Thursday, July 31, 2014

Retirement Is For The Rich


There used to be a social contract in this country. One of the clauses in that unwritten document was,"if you work hard all your life, you can retire in comfort." But neo-conservatives have shredded that contract. Linda McQuaig writes:

The notion of retirement security in exchange for a lifetime of hard work — a central element in the implicit social contract between capital and labour in the postwar years — has been effectively tossed aside, as corporations have become more insatiable in their demands and governments have increasingly abandoned workers.

Stephen Harper has relentlessly spearheaded the corporate agenda:

Stephen Harper’s government hiked the eligibility age for Old Age Security benefits to 67, effectively depriving all future Canadian retirees of two years of basic retirement income.
And it has steadfastly refused to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan, leaving retired Canadians with an average income of $18,000 a year in public pension benefits — far less than what a full-time minimum wage earner makes in Ontario.

The prime minister has no intention of halting the juggernaut:

And now, the Harper government is engaging in a fresh frontal assault on the retirement incomes of beleagured Canadian workers.

In what amounts to a radical overhaul, it announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.

All of this has been done under the radar. And the Harperites intend to keep it that way. It makes it easier to serve their clientele:

Employers now want to be able to fundamentally rewrite the terms of those workplace pension deals so that, if the market plunges and the pension fund declines, the pay-outs will be less — in effect, shifting the risk from the company to the retiree.

When it comes to new hires, many employers now offer only the new-style pensions. But the legislation proposed by Harper would create a way for employers to open up existing pension deals — effectively changing the rules in mid-stream, after workers have spent years paying into their plans.

While employees wont be able to afford retirement, CEO's will do just fine:

The Royal Bank, the country’s largest bank, switched over to the new-style pension system in 2011, so that all new employees will be obliged to face a risky pension future.

RBC CEO Gordon Nixon didn’t see the need to modify his own pension deal, however. When he retires later this week at the age of 57, he’ll receive a pension of $1.68 million a year, which will rise to an even more comfortable $2 million a year when he turns 65.

It's another example of how the champions of accountability are doing everything they can to remain unaccountable.

The new rule is: only the rich get to retire.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Enemy At The Top


Vladimir Putin's ascension to the Russian presidency for a third term was greeted with widespread public protest and charges of electoral fraud. Devon Black writes:

Putin had hoped to re-take the presidency with confidence and a strong mandate. Instead, the pressure was on him to solidify his tenuous political position.

Putin did so by stoking nationalist fervor, crafting a narrative of a Russia beset by enemies, inside and out. Putin told a story of traditional Russians fighting back against both physical and existential threats.

And, so, he moved into Crimea and he keeps pushing the envelope.

Lawrence Martin writes that Stephen Harper's vision of economic prosperity was founded on four pillars -- jobs, taxation, trade and pipelines. But, "other than taxes, where they have cuts to boast about, the pillars are starting to look wobbly."

So, faced with unhappy citizens, both men have turned to nationalism -- which is a decidedly double edged sword. Black writes:

Again and again, history has shown that when politicians try to turn the angrier form of nationalism into political advantage, they lose control. Most recently, Europe has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic violence — related in part to the conflict in Gaza, but also linked to the rise of far-right nationalist parties like France’s National Front.

We should be wary when our own politicians try to exploit certain flavours of nationalism for political gain. There’s nothing wrong with, for example, celebrating Canada’s athletic achievements, as Prime Minster Harper did when his Vancouver Olympics jacket became ubiquitous on the 2011 campaign trail. But Harper has taken to peppering his speeches and policy positions with militaristic bombast.

Putin and Harper are creating straw men in an attempt to divert attention away from themselves. If Russians and Canadians begin to realize that the real enemy is within -- worse still, that he sits at the top of the political pyramid -- both men will be finished.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

He Must Be Laughing


An op-ed  appeared in yesterday's Globe and Mail under Stephen Harper's name. Whoever wrote the piece claims that,"Our duty is to stand firm in the face of Russian aggression." On the same day, in The Tyee, Tom Henheffer also wrote an op-ed, on the subject of the CRA's audits of Canadian non-profits, like PEN:

In effect, our government is censoring an anti-censorship organization. It makes me wonder, is this really Canada? If so, it’s a country I'm having a hard time recognizing.

So what is the justification for creating this clear chill on free speech?

Well, no one really knows. These audits overwhelmingly target environmental groups opposed to oilsands development. Many of these are the same organizations former Natural Resources and current Finance Minister Joe Oliver called out as being "radical groups" trying to undermine Canadian development. Yet the government maintains it has no control over who the CRA investigates.

