Friday, September 30, 2011

Living In An Insular Universe

Republicans despise Paul Krugman. -- which is really not surprising. The official position of the Republican Party on any issue is denial. They are truly living in the Twilight Zone. Since 2000,  Krugman writes, Americans have witnessed:

the party’s broader slide into its own insular intellectual universe. Large segments of the G.O.P. reject climate science and even the theory of evolution, so why expect evidence to matter for the party’s economic views? 

And so, everything is President Obama's fault.

Never mind the fact that the housing bubble, the debt explosion and the financial crisis took place on the watch of a conservative, free-market-praising president; it’s that Democrat in the White House now who gets the blame. 

Republicans argue that it does not help their cause to analyze the reasons for their country's economic problems. What they seek is not solutions but power. And it's good politics to blame Obama for the crisis they caused.  The strategy could work -- if the public's increasingly short memory gets shorter.

But good politics can be very bad policy. The truth is that we’re in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster.

It all makes sense if you live in your own insular universe.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Country For Old Men

On Tuesday, at the Museum of Civilization, David Frum argued in favour of the proposition that Pierre Trudeau was "Canada's most disastrous prime minister:"

Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada's 20th century: the National Energy Program.

Frum's argument is the standard conservative criticism of Trudeau..For conservatives, Trudeau is the bogeyman of their nightmares. The trouble is that their memories are highly selective. Lawrence Martin, who argued the other side of the resolution, reminded his audience of Trudeau's accomplishments. Trudeau, Martin said, was The Great Emancipator:

With his repatriation of the Constitution, Trudeau liberated us at long last from Great Britain. With his Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he liberated us from the authority of the state. With his bilingualism and multicultural polices, he liberated us from unilingual, unicultural trappings; from anti-pluralist prejudice that had rarely seen a woman in top governing posts, that saw no Jews in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.

Frum argued that Trudeau made the October Crisis worse:

Trudeau responded with overwhelming force, declaring martial law in Quebec, arresting dozens of people almost none of whom had any remote connection to the terrorist outrages. The arrests radicalized them, transforming many from cultural nationalists into outright independentists. As he did throughout his career, Trudeau polarized the situation - multiplying enemies for himself and unfortunately also for Canada.

If Frum had grown up in Quebec, he might see things a bit differently. Martin suggested that Trudeau's greatest accomplishment was not the Charter of Rights, the repatriation of the constitution or winning the 1980 referendum. Rather than alienating Quebec, Trudeau brought that province into the centre of Confederation:

This was a country with a 25-per-cent francophone population, yet for 100 years, Canada had a central government that functioned only in English. Trudeau’s bilingualism program ended that shame. Bilingualism was expensive, was resisted in parts of the country, but never shoved down anyone’s throat. Today millions of our citizens speak French who otherwise would not. This is a richer and more cultivated country as a result.

It is significant that Stephen Harper's new Director of Communications doesn't speak French. Harper's goal is to erase Trudeau's accomplishments. He wants to return Canada to the country is was before Trudeau, when:

There was that howling blowhard from the prairies, John Diefenbaker. He wasn’t dull, just deluded. His main appeal was to rural folk, aged 60 and over. Lester Pearson has a very good image today but back then he was no star. On the campaign trail, he was a bumbler, spoke with a lisp, could empty a room faster than R.B. Bennett.

Trudeau's crowning achievement was that he convinced a young generation of Canadians that politics mattered. Stephen Harper has convinced young Canadians that politics don't matter. They know that, for Harper, politics is about old people. Canada has become a country for old men.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Contempt Continues

After last spring's election, the optimists among us hoped that -- with a secure majority -- we would see a kinder, gentler government. Those optimists hoped for more mutual respect among the parties. But Jack Layton's death was a harbinger of things to come. The government's contempt for the opposition continues. Tim Harper writes:

In its stonewalling over the Tony Clement G8 slush fund, the Conservative government has taken [contempt for parliament] to new lows and is mocking what was once a pillar of the Parliamentary process.

Clement, a senior minister in the Stephen Harper government, has become a figure of ridicule as he sits silently in his seat each day, like a child banished to the corner for a timeout.

When the House was last in session, the government stonewalled on Afghan detainee documents; and it refused to offer any cost estimates for its crime legislation. It is still refusing to provide costs for that legislation. Meanwhile, Mr. Clement  -- who clearly obfuscated and ignored the government's own checks on public spending -- has been given the task of cutting government services and the jobs that go with them.

Yet, when government emails clearly call his actions into question, he refuses to defend himself. Others -- like the bombastic John Baird -- step up in his place. Bob Rae, who knows how Question Period should work, says of Clement:

We know very well that he can twitter. We know very well that he can tweet. What we also know is that he cannot get up on his feet.

