme Court justice who pioneered the idea in 1946.

The bill signals that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's attack on labour has migrated north of the border. Ostensibly, the bill is about recovering tax revenues:

Finance department figures show that the tax exemption for union and professional dues does indeed cost the federal treasury $795 million in lost revenue annually. How much is attributed to unionists and how much to others unaffected by this bill, such as doctors and lawyers, is not stated.

But the same figures show plenty of other revenue losses attributable to tax breaks. High rollers paid in stock options cost the treasury $725 million. Those claiming capital gains deductions cost $3.7 billion. So-called carrying-cost deductions reduce federal revenues by $1 billion.

The fact that the bill targets union workers and not others who benefit from the same tax exemptions is the key to understanding what the Harperites are trying to achieve. When Justice Rand devised his formula, he wrote: “The power of organized labour, the necessary co-partner of capital, must be available to address the balance of what is called social justice.” 

The bill is all about removing labour as "the necessary co-partner of capital." It is another salvo in the corporatist juggernaut by a government which insists on transparency for native peoples and unions, but which also insists that it has no such obligation.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rob Ford And The Peter Principle



Christie Blatchford is furious. Yesterday a judge removed the man she voted for because, as she wrote last Friday, he was "authentic." In her mind, authenticity trumps an unjust law:

So, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been given the boot from office because an opportunistic citizen hired a smart and politically savvy lawyer who found a club of an arcane statute with which to tie the hands of a judge who was willing to play ball.

That’s the short and dirty version of the bombshell that has dropped.

The truth is that, if Ford had declined to vote on the resolution which declared he did not have to return less than $3200 to his donors, he would not have been involved in a conflict of interest. If he had repaid what amounted to a pittance, the problem would have gone away. Ironically, in her defence of Ford, Blatchford hints at the real problem. Ford told the council:

And if it wasn’t for this foundation, these kids would not have had a chance. And then to ask that I pay it out of my own pocket personally, there is just, there is no sense to this. The money is gone; the money has been spent on football equipment.

Blatchford writes, "I’d argue that it’s just as reasonable to interpret that as the sputtering and clumsy protest of a man who was bewildered how doing something good had turned so bad."

Precisely. Ford is a blundering man who has yet more legal battles to fight because he is ignorant of the machinery of municipal government. He is the latest example of the Peter Principle. He's simply out of his depth. Tonight his football team is playing for the city championship. If he had stuck to coaching football, he would have been quite successful. As a mayor, he's a disaster.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Taking Harper Down



Michael Harris -- who I quote a lot these days -- has uncovered Stephen Harper's recipe for governing Canada:

3 cups of fear; 3 cups of information burial; 3 cups of ad hominem vilification; 1 cup of voter suppression; 1 cup of contempt of Parliament; a generous sprinkling of never-say-die lawsuits; 4 cloves of broken promises; 12 large sycophants to be found at Planning and Priorities (if you can find out where the committee meets); a dash of softness wrapped in a blue sweater (reserve this close to a piano until needed); a dollop of public money to pay for torrents of self-congratulatory messaging; and a big bunch of people with everything but a critical faculty.

It's powerful stuff. And, for those who drink the Kool Aide, it induces a combination of amnesia and ennui. What's the antidote? The Liberals hope it's Justin Trudeau. But it won't be that simple. Harris writes that successful political parties have changed the whole process of electioneering:

Now we have entered the era of identity-theft electioneering. They don’t tap at your door, they tap into your data. Instead of making up platforms on the fly, they tailor the “message” to what turns your crank.

Zooming in on individuals is big. It allows parties to draft messages that are very comforting indeed — personal messages crafted especially for you. Trouble is, you aren’t pulling the politician’s strings anymore — he’s pulling yours. Elections have become costly public relations charades that interrupt the private agenda of the big dogs until they fool you again. Winning elections, even byelections, is about controlling the process with technology, not making a policy pitch and hoping for the best.

The only hope of beating the technology of electioneering lies in developing a superb ground game, where the opposition turns out more carefully targeted votes than the Harper technocracy.  Trudeau could take Stephen Harper down:

If a wave begins to build for Trudeau, if the youth vote is galvanized, if the country decides that politics matters again and goes to the polls in large numbers, if voters reject the politics of personal destruction as they did in the recent U.S. presidential race, Stephen Harper will not survive on the love of the people.

But before that happens, opposition voters will have to unite behind Justin -- or whoever becomes the progressive standard bearer.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stonewalling



Tasha Kheiridden used to be at the forefront of the Conservative Revolution in this country. She avidly supported Stephen Harper. She now has her doubts.  Last week Kheiridden wrote that Bill C-27: An Act To Enhance the Financial Accountability and Transparency of First Nations was brought forward by a government which does not practice what it preaches:

Clearly, there exists a problem of financial accountability and transparency on First Nations reserves. Unfortunately, back in Ottawa, the federal government is also proving to be far more opaque than accountable.

She then went on to repeat what has surely become a tiresome tale -- the stonewalling of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page:

As reported by the National Post, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty “said the government only wants Page to follow his mandate, which he described as reporting to MPs on the budget process and spending measures” — a position which would effectively make a toothless tiger of Page, whose very office was created by the Tories to increase government accountability.

