Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Fevered Dreams Of Blue-Eyed Sheiks

Not seeing the forest for the trees. It's the classic characterization of tunnel vision. An updated version of the old saw might be not seeing the shale for the pipeline. That, writes Jeffrey Simpson, is the disease which afflicts our present political masters:

Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Agency produced an estimate that the U.S. has almost 60 billion barrels of “technically recoverable” shale oil. Now, “technically recoverable” does not mean that all this supply will be used. Nor does it mean, however, that supplies the agency knows about today will not increase, perhaps substantially, as new deposits are discovered or innovative technologies for discovery and extraction are found. All that can be said is that 60 billion barrels of “technically recoverable” oil is a godsend for the United States.

Whether you pollute the air or the ground water, you wind up in the same place. But consider that information from the American perspective:

Every barrel of oil that the U.S. can supply for itself reduces the country’s current account deficit, strengthens its economy and, most important, makes the country less vulnerable to international events in faraway places, some of which are notoriously volatile and shot through with anti-American attitudes. U.S. policy-makers – and ordinary citizens – therefore assign a very high priority to reducing and, if possible, eliminating their country’s dependence on oil imports, especially from the Middle East and Venezuela.

That oil will continue to warm the planet. Until we use clean, renewable energy, we will further the planet's collapse. But that shale oil also spells the collapse of our blue-eyed sheiks. Their fevered dreams are coming to an end.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

He's Losing His Grip

Lawrence Martin writes that the cracks are spreading at Fortress Harper. First it was those ornery backbenchers who refused to shut up. Then one of them, Brent Rathgeber, resigned. And, last week, sixteen Conservative senators joined with their Liberal colleagues to gut a Harper supported private member's bill which would  have crippled unions.  Martin writes:

While sending the union bill back to the Commons with amendments prompted PMO anger, these Conservatives have done themselves and their party proud by voting according to what they thought was right. With the exception of Conservative hardliners, the legislation — a private member’s bill — was widely viewed in the party as a spiteful piece of labour-bashing. Its aim was to compel unions to disclose all payments made by them to outside groups or individuals worth $5,000 or more and to reveal the names and salaries of union employees paid more than $100,000.

The senator who spearheaded the drive was Hugh Segal, who used to work for Bill Davis -- before Mike Harris, Jim Flaherty, Tony Clement and John Baird rode into Queens Park. Segal owes the prime minister nothing. He was appointed by Paul Martin. But that was back in the days when Senate appointments could be made on the basis on merit, not blind loyalty.

Unfortunately, Tory youth appear to follow Mr.Harper like lemmings:

One group he appears to have marching in lockstep with him is the Tory youth. The work of his senators stood in marked contrast to another piece of news that made headlines for the party this week: the party planting interns to disrupt a Justin Trudeau rally on Parliament Hill. The paid interns, apparently acting with the approval of the PMO, waved placards spouting lines the Conservatives used in their grossly distorted attack ads on the Liberal leader.

It was another indication of the degree to which the level of morality in the party has sunk. This is a tactic something straight out of the Nixon White House’s book of dirty tricks.

The question is, where is the Conservative soul?  Is it in Segal's hands -- or Stephen Harper's?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Do They Get It?

Andrew Nikiforuk loves his city and his province. Both, he writes, have had a "Manhattan moment:"

We thought we were big and powerful and beyond humbling just like New York. But as every true cowboy knows, Mother Nature invariably has the last word.

And so Calgarians are now living a chronicle foretold by climate scientists. 

For years those scientists have warned about such disasters. But science doesn't cut much mustard with Alberta conservatives:

In 2005 the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative promised warming temperatures, melting glaciers, variable rainfall, changes in stream flows, accelerated evaporation and more extreme events.

In 2006 climate scientist Dave Sauchyn told a Banff audience that "droughts of longer duration and greater frequency, as well as unusual wet periods and flooding" would be the new forecast. Meanwhile researchers documented a 26-day shift in the onset of spring in Alberta over the past century.

Five years later the Bow River Council concluded that "Our rapidly growing population demands much of the land and water. Our climate is changing and the future of our water supplies is uncertain."

In 2010 the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, an agency that the Harper government killed last year because it didn't like its messages on climate change, reported that changing precipitation patterns were "the most common gradual, long-term risk from a changing climate identified by Canadian companies." 

So one has to ask the question: Do they -- particularly that Toronto-born cowboy who heads our government -- finally get it?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Future Is -- Retail

Statscan reports that, when it comes to employment in Canada, the future is in retailing.We no longer make things. We sell things that other people make. According to The Toronto Star:

“Retail salesperson” was ranked as the most common occupation for both women (4.7 per cent) and men (3.3 per cent), according to the survey.

The retail sector boasted 1.9 million workers, representing 11.5 per cent of the country’s workforce, overtaking manufacturing as the largest field of employment for Canadians.

Manufacturing, which in 2006 employed 11.8 per cent of Canadian workers, dropped to third place at 9.2 per cent. Health care and social assistance sectors now run a close second to retail at 11.4 per cent, according to the survey.

Unfortunately, retailing provides the most precarious kind of employment. Armine Yalnizyan of The Centre for Policy Alternatives says:

“The more our economic recovery and growth is based on a sector known for its low wages and for ignoring pensions and benefits, the more fragile the recovery is,”

“To the extent that we are now largely reliant on one of the sectors that is most likely to treat workers as disposable, this is a cautionary note,”

And, as wages fall, Canadians go into debt to pay their bills:

Jonathan Hunter, 47, says he’s lucky he doesn’t have a family because he doesn’t know how he would support one on his retail wages.

“I make enough to live on, but I don’t have any kids,” said the shoe repair store clerk. “If I did, that would be a problem.”

Hunter, who has worked in retail for most of his life, says he hasn’t seen the dentist in years because benefits in his line of work are rare.

Jessica Clausen, 24, sells men’s shirts on Yonge St. for $10.25 an hour, but still clings to the hope of becoming a Broadway star. The drama school graduate has been working in retail for several years while she dabbles in community theatre and waits for her big break.

“My job title is actor, which means I work in retail,” she said, with a laugh.

