Sunday, September 30, 2012

Khadr Comes Home

The Conservatives aren't happy about it, but Omar Khadr has come home. They have done everything in their power to avoid this outcome.  John Ibbitson writes this morning:

Not only did the Harper government continue its predecessors’ policy of not assisting Mr. Khadr’s efforts to return to Canada, they made it abundantly clear that he could languish in Guantanamo for the rest of his life, as far as they were concerned.

For the Harperites, when it comes to crime and punishment, there is no such thing as extenuating circumstances. Justice is delivered from on high; and sentences are completely absolute. The problem is that the Khadr case is loaded with extenuating circumstances. Mr. Khadr is an example of precisely what is wrong with Harperite crime and punishment.

Ibbitson believes that the next six years will be full of controversy:

From now until he completes his sentence in 2018, Mr. Khadr will be in the news. There will, doubtless, be incidents in prison. There will be parole applications. There will be petitions for his release. Both the left and the right will demand that justice, as each side perceives justice, be done.

We shall see. Khadr might spend the next six years quietly. There will be controversy when his sentence is up. But by then -- perhaps -- Mr. Harper's time will be up.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Justin's Time

Justin Trudeau has concluded that it's now or never. He's probably right. But we still need to know whether or not he's the right choice. Andrew Coyne writes:

We have no idea what kind of leader he would make for the Liberal party. We don’t know what his plans are to rebuild the party, or what direction he would take it, or where he would concentrate its meagre resources. We have a hint of his tenacity — winning the nomination and then the election in Papineau, beating Senator Patrick Brazeau in a boxing match — but we don’t know whether he has what it takes generally to be a leader: whether he can build a team, inspire their loyalty, betray it when he has to. We know nothing of his strategic sense, his ability to spot a political opening, exploit an opponent’s weakness, or strike a prudent compromise.

And that is why there should be no coronation. The people who will challenge Trudeau -- and I assume there will be challengers -- need to make the Liberal leadership a real contest. After all, that is what Stephen Harper will give Justin -- a real contest.

Coyne's colleague, Micheal Den Tandt, writes that Trudeau will present Stephen Harper with a a formidable challenge:

Harper’s team has reason to fear Trudeau’s charm, his particular appeal in Quebec, Ontario and B.C., and the Liberal Party’s time-tested ability to morph into whatever policy shape best suits its needs at any given time. Where Trudeau is strongest — likability — Harper is weakest. In year seven headed for 10, time is not on the prime minister’s side in this regard. With Trudeau as his foil, it will be less easy for the PM to cast himself as the dour national bean counter, too busy with his spreadsheets to bother being human.

And, if Trudeau's leadership results in a war between the Liberals and the New Democrats, Stephen Harper will cheer from the sidelines. After Justin formally announces his candidacy this week, he must show us who he really is -- that is, he must show us not just that now is the time for his candidacy. We need to know whether or not now is the time for Trudeau.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Waldorf Doctrine

Last night, in accepting the "Statesman of the Year Award" at the Waldorf Hotel, Stephen Harper proclaimed the core value behind Canada's foreign policy. He clearly views the world in Manichean terms. Tim Harper, in today's Toronto Star reports that the prime minister used the world "evil" to frame Canada's policy towards Iran:

It is this Iranian evil that compels Canada to speak out in support of Israel, Harper said, because those who would target Israel threaten all free and democratic societies.

It is the one country of the global community whose very existence is threatened,” Harper said on the eve of Friday’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our government does refuse to use international (forums) to single out Israel for criticism.”
Harper said it is not Canada’s role to lecture others, but it is the responsibility of his government to make the choices that circumstances force upon it.

“We should never consider others evil merely because they disagree with us,’’ he said, “or because they compete with us.’’

But when evil dominates, one will find irreconcilable disagreements with Canada, he said.

 Harper is a character straight out of a Hawthorne novel -- all too willing to brand his enemies with the letter "A". He divides people into two groups -- the good and the evil. And he has no doubt about the group to which he belongs. Unfortunately, like Hawthorne's pious hypocrites, he does this country -- and the world -- a great deal of harm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Following In Nixon's Footsteps

On the day Stephen Harper will receive the Statesman of the Year award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Yves Engler writes a Swiftian op-ed, suggesting that Harper should really receive the first ever Richard Nixon Prize. "The decision to grant Harper the Richard Nixon Prize," Engler writes, "was made after a thorough review of his foreign policy:"

The grantees cited Harper’s “consistent backing of the interests of North America’s top 1% of income earners, with a special emphasis on supporting those who make their billions from resource extraction, weaponry and banking.”

The committee applauded Harper for bombing Libya into democracy. It took special note that this was probably also good for certain oil and gas interests.

“In the best tradition of Richard Nixon, who could always keep a straight face,” the committee praised Harper for at the same time “standing by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak until the final hours of his 30-year presidency.”