The truth is that it is government policy to stonewall -- not just Kevin Page, but anyone seeking information. Yesterday, Jeffrey Simpson listed the government's response to requests for information on one day:

Tuesday, a day in Harperland …
  • “Mr. Kenney declined repeated requests for comment.” (The Globe and Mail)
  • “The government did not respond Monday to questions about its position.” (The Globe and Mail)
  • “La Presse posed the question to Mr. Flato [a public servant], but he was bound by strict rules about interviews with journalists so that he had to direct the question to the media relations service of Environment Canada. This service refused to respond to the question.” (La Presse)
  • “Conservative campaign manager Guy Giorno and the party’s director of political operations, Jenni Byrne, did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment Monday.” (Ottawa Citizen)
  • “The Defence Department could not comment.” (Ottawa Citizen)
One day, three papers, five no comments, just another day at the ranch for the media operations of the Harper government and Conservative Party.

Sadly, Simpson writes:

The public, it is clear, doesn’t give a hoot about this governmental attitude. And the government, quite obviously, is pleased with the systems it has put in place to handle information, and is not about to change them. The government has the media all figured out, and there’s nothing the media can apparently do about it but episodically grouse.

George Orwell understood the paradigm. The Inner Party -- the Prime Minister and the PMO -- make policy. The Outer Party -- the Conservative caucus and the 33% of voters who will reliably vote Conservative -- even if we are, in Prince Charles' words, "committing suicide on a grand scale"-- follow in lock step. The rest of us are proles.

Very rarely does a member of The Party -- like Ms. Kheiridden -- express her doubts.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Phony Populist



Yesterday, Don Gilmour published a  must read piece in the Toronto Star. His target was the phony populist politician. Using Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Calgary mayor -- and Alberta premier -- Ralph Klein and former Washington Mayor Marion Barry as salient examples, Gilmour argued that, with populist politicians, image and substance are diametrically opposed:

One of the ironies of a populist politician is that he is often a triumph of image over truth, the very thing he was elected to counter.

Before Ralph Klein was elected mayor of Calgary in 1980, he was a portly, rumpled television reporter who decried the “sleazy developers” who were ruining his city. He entered the race with little financial backing, and his campaign manager was a 25-year-old Keg waiter. Klein won handily in what was considered less a vote for him than a vote against the political establishment.

Before his first term was finished, the city planning department was effectively dismantled, and in the words of an urban planning professor, “anyone could build anything anywhere.” Klein became precisely what the voters had voted out; he became the establishment. Yet he was re-elected with 86 per cent of the vote.

 And, like Klein,  Rob Ford is not the man he claims to be:

Ford is an insider, and while he may look and sound like the average voter, he shares few of their actual concerns, and none of their economic worries (his family company, DECO Labels and Tags, has estimated annual sales of $100 million).

His honesty is open to debate. When confronted with his drunken actions at a Maple Leaf game in 2006, Ford’s initial response was to emphatically lie (“This is unbelievable, I wasn’t even at the game”), as it was when confronted with his Florida pot bust (“When I say no, I mean never . . . Now I’m getting offended. No means no.”).

Ford pledged to make government more accountable and transparent, though when faced with a complaint from the integrity commissioner about using campaign funds to support a football charity, he responded by trying to eliminate her job.

And, of course, there was Marion Barry. He was known for his fractured English: “The contagious people of Washington have stood firm against diversity during this long period of increment weather.”  But, less comically, he had a habit of flagrantly breaking the law:

When Barry was videotaped smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with a prostitute, his response was, “Bitch set me up.” At the time he had been mayor for 11 years. When he was released from prison after serving six months, he was re-elected to city council, and in 1994, became mayor once again. You knew where you stood with Marion.

Klein and Barry were elected more than once. One hopes that the good citizens of Toronto are smarter than the burghers of Calgary and Washington.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Corporate Canada's Best Friend




In yet another sign that, for Stephen Harper, profits come before people, the Globe and Mail reports that Ottawa is signaling a radical shift in foreign aid:

The federal government is signalling a profound shift in its approach to foreign aid that could see Canada’s international development agency align itself more closely with the private sector and work more explicitly to promote Canada’s interests abroad.

A recent House of Commons committee report suggests that CIDA partner with private corporations:

Stephen Brown, who teaches international development at the University of Ottawa, said CIDA has not dramatically shifted its spending toward private-sector partnerships. “But in terms of signals and signs of things to come, [the shift] is quite profound,” he said.

Last year, the aid agency matched three mining companies with NGOs to work on jobs training, education and clean water projects in specific African and Latin American mining communities. CIDA says the strategy will help leverage corporate investments to bolster development goals, while critics suggest it leads the agency away from its core strategy.

Dr. Brown said some partnerships with the private sector can be useful, but questioned Canada’s eagerness to work with the extractive industry when mining rarely offers much benefit to the communities in which it occurs. “If our real goal is poverty reduction, that’s not the strategy we would choose,” he said.

The foreign aid initiative isn't surprising. After all, poverty reduction at home isn't one of Harper's goals. Why would he try to reduce poverty abroad?