Lawrence Martin was stationed in Moscow during the Cold War. He has noted that Harper's information control is reminiscent of what went on in Russia before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly there was no such thing as free speech.

Yet Mr Harper presents himself as a Crusader for Individual Liberty. Vladimir Putin must be laughing.

We will be in  Montreal for the next couple of days. But I plan to be back at this keyboard on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Have They No Decency?

When Justice Anne Mactavish struck down the Harper government's ban on medical care to refugees, she wrote that the ban amounted to "cruel and unjust treatment." The phrase did not emerge new and full blown from the lips of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Gerry Caplan writes:

These exact words – “cruel and unusual punishment” – resonate in history. They were written into the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and were then repeated in the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution: “Cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” These are not words used loosely.

He points out that they were at the heart of Joseph Welsh's response to Senator Joseph McCarthy:

“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

We have insisted -- at least until recently -- that our elected officials display a modicum of decency. But any sense of decency disappeared with Stephen Harper. Caplan writes that "cruel and unusual treatment" is at the heart of two other Harper policies:

The prostitution bill has a similar cast of characters – the justices of the Supreme Court, who ruled that government must take all steps possible to assure the safety of prostitutes; much of the rest of the country who disagree on much but agree the bill actually would put prostitutes in even greater danger than they are now; and a minister of justice, Peter McKay, who has proved himself completely indifferent to the safety of such women. Is this not simple callousness?

And last, of course, there is the case of Omar Khadr:

Finally there is the case of Omar Khadr, a young man who to whom fate has been cruel since his birth to a twisted family. There are at least seven separate possible reasons for showing compassion for Mr. Khadr, and the Harper government has consistently dismissed every single one of them with scorn and derision. He was a child under international law when his father forced him to become a soldier. He may well not have killed anyone. He himself was badly wounded. He was involved in a war, when killing another soldier is not a crime. He confessed under torture. He pled guilty to end his Kafkaesque nightmare. He was convicted in a U.S. military court that flouted basic principles of justice. Canadian prison officials have found no evidence that he “espouses attitudes that support terror activities or any type of radicalized behaviour.”
Yet he drives Harperland crazy with fear and loathing. They feel no mercy.

In fact, there is much that drives Harperland crazy. And their lack of decency underscores their irrational loathing.

Friday, July 25, 2014

He Would If He Could


Stephen Harper and his minions have been complaining loudly about the power of "special interests." But, Steve Sullivan writes:

When Stephen Harper headed up the National Citizens Coalition, he filed a constitutional challenge against the Elections Act. He claimed the law’s spending limits on third-party advertising during elections was an infringement on his freedom of expression rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to the logic offered up by many Conservatives lately, what the boss did back in 2000 amounted to an attempt to undermine Parliament. Dan Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, recently told CBC that interest groups are trying to “… do an end-run around our democratic process and turn to the courts where it seems some judges are quite happy to engage. This can result in decisions contrary to what have been decided in our democratic process.”

The Harperites are nothing, if not hypocritical. They would prefer that there was no Supreme Court to second guess their decisions. However:

The courts play an essential role in our democracy by interpreting and applying the laws passed by government — acting as both check and balance on the other two branches of government, the executive and legislative. No true democracy anywhere in the world gives governments unlimited powers. In Canada, the job of the courts is to make sure that what the government does is consistent with the charter and the Constitution. Our legal rights mean precisely nothing if governments can override them simply by passing a law.

While they loudly celebrated the anniversary of the War of 1812, they let the 25th and the 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pass without notice, even though,

time and again, Canadians have told parties and pollsters that they treasure the Charter of Rights — that it’s part of the bedrock of our society, something that unites us.

But Stephen Harper has never been about uniting us. He has found success by dividing us. And, if he could abolish the Charter, he would.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

There's Only One Word For It -- Tyranny


In the wake of the news that the Harper government has directed the CRA to audit PEN Canada, Linda McQuaig asks,"Why is Harper punishing charities while letting tax cheats off the hook?"

This beefing-up of tax audits of charities is particularly striking when compared to Harper’s laid-back approach to auditing the real bad guys: corporations and citizens using offshore tax havens to cheat the government out of billions of dollars in revenue.

Indeed, the allocation of an extra $13 million to carry out audits of charities has taken place even as the government slashes the overall Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) budget by $250 million over three years and lays off hundreds of auditors.

Meanwhile, as worldwide pressure has grown for a clampdown on tax havens, Ottawa announced last year that it was ramping up its efforts to investigate offshore tax evasion. But it only allocated $15 million — over five years — a piddling amount, given the existing departmental cuts and the sheer scope of the offshore problem.