Lawrence Martin long ago pointed out the similarities between Harper and Nixon. Engler  savagely mines those similarities:

The Richard Nixon Prize will be given to Prime Minister Harper the next time he visits Honduras, where he helped overthrow the elected president, who was such a pain in the ass.

Jonathan Swift would have approved..

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taxation Without Representation

Carol Goar writes that Stephen Harper has violated the first principle of democracy: a government only rules with the consent of the governed. That principle is most apparent when it comes to the question of taxes. Citizens have the right to know how their money is being spent -- and they must agree to the government's fiscal plans.

But Stephen Harper has established a new set of rules:

His rules strike at the heart of responsible government. He has decided to tax Canadians without allowing their elected representatives a chance to speak for them.

They violate a fundamental tenet of democracy: the government acts with the consent of the people. Canadians never gave their assent to Harper’s just-trust-me approach. In fact, hundreds signed petitions opposing both Bill C-38 and the use of omnibus legislation (massive, multi-part bills.)

They contravene his own pledge of “open government.” Canadians are still in the dark, five months later, about what the Tories cut. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is doing his best to find out, but his effort to get budgetary documents have been stymied.

It is emblematic of the Harper government's absolute hypocrisy that it will not allow the people's representatives to scrutinize its budget. The party which railed against taxes now taxes as it pleases.

Now is the time for citizens to rise in anger. Only if the Conservatives know they stand to lose their majority will they consider changing course. Even then, they may be too slow witted to figure that out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Martin's Dismay

After cataloguing the numerous attempts to subvert democracy during the Harper regime, a dismayed Lawrence Martin concludes his column in this morning's Globe and Mail with the following observation:

At the same time, many other voices are raised in protest. But they don’t get enough traction. The dogs bark and the caravan – the mockery of democracy – moves on.

Allan Gregg has also catalogued the abuses; but, Martin writes:

It seems Mr. Harper has concluded that he can continually get away with in-your-face provocations. The media and the opposition parties, he reasons, will move on; at some point, everything becomes old news. Although the latest poll shows Mr. Harper with just a 35-per-cent approval rating (while Barack Obama, with a dismal economy, gets 50 per cent), he may be right. People have short memories.

The truth is that Stephen Harper has nothing but contempt for the citizens of this country -- even (and perhaps most especially) for the ones who elected them. Dan Gardiner recently wrote that Harper thinks we're morons. The proof of that claim is in the new omnibus bill which is coming down the pike. As has been the case for the last six years, he got away with it once -- proroguing parliament, misleading parliament, accusing the opposition of doing exactly as he did -- and so he does it again.

Martin's dismay is understandable. Perhaps we are morons.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Interesting Number

Polls at this point aren't much of a harbinger of anything. But a new poll by Abacus Data puts Stephen Harper's negative numbers at 50%. One out of every two Canadians disapprove of the prime minister. And the Conservatives and the New Democrats are tied, each with 35% support.

What is even more interesting is the geographical breakdown of that support:

The Conservatives also held a wide lead in Alberta, though with the NDP at 29 per cent the race is far closer than is usually the case. For their part, the New Democrats held a statistically significant lead in Atlantic Canada with 47 per cent to 28 per cent for the Tories.

The New Democrats also held the edge in British Columbia (39 to 34 per cent), the Prairies (43 to 40 per cent) and Quebec, where the NDP had 39 per cent to 30 per cent for the Bloc Québécois. Again, these are generally the sort of numbers that we have seen for months.

One suspects that Mr. Harper is not losing any sleep over these numbers. What they show is that energy rich Alberta and Saskatchewan -- who benefit from the petro-economy -- support him. The rest of the country does not seem so impressed. Even Ontario, the political fulcrum come election time, still gives the Liberals 23% support. And, if the party chooses Justin Trudeau as their leader, first indications are that 39% of Canadians would park their votes with him.

As complete as Stephen Harper's control of the agenda appears to be, this poll suggests that his fortunes could change quickly and radically.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coyne On Politics

Andrew Coyne is no Pollyanna. He does not expect much from politicians; and, he says, we should not be surprised by the state of our politics. For politics is rarely noble; and politicians are rarely heroic:

Politics has been better before, and it has been worse. But politics, whatever one would wish, has never been a contest of ideas. Occasionally it is about ideas, as in the free trade election of 1988. But such debates as do arise are resolved not by persuasion but by combat. There simply isn’t time, people in politics tell themselves — the public hasn’t the patience. You can’t explain your position, and you can’t defend yourself against the other side’s attacks. All you can do is attack. Elections, in consequence, are about who can tear the most flesh off the other. And they all do it.

But there is the matter of degree  -- and, in that regard, the Harper Tories have pushed the envelope. Moreover, if we allow them to keep pushing the envelope -- something they have been doing with impunity -- things are not going to change. They won't change, Coyne writes,

until somebody in politics — the followers, not the leaders, the ones who quietly tell reporters of their frustrations, but go along in the end — stands up and says it’s wrong of my party to behave this way. My party: never mind what the other guys are doing. We just need to stop. Us.