A report on unstable work and household wellbeing released in February found that barely half of Toronto and Hamilton-area workers have permanent, full-time work with benefits. As a result, these workers experience increased household stress and limited ability to participate in their communities, said the report by McMaster University and United Way Toronto

“Retail is often a place-holder for university students who can’t find work in their field, but they often never escape because there is nothing to move on to,” said the report’s author Wayne Lewchuk, a labour and economics professor at McMaster University.
“For others who were turfed out of good jobs, it’s the only place they can go,” he said.

Jim Flaherty says that the reason Canadians on EI are being forced off the rolls is because there is no such thing as a bad job. You'd expect the man who has had a hand in building this brave new world to say that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Economic Obsessions

Those of us who are appalled by the Harper government have taken some hope for the future as we have watched the PMO implode. But Edward Greenspon warns that, when the next election arrives, it will probably still be fought not on Harperian ethics but on the Harperian economy.

Mr. Harper claims that he is obsessed by the economy. It's true that he is obsessed by a manifestly false proposition -- that wealth creates jobs. But Harper's real obsessions are two: The Liberal Party of Canada and pipelines.

Harper is particularly obsessed by the Liberals, now that the son has also risen. And he should have experienced a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach yesterday, after President Obama did not give his full throated support to the Keystone XL pipeline. As for the economy in general, Greenspon writes:

It’s always difficult to determine whether an economy is half-empty or half-full. Certainly, last month’s job creation numbers were cause for optimism and first-quarter growth was on the upswing. Plans look on course to eliminate the federal deficit in 2015. But five years on, our reserves of resiliency are running dangerously low. There’s little room for manoeuvre should another shock come our way.

In the highly unusual type of “balance sheet recession” the world has experienced, the point is for the public sector to pump tons of stimulus into the economy while private players take a timeout and rebuild their finances. That’s what has happened in the hard-hit United States, where banks have bounced back, personal debt has fallen and house prices are rising again.

But households in Canada never paused. Their combined debts now stand at an astronomical 165 per cent of disposable income, similar levels to the U.S. at the peak of its folly. Canadians can only get away with this because interest rates are nearly subterranean. Once rates rise or housing prices fall, trouble will find us. On a recent visit to Canada, the pro-stimulus economist Paul Krugman expressed concern that Canada is primed to take some kind of hit.

It wasn't public debt that caused the Great Recession. It was private debt. And Harper's slashing of Employment Insurance and public employment has merely exacerbated the problem of private debt. In short, 2008 taught Stephen Harper nothing.

Unfortunately, Tom Mulcair doesn't have a high profile on the economy. And Justin Trudeau has no record on that file.  The prospects for the future are not particularly inspiring.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blatant Hypocrisy

Martin Regg Cohn calls Rob Ford's bluster, after his meeting with Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, exactly what  it is -- blatant hypocrisy.  And Cohn provides a little historical context:

Once upon a government, when the Mike Harris Tories downloaded social services upon Toronto (with Rob Ford’s father, Douglas, serving faithfully as a backbench MPP), the cash-strapped city got temporary compensation. After 2003, when the Dalton McGuinty Liberals started uploading those services back, it was always understood the financial transfers weren’t forever.

Now that Toronto is coming out ahead financially, it’s time to wind down the compensation, Sousa says. Not so, counters Ford, who wants the gravy to keep flowing.

Ford barged into office railing against gravy trains, then proceeded to cut taxes and costs. But, while Ford and his brother fume at the Liberals, they know that Tim Hudak would have delivered the same message:

The mayor is being a predictably apoplectic hypocrite: He knows that today’s Tory opposition — the very party his father Douglas once served, and that his big brother Doug (now a councillor) aspires to join in the next provincial election — would cease uploading municipal services, burdening Toronto’s finances far more.

Yet Ford persists with his posturing, demanding an extra helping of gravy because he is addicted to the substance. It allows him to live in a hallucinatory world where he can cut local taxes and then demand, with a straight face, that Queen’s Park make up the difference.

Like so many conservatives these days, Ford rails against gravy trains, while he insists that he has a ticket to ride.

The man -- in so many ways -- isn't who he says he is.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Senator Colin Kenny has written an important op-ed in this morning's Toronto Star. The central thrust of the piece is that the Harper government's approach to foreign aid is sheer folly. Kenny writes:

That Harper would pull CIDA out of some of the poorest countries in the world — like Malawi and Niger — and shift its focus to countries Canada wants to increase trade was reprehensible for a government committed to stand on firm moral principles in its international dealings.

That Canada would announce earlier this year that it was pulling out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification — signed on to by 194 countries — fell into the same moral quagmire. Harper’s rationale was that the convention was too bureaucratic, but the strong suspicion is that this government doesn’t want anything to do with any scientific battles against climate change.

That the government would cut the last year’s foreign aid budget by 7.5 per cent — bringing it down to 0.31 per cent of GDP — was a sad step in the wrong direction.

And what were the consequences of that 7.5% cut?

At the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, CIDA had lapsed approximately $800 million in spending. Traditionally, departments who lapse funds approved by Parliament are considered blunderers. But this was no blunder. It was clearly done by design, at the top.
The agency effectively took the money away from the world’s unfortunate and handed it back to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who is busily working toward the government’s promise to reduce the federal budget deficit to zero by election time. After that open budget cut of 7.5 per cent, the government sneaked behind the curtains and chopped the agency’s disbursements by another 20 per cent.

Kenny contrasts the Harper approach to foreign aid to that of British prime minister David Cameron:

Despite the fact that Britain’s economy is in a far more precarious state than Canada’s, Cameron has increased Britain’s foreign aid budget to 0.56 per cent of his country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and committed himself to hitting the UN’s international target of 0.7 per cent a year from now.

And Cameron is unapoligetic about the increase in foreign aid:

When speaking about his initiative to fight world hunger, Cameron pointed out that more than 60 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in fragile and conflicted states. “We understand that if we invest in countries before they get broken, we might not end up spending so much on dealing with problems — whether that’s immigration or threats to our national security.”

As in everything else they do, the Harper government is penny wise and pound foolish.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

They're In The Money

"In Ottawa," Michael Den Tandt wrote last week, "money sloshes around like water in a tub." Things have gotten worse since Stephen Harper ditched Jean Chretien's modest attempt to provide some public funding for elections.  Some defend the status quo; but voters are furious. They demand transparency:

Some will lament this heightened scrutiny, bordering on hostility, as the latest debasement of an already frayed relationship between democratically elected representatives, most of whom are sincere and work hard, and the polity. If all politicians are assumed to be liars, cheats and crooks, what good person will run for office? Would a young Bob Rae, Ed Broadbent or Preston Manning do so today given the soup of incivility, meanness, suspicion and stupidity that now comes with the job?