A CRA auditor provides value for money:

In Canada, an experienced international tax auditor typically costs Ottawa about $100,000 a year, but brings in ten times that amount in revenue, according to sources.

Internal CRA documents, obtained under access-to-information by Sen. Percy Downe, reveal that an infusion of $30 million by Ottawa in 2005 to counter “aggressive international tax planning” resulted in the collection of an extra $2.5 billion over four years.

Presumably, that is why the auditors have been sent in to monitor an organization with an annual budget of  $240,000 -- while "the illegal caching of money offshore by Canadian companies and individuals results in an annual revenue loss to Canadian governments (provincial and federal) of about $7.8 billion, according to Dennis Howlett, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadians for Tax Fairness."

The problem is that PEN had the audacity "to criticize the government for muzzling scientists in the civil service, and for spying on Canadian citizens alongside U.S. intelligence agencies."

There is only one word for it -- tyranny. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Real Battle Has Begun


The Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday that Stephen Harper on the witness stand is an unlikely prospect. The Canadian Press reports:

Stephen Harper's office says it's "difficult to imagine" the prime minister would have any relevant information to share in the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy.

Spokesman Jason MacDonald says in an email that the PMO has responded "fully and freely" to requests for assistance from RCMP investigators.

He adds the Mounties have made it clear they don't believe Harper has any knowledge of Duffy's alleged wrongdoing and that there would be no reason for the prime minister to be involved should Duffy's defence team attempt to have him testify.

So we can expect that Stephen Harper will do everything he can to avoid being questioned in court by Donald Bayne, Duffy's attorney. Bayne would destroy the prime minister's shifting narrative and -- worse still -- the myth  that Stephen Harper is the smartest guy in the room.

 That outcome must be avoided at all costs. And, so, the real battle has begun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More And Worse Conflict


Michael den Tandt writes that Stephen Harper's foreign policy will outlive Harper:

It is axiomatic for Harper’s critics, certainly for those who churn out talking points for the Dippers, Grits and Greens, that this prime minister is a ham-fisted and embarrassingly unsubtle foreign-policy actor. The prima facie evidence is his notorious letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2003, penned with Stockwell Day, lamenting Canada’s refusal to participate in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Never mind that mistake, writes den Tandt:

But here’s the thing: Harper and Baird’s basic positions have been borne out by events — both in the conflict with Hamas, and in Ukraine, since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a rocket attack, killing all 298 people aboard.

Really? Could it be that his minor error on Iraq has helped destabilise the entire Middle East? And could Harper's support of Israel -- while completely ignoring its occupation of Gaza  -- not have something to do with the increased rocket technology which Hamas has now aimed at Israel?

Jonathan Kay wrote a short time ago that the Harper regime is populated by punitive moral absolutists. They have tried to legislate their values into Canadian law. And they are convinced that, by exporting their philosophy to the rest of the world, they will make it a safer place.

We are approaching the one hundredth anniversary of the Guns of August. If Harper knew anything about history -- and the treaty which ended World War I -- he'd know that punitive moral absolutism simply guarantees more -- and worse -- conflict.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sabotaging Responsible Government


Over at ipolitics, Andrew Mitrovica asks,"Is Mulcair just another Harper with a beard?"  It's an important question, given the evolution -- some would say devolution -- of the New Democratic  Party. There is a nomination battle unfolding in British Columbia. Officials at party headquarters have banned Paul Manly from seeking the party nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith:

This fracas is instructive for a number of reasons. The prickly issue, however, at the core of the dispute – that is fraying so-called party unity and triggering hard questions about Mulcair’s leadership – are the vague, carefully coded reasons NDP brass have proffered to Manly, his parents and supporters for why the accomplished environmentalist, filmmaker and musician has been barred from the party’s nomination in traditionally NDP-friendly British Columbia.

NDP headquarters, Mitrovica writes, is beginning to look and sound like Harper's PMO. Not only that, Mulcair's stand on Gaza is alienating traditional NDP constituencies:

Just read this pointed letter of protest written and signed by nine long-standing Jewish NDP supporters in Toronto to Mulcair in which they demand that he not only finally speak out against “the repression of Palestinians,” but also “rescind” Manly’s ban.

They’re not alone. Among the many other disenchanted party members is a “deeply dismayed” Vancouver rabbi and a “long-time and dedicated NDP member” who has also recently written Muclair, urging him to “reverse [The federal NDP leadership’s] action preventing Mr. Manly from standing to be the candidate from Nanaimo-Ladysmith and its attempt to distance the party from meaningful and forthright action regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

All three party leaders have recently assumed a presidential style of leadership, which asserts that MP's serve at the leader's pleasure.Their constituents have no say in the matter.