What we don't know is whether or not Mr. Clement has any self respect. It would appear that self respect is the price of admission to Stephen Harper's cabinet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marching Backward

When it comes to foreign policy, Canada has traveled a great distance since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. Lester Pearson would not recognize his country.

There was no greater supporter of Israel than Pearson. But the man who won the Nobel Prize would have shaken his head in disgust yesterday, if he had been present to hear John Baird's  address to the General Assembly.

Baird argued that any criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu's government amounted to Anti-Semitism. Hearkening back to the Holocaust, Baird declared:

Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of ‘going along' just to 'get along.'

Mike Pearson did not believe in going along to get along. He criticized United States involvement in Vietnam; and he did so to Lyndon Johnson's face. But the man who invented peacekeeping knew that tin horn politicians like Baird create Mexican standoffs and know nothing about peacekeeping.

Baird, however, did more than attack those who criticize Israel's continued expansion of West Bank settlements.  He also took aim at the organization Pearson helped build:

“Canada will not go along with a double standard that castigates some UN members for alleged failings while ignoring the notorious abuses of others,” said Baird.

The U.N. was established precisely to settle these kinds of flair ups in an international forum instead of on a battlefield. Mr.Baird -- and his boss, the Prime Minister --- know nothing of combat. The only weapons they lob are political attack ads. When it comes to real courage -- something Mike Pearson learned in World War I -- they are puny men, indeed.

But they do know how to march -- backward.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not Seeing The Trees For The Forest

Paul Krugman's analysis of the European Debt Crisis,  in this morning's New York Times, should be required reading -- not just for the movers and shakers in Europe, but for our own so called wise men. Krugman's critics on the right accuse him of fiscal hysteria. But his analysis is clear eyed and, therefore, gloomy:

Think of it this way: private demand in the debtor countries has plunged with the end of the debt-financed boom. Meanwhile, public-sector spending is also being sharply reduced by austerity programs. So where are jobs and growth supposed to come from? The answer has to be exports, mainly to other European countries.

But exports can’t boom if creditor countries are also implementing austerity policies, quite possibly pushing Europe as a whole back into recession.

Krugman has never argued that debt is not a problem. But he continues to maintain that it is a longer term problem. What is more important -- in the short term -- is stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, and improving government tax receipts.

For those who believe that debt is about to overwhelm us, all of this is counter intuitive -- just as John Maynard Keynes' solution for The Great Depression was counter intuitive. And, therefore, Krugman's conclusion that, "there is a very wide gap between what the euro needs to survive and what European leaders are willing to do, or even talk about doing" is spot on.

That same conclusion applies to David Cameron's remedy for his country's problems. Cameron was in Ottawa last week, praising Canada for advocating the same policies. Meanwhile, Jim Flaherty has the gall to lecture the Europeans on their lack of fiscal virtue. And Stephen Harper goes on American television, claiming that Canada is a light to the world.

Such incredible and wrongheaded arrogance is more than embarrassing. It's folly -- because our elites cannot see the trees for the forest.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Black Is White

Janice Kennedy has accurately described what has happened to Canada during the Harper years. She writes that "a good country is being turned into a sad joke." Reviewing Stephen Harper's immigration policy, his military swagger and his "tough on crime" agenda, she concludes:

There are so many things wrong with our national picture these days, from empty swagger to lost compassion to a tragically eroded sense of international diplomacy, that it is no longer even recognizable. It is a picture that now looks not only mean, but stupid.

We are witnessing the ascension of stupidity dressed up as competence. If Canada entered the last recession in relatively good shape, it was because of nothing Mr. Harper had done. But he was not adverse to taking credit for others' good judgement.

Now he wants to bring Fear back into the national spotlight. That was the function of David Cameron's speech to Parliament last week. And, of course, the government is reintroducing expired terrorism legislation. The strategy is to "Keep 'em scared and keep 'em quiet." As the two prorogations of Parliament illustrate, Harper has a hard time dealing with any opposition -- even opposition in his own party.

In the end, Kennedy writes, the Prime Minister calls black white -- and he gets away with it.

With the Harper Conservatives back in the House in full majority finery, we have returned to the politics of naked emperors praised for their shining raiment. Everything is haywire as they trot out their daily distorted realities.

Those distorted realities have become the norm.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Righteous Are In Charge

Someday, historians will cite what Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said this week as the Harper Government's Mission Statement. Nicholson declared that, "We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics. We're governing on the basis of what's right to better protect victims and law abiding citizens."

Never mind what statistics tell us -- that crime has been falling for decades. The government is convinced that crime is going up -- and, even though governments in Britian and the United States are backing away from the remedies they propose, the Harperites insist that their omnibus crime legislation is necessary -- regardless of the cost. Strange behaviour for a government whose advertised expertise is about controlling costs.