That's Wall Street's argument. If you want talent, you have to pay for it. But the pay is pretty good, even for the not so talented:

For many others, $160,200 is the most they’ve ever earned in a year, or ever will. The average salaried worker in Canada brings home under $50,000. The MP’s job itself is a privilege, rich with perquisites even with the slavering hordes of the media mouth-breathing in the background.

The Wall Street mentality has driven the Harper government. And now it is reaping what it has sown. Like the big banks, Harper Inc. has sold its integrity  -- and squandered its credibility.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Creative Destruction?

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that capitalism encouraged "creative destruction." Tom Walkom writes that The Great Recession has been all about destruction:

In Canada, we are said to be doing well. The official unemployment statistics show Canadian joblessness at a high but tolerable level of roughly 7 per cent.
But those official statistics disguise the profound changes in work that are taking place — the move from full to part-time employment, the erosion of job security, the growing wage gap between those fortunate enough to be near the top and everyone else.

The powers that be continue to encourage that destruction:

Europe’s effort to integrate diverse countries through a common currency has bankrupted Greece, savaged Cyprus and destroyed job prospects for an entire generation in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

France is in trouble, Britain is fraying around the edges. Even the success stories of globalization — such as Brazil and Turkey — are facing political pushback.

In Turkey, a small dispute over a park led to widespread and violent riots. In Brazil, the trigger for mass protests was an increase in bus fares.
None of this should come as a surprise. Those making economic policy from afar may admire creative destruction. Those being destroyed rarely do.

In Canada that destruction is best illustrated by the evisceration of the Employment Insurance System:

Employment insurance has become particularly irrelevant. A new study by the Canadian Labour Congress calculates that only 35 per cent of the jobless now qualify for EI. In Ontario, the percentage is 25; in Toronto 20.

As CLC senior economist Angella MacEwen explains, this has occurred in part because of government attempts to narrow EI’s scope.
But the other reason is that the slump has gone on so long. Many of the unemployed who at one point did qualify for EI benefits have simply used them up.

There's not much creativity anywhere. Perhaps the powers that be are simply stupid.

Friday, June 21, 2013

With Friends Like Harper, You Don't Need Enemies

                                                                    Rob Moore

The Grace Foundation, the New Brunswick charity which complained last week about Justin Trudeau's  speaking fee, now says it's "deeply distressed" by the way things have turned out. Ian Webster, chairman of the foundation's board, is upset. Supposedly private correspondence was made public:

 "There was never any intention for this matter to become a political topic of discussion on the floor of the House of Commons."

But local MP Rob Moore -- and the Prime Minister's Office -- made Trudeau's fee a cause celebre:

"We are deeply distressed about many statements made from various persons," he says, adding that the board is "most concerned" about remarks from Moore.

Moore has insisted he was asked by board members to put pressure on Trudeau to return the $20,000 fee he charged to headline a fundraising event in June 2012.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister's Office circulated to reporters a letter in which foundation board member Susan Buck says the event was a "huge disappointment and financial loss for our organization" and asks Trudeau for a refund.

In Thursday's statement, Webster says the "private letter" was sent in March to the Speakers' Spotlight, the agency through which the foundation hired Trudeau. After receiving no response, he says the board decided in May to drop the matter.

"The board of directors did not authorize any member or agent to approach (Moore) or any political person on this matter."

Moore, however, is standing by his version of events.

Obviously, somebody isn't telling the truth. But no one should be surprised. If you hitch your wagon to Stephen Harper's star, you're bound to have a rough ride. Ask Nigel Wright. Ask Mike Duffy. Ask Brent Rathgeber. Ask Garth Turner.

With friends like Mr. Harper, you don't need enemies.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rae The Public Servant

A Trudeau led the Liberal Party when Bob Rae entered the House of Commons. And a Trudeau leads that party as Rae leaves. The Dippers were never sure Rae was one of them. And the Liberals were never sure if he belonged in their camp, either. That is why they never elected him permanent leader of the party.

But there has always been a remarkable consistency to Bob Rae. He believes that government can be a force for good. He believes it has a responsibility to the less fortunate. Like his father, he believes that Canada can be an honest broker on the international stage. And he believes in fair play.

He stands in stark contrast to the present prime minister. The kid who used to deliver Richard Nixon's newspaper learned how not to do politics from Nixon. Stephen Harper used Nixon's politics as a template for governing this country.

We probably will not see Rae run for elected office again. But that does not mean he has abandoned public service. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star that Rae's decision to negotiate with Ontario on behalf of Canada's First Nations is all of apiece. He has a long record of seeking the just outcome:

If there was a high-profile issue, Rae was involved. The federal government asked him to inquire into whether there should be an inquiry into the 1985 terror bombing of an Air India flight (he said yes).

The Ontario government asked him to inquire into whether university and college tuition should increase (he said yes again).

He investigated softwood lumber exports for the lumber industry and Sri Lanka’s civil war for a non-governmental organization he chaired.

When a scandal over tainted blood erupted, Rae led an investigation into what to do with the Canadian Red Cross. When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra found itself in financial trouble, Rae negotiated a government bailout.

Problems with a native fishery in New Brunswick? Call on Bob Rae.

No one should doubt Bob Rae's ambition. He really wanted to be Prime Minister of Canada. But, in the end, he has done Canada stellar service -- without seizing the brass ring.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Gulf Gets Bigger

Two reports -- one released yesterday, the other today -- paint a pretty grim picture of where the country is. The Huffington Post reports that Canada's wealthiest continued to do well last year:

The stock markets came roaring back after a shaky 2011, and so did the wealthy. Canada’s high net worth individuals (those with liquid assets of $1 million or more) saw their wealth grow 6.8 per cent last year, according to a new report from RBC and Capgemini.

That’s a considerably better rate than what the average Canadian saw. Household net worth in Canada grew a comparably measly 1.4 per cent last year.

During the same period, the plight of Canada's aboriginal children got worse:

Half of Canada's First Nations children are living in poverty, triple the national average, according to a new analysis of census statistics that pegs the cost of easing the problem at $580-million a year.