That may be Stephen Harper's real legacy -- sabotaging the parliamentary form of responsible government

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Need Duffy's Emails

There has been a lot of public befuddlement -- including from  Mike Duffy's lawyer -- as to why the senator has been charged with accepting a bribe, while Nigel Wright has been given a free ride. The official explanation seems to be that everything hangs on one word --"corruptly." To be convicted, Wright would have to have acted in a corrupt manner. It's a difficult standard of proof, because it assumes corrupt intention -- something which runs against the grain of Wright's public persona. He is seen as a man who sees, hears and does no evil.

Michael Spratt writes that the decision to not charge Wright may be tactical, not legal:

Duffy’s case is headed to trial; Wright will surely be a star witness. By choosing to not charge Wright, the case against Duffy is made stronger. If Wright and Duffy were jointly charged, Wright would not be a compellable witness for the Crown and essential evidence could be lost.

Further, if Wright and Duffy had been jointly charged, any statements made by Wright and adduced into evidence could not be used against Duffy.

Most important, by declining to lay charges against Wright the RCMP limits damage to his credibility — which can only increase his value as a witness.

Clearly, the powers that be are out to get Duffy. Given his past behaviour, it's hard to feel sympathy for the man. But one cannot escape the suspicion that the RCMP -- like the civil service and the military --  has been politicized by the Harper government.

Everything will hinge on Duffy's stash of emails -- which the Harper cabal will seek to declare inadmissible. I would be helpful, at this point, if the press could get their hands on some of those emails.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Depraved Policy


Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza this week -- a move that is loudly supported by the Harper government. And it illustrates, Linda McQuaig writes, the moral disconnect at the heart of Harper's policy towards Israel:

Certain minimal standards are expected of a national leader in what is known as the ‘civilized world’.

One of those standards would seem to be that, when massive numbers of defenceless civilians are being killed, a national leader should call for the killing to stop.

Questions about responsibility, blame, punishment, repercussions, etc., can always follow. But surely the first order of business — the one with moral urgency — is to halt the killing of innocent people.

Harper's simple answer -- there's always a simple answer for him -- is that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. So don't blame the Israelis:

But Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador, noted on CBC TV’s Power and Politics on Tuesday that international law prohibits Israel from, for instance, attacking a military target if it is located in a densely populated building.

Anyone who knows anything thing about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship knows that it's fraught with complications:

What is striking about Harper’s intensely one-sided approach is the way he resolutely avoids dealing with the central fact of this decades-old conflict: that millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under Israeli military occupation for more than forty-five years, and that Israel has effectively annexed what used to be their land, building settlements on it that now accommodate more than 600,000 Israelis.

Harper’s refusal to take any of this into consideration flies in the face of Canada’s long-standing position on the Mideast conflict — a position that still appears on the Canadian government’s website.

Harper has always been comfortable in his ignorance. Moreover, he has the arrogance to think he's the smartest guy in the room. The result is depraved policy.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Harper's Perfect Storm


Now that the RCMP has thrown the book at Mike Duffy, Stephen Harper finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm. It's a storm entirely of his own making. And, at last, Andrew Coyne writes, we will get some answers:

The biggest question to be answered remains: why? Not only why did Mr. Wright make the payment — which, remember, was not to “the taxpayer” but to Mr. Duffy, in secret and on condition that he remain silent about it — but why were so many other senior people in and around the government, as we learned from the trove of emails unearthed by the RCMP, so utterly transfixed with the task of paying Mr. Duffy’s falsely claimed expenses? Why not just leave him to face the consequences of his own actions?

The answer to that question may turn out to be sheer stupidity. But, given who Duffy claims to be -- someone who knows where the bodies are buried -- there are other questions which need to be answered -- questions that involve Stephen Harper:

What involvement or knowledge did the prime minister have, particularly with regard to the $90,000? In a sense, it does not matter: that so many people close to him were so ready to act in such an unethical fashion is damning enough in itself. But in a sense it is all that matters: partly because the prime minister has been so vehement in his denials of any foreknowledge, and partly because the set of circumstances required for this to be true seem so implausible.

Among other things, it requires us to believe not only that Mr. Wright and everyone else around the prime minister lied to him for months on end about how Mr. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, but that Mr. Wright lied to the others: that having told him at a meeting in February of 2013 that Mr. Duffy would repay his own expenses, he then told his fellow conspirators the prime minister was “good to go” with an earlier plan for the party to pay them; and that when Mr. Wright later told the prime minister’s former communications director, Andrew MacDougall, that “the PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy” he was lying then, too.