This kind of behaviour is not an aberration. As Jeffrey Simpson writes in today's Globe and Mail:

The Harper government has this weird contempt for solid evidence. It pops up from time to time when, in the face of expert evidence, the government just barrels ahead in another direction. Recall the government’s abolition of the long-form census, a move opposed by statisticians and groups that rely on the most accurate statistics possible. Recall the government’s insistence after the 2008 recession had begun that no recession was under way. Recall in the matter of criminal justice the parade of judicial spokesmen, lawyers, criminologists and prison experts urging, even imploring, the government to cease and desist.

How does one explain this complete contempt for facts, something -- which Gerry Caplan wrote last week -- makes Stephen Harper "inscrutable?" There really is no mystery. First and foremost, the Harper Conservatives see themselves as righteous. Deep down they are convinced that God is on their side. And that is why they are truly dangerous.

Much harm is done by those who are convinced that their mission is to do God's work.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Rich Have Declared That The Poor Are The Enemy

When President Obama proposed higher taxes on the very wealthy this week, Republicans were apoplectic. Once again, they screamed, "Class Warfare."  A look at the numbers exposes that lie. Paul Krugman writes in this morning's New York Times that:

Detailed estimates from the Congressional Budget Office — which only go up to 2005, but the basic picture surely hasn’t changed — show that between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. That’s growth, but it’s slow, especially compared with the 100 percent rise in median income over a generation after World War II.

Meanwhile, over the same period, the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent. No, that isn’t a misprint. In 2005 dollars, the average annual income of that group rose from $4.2 million to $24.3 million.

The Republicans have been very successful at selling the myth that the rich create good, high paying jobs. The truth is that those jobs were created by unions who took on the captains of industry.  During the last thirty years, the captains of industry have declared war on the unions and won.

Meanwhile, everyone else has been paying for the roads to transport their goods and services, the police to protect their places of business, and the teachers to educate their children. As Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Senate in Massachusetts, said this week: "There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody!"

Republicans would like you to believe that the very wealthy owe their fellow citizens nothing. And they are prepared to go to war to make it so.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Normal

Lawrence Martin has an interesting rejoinder to Stephen Harper's claim that -- economically speaking  -- Canada is at the head of the G8 pack. If you look at Canada's economic record from an historical perspective, there is little to applaud:

In an essay in a newly published academic text, University of Dalhousie economist Lars Osberg provides an answer. We stack up dismally. From 1950 into the 1980s, hourly wages grew at a good rate as did living standards. From then on growth has been “pitifully small,” he says.

“For roughly thirty years, the average real hourly wage has hardly changed in Canada and the national unemployment rate has simultaneously been high by Canadian standards. This stagnation of real hourly wages is historically unprecedented.”

Even more interesting is Pierre Trudeau's economic record. Trudeau is the bogeyman of the The Right. His sins are supposedly many. But no transgression was more egregious than his alleged economic illiteracy. However, seen through the prism of today, that record isn't bad:

The conventional wisdom is that the economic record was dismal under the Trudeau government. In the 1970s, western economies suffered through oil price shocks and stagflation and Canada suffered as a result, posting a huge deficit by the time Trudeau left office in 1984. But by comparison to later years the record wasn’t so bad. Living standards grew nicely through Trudeau’s governance and the percentage of Canadians living in poverty dropped from 23 percent in 1968 to 13 percent in 1984.

Since Trudeau left office, living standards have flat lined. Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty are cheerleaders for mediocrity. Mediocrity is the new normal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Just Society?

The phrase was Pierre Trudeau's, and it caught on. Canadians like to think of themselves as citizens of a Just Society. Certainly, they believe, things are better here than in the United States. But, Carol Goar wrote recently, we have been emulating our southern neighbours. In fact,

Since the mid-1990s, income inequality has been rising faster in Canada than the U.S. They’re still in top spot, but we’re catching up. Our Gini index, which measures income equality, rose by 9 per cent over the last decade. Theirs increased by 4.7 per cent.

And that conclusion is based on old numbers:

It is based on six-year-old statistics. But all of the indicators suggest the trend is accelerating. Since 2005, our tax system has become more regressive, our social services have shrunk, our manufacturing base has deteriorated and we’ve gone through a painful recession that hit the poor hardest.

When Trudeau retired, Canada's tax system became more regressive:

Until 1988, we had 10 income brackets. Then the government of Brian Mulroney “flattened” the tax system, leaving three brackets. It was a welcome change for the rich whose marginal tax rate dropped from 34 per cent to 29 per cent. Everybody else got tax credits to ease the transition. Subsequent prime ministers made the system more regressive by reducing the taxation of capital gains, cutting corporate taxes, offering tax breaks to the wealthy and creating lucrative investment incentives.

And nobody is talking about it. In the last federal election, none of the parties talked about income inequality. They are not talking about it during Ontario's election. It seems to have become a fact of life.