The study by the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives being released Wednesday also paints a grim picture of Metis, Inuit, and non-status Indian children, as well as of children of immigrants and visible minorities.

The analysis of census data from 2006 — the latest year relevant statistics are available — finds one-third of immigrant children and almost one-quarter of visible minority kids live below the low income line.
For other indigenous children — Metis, Inuit, and non-status Indian children — the rate is about 27 per cent.

The overall rate for children who belong to none of those groups is about 12 per cent.

And we pride ourselves on our economic prowess? The gulf keeps getting bigger. We should not be sleeping well these days.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nothing For Something

The Harper government has released ads touting its Canada Job Grants Program. The problem is that the program doesn't exist. Andrew Coyne writes in the Postmedia papers:

Ottawa proposes to foot only one-third of the cost of the grants; the remainder is contingent on the participation of the provinces and employers, which has yet to be negotiated.

What is more (less?), it appears some of the larger provinces may never sign on. Quebec has already signaled its outright refusal (but you knew that), while Ontario is promising to be difficult, at the least. A statement from the province’s minister of training released Monday complains the program, while potentially “a valuable tool,” would “force Ontario to re-direct funds currently geared to help the most vulnerable workers.”

The Harperites are intruding on provincial jurisdiction -- which is odd, because Stephen Harper says he believes in drawing clear lines between federal and provincial responsibilities. Coyne argues, if the Harperites truly believed in the program, they could fund their share -- something they did not do in the last budget.

No, what the government is doing is classic Harper strategy: selling nothing for something. The prime minister sold the country on accountability, but refused to give Kevin Page the information he needed to do his work. Ditto on Afghan prisoners and the prisons program. He claimed he was going to drain the swamp in Ottawa, and make the Senate more democratic. Then he gave us Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

What the Job Grant Program gives the government is another opportunity to shift the blame. If the program doesn't materialize, Mr. Harper will blame the provinces. And, most important of all, it allows Mr. Harper another opportunity to sell Canadians nothing for something -- the something being their own money.

Nothing for something. What a concept!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hudak Should Watch His Back

When Tim Hudak was elected the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, he came in with Mike Harris' blessing. He was, after all, one of Harris' young guns. But, since his ascension, Hudak has proved repeatedly that he can't shoot straight. Two elections ago, he began with an overwhelming advantage and blew it. In his second contest with Dalton McGuinty, the man who recently departed Queen's Park with a whimper came within one seat of a majority government.

And, during Ontario's recent budget negotiations, Hudak simply refused to play. He assumed that another election was coming. But things did not work out as he planned. Martin Regg Cohen writes in The Toronto Star:

It’s not hard to see why Hudak is seething. His party made a big bet on a spring campaign, priming its party headquarters and nominating a full slate of candidates — many of whom took leave of their jobs but now have little to do in the dog days of summer.
Disdainful of dirtying his hands in any prebudget negotiations, Hudak dealt himself out of the process for the second year in a row. And now has nothing to show for it.

Unlike Hudak, Andrea Horvath understood that she could have a significant influence on the budget:

Horwath has wielded the balance of power effectively since the 2011 election that produced a Liberal minority government. While the Tories sat on the sidelines, Horwath won concessions. In last year’s budget, she got most of what she wanted; this year, she got even more: an expanded youth job creation program, welfare reforms, auto insurance cuts, expanded long-term care and a new Financial Accountability Office.

The final package was both progressive and pragmatic. Despite Tory warnings, the (overrated) credit rating agencies didn’t blink.

Now Hudak is faced with angry candidates who were expecting to get elected. They -- and Hudak -- have nothing to show for their labours:

Hudak chose the last question period before the summer break to vent his bitterness, singling out Horwath before even targeting Premier Kathleen Wynne. While his job description demands that the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition hold the government to account, Hudak used his leadoff question to taunt the NDP instead:

“I say to the NDP: Stand with us. Vote against this budget. Bring change to the province of Ontario and no longer prop up a corrupt government."
When Wynne rallied to Horwath’s defence, Hudak rounded on the NDP leader: “She’s tied herself into a human pretzel just to prop up a corrupt government."

All Hudak can do now is stew in his own bitterness. I suspect that a lot of Ontario PCs are also stewing. Hudak should watch his back.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Education Isn't Enough Anymore

On Friday,  Paul Krugman wrote that the technological revolution is leaving even some of the well educated behind:

Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.
I’ve noted before that the nature of rising inequality in America changed around 2000. Until then, it was all about worker versus worker; the distribution of income between labor and capital — between wages and profits, if you like — had been stable for decades. Since then, however, labor’s share of the pie has fallen sharply. As it turns out, this is not a uniquely American phenomenon. A new report from the International Labor Organization points out that the same thing has been happening in many other countries, which is what you’d expect to see if global technological trends were turning against workers. 

As a retired teacher, I've always placed my faith in education. It gave me a good salary and stable employment. It's a faith I've passed on to my children. One son is trying to finish his doctoral dissertation. Our second son holds bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as a community college diploma. Only recently has he found good, steady employment -- at the age of 31. Our youngest son is working on a bachelor's degree; but he wonders if he will spend the rest of his life busing tables.

In short, my children wonder if they have been sold a bill of goods. And, given the new rules of the game, perhaps they have. Krugman writes that, unfortunately, education is no longer the solution to rising inequality. And it was rising inequality which was behind the meltdown of 2008.

What, then, do we do about it?  The answer, writes Krugman, is to rebuild the social safety net:

If the picture I’ve drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society — a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules — would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income. 

His suggestion is not going to make conservatives happy. They have spent the last thirty years ripping the net apart, claiming it was only a refuge for the lazy. But the economic stabilisers which were put in place after the Great Depression kept the economy from going over the cliff -- until the Thatcherites and Reaganites got rid of them.

It's time the revolutionaries of the right faced the next generation, who feel that they've been lied to.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Not A Big Speaker From A Big Country

When Stephen Harper steps out on the world stage, he never fails to offend. Last week, he spoke before the Mother of all Parliaments. He praised David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher:

In his speech, Harper told Cameron how much he has admired the prime minister’s “determined efforts and your wise and principled leadership during these last few years as we have dealt with the difficult and critical issues facing our countries and the world issues which require the best of what has always made Britain unique and strong, and which you have plainly demonstrated.”