Unlike others who Mr. Harper has thrown under the bus, Duffy will not go quietly.  If he goes down, he may just take the prime minister with him. If that were to happen, justice would truly be done.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

They're Really Not Very Smart


After several rebukes from the Supreme Court, the Harperites are feeling mean. Earlier this week, Conservative MP Larry Miller complained that the "courts are making laws." Andrew Coyne writes:

People who supposedly stand for limited government get surprisingly antsy, once in office, about having their own discretion circumscribed. That they profess to do so in the name of Parliament only compounds the incoherence. Who do they think passed the Charter?

And, of course, as always for these folks, Pierre Trudeau is the villain:

Mr. Miller does not disappoint. “Pierre Trudeau,” he said, “did this willfully and deliberately, taking rights away from the majority to protect the minority.” Can you believe it? Protecting the minority. I mean, who the hell elected him?

That's what winning a majority government was all about for the Conservatives -- banishing minority opinion. And, if they are concerned about the Court stomping on Parliament's perogatives, Coyne suggests that they look in the mirror:

As defenders of Parliament, they’d be a lot more convincing had they not spent the past many years meekly surrendering one ancient Parliamentary prerogative after another, not to the courts, but to a far more voracious usurper: the executive.

 There is a solution to their problem:

There’s a simple way to remove them from the equation: stop passing laws that are so clearly and flagrantly in violation of the Constitution (see, for example, the prostitution bill). Insist, as the political scientist Emmett Macfarlane has suggested, that ministers screen bills for Charter compatibility before introducing them in the House. Better yet, have committees of Parliament do the same.

But don't count on the Harperites hitting on that solution. The truth is, they're really not very smart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Corrupting Civil Society


The government has always had the power to revoke an organization's charitable status. But it didn't happen very often; and, Carol Goar writes, the rules were clear:

They siphoned donations into their founders’ own pockets, they provided a front for shadowy groups or they used most of their funds for administration. 

But things changed with the advent of Stephen Harper:

The Conservative government, angered that environmentalists were tying up pipeline projects in the West, tightened the regulation of charities. It required them to provide a detailed account of their political activities, imposed tough penalties on those that spent more than 10 per cent of their funds on advocacy and gave CRA $8 million to conduct a special audit.

The announcement sent a ripple of unease through the non-profit sector, but there was no wholesale panic. Most charities assumed the government would target a handful of prominent environmental organizations and leave the rest alone. That was a reasonable interpretation of the signals Stephen Harper and his colleagues were sending at the time. Joe Oliver, then natural resources minister, had lashed out at “radical environmental groups” for undermining the economy. Former environment minister Peter Kent had accused of them of “laundering offshore funds for inappropriate use.”
But over time the scope of the blitz widened. CRA is now auditing churches, human rights organizations, animal welfare groups and anti-poverty coalitions. There are fears the two-year crackdown will be extended, putting non-profit organizations under an indefinite regime of increased surveillance.

The reason was simple. Charities almost invariably are opposed to Harper's agenda. And, like the man he more and more resembles -- Richard Nixon -- Harper has turned to government agencies to harass and dispose of his enemies.

The effect on charities has been devastating. Gareth Kirkby writes in a recent paper:

I find that an advocacy chill is affecting charitable organizations that advocate on public policy issues though it varies in intensity and extent from organization to organization. I find that there is evidence in the data that the government is attempting, with some successes, to narrow society’s important policy conversations. Finally I find the data suggest that the current federal government is corrupting Canada’s democratic processes by treating as political enemies these civil-society organizations whose contributions to public policy conversations differ from government priorities.”

That's what Harper is all about: corrupting civil society.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Debiting His Credit


Stephen Harper has a habit of taking credit for what others have done -- or for just pure dumb luck. In 2008, he took credit for the solidity of Canadian banks, even though it was Paul Martin who beefed up capital requirements for the banks, while Harper -- as the Leader of the Opposition -- insisted that Canadian banks should follow the model of their American cousins.

And recently, at the Calgary Stampede, he took credit for the "gradual decline in Quebec separatist sentiment." Celine Cooper writes:

If support for sovereignty in Quebec is on the wane, it is in spite of his party’s governance, not because of it.

As research conducted by Université de Montréal sociology professor Claire Durand indicates, support for sovereignty has been receding among young francophones for close to 15 years.

In other words, support started to slide while the federal Liberals were still in power.

Beyond keeping their nose out of Quebec’s internal politics (the “don’t poke the bear” approach), neither the ebbing of sovereignist sentiment nor the PQ’s truncated tenure should be directly attributed to Harper’s governance. It is disingenuous for him to suggest otherwise.