When politicians become courtiers for the wealthy, the poor and the middle class become peons.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Triumph of Incompetence

Lawrence Martin weighs in this morning on the subject of Bob Dechert and the company he keeps. John Baird's parliamentary secretary, writes Martin,

showed such poor judgment in entering into that kind of relationship [with an agent of the Xinhua News Agency] that his credibility in continuing in his position is surely shot through with doubts.

The same lack of judgement has been a hallmark of the Harper government:

We saw this in the case of International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who became ensnared in a document-altering affair in the matter of cutting off funding to the aid group Kairos; she was not disciplined. We are seeing it with respect to Treasury Board President Tony Clement on a more serious matter – the diversion of $50-million in taxpayer money, originally slated for border infrastructure improvements, for projects to beautify his Muskoka riding. The opposition devoted a good deal of Question Period to the matter as Parliament reopened yesterday but was met with non-answers. Mr. Clement refuses to stand and defend himself.

The truth is that the Harperites believe no defence is necessary. Convinced of their own righteousness, and now comfortably  in control of a majority government, they can do as they choose. And, beginning today, we are going to see precisely what they choose to do.

Meanwhile, The Winnipeg Free Press reports that the government is paying Deloitte $90,000 a day to help it determine where to cut government services. And the cost of those troubled F-35 fighter jets keeps rising.

The last election was yet another example of the triumph of incompetence.

Monday, September 19, 2011

And So It Begins

As The House of Commons opens its doors after the summer recess, John Ibbitson writes in this morning's  Globe and Mail that:

Nothing on the fall agenda should surprise anyone. Most of the bills have been introduced before, only to be beaten back by opposition parties in minority Parliaments.

What has changed is the opposition. The NDP has stormed the barricades; but, with a tragic twist that reminds us that life is not fair, Jack Layton won't be leading them. The Liberals have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves: and, like the New Democrats, will be looking for a new leader. So, that leaves a clear opening for Stephen Harper to begin what he believes will be the radical transformation of Canada.

True to the basic tenet of modern conservatism, the Harperites enter the Commons as The Wrecking Crew. Their chief focus will be on getting rid of those things they hold in contempt: The Wheat Board, The Long Gun Registry and Political Party Subsidies. One hopes they will not succeed in getting rid of Parliament -- their contempt for which was officially noted in the last session.

The truth is that the Conservative Party of Canada is not Conservative at all. Rather than preserving social institutions, they are hell bent on tearing them down. If there is a ray of hope, it is that the man who helped them establish a beachhead in Toronto is now reviled by a majority of Torontonians. Having had  time to experience what it means to be citizens of Ford nation, they are now considering emigration.

It may well be that the citizens of Harperland are about to have the same experience.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Stupid Party

The late Irving Kristol -- the godfather of Neo Conservatism -- once referred to the Republican Party as "The Stupid Party." In today's New York Times, Maureen Dowd uses the same epithet to describe a party which has been thoroughly Kristolized.

The present party front runner, Rick Perry, boasts that he placed in the top ten of his high school graduating class of thirteen, while

Sarah Palin, who got outraged at a “gotcha” question about what newspapers and magazines she read, is the mother of stupid conservatism. Another “Don’t Know Much About History” Tea Party heroine, Michele Bachmann, seems rather proud of not knowing anything, simply repeating nutty, inflammatory medical claims that somebody in the crowd tells her.

It may be true, Dowd writes, that President Obama is an "over intellectualized professor."  But what can you say about a party which believes that true leadership doesn't require smarts? Perry believes that what Americans yearn for is

the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog.

One hopes that American voters are smarter than the people who presently run the Republican Party.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Top Down

The central tenet of trickle down economics is that the benefits of strong support for those at the top of the system will eventually drip down to those at the bottom. The late John Kenneth Galbraith, who grew up on a farm on the northern shore of Lake Erie, was fond of pointing out that any farm boy understood the theory for what it was.

Well, we have lived with that theory for thirty years now, and Jeffrey Simpson writes in today's Globe and Mail, that we are seeing its effects in the justice system, health care and education.

The court system offers one example. The courts are supposed to be there for people who need them to settle disputes, or for authorities to enforce the law. But the courts are plagued with huge expenses and endemic delays, as Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin keeps repeating in speeches. Judges blame lawyers, and lawyers blame judges (and everyone, of course, blames government), but the system is heavily tilted toward the conveniences of the lawyers and judges, not the people caught up in the system.

The same is true in health care. Under the Harris regime, Ontario hospitals were merged into ever larger units, on the theory that such  mergers would produce greater efficiencies. The small hospital in our little town used to consistently operate in the black. Now, as a subunit of a larger organization, services it used to perform have been sucked to the center, and the super hospital consistently runs a deficit.

And, in  higher education, Simpson writes

In universities, research drives professors’ time allocations. Tenure, promotion and salary depend more on research than on teaching, except in a very small minority of cases. Naturally, they pursue their own self-interest by focusing on research (which can help their teaching), so that today’s professors generally teach less, and sometimes much less, than professors did several decades ago.