Of Thatcher, Harper noted what he called the late prime minister’s refusal to accept any thought of inevitable decline and did so “not as an expression of good cheer, but as a matter of resolve and action and so Britain rose once more.”

He neglected to notice that he was speaking to British parliamentarians of all stripes -- and, thus, he left a bad taste in some mouths. John Spellar, the Labour Party's shadow minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs, told iPolitics' Colin Horgan:

“Saying how wonderful Margaret Thatcher is – he might have noticed that this was a controversial issue,” Spellar said Friday. “Now, of course he’s a conservative, but throughout the speech to be obsessing about how only Conservatives had the answer and therefore he and David Cameron were the right people, is not the way to do it.”

Spellar said it was “not prime ministerial,” and that a number of his Labour party colleagues expressed how “disappointed they were” with the address.

Thatcherism died in the economic meltdown -- five years before the Iron Lady. But, then, Harper has never been impressed by facts. But, more importantly, whether he is at the United Nations or at Westminster, Harper always trots out his most salient characteristic -- tunnel vision.

The rest of the world has his number. Spellar understands that Mr. Harper does not represent Canada's best and brightest:

“Canadian prime ministers in the past have had that broader perspective, so it’s not a case of saying ‘Here’s someone from Canada, they’re bound to be parochial’. That’s not the case at all,” he said. “It is that someone’s really not speaking for Canada, which is a G8 member, a G20 member, a major player in international affairs. And this wasn’t a speech from a big figure from a big country.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sneaky Steve

You have to admit, the phrase has possibilities, partly because of its alliterative panache. But, Michael Harris writes, the real strength of the phrase comes from its accuracy:

Sneaky politicians are a plague on democracy — the dark avenue to something sinister. The prime minister of Canada is the Wayne Gretzky of sneakiness. Once again, he has been caught cheating.

This week, my colleague at iPolitics, Colin Horgan, broke an important story about the Harper government stacking the selection committee tasked with coming up with the short list for the new Parliamentary Budget Officer. 

Harper doesn't want to endure another Kevin Page, whose facility with numbers showed up the faux economist prime minister:

One of the few federal bureaucrats who stood up to Harper’s cult-conservatism was the lately-departed chief of the PBO, Kevin Page. He regularly challenged the phoney books and unsupported policy of this catch-us-if-you-can government — and oh, how they came to hate him for it.

Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay and countless party bobbleheads who BS for a living on TV were caught dead to rights falsifying the cost of the F-35 fighter jet — once by Page, and then again by the auditors at KPMG.

But Harper's attempt to stack the deck when selecting the next Parliamentary Budget Officer is nothing new:

Harper was sneaky in the way he changed the wording in the Atlantic Accord, cheating Nova Scotia out of what former Conservative MP Bill Casey calculated was between $500 million and a billion dollars. When confronted with legal opinions supporting his case, the PM told Casey that the words meant what he said they meant.

After Brent Rathgeber quit the CPC in disgust, the PM suggested that he resign his seat — sneakily implying that somehow Rathgeber was morally unqualified to retain it since he had been elected as a Conservative. Stephen Harper applied a different standard when he appointed David Emerson to his cabinet fresh from winning his seat as a Liberal.

Harper was sneaky when changing the federal government’s commitment to First Nations, slipping wording into their financial transfer agreements that connected getting the money to getting with the government’s program on future policy.

And what were Harper’s monstrous omnibus bills but a sneak attack on the Opposition parties right to be informed? Those bloated non-budget bills were simply places to hide things the government didn’t want people to know about. A leader declares his views and seeks support for them. A sneak conceals his intentions and challenges you to discover them.
Yes, Sneaky Steve in an appropriate moniker. It just might have the same staying power as "Tricky Dicky."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Economics As A Morality Play

Stephen Harper and David Cameron live in a bubble of mutual admiration. That bubble is on display this morning in London. They are congratulating each other on their economic prowess. But the IMF has acknowledged that the policies which Harper and Cameron espouse -- and which the IMF used to officially endorse -- have been catastrophic failures. Carol Goar writes in The Toronto Star:

Late last Wednesday, the powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF), which led the Greek bailout three years ago, issued an extraordinary mea culpa, admitting it had underestimated the severity of the debt crisis and miscalculated — by a spectacular margin — the damage its harsh strictures would do.

“Market confidence was not restored, the banking system lost 30 per cent of its deposits and the economy encountered a much deeper-than-expected recession with exceptionally high unemployment,” the global agency wrote in a 50-page report.

Paul Krugman came to the same conclusion in an article he called  "How The Case For Austerity Has Crumbled" in The New York Review of Books. Krugman wrote:

In the beginning was the bubble. There have been many, many books about the excesses of the boom years—in fact, too many books. For as we’ll see, the urge to dwell on the lurid details of the boom, rather than trying to understand the dynamics of the slump, is a recurrent problem for economics and economic policy. For now, suffice it to say that by the beginning of 2008 both America and Europe were poised for a fall. They had become excessively dependent on an overheated housing market, their households were too deep in debt, their financial sectors were undercapitalized and overextended.

But rather than carefully examining the data, the Masters of the Financial Universe bought into the notion that economics, at bottom, was a morality play. Krugman opined:

Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.

When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it—and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process. When Andrew Mellon told Herbert Hoover to let the Depression run its course, so as to “purge the rottenness” from the system, he was offering advice that, however bad it was as economics, resonated psychologically with many people (and still does).

At the beginning of the Greek Crisis, you may recall that the Reverend Mr. Harper went to Greece to encourage George Papandreou to apply more austerity than what the European Union had forced upon him. It should be perfectly obvious by now that -- despite his master's degree in economics -- Mr. Harper doesn't know what he's talking about.

He really is a fundamentalist preacher -- like Bible Bill Aberhart -- who abandoned the pulpit  for government.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Progressive Conservative Revival?

 Michael Harris writes that Stephen Harper can't save the Conservative Party. Neither can anyone in his cabinet:

The essential reason that no Harper cabinet minister can ride to the party’s rescue is that they are all part of the problem. They all bought in to the model Harper built for winning and holding power. But the model was flawed, the principles it espoused were inimical to civil public life, and now people are throwing off this Steve-Power that he tried to pass off as conservatism and democracy. If Canadians no longer want the organ grinder, why would they want the monkeys?