He is, however, being true to form. He is corporate Canada's best friend.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pearson's Despair



Like Chris Hedges, Michael Harris speaks truth to power. Today he takes on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians -- and the Harper government's Middle East policy:

Question for Stephen Harper, John Baird, Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay: if you were in Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, instead of sitting in front of a fire in Ottawa with an NFL game on TV, if you were in the morgue in Gaza looking at the men, women and children now dead even though they were not members of Hamas, would you still say it was okay? Would you still write that blank cheque to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu?

Is making war on men, women, children and journalists to get at your declared enemies acceptable? Is that what Canada now stands for?

But he's equally hard on the Liberals and the NDP:

The Liberals and the NDP have been equally gutless in the struggle for justice on the Middle East file (the outstanding exception is MP Libby Davies), equally egregious in their sickening hunt for political advantage — or more accurately, the avoidance of political damage.

That process apparently extends to silently endorsing the lawless notion of group punishment and a breathlessly excessive use of force, and a big middle finger to the Geneva Conventions. A nuclear power against people in tents? A terror group with Iranian rockets running a rag-tag government that wants the other side annihilated? These are the groups that are left to decide the issue?

We have come a long way from the days of Lester Pearson. And the journey -- like our tax system  -- has been all about regression:


If one were looking for a quote that shows the extent to which we have lost our moral clarity in this world — on this festering issue in particular — this one would do as well as any: “Human sovereignty transcends national sovereignty.”

Think about the resonance of those words. Where did they come from? Who spoke them? They just happen to have come out of the mouth of the only Canadian ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, then-minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson was quoting prime minister Mackenzie King. Both men believed that the world would be a better place if individual nation-states gave up some measure of their sovereignty to an international authority in the interest of peace and security.

Surely, Mike Pearson would despair over what has become of his Canada.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Something Stupid



Tom Walkom writes, in this morning's Toronto Star, that Stephen Harper is a victim of his own success. That was the reason he and Jim Flaherty were sending mixed messages last week. Flaherty said that the government's goal of balancing the budget by the next election would have to be postponed:

In laying out all of this, Flaherty was onside with most standard economic analysis. The International Monetary Fund has warned that the teetering world economy cannot withstand too much fiscal austerity. It says that countries with some leeway — like Canada — should move cautiously to balance their books.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has said that if the U.S. forges ahead with its so-called fiscal-cliff plans to slash government spending, the Canadian economy will go into a tailspin.

What Carney didn’t say, because he didn’t need to, is that now — with the U.S. in turmoil — is no time for Ottawa to make deficit reduction its overriding priority.

Then the Conservative base erupted. Michael Den Tandt wrote in the Postmedia papers that "conservatism is in retreat;" and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation angrily retorted that the Harper government might renege on the tax breaks it promised in the last election.

Enter Stephen Harper, who stoutly proclaimed that his balanced budget promise would be kept. Flaherty meekly fell in line. "Fiscal predictions, he told reporters, didn't mean that much."

Walkom writes that, having promised to balance the nation's books by 2015, Harper finds himself in a hole:

Will all of this be enough to satisfy Harper’s hard-liners? I’m not sure it will. To keep together the coalition that gave his Conservatives a majority government, the prime minister may have to do something really stupid.

It wouldn't be the first time he's done something stupid. One of the reasons he's in a hole is that 2% cut in the GST.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Corporate Rule



Frances Russell lays bare what is really going on behind the Harper government's trade agenda:

Their real purpose is to repeal democracy, to elevate investor/corporate rights over the democratic will of the people. Corporations — not governments — become the decision-makers, the de facto rulers.

This corporate coup d’etat is being accomplished through Orwellian investor rights clauses empowering corporations to sue governments, often for astronomical sums, should governments enact any laws for the public good that constrain corporate interests.

The odious concept that corporate rights should trump democratic rights was pioneered in the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated and signed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government.

To underscore her point, she reviews the record under NAFTA:

To date, Canada has faced over 30 investor-state claims under NAFTA, lost or settled five cases, been forced to pay over $157 million in damages and incurred tens of millions more in legal costs. Mexico has paid out $187 million. But the U.S. — which wrote the rules and has property rights entrenched in its constitution, unlike its two trade partners — has never lost a case and thus has paid nothing.

The real problem, she writes, is that these disputes are handled behind closed doors and rarely go before a judge:

The arbitrators are often corporate lawyers. They lack judicial independence, training and experience. They tend to favour corporations over governments. There is an open bias in the process. Investors can sue governments but governments cannot sue investors.

And that is the heart of the problem: governments cannot act to defend the rights of citizens. Welcome to corporate rule.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twinkie Nostagia




The demise of the Twinkie, Paul Krugman writes, has unleashed a wave of nostalgia for the 1950's -- a world  many conservatives think of as a Golden Age. But, Krugman writes, the economic policies of the '50's were  a lot different than the conservative prescriptions for our time:

Yet in the 1950s incomes in the top bracket faced a marginal tax rate of 91, that’s right, 91 percent, while taxes on corporate profits were twice as large, relative to national income, as in recent years. The best estimates suggest that circa 1960 the top 0.01 percent of Americans paid an effective federal tax rate of more than 70 percent, twice what they pay today.

Nor were high taxes the only burden wealthy businessmen had to bear. They also faced a labor force with a degree of bargaining power hard to imagine today. In 1955 roughly a third of American workers were union members. In the biggest companies, management and labor bargained as equals, so much so that it was common to talk about corporations serving an array of “stakeholders” as opposed to merely serving stockholders. 