 So when are we going to stand up and say, "Enough?"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Creating His Own Reality

Some of the best and most insightful reporting on the Harper government has been done by Stephen Maher. Yesterday he wrote:

Stephen Harper took a bold step forward this week to a new kind of creative, performance-based politics, uncoupling himself from the mundane world of facts and deftly using confusion as a weapon.

Maher was referring to Harper's attack on the NDP's proposed cap and trade policy, which Maher put into historical perspective:

To understand how we got here, we need to go back to 2008, when Stephane Dion introduced his Green Shift, a complicated plan to impose a $40-a-tonne tax on carbon emissions – imagine a meter on smokestacks – and use the money to reduce income taxes.

The Conservatives attacked the idea relentlessly as a job killer. Dion defended it inexpertly, and the result was electoral disaster for the Liberals. Layton, who could see which way the wind was blowing, side-stepped the attacks by calling for a cap-and-trade scheme, meaning that industrial emissions would be capped, and companies could trade their emission allowances on a market. Back then, the position was also advocated by the Conservatives.

As John Baird said in 2008: “Carbon trading and the establishment of a market price on carbon are key parts of our Turning the Corner plan.”

In the House on Friday, Baird dutifully attacked the NDP for advocating the same idea.

Harper is betting that the voting public has a short memory; and he believes that, if he repeats the attack often enough, voters will accept his version of reality. Thomas Mulcair has rightly labelled the strategy The Big Lie. It comes right out of Dr. Goebbels' playbook. And it should tell Canadians what Stephen Harper can accomplish with less than 40% of the vote.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Republican Contempt For The Working Class

Michael Kingsley famously defined a "gaffe" as when a politician unwittingly tells the truth. And the truth behind Mitt Romney's "47%" gaffe, Paul Krugman writes, is that Romney and his party have nothing but contempt for the working class:

Needless to say, the G.O.P.’s disdain for workers goes deeper than rhetoric. It’s deeply embedded in the party’s policy priorities. Mr. Romney’s remarks spoke to a widespread belief on the right that taxes on working Americans are, if anything, too low. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal famously described low-income workers whose wages fall below the income-tax threshold as “lucky duckies.”

What really needs cutting, the right believes, are taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, dividends, and very high salaries — that is, taxes that fall on investors and executives, not ordinary workers. This despite the fact that people who derive their income from investments, not wages — people like, say, Willard Mitt Romney — already pay remarkably little in taxes. 

The Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Ayn Rand. In the past there were Republicans who had workers' interests at heart. And, even those Republicans who had nothing in common with working men and women, Krugman writes,

knew enough to keep it to themselves and managed to fake some appreciation for ordinary workers. At this point, however, the party’s contempt for the working class is apparently too complete, too pervasive to hide.

Lincoln's concept of government and his party have been corrupted by big money. Today's Republicans are "a party of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy, a party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect." 

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The People Who Don't Count

Two days ago, Mark Garneau asked the prime minister what he was going to do about youth unemployment:

“Yesterday we witnessed the very sad spectacle of the Conservatives and the NDP trading insults over their cap-and-trade plans. Is this what Canadians want, at a time when the economy is suffering, when 165,000 young people have given up and stopped looking for work, when youth unemployment is at almost 15 per cent?” Garneau yelled.

Harper -- who never answers a question directly -- responded:

“This party, this government has put forward its ideas and implemented them over the past few years, which has given Canada one of the best job-creation records in the developed world. The NDP, while I disagree with their policies, have put a few of those things, carbon-tax, protectionism, on the table. But the Liberal party says, ‘Look at us, we’re not either of them.’ Well, that’s not a policy. People expect to have some idea why the Liberal party still exists now.”

He sounded remarkably like Mitt Romney, who has declared that he doesn't care about 47% of the population. The difference between the two men is that Harper's "don't counts' are not as amorphous as Romany's don't counts. Harper has no time or consideration for the young. He has put off their retirement two years; and he is actively driving down their wages -- a fact that was confirmed in the agreement which the C.A.W reached with Ford on Monday.

Apparently, Harper wasn't paying attention last spring, when young people filled the streets in Quebec. They were Jean Charest's problem, not his. Harper believes that young people don't vote; and, therefore, they don't represent a threat to his government.

When Romney wrote off half the American population, his fellow Republican, William Kristol, called his remarks "arrogant and stupid." The same can be said about Harper's response to Garneau. It was not the kind of response one would expect from "The Statesman of the Year."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

History Repeats Itself

Jeffrey Simpson, in today's Globe and Mailrefers to an essay written by British MP and historian Rory Stewart. The subject of the essay is the British invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1838 until 1842:

“Whatever decisions were made, there would have been no happy ending. A foreign army, isolated in Kabul, propping up an unpopular ruler in the face of a growing insurgency could not succeed. To maintain security, they needed to create a new Afghan army, which required taxation and expenditure. This created enemies and required a resource base, which Afghanistan did not have. They therefore relied on enormous – and unsustainable – amounts of foreign funding (which in turn fuelled corruption.)”