If the party is to survive, Harris writes, it will have to return to its progressive roots:

Ironically, it is the Red Tories, the ‘progressive conservatives’, who could turn out to be the party messiahs. The Conservative Party of Canada still has some stellar assets.

One of them is Senator Hugh Segal — not as a contender himself but a wise counsellor. Segal combines the political rigour of a moderate conservative with the credentials of a true intellectual. He knows who he is but there is room in his world for other voices.

Another is former Harper cabinet minister Jim Prentice, who embraced science as Environment minister instead of smothering it, and who decided the Harper-cult being built in Ottawa was not for him. Talent with scruples.

Finally, there is Michael Chong, the quiet man from Fergus, Ont. with the first-class mind and sense of integrity to match. He gave up his minister’s perks when Stephen Harper declared Quebec a nation — a decision taken by the prime minister alone, without consulting cabinet. Chong knows that better than most; he was minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and he knew that what the PM had done was not exactly democracy in action. Again, talent with scruples.

The problem is that Mr. Harper -- with Peter Mackay's help -- decimated the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. There may not be enough of it left to stage a comeback. And that is the ultimate irony. Stephen Harper's "strong, stable, majority Conservative government" has been its -- and the country's  -- worst enemy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's Ethics, Stupid!

Lawrence Martin summarizes Stephen Harper's central problem very succinctly:

The Prime Minister’s problem is that ethics is taking over from economics as the dominant issue in the public mind. That’s a trend he has to reverse; it’s poison.

So far, he has ignored the problem. His strategy has been to take comfort in the company of loyalists. That is why Ray Novak is in charge of the PMO. But loyalty to the prime minister is getting a little thin. Martin writes that, according to one anonymous Conservative MP, the natives are restless:

There are more than enough Conservative dissidents to get the required number [who would threaten to leave the caucus]. Most, he said, are veterans who have their pensions locked up and don’t have much to lose in offending the powers that be.

Would the rebels go so far as to issue this kind of ultimatum? Don’t bet your banjo on it. But the fact that the idea is being discussed is noteworthy in itself. It shows that the days of Mr. Harper’s acting as if l’├ętat, c’est moi are passing. To use Mr. Rathgeber’s words, backbenchers are no longer prepared to be treated like “trained seals.” They are emboldened and they have explosives at their disposal.

And revolt in Conservative ranks is not a new phenomenon:

If history is any indication, backbench unrest is something Mr. Harper had better heed. It’s damaged the Conservatives in the past. John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark faced crippling caucus rebellions. In 2001, senior members of the Canadian Alliance party left the caucus to protest against Stockwell Day’s leadership. They forced his hand and they were glad they did – he resigned the leadership, opening the door to Stephen Harper to take over the party and lead it to success under the Conservative banner.

Paul Adams believes that we have entered the post Harper era. Like Mark Twain's reported death, it's a little early to write Stephen Harper's obituary. Nonetheless, it's time for him to reap what he has sown. His cavalier treatment of people has caught up with him.

Monday, June 10, 2013

He's Perfectly Clear

Those of us who are old enough to remember recall that one of Richard Nixon's pet -- and pat -- phrases was "perfectly clear." And, therefore, it is particularly ironic that Stephen Harper -- who appears more Nixonian with each passing day -- has adopted that phrase. As evidence, I offer the above clip.

But, Jordan Himmelfarb writes, the more Harper claims to be "clear," the more opaque he gets. That was particularly true during question period last week -- when Harper chose to show up:

Asked by Mulcair last week how many times a day he speaks to his chief of staff, Harper claimed not to understand the question. Asked whether a particular aide was privy to particular discussions, he responded with a non-sequitur: “Once again … the facts here are very clear. Mr. Wright decided to take an action on his own initiative, using his own funds. These actions are his sole responsibility.” It’s bad enough that the prime minister is once again erecting a stone wall; that he claims the wall is clear insults our intelligence. 

 If one is searching for clarity, the place to begin is with Harper's record:

Harper came to power in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal promising a new era of openness and accountability in Ottawa. But at every turn – in his cold-shouldering of the press, his ongoing recalcitrance with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, his muzzling of scientists and other public servants, and his abuses of parliamentary procedure – he has demonstrated the emptiness of those promises.

Like Nixon, Harper is a morose, suspicious man who sees enemies everywhere he looks. His gut instinct is to build a wall between himself and those he feels are out to get him -- and that's pretty much everybody. Like Nixon, he is wreaking havoc in government.

That's what's perfectly clear.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Democracy and Efficiency

Corruption is always rooted in human character. But these days -- at least in Canada -- Robert Sibley suggests that it might also have something to do with the cult of efficiency:

Indeed, our culture of expediency is in some ways the consequence of a technologically-minded attitude that regards efficiency and effectiveness as the central purpose and goal of governance. The essence of technology, as the philosophers teach, is efficiency. The whole point of technology is to close as best as possible the gap between means and ends. The fondness of Trudeau and his successors for “centralization” reflects the desire to close the gap as much as possible between the inefficient means of parliamentary democracy with a more efficient means of decision-making. For the centralizers, many aspects of the democratic tradition — debate, committees, hearings, compromise and consensus building, and, yes, even voting — are outmoded, inefficient and increasingly ineffective in suitably responding to our high-speed, never-stop, crisis-a-minute world.

Thus, a government which tells us that it is "focused on the economy" outlaws strikes before they begin. It short circuits environment assessment because it slows down the process of getting oil to market. And it imposes closure on debate, because debate merely puts off the inevitable -- passage of a bill.

That emphasis on getting things done opens the door to political corruption:

This devotion to efficiency breeds the cultural of expediency that fosters political corruption. Corruption, as political scientist Samuel Huntington once stated, can be defined as “behaviour of public officials which deviates from accepted norms in order to serve private ends.” (Private ends can include political interests.) Is this not what we’ve seen in the Senate expenses scandal? Politicians identify their self-interest with the public interest, assuming they’re entitled to every entitlement, advantage and benefit they can obtain, whether private or public, monetary or political, by the most expedient (or efficient) means.

And, therefore, we are left with the absurd proposition that self-interest is in the public interest. If the Harper government stands for anything, it is that self interest is in the country's best interest. That is why Mike Duffy was made a senator. That is why we have the lowest corporate taxes in our history. And that is why the government is devoted to shutting down the flow of information. That information would make it abundantly clear that the government carries no brief for the public interest.