From 1947 to 1973 median family incomes doubled. Since that time they have remained flat. 

The problem with modern conservatism is that its memory -- like its clientele -- is highly selective. The 1950's was a difficult time. It was the time of the McCarthy witch-hunts and the time when school children were advised to "duck and cover" in case of nuclear attack.

Modern conservatives live in an imaginary world  -- a world which was not as they imagine it -- and a world which is not as it is.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Liberalism In Crisis



As the Liberal leadership races heat up -- in both Ottawa and Ontario -- those who consider themselves liberals should read what Chris Hedges wrote following the American election:

The ineffectiveness of the liberal class, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia and as was true in Weimar Germany, perpetuates a dangerous political paralysis. The longer the paralysis continues, the longer systems of power are unable to address the suffering and grievances of the masses, the more the formal mechanisms of power are reviled. The liberal establishment’s inability to defy corporate power, to stand up for its supposed liberal beliefs, means its inevitable disappearance, along with the disappearance of traditional liberal values. This, as history has amply pointed out, is the road to despotism. And we are further down that road than many care to admit. 

If  federal and provincial Liberals chose leaders who practice junk politics, then liberalism is doomed. Hedges reminds his readers of what happened in Weimar Germany:

The historian Fritz Stern in “The Politics of Cultural Despair,” his book on the rise of fascism in Germany, warns repeatedly of the danger of a bankrupt liberalism. Stern, who sees the same dark, irrational forces at work today that he watched as a boy in Nazi Germany, argues that the spiritually and politically alienated are the prime recruits for a politics centered around cultural hatreds and personal resentments.

“They attacked liberalism,” Stern writes of the fascists emerging at the time in Germany, “because it seemed to them the principal premise of modern society; everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it; the bourgeois life, Manchesterism, materialism, parliament and the parties, the lack of political leadership. Even more, they sense in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.” 

What liberalism faces today is crisis of faith. Conservatism has been sowing doubt and cynicism for thirty years. Besides policies which will improve the lives of all Canadians, whoever is elected to lead both the federal and the provincial parties must again give Canadians a reason to believe that Liberalism stands for more than incoherent mush.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Striking Universe



That's the title of a recent paper by Jordan Brennan of George Brown College. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star that:

Brennan’s paper is a critique not only of the economy but of the way most of us look at the economy. He takes on the widespread, if unstated, assumption that people get what they deserve — that CEO’s or derivative traders earn their seven-figure paycheques because they are in some way uniquely productive, while the rest of us don’t because, well, we’re not.

He advances a view that is not new but that is rarely heard today — that income is not distributed through the competitive magic of the impersonal market, but through naked power struggles in institutions that are near-monopolistic. Think National Hockey League.

The central tenet of Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign was that the rich deserve what they've earned. Brennan claims that they didn't earn it at all. Governments have simply made it easy to pick up all the chips on the table:

Free trade with the U.S. and Mexico sandbagged much of Canada’s manufacturing base. Trade with China sandbagged the rest. Investment protection deals such as NAFTA and the new Canada-China pact have weakened government’s ability to regulate. All of this has decimated unions, allowing bosses to pay their workers less and themselves more.

Non-union shops, as always, have quickly followed suit.

Our present state of affairs is not accidental. It has  been carefully planned and executed by the courtiers who have built their careers by serving their wealthy patrons.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Harpering



All politicians can be bullies. But Stephen Harper has perfected the art. In fact, Michael Harris writes, he's been so good at it that his band of bullying deserves its own name -- Harpering. Harris then goes on to list several of Harper's victims. But he also reminds his readers of one of the victims who fought back and is still fighting back -- Bill Casey:

Casey refused to vote for the Tory budget of the day because of Harper’s mendacious act of political legerdemain — giving less than he had promised. Having made a deal, he changed it in the budget and Casey wasn’t having it.

Because Casey wouldn’t kiss the government’s ponderous bottom, wouldn’t submit to the blandishments and enticements of his less principle-driven colleagues, because he couldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of being ostracized, he was viciously kicked out of caucus, excommunicated from the party, and opposed in his own riding where he ran as an independent. Even with all that, he speed-boated Harper’s parachute candidate. Then the PMO cut off the money tap to the riding and Casey withdrew from elected politics so as not to hurt his constituents further at the hands of a supremely vindictive government.

And Casey is now back in Ottawa asking embarrassing questions:

How does the government that recently passed Bill C 20 — risibly referred to as the “Fair Representation Act”, explain the fact that half of the provinces have zero representatives on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology. I suppose the logic is that Ontario’s eight members on the committee will look after the interests of provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island who have no members.

Lots of people have folded before the Harper juggernaut. But not Bill Casey. We need a lot more Caseys.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Incorrigible Romney



Last week, Garry Wills -- who has made a career of evaluating America's presidents and would be presidents  -- asked in the New York Review of Books:

What lessons will Romney have to teach his party? The art of crawling uselessly? How to contemn 47 percent of Americans less privileged and beautiful than his family? How to repudiate the past while damaging the future? It is said that he will write a book. Really? Does he want to relive a five-year-long experience of degradation? What can be worse than to sell your soul and find it not valuable enough to get anything for it? His friends can only hope he is too morally obtuse to realize that crushing truth. Losing elections is one thing. But the greater loss, the real loss, is the loss of honor.