The losers are the very people for whom the universities were designed: the student, especially the undergraduates who don’t figure, as do graduate students, in the research world of the professors.

Modern conservatism claims to be all about efficient use of resources. The truth is that modern conservatives have never been concerned with efficiency. They have sought to centralize resources and the levers to control them. And, after thirty years, it's clear that what they have accomplished is increased privilege for the few at the expense of the many.

Galbraith knew that it all amounted to a pile of what comes out of the back end of a cow.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Death Of "Compassionate Conservatism"

 When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, he proclaimed that he was a "compassionate conservative." This week, during the second Republican candidates debate, it became clear that the party -- post Bush -- has rejected that moniker. When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a hypothetical young man -- who refused to buy health insurance -- should still be cared for, Paul attempted to say that religious orders and other private charities existed for that purpose.

The audience, however, drowned out the good doctor. When Blitzer pressed further and asked if the young man should be left to die, the crowd enthusiastically answered, "Yeah!" The exchange, writes Paul Krugman, in this morning's New York Times, indicates that "at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions."

Modern conservatism  has come along way from one of its spiritual godfathers, Friedrich Hayek, who declared  -- in The Road to Serfdom -- that he favoured  "a comprehensive system of social insurance."  "Now," writes Krugman,

compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.
And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. 

Conservatives argue that they are for old fashioned values. The truth is that there is nothing old fashioned about their values. Like Cain, they reject the notion that they are their brothers' keepers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cost of Everything and the Value of Nothing

What is truly remarkable about the politics of the early 21st century is how the difference between a cost and an investment has been undermined. This week, the Institute on Research for Public Policy released a report which estimated that it would take $200 billion to repair Canada's crumbling infrastructure.

And, in Newsweek, Michael Tomasky reports that -- in the United States -- the need for infrastructure investment is critical:

The most recent infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States a D overall, including bleak marks in 15 categories ranging from roads (D-minus) to schools and transit (both D’s) to bridges (C). The society calls for $2.2 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next five years.

More importantly, writes Tomasky, public support for such investment is strong:

. . .  support for such investments among the general public is broad and deep and crosses ideological boundaries, notes Nicholas Turner, who heads transportation initiatives for the Rockefeller Foundation. “The bipartisan support was stunning,” Turner says. In a poll the foundation commissioned in February, even 59 percent of Tea Party supporters considered infrastructure investment to be vital. But as long as Barack Obama is for it, the Tea Partiers in Washington will fight it.

As a baby boomer, I benefited from government policies which enabled my father -- a World War II veteran -- to get a university education. And I benefited from policies which invested in my own education -- from kindergarten to university.

There was a time when governments -- both liberal and conservative -- knew an investment when they saw it. These days, governments of all stripes seem to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Long?

In the wake of this past weekend's 911 memorials, Lawrence Martin asks a question which some might consider heresy:

How long is America going to be held hostage to what happened that day? How long, owing to our modern dial-a-threat form of so-called warfare, is it going to bleed the U.S. Treasury, ratchet down its liberties and humiliate its citizenry by undressing them in order to get on an airplane.

What happened ten years ago was a body blow to the United States. But so was the attack on Pearl Harbor. Perhaps what is different is that the Second World War came to an end. This war seems to have no end.

Regardless, Martin writes,

Leaders have a choice. Given that terror can never be fully eradicated, they can establish a climate that inflates the threat with all its corrosive consequences, or establish a climate that puts the threat in a realistic perspective that allows the country to move forward.

But the paranoia continues to grow. Americans -- and Canadians -- keep watching their backs. Stephen Harper plans to reintroduce terror legislation which expired in 2007. The truth is that paranoia pays political dividends. It doesn't matter that, in North America, more people have died from snowmobile accidents since 2001 than died on September11th. Fear stifles opposition.

The danger is there. But we are cowering because we lack perspective.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Is An Economist?

Like Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak has as Master's degree in economics. But, as Jim Stanford points out in his latest publication from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Hudak's economics don't pass the sniff test:

This detailed statistical review of the 13 statistical graphs contained in the Conservative changebook platform document finds that not one of them conforms to the normal requirements of academic or professional practice.
At least three of the graphs (which illustrate various statistical arguments related to the Conservative platform) present data that is clearly false. All of the others contain major errors in the labeling of variables or axes; internally inconsistent or manipulative scaling of bars and data; and misleading or incomplete references to source data.

Martin Regg Cohn writes that Hudak is clearly selling snake oil. Take his pledge to get rid of the debt reduction charge on Hydro bills:

 This sham promise boils down to pretending we’ve already retired the debt, merely because we’ve collected the principal amount — overlooking the minor matter of interest payments still outstanding (as anyone with a mortgage well knows).
The debt remains on the books, but the Tories (who dreamed up the DRC) would magically transfer the burden from ratepayers to taxpayers. I call it the “forgive and forget” approach to debt — a blatant shell game.