Cooper suggests that, in the next election, the Conservatives will be off the Quebec radar screen -- because they concluded a long time ago that they can win a majority without any real presence in la belle province:

When the Conservatives won 10 Quebec seats in 2006, one of the reasons was because the Liberals had been in power for so long and were flailing in the aftermath of the Liberal sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission.
But after realizing they could win a majority without Quebec, Harper more or less retreated from the province.

However, the prime minister has never let facts stop him from taking credit for what he sees as his monumental achievements. The truth is that there is nothing monumental about what he has done.

And it's time to debit his credit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

They Say He's A Smart Guy


Chris Hedges writes that there is a deep irony to what is currently happening in Gaza. It mirrors what happened to European Jews eighty years ago:

Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.

The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

There is no halocaust. One hopes that history has taught us something. Nevertheless, it is a patten which is repeated over and over again:

The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. There is massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.

No one seems to have brought these parallels to the attention of Stephen Harper -- or perhaps he has chosen to ignore them. For the prime minister there is always one side to any issue. Economics is about supply, not demand. The world is populated by "Us" and "Them."  Israeli policy is always right, never wrong.

And they say he's a smart guy.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Opposite Of Truth and Freedom


The Harper government came to Ottawa promising transparency and accountability. But, Tim Harper writes, when journalists request information from the Throne, they get obfuscation:

When we ask for specifics on a program known as the International Experience Canada, a supposedly reciprocal program that is disproportionately being used by foreign workers in this country, [Chris] Alexander’s office tells us our economic recovery is one of the best in the G7 and “Canada’s economy is doing better than most . . . and that is something we can all celebrate.’’

When we ask for a response to reports sex murderer Paul Bernardo plans to marry, the office of Public Works Minister Steven Blaney assures us his government puts victims first and “We continue to examine ways to ensure that the worst of the worst stay behind bars where they belong, without needless perks that these dangerous and violent criminals certainly never afforded to their victims.”
When we asked about reports that a couple of Russian business magnates were not sanctioned here because they had Canadian business interests, there is no denial or confirmation, but there are a couple of links to old Baird press releases and: “Our sanctions are designed to punish the Putin regime and bring economic pressure on Russia for its illegal occupation of Ukraine.”

This is a government that is on a permanent spin cycle; and the objective is message control. God forbid that any hard information should make its way to the media. The result would be catastrophic, because facts undermine Conservative policy. That was the whole idea behind getting rid of Statistics Canada's long form census.

If the old axiom "the truth shall set you free" has any validity, then it's obvious that Harper Inc. is dedicated to the opposite of both truth and freedom.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

That Will Take Some Doing


Stephen Harper came to Ottawa like a bull in a china shop -- determined to get his way in all things, even if it meant destroying the shop in the process. But, Carol Goar writes, the bull has been wounded:

It took a while to find the chinks in Stephen Harper’s armour. But Canadians have done it now.
They are chipping away at the prime minister’s policies on everything from electoral reform to military procurement. Advocacy groups have raised red flags, the media have highlighted the damage he is doing to people’s lives and communities and the courts have reined him in. But the primary thrust is coming from citizens who don’t like what is happening to their country. 

Goar then goes on to highlight several instances where Harper hasn't been allowed to get his way:

Their plan to the rewrite the Election Act , disenfranchising thousands of voters, ran into a wall of public opposition. The harder Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre pushed his proposal, the harder Canadians pushed back. Eventually he agreed to amend the controversial bill. The new version is not perfect, but its most contentious elements are gone. It will no longer allow the Tories to restrict the right to vote or withhold ballots from individuals whose identification doesn’t meet their standards. 
Their plan to flood the labour market with temporary foreign workers worked for six years. But last April it began to unravel. The Royal Bank was caught replacing its information technology staff with temporary foreign workers. (The bank said the arrangement met the letter of the law, but apologized and launched a review of its outsourcing strategy.) Rather than squelching the controversy, that stoked it. Whistle-blowers in other sectors — mining, hospitality, food service — popped up, claiming they too had lost their jobs to temporary foreign workers. Employment Minister Jason Kenney tried to put a lid on the contagion but it was too late. On June 20, he announced a wholesale overhaul of the program, effectively shutting it down. 
Their plan to revamp — preferably abolish — the Senate without the agreement of the provinces was rejected out of hand by the Supreme Court of Canada. It delivered a stinging rebuke to the prime minister, pointing out he did not have authority to override the Constitution or change the rules under which Canadians are governed. Harper grudgingly accepted the court’s ruling, but tried to exact revenge six days later. His office issued a statement insinuating that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin had improperly approached him. The evidence melted under scrutiny.  

What is most striking, however, is that the prime minister appears incapable of learning from these rebukes:

Their plans to crush prostitution and drive an oil pipeline through British Columbia will probably be next on the list.