The passage begs the question which Pete Seeger asked in "Where Have All The Flowers Gone:" When will they ever learn? The president who launched the war possesses a bachelor's degree from Yale and a graduate degree from Harvard. His vice president dropped out of a doctoral program. But both men had actively sought to avoid military service.

It's something to think about when Stephen Harper, who likes to burnish his credentials as an economist -- with a Master's degree from the University of Alberta -- talks about the need to use force against Iran. Mr. Harper couldn't make it through boot camp.

There is a knowledge that goes beyond advanced degrees. Unfortunately, the people who are beating the drums of war these days don't possess it. And, if we follow their lead, history will repeat itself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More Hypocrisy

Stephen Harper likes to claim that his party is a party of principle. But, of course, that's all jiggery-pockery. Whether it's huffing and puffing about China's human rights record then pulling out all the stops to sell  bitumen to the Chinese -- or refusing to declare asbestos a dangerous substance, then reversing course -- the prime directive of the Harper government has always been "whatever it takes."

We were treated to another example of Conservative hypocrisy yesterday when Glen McGregor reported that, in its attempt to throw the robocalls case out of court, the Harperites were badmouthing Frank Graves, the man they relied on to do much of their polling. McGregor wrote that Arthur Hamilton, the Conservatives' lawyer,

asked the court toss Graves’ affidavit because, inter alia, he “repeatedly and publicly aligned himself with political interests, parties and actors that oppose” the Conservatives.

Further, Hamilton alleged, “He is clearly personally invested in the narrative that voter suppression did take place and had an effect on the Election.”

And, “Mr. Graves fails to disclose that his firm, Ekos, received more than $61,000,000 through 1,600 contracts with the federal government while the Liberal Party was in power, and has much less revenue from that source since the Conservatives were elected.”

Hamilton does not mention that Ekos received more money in polling contracts  in 2010-11 — $897,517.47, to be precise – than any other firm, save for Ipsos-Reid Canada.

Mr. Hamilton successfully convinced a court to throw out Helena Geurgis' wrongful dismissal suit against Harper and his party. He is trying to do the same with the robocalls case.

Hypocrisy means nothing to the Harper government. But winning -- at any cost -- does.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Moving Towards Merger

Paul Adams argues at ipolitics that whoever wins the Liberal leadership race must consider some kind of entente with the New Democrats. The Liberals' old guard has floated the idea:

For a starter, there was Jean Chrétien, the most successful modern Liberal prime minister. There was his experienced strategic sidekick, Eddie Goldenberg. Oh yes, and then there was the most prominent Liberal MP left standing after the 2011 election. Someone named Bob Rae. 

But when Rae said he was open to considering that option, the party's backroom operatives -- the folks who engineered Michael Ignatieff's ascension -- told Rae to keep his mouth shut. However, writes Adams, Liberals out in the country have not fallen in line:

According to an Ipsos Reid poll just a few months ago, Liberal supporters favour a merger with the NDP by a margin of almost two-to-one.

What Canadian progressives understand is that the math has always been against Stephen Harper. They know that Conservative support will never rise much beyond 35%; and, therefore, Harper is vulnerable -- but only if progressives can get their act together.

In the last half of the last century, Conservatives won power because they had the foresight to merge with the Progressive Party. They understood that Canadians have a natural bias toward the left. Stephen Harper has sought to turn Canadians slowly to the right -- but always relentlessly to the right.

Nathan Cullen's candidacy for the NDP leadership proved that there is an appetite for cooperation within his party. What the Liberals need is someone who can work out the details of that cooperation. After all, it was  cooperation which built the country.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Senor The Savant?

Maureen Dowd writes, in today's New York Times, that the man behind Republican rhetoric these days is Dan Senor, a kid who grew up in Toronto and graduated from the University of Western Ontario. If you listen to what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are saying about the Middle East, you might wonder what Senor learned from the time he lived in Canada:

The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.

A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.

You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq — a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How’s that going for us? 

If there is one thing that is true of the Republicans, it is that the last decade has taught them  nothing. And, from North of the 49th parallel, it appears that -- even though as a child Senor moved Utica, New York to Toronto -- his stay in Canada didn't take.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Here They Come -- Again

Joanna Slater writes in today's Globe and Mail that, if you thought the Occupy Movement was dead, you should hold that thought:

After months of internal wrangling and low morale, the campaign is staging a return to the spotlight. Sept. 17 is the first anniversary of the movement that took over a slice of downtown Manhattan for two months, spawned offshoots in cities from Toronto to Hong Kong, and coined its own slogan to direct attention to inequality: “We are the 99 per cent."

Occupy has been resurrected because inequality has not gone away. In fact, it's gotten worse:

Earlier this week, the U.S. census released data showing that median household income in the country, adjusted for inflation, fell in 2011, while a measure of income inequality increased.

The banks which were deemed too big to fail have gotten bigger. And they are still gambling with other people's money.