Mr. Hudak is in a war against math. The end result will be that he will blow a massive hole in the province's budget. We've seen this bait and switch political campaigning for thirty years. Those thirty years came to a climax with The Great Recession. Does Mr. Hudak seriously believe that people will buy this claptrap?

Monday, September 12, 2011


The paranoia of the 1950's is perhaps best captured in the 1954 film, Them!, a ninety-four minute saga which turned on two common themes of the day -- nuclear Holocaust and Communist subversion. In the film, a species of gigantic irradiated ants threatens the United States. Of course, the Americans throw everything they have at the monstrous enemy; and the film ends in the sewers of Los Angeles.

Tim Hudak began his quest for the premiership of Ontario by heading straight for the sewers. He immediately attacked Dalton McGuinty's plan to offer a $10,000 tax credit to companies which hire new Canadians -- the kind of professionals who need to be certified in Ontario before they can  hang up a shingle.

Hudak, who likes to portray himself as just an ordinary guy, attacked the plan with feigned outrage:

"Basically, Dalton McGuinty wants to pay companies $10,000 to hire foreign workers while we have half a million people in Ontario today who are looking for jobs," the Tory leader said.

"He is going to pay companies $10,000 to hire anyone but you."

Mr. Hudak is no Mike Harris. But he is pulling a page from the Harris playbook. Harris became premier by turning the province's welfare recipients into straw men and women. Hudak now proposes to turn recent immigrants into the new enemy. And, like the ants, they are easy to identify, because most of them have brown skins.

The fact that this strategy directly undermines his federal cousins' pursuit of votes in the same community -- and indeed, contradicts his own recently introduced bill to help new Canadians -- is of no import. What matters is that these "aliens" can be used to scare Ontarians into a righteous fury -- just as Stephen Harper intends to use "Islamiciism"  to frighten Canadians into accepting recently sunseted terror legislation.

Yesterday should have reminded us that politicians on both sides of the border have won power -- and feathered their nests -- by stoking paranoia. But, like the movie, their vision is a fantasy, a shadow on the screen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Later

This weekend, as we remember what happened ten years ago, our first thoughts should -- of course -- be for those who died at the World Trade Center. Many met horrible deaths. Those whose careful planning caused those deaths illustrate humanity at its most depraved.

But what followed -- the demonization of Islam and the trumped up invasion of Iraq -- illustrate the shameless cupidity of our present elites. And it is surely no accident that the man who personifies that cupidity -- Dick Cheney -- is now profiting from that cataclysm.

Over at, William Rivers Pitt writes that Mr. Cheney is "the ultimate American terrorist:"

If there were any justice to be found in this deranged country, Dick Cheney would have penned his pestiferous, self-serving little memoir by the light of a bare bulb inside the cell of a federal prison. If there were any justice to be found, Mr. Cheney would be forced to contend with the "Son of Sam Law," which, according to World Law Direct, "refers to a type of law designed to keep criminals from profiting from their crimes, often by selling their stories to publishers. Such laws often authorize the state to seize money earned from such a deal and use it to compensate the criminal's victims."

Rivers reminds his readers that this is not the first time that Cheney has profited from a human catastrophe:

He'll make a few bucks off the [book], which he can bank next to the obscene millions he gained through his nefarious Halliburton war profiteering. He was still getting paid by Halliburton while in office. Remember that? They called it a "deferred retirement benefit," an annual check with six zeroes to the left of the decimal, and all the while Cheney was steering your tax dollars into Halliburton's coffers with a blizzard of bald-faced lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Cheney has no regrets. He still thinks the invasion of Iraq was a noble mission. And he makes no apologies for the "enhanced interrogation techniques" he advocated so vociferously. And remember, too, that this arm chair warrior succeeded in avoiding military service in Vietnam because, at the time he had "other priorities."

What happened on September 11th, was a tragedy of horrific proportions. But what followed was folly -- of even more horrific proportions.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Obama On Jobs

This morning,Paul Krugman finally has some words of praise for President Obama :

I was favorably surprised by the new Obama jobs plan, which is significantly bolder and better than I expected. It’s not nearly as bold as the plan I’d want in an ideal world. But if it actually became law, it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment. 

Krugman finds much to like about Obama's plan; but he holds out little hope that it will pass -- because of Republican opposition  -- which, Krugman writes, means opposition to anything Obama proposes:

In early 2009, as the new Obama administration tried to come to grips with the crisis it inherited, you heard two main lines from critics on the right. First, they argued that we should rely on monetary policy rather than fiscal policy — that is, that the job of fighting unemployment should be left to the Fed. Second, they argued that fiscal actions should take the form of tax cuts rather than temporary spending.

Now, however, leading Republicans are against tax cuts — at least if they benefit working Americans rather than rich people and corporations.