Romney lost because a majority of Americans -- admittedly a narrow majority -- realized that he would say anything to win. He was, in the words of Canadian commentator Andrew Cohen, "a confused standard bearer of no philosophical address."

But yesterday, in a call to big donors, Romney essentially repeated what he had said to other backers in that embarrassing 47% clip:

According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, the former Republican nominee said during a call with donors on Wednesday that Obama had been “very generous” in doling out “big gifts” to “the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people” as well as to women throughout his first term. Benefits such as access to “free health care,” guaranteed contraceptive coverage, more affordable student loans, and “amnesty for children of illegals,” all combined to give the president a decisive edge in popularity.

The truth is that Romney has always had a philosophical address. It's just that, when he was running for president, he didn't want voters to know where he lived. He has now confirmed that he resides in a gated community.


This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Great Contradiction



Tom Walkom takes some consolation from the fact that yesterday Jim Flaherty  said the government was willing to spend some money to give the economy a boost. But, Walkom writes in this morning's Toronto Star, if Flaherty thinks a few make work projects will do the trick, he's sadly mistaken. He and his government are wedded to the prevailing economic myth of our time -- that government should get out of the economy:

Throughout much of the developed world, the elements of the welfare state that used to keep capitalism on track through the bad spells — what analysts call the economic stabilizers — have been eaten away.

In Canada, it was a Liberal federal government under Jean Chr├ętien and Paul Martin that gutted unemployment insurance and welfare. Martin was lauded at the time. But that’s because, with the economy on the rebound, the effects of his cuts were muted.

Now that the economy is in the dumps, the downside of the Martin measures has become evident. Most jobless Canadians don’t even qualify for what is now euphemistically called employment insurance.
Harper’s Conservatives are continuing in the same vein, with their scaling back of old age security, their antipathy to regulation, their attacks on trade unions, their refusal to expand the Canada Pension Plan and their determination — still undiminished — to get government out of the economy in the long run.

This brutal recession has been made more brutal because government has withdrawn from the playing field. On this day when anti-austerity strikes are breaking out across Europe, what Flaherty and his collegues fail to understand is that

capitalism on its own doesn’t work. Corporate CEOs may not want the state involved in the economy. They may hate unions. But they need both if they are to profit. That is one of the great contradictions of our era.

The Government of Canada, like so many others, refuses to see where that contradiction leads.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Matter Of Trust



"Trust -- or the lack of it --" Tasha Kheiridden writes, "can make or break a political career." She then goes on to list three politicians who lost the public's trust and retired quickly -- the mayors of Montreal and Laval and Dalton McGuinty.

Which  brings us to Stephen Harper. The 2012 Americas Barometer poll is not good news for the prime minster:

The survey of 40,971 people in 26 countries measures people’s trust in their politicians and institutions. It reveals that only 16 per cent of the 1,500 Canadians polled place “a lot of trust” in Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Keith Neuman of Environics, which did the Canadian portion of the survey, was quoted by the Globe and Mail on November 12 as saying, “In an international context, Harper has a lower level of trust than almost every other national leader in the hemisphere.” Worse yet, he added that, “Canada hasn’t made any progress [on a number of key rankings] in recent years, and it has lost a bit of ground on others in the last few years. The gap with other countries is smaller than it was before.”

One wonders if the news bothers Harper. He appears to only care about one poll -- the next election. And the chances are that he will make it to the next election. But the poll brings into question how well Harper's program and record will sell.

For there is also the problem of what has happened to the political culture since Harper's arrival. Kheriidden writes:

Attack ads have become the norm, and the Conservatives have become very good at them. The Tories have also become embroiled in two scandals involving questionable and/or illegal campaign practices: the In and Out Scandal, which saw the party pay over $230,000 in fines for violating spending laws, and the Robocall voter suppression scandal, which continues to be investigated by the RCMP and Elections Canada.

Most politicians eventually do themselves in. Perhaps the Americas Barometer poll is a signal that Harper is on on the way out.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pay Now Or Pay Later



The devastation which Hurricane Sandy visited on the American east coast has generated a lot of attention. So did Hurricane Katrina. But neither storm appears to have spurred legislators into action. And, in Canada, inaction is the name of the game. Matt Horne writes that, when the opposition proposed a nine cents a litre tax on gasoline, John Baird rose in the house and claimed that the tax would kill Canadian families:

That nine cents per litre — less than a dollar a day for the average Canadian family — could be the signal that helps flip the tables in favour of clean energy and gives government the resources it needs to invest in that transition. Applied to all fossil fuel combustion, the equivalent of nine cents a litre would raise $20 billion a year in government revenues.

When the government cheerfully announced it was withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol last year, it did so under the pretence of helping Canada’s economy. This conclusion ignored the simple fact that no economy does well when it is ravaged by storms, droughts and other extreme weather events. Canada’s true economic interest lies in finding global solutions to global warming — not in turning our back on the rest of the world.