Democracy -- by its very nature -- is inefficient. So is the justice system. But we used to believe that democracy and justice were more important than efficiency. Indeed, we used to believe that democracy made justice possible.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Follow The Money

Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money" -- because that trail would lead them back to the White House and the plumbers who committed the Watergate burglary. Greg Weston has done that -- and the trail leads back to the PMO. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star:

For weeks, questions have swirled as to why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then chief of staff would give $90,000 of his own money to Mike Duffy, a Conservative senator he barely knew.

Now we have a plausible answer. It seems that former chief of staff Nigel Wright also controlled a secret Conservative Party slush fund that at times contained almost $1 million.

Which meant that he was in a position to repay himself for his generosity.

The Conservatives are busy spinning the line that there was no such slush fund:

Chris Alexander was given the unenviable task of defending the fund on CBC Radio. He said all political parties defray the partisan activities of their leaders, which is true.

He also said, “All of those expenses are reported to Elections Canada.” Which is not true.

And he said that anything the Conservatives do as a party is “overseen as to its appropriateness by Elections Canada.” Which is also not true.

In fact, as an Elections Canada spokesman confirmed Friday, the monitoring body has limited jurisdiction. Parties must reveal all donations to Elections Canada, which then makes the list public. Parties must account for money they spend on activities during the relatively short period of an election campaign.

Like all the president and all his men, Stephen Harper and his acolytes are desperately trying to cover up what was going on. Unfortunately for them, Brent Rathgeber has focused attention on the rot that has accumulated in the Prime Minister's Office.

As he did in 2008 -- when it looked like his government would fall -- Stephen Harper has gone into hiding, desperately looking for a scapegoat -- one that resides outside his party.The difference this time is that it's abundantly clear, even to the Conservative base, that the enemy is within.

It took Nixon awhile to get around to the realisation that there was no way out. He had to resign. My bet is that -- eventually -- Stephen Harper will come to the same realisation.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Things Fall Apart

Humpty Dumpty is teetering on his wall. Michael Den Tandt writes in the Postmedia papers:

Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus, which dropped inside the Ottawa bubble like a little concussion grenade late Wednesday, represents more than the loss of a single MP among the 164 Tories in the Commons. It is a dagger straight to the heart of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper's standard defense when he has been cornered is to blame those "others" -- primarily Liberals -- or "separatists" and "socialists." But Rathgeber is from Harper's heartland, the political real estate which is supposed to be in the prime minister's iron grip:
To gauge the importance of this, we must first appreciate where Rathgeber comes from, whom he represents, and why he quit. This is no feckless Atlantic Red Tory, or an ambitious Ontarian disgruntled at his pending exclusion from cabinet. Rathgeber is a true-blue conservative, fiscal and social, from the heartland. He has a history of taking principled stands on issues that matter to the Conservative base: democracy, accountability and fiscal probity. His departure therefore represents a sharp rebuke, if not a repudiation, by the base – in effect, by the Conservative party’s conscience.

One would have thought that with Duffy's $90,000 cheque floating around in the politosphere, the last thing the Harperites would do would be to shield all those who earn less than  $444,761 a year from public scrutiny. But they did it -- and they did it without explanation:

Rathgeber pointed out that while not one of the Tory committee members spoke about the need for amendment at committee, all seven of them voted in favour of the changes the government wanted.
"It's a hollow shadow of the bill it once was, and to me was sort of evidence of a bigger problem in government," he said, adding that he doesn't believe the Tory members of the committee had a problem with the original bill, but gutted it on orders from the top.

The Conservative committee members were engaged in the same exercise as their Senate colleagues who whitewashed Mike Duffy's audit. The difference this time is that the information comes from one of their own. You would think that Mr. Harper would not be stupid enough to try the same ploy which has gotten him in so much hot water. But Harper, like a callow adolescent, thinks he's invincible.

Humpty Dumpty  fell to earth, the worse for wear. Likewise, Stephen Harper's political universe is imploding.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Rebellion On The Right

Stephen Harper's most loyal supporters are deserting him. Tom Walkom writes in The Toronto Star:

The latest stress point is a damning critique of Harper’s economic policy by the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a right-of-centre organization that is usually friendly to, if not always onside with, the federal Conservative government.

Entitled “Judging Harper by his own fiscal standards,” the essay by Gregory Thomas, federal director of the low-tax advocacy group, appeared in this week’s Globe and Mail.

It clinically but ruthlessly takes apart Harper’s economic record.

It's a record that leaves Harper's base increasingly furious:

The federal budget? Still not balanced. The federal debt? Up by almost one-third since Harper took office. The tax system? More complicated than ever.

Unemployment is higher since Harper took office, Thomas writes. But more to the point, he says, fundamental reforms promised by the Conservative leader have failed to materialize.

Harper pledged to end subsidies for business. The subsidies have grown. He challenged the equalization system that sends money from Alberta to poorer provinces like Quebec. The system continues.

It's no secret that progressives loathe Harper. But, when the people who enabled you start to grumble loudly, you'd better watch your back. Peter Penashue is gone. Shelley Glover and James Bezan are up for suspension for also exceeding campaign spending limits. And this morning comes word that Brent Rathgeber has resigned from the Conservative caucus.  The Harper majority is slowly disappearing. And, of course, there is the Wright-Duffy debacle.

Never one to endure political defeat, I wouldn't be surprised if the prime minister is considering other career options.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

It's All About Money

The standard narrative on Nigel Wright seems to be that he is a straight arrow who took one for the boss. But Linda McQuaig suggests that narrative is what the Harperites would like you to believe. The truth is more complicated:

Less attention has been paid to Wright’s role as one of the Harper Conservatives’ top bagmen.

In addition to being a key player in Stephen Harper’s rise to power and the push to “unite the right” a decade ago, Wright, a Bay Street insider who served as managing director of the powerful private equity firm Onex, has been deeply involved in the money side of conservative politics.

Wright was one of three founding directors of Conservative Fund Canada, which was set up in 2003 to finance the new conservative movement in its bid to bring about a conservative revolution in Canada —an aspiration Wright strongly shares.