Politicians may tout the number of jobs which have been created -- at lower salaries than the ones that were lost. But the simple truth is that, for the 99%, things have not gotten better. And, until things do get better, the streets and parks will be occupied.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed had a political pedigree. His grandfather was a senator and a partner in R.B. Bennett's law firm. But, during the Depression, the family lost its fortune and -- as a child -- Lougheed moved from one rental accommodation to the next. He, therefore, understood both wealth and poverty. It was that understanding which led him to establish the Alberta Heritage Fund -- for a provincial rainy day.

He fought doggedly with Pierre Trudeau over Alberta's natural resources; but he was, Jeffrey Simpson writes, also Trudeau's friend. He fiercely believed in Canada; and he believed -- unlike the conservatives who replaced him -- that the state was a force for good. Simpson writes:

Mr. Lougheed governed not as an ideological opponent of the state – the red meat of modern-day conservative thinking – but as its ally. The state, he believed, was the people’s friend, which is what Tories tend to believe. And he used the state aggressively, perhaps in a few cases too aggressively, to buy an airline and make public investments, help the early oil-sands industry get its legs, create the Heritage Fund, build new social programs – all the while believing in the free-enterprise system as the best wealth-creation generator. He used the state aggressively, when necessary, against what he saw could be invidious practices of the oil and gas industry, for which he was banned from the Petroleum Club.

He believed that the oil sands should be developed carefully and sustainably. Most of all, he believed that Alberta's oil wealth should be used to develop a manufacturing economy. He defeated Ernest Manning; and he lived to see Manning's son storm Ottawa and ensconce a transplanted Torontonian  -- who claimed to be an Albertan -- in power.

His death is a reminder of what we have lost. But one hopes that it is also a reminder of what we may yet recover.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Political Implosion In Slow Motion

Royson James writes in today's Toronto Star that mayor Rob Ford is beyond redemption:

At some point, Mayor Rob Ford’s mayoralty will collapse under the weight of his own political folly.

Not today — despite reports the mayor uses his city-paid staff, cars and cellphones to administer elements of the youth football teams he coaches.

Not tomorrow — even as more and more allies back away from what has become a radioactive mayoralty. 

A week after being in court and arguing that using City Hall letterhead to raise money for his football foundation was an oversight, not a conflict of interest, came the news that Ford left an executive committee meeting five hours early, and that he uses city staff to help run that foundation. Hardly an oversight.

But, more importantly, the rules for municipal government in Ontario give each mayor one vote. To get anything done, a mayor has to build coalitions. Ford is supremely unsuited for that task. James writes:

Anyone who has dispassionately examined the mayor knows this: He doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He has a nose for trouble. He thumbs his nose at the world. And he is still that rich kid from north Etobicoke who gets away with bullying those around him, because he can.

Drunk at a hockey game, he abused fans, lied about it, and then sheepishly apologized when found out.
He was busted for possession and caught drinking while driving in Florida. He lied about it when the Toronto Sun confronted him. But the voters forgave him and made him mayor.

As mayor, he is caught driving and using his phone, but is not sorry at all, ignoring the danger.
He is caught reading city documents while driving — and rebuffs every effort from staff and the police to get him a chauffeur.

Like his political ally, the Prime Minister, Ford has no intention of working with anyone. In politics, that spells doom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Statesman Of The Year?

The Globe and Mail reports this morning that Stephen Harper has been named Statesman of the Year:

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an international organization founded by New York rabbi Arthur Schneier, has picked Mr. Harper as its World Statesman of the Year for 2012. He joins a list of past recipients – also deemed promoters of human rights and freedom – that includes Jean Chrétien, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and, most recently, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

While Harper will find himself in illustrious company -- he will receive the award from Henry Kissinger, and Bill Clinton may also be there -- what is more interesting is the fact that Harper plans to snub the UN:

The timing of the award ceremony, during the week when world leaders descend on New York to address the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, underlines Mr. Harper’s distaste for the multilateral diplomatic forum. Prime ministers were offered UN speaking slots on Sept. 27 – the very day Mr. Harper will accept the award in New York – but Mr. Harper chose to skip the UN. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will speak for Canada, but, as a mere minister, is relegated to the following week.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is doing some snubbing of his own. The National Post reports that Obama has chosen not to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when they both visit the UN.

We seem to be heading for another showdown in the Middle East. The last time this happened -- when Canada refused to join the American led invasion of Iraq -- Harper went to New York to vent his displeasure.

Obviously, being named Statesman of the Year is no endorsement of good judgement.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Politicians and Poverty

Two weeks ago, Ann Romney told Republicans that she and Mitt had known lean times:

“We were very young. Both still in college. There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know what? We just didn’t care. We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining-room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. But those were the best days.” Oh, what fun to be poor!