Instead of trumpeting unfettered expansion of oilsands pipelines and mines, we need an economic vision based on a clean energy future for this country. Instead of allowing dirty coal-fired power plants to pollute the atmosphere until the middle of the century, we need to rapidly shift to the cleaner alternatives available today. Instead of squabbling over transit investments, we have to find ways to mobilize the necessary capital that will give people more reasonable, affordable options to leave their cars at home.

Baird's reaction was not surprising. The oil industry owns the Conservative Party of Canada. And, if the governing party gets its way, Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and their vengeful sisters will continue to kill all kinds of people.

One way or another, we're going to have to pay. The sooner we begin paying, the less the bill will be.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Steve and Mitt



Haroon Siddiqui, in this morning's Toronto Star, points to the similarities between Stephen Harper and Mitt Romney -- who was rejected by 51% of American voters last week. Harper was rejected by 60% of Canadian voters, but he won the election:

That’s our parliamentary democracy. Still, it’s useful to remind ourselves of his policies that are not in sync with majority Canadian opinion but mesh with those of Romney and the Republicans.

He and they advocate smaller government and lower taxes, deficits and debts. But they believe in pork barrelling, milking government dry for their favoured projects. They also spend big on the military. That leads to bigger deficits and debts, as under George W. Bush and Harper (forcing the prime minister to now start cutting back on defence).

The Harper Conservatives and Romney Republicans don’t like gun controls or environmental regulations. They are oblivious to growing inequality. They treat adversaries as enemies — if you’re not with Harper, you are to be demonized, ideally destroyed.

Harper's ascendancy with 40% support is depressing, but not new. Those are the rules of the game. However, if there is a lesson to be learned from Obama's victory, it is that elections are still won on the ground. That comes down to knowing where the votes are and getting them to the polls.

That takes work. And the work starts today.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Armchair Warriors



For Stephen Harper's Conservatives, war is a big deal -- as long as it generates good ad copy. This government is spending $28 million to commemorate a war that happened two hundred years ago. But, as veterans gather at the War Memorial on Parliament Hill tomorrow, they will be engaged in yet another battle with the Harperites to remember the soldiers who have returned from Canada's wars -- most recently the War in Afghanistan. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star:

This week’s appearance on Parliament Hill of disabled veterans and military widows critical of the government was just the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute.

Disabled veterans had to take Ottawa to court once to stop it clawing back portions of their pensions.
Now a separate group of vets is suing the government over another pension issue — Ottawa’s decision to replace lifetime disability pensions with a cheaper, one-time, lump-sum payment.

In the first court case, Stephen Harper’s government spent $750,000 in legal fees fighting its own vets and conceded defeat only after the judge ruled Ottawa’s clawbacks blatantly unfair.
In the second case, Ottawa remains obdurate.

Hypocrisy has been the byword for this government ever since it came to power. But it is particularly galling that these armchair warriors should treat Canada's living veterans with such disrespect. However, it's worth remembering that Mr. Harper defined contempt as being outvoted in the House of Commons.

Friday, November 09, 2012

It's About Time Somebody Said It




Readers of this space will know I believe that our present political masters have abandoned the next generation. They say they don't want to saddle the young with impossible debts.  But the truth is that they bear a deep seated animus against government.

It's government that is their enemy -- not the debt. And when you look at their records -- from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush to Stephen Harper -- you discover that each of them has run up more debt than their predecessors. More tellingly, they never have a word of encouragement for the young. The only encouragement Mitt Romney offered was to borrow the money to go to school from their parents.

Here is a clip of Barack Obama addressing the young volunteers who helped him win on Tuesday. He says what should have been said a long time ago -- and needs to be said now.

And, for those who think that Obama is cold and distant -- well, watch the clip.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Going To The Same Place



Lawrence Martin writes this morning that, on Tuesday, the Neanderthals in the Republican Party were given their walking papers. And he suggests that Republicans should look to Canadian Conservatives as a model of racial tolerance:

The GOP would do well to look to Canada’s Conservative party as an example of a political organization that has been able to triumph over progressives while remaining entrenched on the right. With the merger of Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties in 2004, the progressives saw their place significantly diminished. But since that time Stephen Harper has been able to sell the country a more ideological brand of politics because he has been smart enough to keep his dinosaurs in the forest. There have been some exceptions to this, Rob Anders and Vic Toews being among them, but not enough to stir great angst among voters.

What Martin doesn't write is that Stephen Harper's economic policies lead to the same place that Mitt Romney's do. Both men firmly believe in  plutocracy. Obama's victory was not just a victory for racial and ethnic tolerance. It was a victory for government's place in the economy. He won in places like Ohio because he rescued the auto industry. And, while it's true that Stephen Harper chipped into that rescue, it's also true that his contribution was a "Me Too!" moment. Since his victory eighteen months ago, Harper has done nothing to support Canada's industrial economy.

So let's not be too smug. The Conservative Party of Canada has more than its share of Neanderthals.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On The Ground



Barack Obama has learned a lot in the last four years. During the first two years of his presidency, many of his supporters grumbled that he didn't understand who he was dealing with. When Republicans said that their first priority was to make him a one term president, they were serious.

But the 2010 elections got his attention. And the debt ceiling debacle convinced him that the old admonition, "Early to bed and early to rise. Work like hell and organize" was the only way to deal with his opposition.

And that's why Obama and the Democrats won the White House yesterday.