Until becoming Harper’s chief of staff in 2010, Wright spent seven years on the board of the fund, along with corporate high-flier Senator Irving Gerstein.
Wright and Gerstein developed the fund into an effective fundraising machine that underwrote Conservative election campaigns and developed the party’s sophisticated computer systems. They also battled Elections Canada over the “in and out” scandal — Wright is named in court documents — in which the Conservative party eventually pled guilty to election law violations and paid hefty fines for using a complex scheme that resulted in campaign overspending. 

Money is the mother's milk of politics. And that is particularly true of the Conservative political apparatus. Senators Duffy and Wallin brought in money, and -- as recent emails have revealed -- Duffy expected to be compensated for his services.

McQuaig wonders if Wright's bank account would have been replenished by party funds:

Even if Harper didn’t “know” about the payment — just as Bill Clinton didn’t “know” Monica Lewinsky — there’s still the question of where the $90,000 came from.
While Wright may have written the cheque on his own account, might he have expectations of reimbursement from party funds or wealthy Conservative donors?

It's always been hard to believe that Wright's motives were purely altruistic:

The Conservative narrative about Wright recklessly freelancing a private solution to the Duffy problem seems out of sync with what is known about Wright — that he’s a team-playing party loyalist who is highly disciplined (getting up at 4 a.m. to run 20 kilometres), with a strong connection to the money-raising side of the party.

The Conservatives are all about money. And money is the source of political corruption.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stepping In It

All political parties have their own manure machines -- propaganda shops, whose task is to sell their program. But, under Stephen Harper, political propaganda has been redefined. It's now all about ad hominem attacks; and it's non stop, all year round.

The Harper brand of  manure relies on several carefully defined strategies. Michael Harris examines some of them:

Here’s one of the favourites. I call it the “They hate Harper” ploy. No matter what a critic says, this form of manure management moves the debate from the substance of the criticism to its motivation. The benefits are immediate.

When you can’t answer someone’s points, you can always say he’s a big Liberal, or in the pay of foreign governments, or eats baby birds live out of the nest. That way, those of your followers who need protective ignorance of the facts have cover: “The critics just hate us.” End of story, no need to examine the facts.

This is the most frequently used strategy. The Harperites are allergic to facts because the facts undercut the objective.

Then there is the argument used by children everywhere -- but everybody does it:

But the “others have done the same thing” version of BS is quintessentially flawed. That’s because it admits, rather than denies, wrongdoing. It just tries to spread it around, like manure.

But it is especially unhelpful when used by people who rose to power on the express promise of probity in government. Just for the record, the promise from Stephen Harper wasn’t to be as bad as, or worse than, the other guys. The promise was to clean up Ottawa, not turn it into the Sydney Tar Ponds.

And, finally, there is the ploy which helped Harper win the last election -- no one cares:

“No one cares.” Harper famously used the ‘no one cares’ BS when he was found in contempt of Parliament. It encouraged him. Now no one cares about misplacing $3.1 billion worth of taxpayers’ money — roughly ten times the estimated sum in Adscam. No one cares about cheating in elections. No one cares about conflict-of-interest. No one cares about general lobotomies being performed on the Harper caucus.

What do we care about in the press release reality of the Harper government? We care about beer. We care about hockey. We care about Big Government keeping us safe while we play Scratch and Lose. And we are all especially pleased that the PM’s hair will stay in place in a Force 8 gale. That’s what we care about.

Lately, however, none of these strategies have been working. The expert producers and purveyors of manure are stepping in their own stuff.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Where's The Outrage?

That's what Bob Dole trumpeted almost twenty years ago, when he was running against Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. Try as he might, Dole couldn't generate public outrage against Clinton.

Susan Delacourt wrote last week that Conservatives can't seem to generate any outrage over the fact that their top security database -- the Constituent Management Information System -- was used as the source for most robocalls:

Where was the outrage over their database being hijacked? Where were the reassuring words to supporters, or the thousands of other people whose names are in that database, that the party was doing everything it could to make sure the system couldn’t be hacked?

Ever since the first news of the robocalls fraud emerged more than a year ago, it’s been perplexing to see the Conservatives’ stunning lack of curiosity about alleged abuse of their secret campaign weapon called CIMS .

Rather than outrage, the Conservatives have done everything they can think of to sabotage Elections Canada's probe into the matter

Moreover, we learned this week, thanks to confirmations by chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, that Conservatives have been slowing down the criminal probe into robocalls — keeping investigators cooling their heels for months, scheduling interview appointments that get cancelled and making key people unavailable for questioning.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to ask: Is this how people act when they’ve got nothing to hide? 

It would appear that the Conservatives have a great deal to hide -- whether it be Mike Duffy's Senate expenses, the cost of those F-35s,  or the files on Afghan prisoners.

Information -- true and accurate information -- is their enemy.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Do What You're Told

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky returned to a subject about which he has said a lot over the years -- consumer culture:

The advertising industry is a huge industry, and anyone with their eyes open can see what it's for. First of all, the existence of the advertising industry is a sign of the unwillingness to let markets function. If you had markets, you wouldn't have advertising. Like, if somebody has something to sell, they say what it is and you buy it if you want. But when you have oligopolies, they want to stop price wars. They have to have product differentiation, and you got to turn to diluting people into thinking you should buy this rather than that. Or just getting them to consume - if you can get them to consume, they're trapped, you know.

Chomsky has always seen through the lie which dominates our political culture. We do not -- in fact, we have never -- believed in "free markets."  And, when people like Stephen Harper tell you they are totally focused on the economy, what they really mean is that they are totally focused on consumer culture.

The greatest threat to consumer culture is free thought. That, says Chomsky, is why public education has become an instrument of control, by which the propertied class keep the plebians in their place:

Schools are designed to teach the test. You don't have to worry about students thinking for themselves, challenging, raising questions. And you see it down to the lowest level of detail. I give a lot of talks in communities and places where people are concerned about education and I've had teachers come up to me and say afterwards, you know, I teach sixth grade. A little girl came up after class and said she was interested in something that came up in class, and wanted to know how to look into it. And I tell her, you can't do it; you got to study for the test. Your future depends on it; my salary depends on it.

It's all about keeping people scared. If you can maintain that sense of high anxiety, they'll do what they're told. Remember that mantra: do what you're told. When you scrape away all the rhetoric, that's what you're left with.

Any human being who sees him or herself as a moral agent -- someone who is truly free to make informed choices -- is a threat to the whole system.