It was easy to believe that poverty was fun, writes Richard Cohen. Ann and Mitt were living off the stock that Mitt's father -- the president of American Motors -- had given them. Romney's assertion simply proves that today's political class knows nothing about poverty:

Poverty, after all, is not about bookcases made of planks and bricks but about utter hopelessness. The poor do not have affluent parents. The poor do not have college degrees. The poor often do not even have high school degrees. The poor often don’t have a man in the house or, to be perfectly frank, sometimes the discipline and work habits to lift themselves out of poverty.

At the beginning of the Great Recession, Stephen Harper's said, "The stock market will sort itself out. I suspect some good buying opportunities are opening up with some of the panic we’ve seen in the stock market in the last few days.” As always, he was not thinking about the little guy.

The Star's Richard Gwyn writes that the old class system -- best illustrated by passenger allocation on The Titanic -- has re-emerged.  The wealthy on the upper decks were given a chance to survive. The miserable in steerage never had a chance.

That same structure, writes Gwyn, has now been revived:

According to the Tax Justice Network, the holdings in these tax havens now amount to an incredible $21 trillion. That sum is equal to the gross national product of the U.S. and Japan combined.

That unimaginable horde is owned or controlled by just 92,000 people in the world. They constitute not Occupy Wall Street’s 1 per cent of all taxpayers but a mere 0.001 per cent of them.

They and the lawyers and accountants and bankers who serve them — as substitutes for the butlers and gardeners and downstairs maids of earlier years — do indeed live lives utterly different from everyone else, and can indeed pass on their wealth, as little taxed in today’s global world as it was a century and a half ago, to their children. Even the old dukes and duchesses didn’t do as well.

If today's politicians  -- like the Romneys -- are not wealthy, they are the servants of the wealthy; and, therefore, they are well cared for. But most of the world lives in steerage.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Triumph Of Political Cynicism

Out on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been arguing that Barack Obama is a failed president.  They claim that he didn't do anything when he controlled both houses of congress. But Paul Krugman takes a quick trip down memory lane:

As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate. The filibuster, formerly a tactic reserved for rare occasions, became standard operating procedure; in practice, it became impossible to pass anything without 60 votes. And Democrats had those 60 votes for only a few months. Should they have tried to push through a major new economic program during that narrow window? In retrospect, yes — but that doesn’t change the reality that for most of Mr. Obama’s time in office U.S. fiscal policy has been defined not by the president’s plans but by Republican stonewalling.

And, so, Obama's American Jobs Act went nowhere. As Bill Clinton said last week at the Democratic Convention, "It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did." But brass is the strategy behind the Republican campaign. If the Jobs Act had passed:

the consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers estimated that the act would add 1.3 million jobs by the end of 2012.

There were good reasons for these positive assessments. Although you’d never know it from political debate, worldwide experience since the financial crisis struck in 2008 has overwhelmingly confirmed the proposition that fiscal policy “works,” that temporary increases in spending boost employment in a depressed economy (and that spending cuts increase unemployment). The Jobs Act would have been just what the doctor ordered.  

But, say Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, Obama failed to do what he promised. Yet it was Mitch McConnell who declared that jobs were not his party's first priority. Removing Mr.Obama from office was their first and most important job.

Mr. Romney's changing positions are proof that he will do whatever it takes to win. In fact, the party he represents will also do whatever it takes. So much for principle. The Republican campaign is totally cynical.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Gregg On Harperland

In his brilliant essay, 1984 in 2012, Allan Gregg delineates how much Stephen Harper's Party -- for that's what it is -- learned from Orwell. The Harperites, he writes, have systematically sought to destroy reason by working overtime to suppress information: First they nixed the long form census, then the gun registry, and in their budget they cut the custodians of information:

  • First up were those toilet counting, privacy violators at Stats Canada – 1⁄2 (not 6 per cent, but 50 per cent) of employees were warned that their jobs were at risk.
  • 20 per cent of the workforce at the Library and Archives of Canada were put on notice.
  • CBC was told that it could live with a 10-per-cent reduction in their budgetary allocation.
  • In what was described as the “lobotomization of the parks system” (G&M – May 21, 2012), 30 per cent of the operating budget of Parks Canada was cut, eliminating 638 positions; 70 per cent of whom would be scientists and social scientists.
  • The National Roundtable on the Environment, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science were, in Orwell’s parlance, “vaporized”; saving a grand total of $7.5 million.
  • The Experimental Lakes Area, a research station that produced critical evidence that helped stop acid rain 3 decades ago and has been responsible for some of our most groundbreaking research on water quality was to be shut down. Savings? $2 million. The northernmost lab in Eureka, Nunavut awaits the same fate.
  • The unit in charge of monitoring emissions from power plants, furnaces, boiler and other sources is to be abolished in order to save $600,000.
  • And against the advice of 625 fisheries scientists and four former federal Fisheries Ministers – saying it is scientifically impossible to do — regulatory oversight of the fisheries was limited to stock that are of “human value."

Gregg writes,

I have spent my entire professional life as a researcher, dedicated to understanding the relationship between cause and effect. And I have to tell you, I’ve begun to see some troubling trends. It seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy is declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise. And even more troubling …. Canadians seem to be buying it.