True, the war on the air waves was relentless. As a Canadian living  just north of New York State, I 'm happy to see it end. But, in the end, it was the ground game that made the difference. Driving voters to voting stations and offering them bottled water as they stood in line, the Democrats got out the votes and they got them out where it counted.

The question now is, what has this election taught the Republicans? There are at least two clues that, if they're smart, they won't miss. The first is that Obama won 70% of the Latino vote. The second is that Romney's electoral fortunes improved markedly when the person  Bill Clinton called "ol' moderate Mitt" showed up.

And the most important lesson of all is that elections are still won on the ground.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Rot Won't Go Away



The Conservatives have tried very hard to bury the information around their 2011 election campaign. But the rot keeps bubbling to the surface. Last week, Elections Canada revealed that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue exceeded election spending limits by accepting free airplane transportation around his riding. And, in the same week,  Michael Sona -- who the Conservatives fingered as Mr. Robocall -- told Evan Soloman:

"All the anonymous sources in the world can point the finger at me, but I'm not going to take responsibility for something that I'm not responsible for," Sona said.

"I think that there's some people that maybe had an interest in seeing me take the fall for it."

Then he simply pointed to the size of the operation he was supposed to have spearheaded:

You've got to take a look at the options and just say, you know what, what is the more realistic option here? That some then-22-year-old guy managed to co-ordinate this entire massive scheme when he didn't even have access to the data to be able to do this, or the alternative — that this was much more co-ordinated or possibly that there were people that knew how to do this, that it was being done?"

"I don't know for sure who it could have been, but I will say this. It's interesting that you had a bunch of people come out and point the finger at me, officially to Elections Canada, only after my name was leaked to the media by anonymous sources."

Stephen Harper's people play dirty and they play for keeps. In this morning's Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin reminds his readers of how they ran the 2011 campaign:

The 2011 election was the one triggered when Mr. Harper’s government was found in contempt of Parliament. There were the vote suppression allegations, Mr. Sona’s statement and Mr. Penashue’s case. There were people thrown out of Conservative rallies because they were suspected of having ties to other parties, there were the personal attack ads, there was the bogus attempt to paint Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as an Iraq war planner.

But try as they may, the Harperites can't make the rot go away

Monday, November 05, 2012

It's No Longer a Gap, It's a Chasm



Carol Goar, in today's Toronto Star, writes that two recent reports highlight the new solitudes in Canadian society. One report comes from the Toronto Dominion Bank, the other from Food Banks Canada. TD proclaims:

“Canadian corporate balance sheets are solid as a rock,” the bank assured its clients in a special report. “Unlike households and governments, companies are less vulnerable today than they were heading into the 2007-2008 financial crisis.”

Food Banks Canada reports that:

Food bank use has increased 31 per cent since the economy plunged into recession four years ago and it continues to climb. In the past 12 months alone, an additional 20,000 Canadians turned to charity to eat.

The contrast couldn't be starker. Goar writes:

The two snapshots — one from a Bay Street office tower, one from a Mimico warehouse — depict starkly different Canadas. Not only are they separated by a yawning income chasm. Their priorities and values are so far apart that there is no common ground, no basis for conversation.

These reports have been made public as the House of Commons gets set to approve the Canada-China trade treaty which, the government admits, first and foremost protects investors from both countries. And this week Stephen Harper is in India trying to drum up the same kind of agreement. It's pretty clear whose interests Mr. Harper is promoting:

Until about a decade ago, politicians acted as a bridge between the two Canadas. They accepted their responsibility to speak for all of their constituents regardless of socio-economic class or political allegiance. Today, MPs and MPPs have abandoned that role — with a few honourable exceptions — leaving it to think-tanks, social agencies, unions, voluntary organizations, a few progressive economists and a handful of concerned public figures.

Mr. Harper claims that he is creating jobs. But the Food Banks report offers some insight into the kinds of jobs he is creating -- "18% of employed Canadians -- almost one in five -- earn less than $17,000 a year."

 No country can sustain this kind of inequality.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Romneyism



Mitt Romney has been the ultimate political chameleon. He has reversed every significant political position he held when he was Governor of Massachusetts. But, Robert Reich writes, there is a coherent philosophy behind his reversals. Reich calls that philosophy Romneyism:

Despite its contradictions and ellipses, Romneyism has an internal coherence. It is different from conservatism, because it does not intend to conserve or protect any particular institutions or values. It is also distinct from  Republicanism, in that it is not rooted in traditional small-town American values, nationalism, or states’ rights.

Reich goes on to enumerate the ten pillars of Romneyism. All of them are important. But the first three are the core upon which the other seven hang:

1. Corporations are the basic units of society. Corporations are people, and the overriding purpose of an economy is to maximize corporate profits. When profits are maximized, the economy grows fastest. This growth benefits everyone in the form greater output, better products and services, and higher share prices.

2. Workers are a means to the goal of maximizing corporate profits. If workers do not contribute to that goal, they should be fired. If they cannot then find other work that helps maximize profits in another company, their wages must be too high, and they must therefore accept steadily lower wages until they find a job.

3. All factors of production – capital, physical plant and equipment, workers – are fungible and should be treated the same. Any that fail to deliver high competitive returns should be replaced or discarded. This keeps an economy efficient. Fairness is and should be irrelevant.