And they’re against monetary policy, too. In Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney declared that he would seek a replacement for Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, essentially because Mr. Bernanke has tried to do something (though not enough) about unemployment. And that makes Mr. Romney a moderate by G.O.P. standards, since Rick Perry, his main rival for the presidential nomination, has suggested that Mr. Bernanke should be treated “pretty ugly.”

That's really not surprising, given the fact that the front runner for the Republican nomination doubts the science of climate change and evolution but has no doubts about capital punishment. While Mr. Perry questions evolution, he is a poster boy for the devolution of the Republican Party.

Obama reminded his audience again last night that the Republican Party once stood for far different principles, and  once represented a much different constituency:

We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union.  Founder of the Republican Party.  But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future -- a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad -- (applause) -- launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges.  (Applause.)  And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set. 

The unemployed, Obama said, can't wait until the next election  for government to fix this problem. We shall see how the party of Lincoln responds.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Emerging Police State

When the House returns later this month, there should be lots of sound and fury. Even though the Conservatives promised a laser like focus on the economy -- and exit polls showed that Canadians expected them to do just that -- the government intends to intorduce its omnibus crime bill. And, yesterday, they let it be known that they intend to resurrect provisions of security legislation which were abandoned in 2007 because, Stephen Harper says, the major threat Canada faces “is still Islamicism.”

The argument seems to be that more jails and harsher penalties for unreported criminals will somehow spur the reporting of unreported crimes. And, presumably, focusing on "Islamicism" will nip terrorism in the bud.  Someone's logic circuits have been short circuited.

As politicians in the UK pointed out last week in the wake of Britain's riots, increased incarceration has not improved Britain's justice system. And, as Bob Rae noted yesterday:

The enemy is not Islam. It is the way in which a religion is perverted and hijacked. The common enemy is violent extremism, the deliberate targeting of civilians, and the preaching of hatred. That should be our focus.

This government, he said, is “taking us on a forced march back to the mid-18th century with their approach to criminal justice.”

No, said Mr. Harper's spokesman Andrew MacDougall, the government intends "to reintroduce these two key provisions [which expired in 2007] in order to better protect Canadians.” We saw to what degree the government is prepared to go in its quest for safety during last summer's G20 protests.

Let no one be fooled. This is not about ensuring the safety of Canadians. This is about the government protecting itself. This is about an emerging police state.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Battle for the Middle Class

In today's Toronto Star, Tom Walkom writes that the winner of the Ontario election will be the party which best calms the fears of the middle class: "The battleground in this Ontario election," he writes, "is a middle class unnerved by the recession."

Thus, the party which allowed  tuitions to rise an average of five percent a year  now wants to give university students a yearly grant, except if they come from high income families.

The Conservatives. also playing to the middle class, have attacked the Liberal plan to subsidize the wages of new Canadians as "affirmative action for foreign workers" -- even though Tim Hudak has already proposed similar legislation.

So we now know the basic dynamic of this election. It will be a contest between hope and fear. In that sense, the issues are classically middle class:

When times are tough, the middle classes fight fiercely for their kids. They want to ensure they have a shot at higher education — which McGuinty, belatedly, has come to understand. Yet they also want them to have a fair shot at jobs.

The Conservatives may be monstrously hypocritical. With their attacks on foreigners, they may be dabbling in xenophobia. But they get it.

It might be comforting to think that hope will trump fear. But Michael Ignatieff ran on that proposition the last time around; and, in Ontario, it didn't sell. It will be interesting to see what happens this time around.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mulcair's Moment

Lawrence Martin's analysis is usually pretty solid, although his suggestions for party leadership posts have not met with overwhelming approval. His proclamation earlier this year that Justin Trudeau should become the new permanent leader of the Liberal Party did not generate enormous applause -- even from Justin Trudeau himself.

But his vote for Thomas Mulcair in this morning's Globe and Mail deserves serious consideration. Mulcair has a reputation for mercurial behaviour. His skepticism about whether photos of Osama Bin  Laden's dead body actually existed showcased his ability to put his foot in his mouth.

On the other hand, as Martin points out: "Thomas Mulcair’s weaknesses may in fact be his strengths. The last thing the NDP wants to put up against this Prime Minister is someone mild of manner, someone who can’t take a punch or throw a bunch of them."  If one thing  is true of Mulcair, it is that he does not underestimate Stephen Harper.

And, of course, there is the matter of the NDP's Quebec caucus:

Most importantly, he is the Quebec strongman. With 59 seats in that province, Quebec is now the NDP base and it is Mr. Mulcair who is indispensable to maintaining it. He is the one who, along with Jack Layton, built it.

There are those in the party who distrust Thomas Mulcair. But, with Jack Layton gone, Mulcair has become the party's keystone. The appointment of Angelo Perischilli as Stephen Harper's Director of Communications is a signal that Quebec has dropped off the Conservatives' radar screen. Mulciar will prevent Quebec from becoming a postscript. So will Bob Rae.