His point is unmistakable.We are willing passengers on the voyage to tyranny. As long as we allow the Harper government to keep us in the dark, we risk losing our democracy.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Spoiling For A Fight

Tony Burman writes in this morning's Toronto Star that Canada has a new Foreign Affairs Minister:

His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.

There is little else to conclude from Canada’s unwise decision to move unilaterally on Iran at this moment. All sorts of crucial issues are in play with Iran. They involve the future of its nuclear program, the impatience of Israel’s leadership to attack Iran, the shape of a new Middle East as the heinous Syrian regime implodes and several delicate life-and-death issues involving Canadians on death row in Iran. Surprisingly, Western nations have held together on how to approach these key challenges — except, now, for Canada. 

Canada's decision is, indeed, surprising -- particularly for a government which apes American foreign policy. Burman reports that recently:

Prime Minister Netanyahu met privately with the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Netanyahu “lost his temper,” according to U.S. officials, and was described as nervous, agitated and frustrated at American reluctance to move on Iran. Several days later, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, further upset him by warning that an Israeli strike, with all its risks, would only “delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.”

One needs to remember that the Harperites are devoted to governments of the right -- whether it is Netanyahu's government, or far right Republicans. Ken Taylor, who was Canada's ambassador to Iran in 1979 -- and who helped free the Americans hostages -- says:

having a presence on the ground in a country is important. If the country's government won't interact, he said, there's still intelligence to gather.

While it may be true that right wing governments devote considerable time and energy gathering intelligence on the voting public, they do not spend much effort on the kind of intelligence Mr.Taylor is talking about. They figure they know all they need to know.

Once again, Stephen Harper has revealed who he really is -- a man with a chip on his shoulder, spoiling for a fight.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Not Such A Bright Idea

Dalton McGuinty scored on his own goal yesterday, when his party came in a distant third in Kitchener-Waterloo. Having engineered the by-election, by offering the sitting MP -- Conservative Elizabeth Witmer -- a plum government appointment, he then proceeded to attack the province's teachers as the enemies of austerity.

Throughout his tenure, McGuinty has had no more reliable allies than Ontario's teachers. But, having been made a political football more than once, this time the teachers were determined not to be kicked around.  Their votes went to NDP candidate Catherine Fife.

One wonders if federal Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre is paying attention. Yesterday he introduced a plan to allow public servants to opt out of paying union dues. Incensed by PSAC's recent support of the PQ in the Quebec election,  he claims that the civil service should be a right to work zone.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was quick to respond:

This is the Conservatives using their power they currently enjoy to hurt their potential opponents. It’s the bully-state in action and apparently it’s the labour movement’s turn for a shakedown," said Georgetti.

Politicians have shaken down unions ever since a former president of the Screen Actors Guild became president of the United States. And, south of the border, the war against unions -- particularly public service unions -- is proceeding with a vengeance. It was inevitable that the war would cross our border.

But yesterday's results in K-W suggest that the war may have a different outcome in Canada. Poilievre would be wise to reconsider his proposal. One suspects that Dalton McGuinty would tell him that it's not a very bright idea.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Clinton Hits A Home Run

Whatever your politics, you have to admire Bill Clinton's ability  to give a stem winding speech at a critical moment. He did it again last night at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Clinton can reduce an argument to its essential syllogisms and drive it home. He summed up the Republican argument for electing Mitt Romney this way: “We left [Obama] a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in." But, with Clinton, less is never enough. He's quite capable of going well beyond the scripted arguments.  Mitch Potter writes in The Toronto Star:

Clocking in at an epic 48 minutes — almost double the allotted time — Clinton drove teleprompter operators to distraction, ignoring the text to free-riff his way through a president's-eye view of why Obama is the obvious choice on Nov. 6.

And with folksy good humour -- and not a touch of nastiness -- he summed up the Democratic argument for Obama's re-election and dismissed the Republican argument that Obama is a failed president:

“When we vote in this election, we'll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in,” Clinton told a jammed arena of Democratic loyalists in Charlotte. “If you want a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket.

“But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility — a we're-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

“I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better,” Clinton said. “He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for the innovators.”

Clint Eastwood should feel embarrassed this morning.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Now What?

Jeffrey Simpson writes this morning that Jean Charest only has himself to blame for his party's and his personal defeat last night. That's true -- but only partially true. For Stephen Harper also helped Pauline Marois ascend to power. Harper's neglect of Quebec gave Marois the ammunition she needed to paint Ottawa as Quebec's nemesis.

Marois doesn't have a mandate for separation. But she does have a mandate to make life difficult for Harper. And she now will throw Harper's recognition of Quebec as a nation back in his face.

The prime minister may feel that he dodged a bullet last night. But, with anger growing over the Northern Gateway pipeline, the next battle will be fought in British Columbia. And, when his recent EI "reforms" are implemented in the Maritimes, Harper will find himself  heartily despised, not just in Quebec, but on Canada's east and west coasts.