What's interesting about these first three pillars is that they are a throwback to the capitalism of the nineteenth century. This is the capitalism of William Blake's "dark satanic mills."  This is a throwback to Mr. Peabody's coal mines and Mr Carnegie's steel mills. Romneyism is a hymn to John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil and a complete rejection of Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal.

Romney -- with his two Harvard degrees -- wants to lead the nation backwards. This, he says, is his better idea.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Susan Riley



Yesterday, Susan Riley published her last column for the Ottawa Citizen; and, in bidding her readers farewell, she revealed a secret:

I am not a Liberal, closeted or otherwise, and never have been. Nor am I a socialist, a Harper-hater, a feminazi, or a “moronic bimbo” as one discerning reader suggested recently. Well, not a bimbo for sure.

I would probably qualify as a “radical” environmentalist in official circles, given my early and enduring concern about climate change. But, for the most part, efforts to categorize my views over the years have been, while often amusing, somewhat off the mark.

Truth be told, Riley has been -- and is -- a voice of reason in a town that has forgotten its purpose. She sees all sides of an issue; and she has been willing to give credit where credit is due:

I have also written positively about politicians from all parties. Favourites among the current crop include the urbane and sane interim Liberal leader, Bob Rae; idealistic, but adroit, New Democrats such as Nathan Cullen and Megan Leslie; fiercely intelligent and independent-minded Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and the new premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, a conservative with a social conscience.

But Riley gave the Harper government no credit for anything remotely redeeming. In fact, she reserved her most caustic comments for the people who are now in charge:

Bombastic Dean Del Masto, unctuous Pierre Poilievre, glowering Peter Van Loan and preachy Kellie Leitch, along with John Baird and most of the front bench, are among the worst. In return for media profile, they will read anything put in front of them, eyes dead, ears closed, rigid as robots.

She long ago figured out who these people are. And I, for one, will miss her astute observations.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Are Canadians Conservatives?



Stephen Harper likes to say that Conservative values are Canadian values. Lawrence Martin, however, calls that assertion into question. Recent polls which indicate that we would overwhelmingly vote for Barack Obama -- and that we'd seriously consider Justin Trudeau for the highest office in the land -- suggest that Canadians haven't moved as far to the right as Mr. Harper thinks they have:

Obama’s progressive values strike a chord north of the border, whether they be on social issues, war and peace, health care or the economy. He speaks to a rational — as opposed to an ideological — way forward. He speaks a moderate language that sounds quite Canadian — as in the Canada that was, before the arrival of the new Harper Conservatives.

And, although the younger Trudeau has not as yet nade a lot of policy announcements, he's not robotically following in his father's footsteps:

On the second day of his campaign he went to Alberta and trashed his old man’s National Energy Program. He has been pointed on environment policy and in some other areas. He has yet to say much on democratic reform but his camp is looking at it as a possible major policy area for him. He is the candidate of next-generation appeal and a plan to remake Canadian democracy would fit that rubric nicely. But we shouldn’t hold our breath for him to come out with anything that amounts to much more than tinkering.

It will be awhile before Justin gets specific. But make no mistake. When he does get specific, he will accuse Stephen Harper of casting the next generation to the wind. Mr. Harper will have a hard time deflecting that accusation.

One thing is certain. Conservative values are Harper values.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Canada's CEO



Mike Harris once famously referred to his job as being the province's CEO. Stephen Harper, Frances Russell writes, sees his job as being the nation's CEO. Under Harper, Canada is becoming a corporate state -- and Parliament is merely an annoyance:

Harper’s contempt for Parliament is systemic and reflexive. He bundles budgets into huge omnibus bills, trampling the ancient right and duty of parliamentarians to monitor the government’s management of the public purse. He forces parliamentary committees to operate behind closed doors, presumably to prevent any public washing of dirty government laundry by witnesses or opposition MPs. Opposition MPs who dare reveal what happens behind those closed doors can be found in contempt of Parliament and so muzzle themselves.

The government's objective is to promote the interests of the corporate class -- whether it be by putting an end to strikes before they begin, or protecting Chinese and Canadian investors in the soon to be approved trade pact with China:

In fact, elevating corporate rights over the rights of citizens and their democratic institutions seems to be the Harper government’s core agenda. Its aggressive “free trade” stance has led to agreements with Panama, Jordan, Columbia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Honduras. It’s negotiating with the European Union, India and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — not to mention its groundbreaking 31-year trade deal with China, slated to be signed next week with no parliamentary debate, let alone approval. Several of these countries are under authoritarian rule.

Russell points to the late Samuel Huntington's 1973 report to the Trilateral Commission.  In the 1960's, he wrote, the world experienced a bout  of "democratic distemper, as people demanded more of government while challenging established authority."

People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character or talents,” the report continued. “An excess of democracy means a deficit in governability. There are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.”

Huntington went further, claiming the effective functioning of democracy requires a measure of apathy and non-participation by some groups. Democracy’s governability was further threatened by the awakening of “previously passive or unorganized groups in the population — blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women — all of whom became organized and mobilized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and the rewards.”

What the world needed, Huntington suggested, was more apathy. Apathy would clear the way for the corporate state. Stephen Harper has taken the late professor's advice to heart.