Conservative policies are being thrown out with abandon these days. But the ultimate rebuke will be when Canadians throw Harper and his party out. That is still going to take some doing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Moody Blues

No sooner had the newly elected Kathleen Wynne tabled her budget than Moody's -- the bond rating agency -- pounced. But, Linda McQuaig writes, it wasn't much of a pounce:

In fact, Moody’s only tweaked things slightly — it maintained Ontario’s perfectly acceptable current rating (Aa2), but downgraded the outlook from stable to negative – not a huge change, and one that didn’t even lead to higher interest on Ontario bonds.

Conservatives, however, jumped all over the news:

“It’s a very big deal,” solemnly cautioned Stockwell Day, former Conservative finance minister, on CBC-TV’s Power and Politics. “It should be taken very seriously.”

The National Post’s John Ivison dismissed as “baloney” the Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s suggestion that Ontario has a revenue problem.

“It’s not a revenue problem. It’s a spending problem,” thundered Ivison in his broad Scottish accent, sounding like a Dickensian character responding to the request “please sir I want some more.”

For conservative pundits, there is no such word as "investment." Everything comes down to spending. They make no distinction between wise spending and foolish spending -- even though a good case can be made that our present masters do spend foolishly, on things like F35's and advertising. Their ranting about spending is a smokescreen to hide their real objective -- to downsize government to the point where they can, in Grover Norquist's words, "drown it in a bathtub:"

The Harper government, deeply committed to this ideology, has followed the formula closely. It has slashed taxes to the point that Ottawa now collects less revenue (as a proportion of GDP) than it did in 1940 – before we had national public programs for health care, pensions and unemployment insurance.

With such reduced revenue, the government insists it has no choice but to cut spending. Got to get those deficits down, Moody’s is coming, etc.

As a result of Harper’s spending cuts, Ottawa is projected to spend only 14 percent of GDP by 2018/19 – the lowest level of spending by Ottawa in seventy years ago.

The problem is that all this downsizing has been going on during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Conservatives have completely ignored the lessons that tragedy taught us.

 The only thing they know how to do is sing the Moody Blues.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is He An Automaton?


Tommy Douglas' grandson -- Kiefer Sutherland -- has his own television show, 24. Stephen Harper also has his own show, 24/7. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stars in every episode, although other cabinet ministers occasionally make cameo appearances, as do Canadians with something positive, even glowing, to say about the performance of Mr. Harper and his government.

A team of half a dozen people put together this weekly thriller, at a cost we do not know in detail. They film all week, following the Prime Minister where he wants to be followed and ostensibly giving Canadians insight into how their government operates. Of course, that isn’t what 24 Seven really does. Instead, it offers a weekly propagandistic view of a few things the government wants you to see, paid for with your tax dollars.

The show is the ultimate exercise in navel gazing, produced by people who believe that the Canadian media establishment has lined up against them:

Since the Conservatives consider most of the country’s news media outlets (Sun TV and right-wing hot-line hosts excepted) irredeemably hostile (despite much evidence to the contrary), the government’s aim is to bypass and frustrate them as much as possible.

The prime directive in the Harper government is that image trumps substance. It is a 21st century version of Goebbels' Big Lie. The people will believe whatever they see -- provided they see it often enough. So, Stephen Harper has become obsessed with own image -- and control of all images:

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare once wrote, and for the Harper government, this remains a focus principle of daily activity, hence 24 Seven. They create the stage, cut the images, write the script, package bits of staged reality and present it to whomever can be enticed to watch.

What is slightly unique about this government’s staging is the elimination of the possibility of spontaneity. Nothing is unscripted, which is as things are in a theatrical presentation but slightly odd for public events, where something unexpected might occur. Government presentations are designed less as events where the public might participate – as in asking unscripted questions – but as theatrical events with set and script fixed in advance and executed with an impressive dedication.

It makes one wonder if Mr. Harper himself is a automaton.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Circus May Soon Be Over.



Since emerging from rehab, Rob Ford has worked very hard to control his message. At his first news conference, he spoke to a select group of reporters. But that tactic hasn't worked. Reports are now emerging of Ford's time in rehab. Kevin Donovan writes in the Toronto Star that:

Mayor Rob Ford pushed and scuffled with fellow rehab residents and was so verbally abusive that he was kicked out of his group therapy program, according to people who have knowledge of his two month stay at GreeneStone .

These accounts of what one person referred to as “destructive behaviour” stands in stark contrast to Ford’s recent public statements that he had a healthy experience and takes his recovery seriously.

“Ford broke things, got into fights with other residents,” said one source with knowledge of the mayor’s time in rehab at the resort-turned-drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Muskoka.