Even more disturbing is the violence at last night's PQ victory celebration.  If what the gunman yelled is accurate -- "Les Anglophones se reveillent -- the Anglophones are waking up!" -- things could take a nasty turn.

We would do well to remember that this country was founded on a grand bargain. Its first government contained a Scots Protestant, a French Catholic and an Irish rebel -- all noted for their eloquence. They defined governing as finding solutions which bridged cultural and geographic distances-- not obliterating their opponents. We have, of late, forgotten that notion.

The question remains: What happens next?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Politicizing The RCMP

On Saturday, the RCMP forced a plane which was flying over Ottawa and Gatineau to land. The plane carried the banner "Stephen Harper Nous Deteste" -- Stephen Harper hates us. The plane and banner were hired by the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Given the 20,000 job cuts  in the last budget, the message was understandable.

But the RCMP claimed that the plane had invaded restricted airspace, "although the pilot reportedly knew about the restrictions and steered clear of them, a claim Nav Canada confirmed, according to"

Given the fact that, during the last election, the RCMP was tossing kids from Hraper rallies because they had identified themselves on their Facebook pages as non-Harper supporters, one has to ask, has the RCMP become the Prime Minister's private police force?

And, given the government's tight rein on the civil service, what we used to think was unthinkable has become quite possible. This is the man whose attack machine had puffins pooping on Stephane Dion's shoulder. Like all bullies, the prime minister can dish it out. But he can't take it.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Pink Elephants Have Left The Big Top

Now that the Republican Convention is over, what have we learned? It would appear that not much has changed. Economic policy remains the same -- the party favours the wealthy over the working man. But, more strikingly, the party of George W. Bush -- which did not feel beholden to the "reality based community" -- certainly now refuses to be "dictated by fact checkers."

If there is a difference between the party of 2000 and the party of 2012, it is merely a matter of degree. The GOP now has more contempt for facts than it did a decade ago. Those non existent weapons of mass destruction have not caused a rethink. Truth be told, Paul Krugman writes, Mr. Ryan tells bigger whoppers than George W. did:

For Mr. Ryan, as you may recall, has positioned himself as an icon of truth-telling and fiscal responsibility, while offering policy proposals that are neither honest nor responsible. He calls for huge tax cuts, while proposing specific spending cuts that, while inflicting immense hardship on our most vulnerable citizens, would fall far short of making up for the revenue loss. His claims to reduce the deficit therefore rely on assertions that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes that he refuses to specify, and achieve further huge spending cuts in ways that he also refuses to specify.

At least Ryan is consistent. Romney, however, doesn't know the meaning of the word. Dan Gardiner writes that Romney has campaigned :

as a moderate, a pragmatist, even a liberal. He has campaigned as conservative one long shot of Ted Nugent’s bow to the right of Ronald Reagan. He has been pro-choice, pro-life, pro-whatever the hell the polls say he needs to be to win. His greatest accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts was the implementation of a policy that ensured health care for everyone in the state yet he is now campaigning to win the White House by fiercely attacking ObamaCare, which is essentially the same policy implemented by Barack Obama at the federal level.

Watching the Republican convention was like watching that segment in Dumbo where the little fellow with the big ears mistakenly snoots too much whiskey laced water. He hiccups and blows several pink elephants up and around the big top. Clint Eastwood's speech was the biggest pink elephant of all. As an accomplished actor, he should have remembered what happened to Macbeth after he began talking to empty chairs.

Still, the crowd ate it up. That master of the big top, P.T. Barnum, was right. There really is a sucker born every minute.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

As Unions Die, So Does The Middle Class

There's a lot of talk these days about defending the middle class. Politicians of all stripes claim they are the champions of the middle class.. But everyone knows that the middle class is disappearing -- because the post World War II social contract has been broken. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star that:

More to the point, depression and war led to the unstated social compact of the Cold War: Government would allow unions to organize; corporate employers would let workers keep more of what they produced; unions would oppose Communism and maintain social peace.

The reasons for labour’s decline from the 1970s on are well known. Manufacturing has moved to low-wage countries. Non-manufacturing industries are harder to organize.

Neo-Conservatism has destroyed North America's manufacturing base and left workers with low paying service jobs. Politicians claim that they are creating jobs. Unfortunately, those jobs don't pay a living wage. And so, on this Labour Day, there will be little to celebrate. Now the politicians are taking on their own workers, insisting that austerity is the way to prosperity:

Governments haven’t yet figured out how to outsource their own employees to China so they are taking on unions by fiat — as Toronto city council did with its garbage workers and McGuinty is doing with teachers.
As unions disappear, so do well-paying, secure jobs. When labour is strong, even non union shops pay well — just to prevent themselves from being organized. When labour is weak, that pressure evaporates. As unions disappear, so does the middle class.

And when the middle class collapses, economies collapse. The folks in the middle simply do not have the money to buy the goods and services which business produces. And, until what is left of the middle class -- and those in the lower class -- rise in anger, the downward spiral will continue.