Part of their jobs will be to remind the country that Quebec cannot be overlooked.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Math Matters

If there has been one consistent criticism of Tim  Hudak -- from both the left and the right -- it is that his numbers don't add up. He's not the first politician to face that criticism. But, after three decades of neo conservative policies  -- which have been nothing if not math challenged -- one would think Mr. Hudak would follow the old carpenter's rule: measure twice and cut once.

One suspects that Mr. Hudak is neither a good mathematician  nor a good carpenter. John Robson,  in today's Ottawa Sun -- who you would think would be on Mr. Hudak's side -- gives the Tory leader no quarter:

Hudak promises "change to put more money in the pockets of hardworking Ontario families" and it is not hard, in principle, to see how taxes could be cut. But he also pledges "change that guarantees the service Ontarians need, like health and education." That sounds like more spending and certainly can't mean cuts. But now let's do some math he won't be performing in public.

Between them, health, education - including post-secondary and job training - consume $77.9 billion, or 68.5%, of Ontario's $113.7 billion in program spending. So what gets the chop? Children's and social services? Boooooooo! But then over 80% of spending is untouchable and, Tories being tough on crime, justice isn't a promising target either. So is it all coming out of other? (You can't cut interest and there's a very real danger rates will rise, putting the squeeze on better plans than Hudak has.)

When those on the right have serious doubts about what Mr. Hudak is selling, you know he's in trouble. And the campaign hasn't started yet.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Political Hostage Taking

In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman again has the modern Republican Party in his sights. I say "modern" because, traditionally, Republicans have been noted for sober common sense. But, because a Republican majority rests on Tea Party support, sober common sense is nowhere to be found within the ranks of the GOP -- except perhaps, in John Huntsman's organization -- and he has no chance of convincing the GOP base of anything.

No, the man with Republican mojo is Eric Cantor. Krugman writes that:

a few weeks ago, Mr. Cantor was the hard man in the confrontation over the debt ceiling; he was willing to endanger America’s financial credibility, putting our whole economy at risk, in order to extract budget concessions from President Obama. Now he’s doing it again, this time over disaster relief, making headlines by insisting that any federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts in other spending. In effect, he is threatening to take Irene’s victims hostage. 

Cantor, like most of his colleagues, is a hypocrite. During the Bush Administration, he and his party voted for the Iraq War, the cost of which is "$800 billion and counting." and  "in 2004, when his home state of Virginia was struck by Tropical Storm Gaston, Mr. Cantor voted against a bill that would have required the same pay-as-you-go rule that he now advocates."

Political hypocrisy is nothing new. What is new is the Republican Party's methods."Not long ago," Krugman writes:

a political party seeking to change U.S. policy would try to achieve that goal by building popular support for its ideas, then implementing those ideas through legislation. That, after all, is how our political system was designed to work.

But today’s G.O.P. has decided to bypass all that and go for a quicker route. Never mind getting enough votes to pass legislation; it gets what it wants by threatening to hurt America if its demands aren’t met. That’s what happened with the debt-ceiling fight, and now it’s what’s happening over disaster aid. In effect, Mr. Cantor and his allies are threatening to take hurricane victims hostage, using their suffering as a bargaining chip.

John  Boehner originally refused to call the House of Representatives back to deal with America's unemployment crisis. Now, having ensured that the president will not interfere with a Republican candidates debate, he has agreed to let the president speak before a joint session of Congress. The pettiness is breathtaking. Americans would be stupid to put the Republicans -- the party which has taken its fellow citizens hostage -- in charge after November, 2012.

The question is: How smart is the average American?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Harper and Quebec


The most telling detail about Stephen Harper's appointment of Angelo Perischilli as his new Communications Director is that Perischilli doesn't speak French. He may, indeed, be able to reach out to other linguistic communities. He has been, after all, the political editor of  Corriere Canadese.

However, he reaches a much larger audience in The Toronto Star, where he wrote during the last election campaign that:

 Many are tired of the annoying lament from a province that keeps yelling at those who pay part of its bills and are concerned by the over-representation of francophones in our bureaucracy, our Parliament and our institutions.

Whatever you thought of Jack Layton's political principles, it was undeniable that he connected with Canadians  -- in both languages. A recent poll suggests that Mr. Harper's numbers have gone up in Quebec. But the appointment of Perischelli also suggests that Mr. Harper believes he doesn't need Quebec to accomplish his goals.

A better student of history -- particularly Conservative history -- would know that it was the Diefenbaker government's total disregard of Quebec's aspirations which radicalized Rene Levesque. Canada's existence has never been as simple as one man/one vote.

As is so many other ways, the Harper government is trying to turn back the clock. And the results could be catastrophic.