“Ford stopped people from sharing their stories, which is key to a successful rehab experience,” said another source. “Other residents felt intimidated. They felt he was a bully. He was always saying he did not belong there.” 

Whether at City Hall or in the pastoral Muskokas, the same pattern of behaviour was on display. And there are suggestions that Ford didn't get the monkey off his back:

Management was concerned Ford continued to use drugs or alcohol during his time in rehab. The Star was unable to determine if Ford abused any substances during his two month stint.

GreeneStone’s wooded property has a well known “nature walk” and a concern of staff is that some residents meet their drug dealers or people providing alcohol at the far end of the walk.
Police were called at least once to deal with an incident at GreeneStone during Ford’s time. It’s not known if the police visit was related to Ford. The OPP, which patrols the area, said that any information about police calls to GreeneStone could only be obtained by making a freedom of information request, a process that takes months. 

Ford has lost control at City Hall. And, these days, he is dogged by shirtless protesters wherever he goes. Torontonians know their man, despite his attempts to put on a new face -- or at least a new suit.  They are deciding they can get along without him.

The circus may soon be over.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Punitive Moral Absolutism


I don't agree with Jonathan Kay very often. But in yesterday's National Post he wrote:

The most shocking thing about the government’s 2012 changes to the Interim Federal Health Program is that, despite its Scrooge-like spirit, they haven’t actually saved any money: The cost for treating people simply was downloaded to charities, pro bono doctors, community healthcare organizations and the provinces. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this move was made mostly for other reasons — i.e., to show voters how tough the Conservatives are in sticking it to a politically unpopular group of medical patients.

What the changes did reveal was an extraordinarily mean spirited sense of righteousness:

If moral relativism was the defining sin of the left, its intellectual opposite — punitive, obsessive, politically cynical moral absolutism — has become the hallmark of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

It was punitive moral absolutism which was behind the witch burnings in Salem and the American invasion of Iraq. Mr. Harper supported the invasion of Iraq. One wonders what he would have done if he had lived in Salem.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Going After The Courts


Lawrence Martin wrote last week  that the Supreme Court is the Harper government's real opposition. And today, in the Toronto Star, Tim Harper writes that it would not be a surprise if the prime minister went after the courts in the next election campaign:

This is a government determined to bring its brand of law and order to this country, whether it is cracking down on bogus refugee claimants, giving police more surveillance powers, bringing in mandatory sentencing, ending early parole or always going the extra mile to bring down the hammer in the name of victims’ rights.
In most cases, that agenda has crashed on the rocks of judicial challenges.

Over the weekend, Harper went after Justin Trudeau and, by extension, Trudeau's father, who gave Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has become the very bane of Harper's existence. Speaking in Calgary,

He fired away at Justin Trudeau, claiming the Liberal leader would “restore that key liberal principle of criminal justice, that the offender must be considered innocent even after being proved guilty’’
But, pre-election embellishments aside, Harper could have been talking about Canadian courts, not the Liberal party.

The number of Harper initiatives which have been successfully challenged in court is growing, the latest being judge Anne Mactavish's rejection of health care cuts for refugee claimants:

Mactavish (a Liberal appointee) called the reforms “cruel and unusual,” saying they breached refugees’ Charter rights, and that Conservatives endangered the lives of innocent and vulnerable children “in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

Harper has never shied away from personal attacks -- on anyone. His recent attack on Beverley McLachlin underscores that point. We'll have to see if  other judges are next on his hit list.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

He's Not New and Improved


Rob Ford is a little thinner. But, in the interviews he did last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that rehab hasn't really had much effect. Jim Coyle writes in the Toronto Star:

Experienced hands in recovery listen carefully for hints that newbies are harbouring old, self-destructive attitudes or aren't committed to new ways of living. There were lots of alarms in what Ford had to say before his team abruptly scrapped a planned series of one-on-ones with media outlets.

To what we might call “recovery ears,” the interviews Ford did and his homecoming speech suggested he has a lot of getting honest with himself yet to do. In his comments, there was continued rationalizing, self-pity, grandiosity — common traits of the addict and attitudes that sabotage recovery.

When Ford said he “never, ever” intended to do the abusive and appalling things he did, he was rationalizing, minimizing his culpability — seeking to be judged on his good intentions rather than his hateful actions.
When he said he wouldn't wish his suffering on his worst enemy, he was wallowing in self-pity, casting himself as the chief victim in the affair. Self-pity is a fast lane to relapse in addicts.

When he said he has a “phenomenal” record as mayor, that he's “the best mayor” Toronto has had and will “never, ever” change, he showed both grandiosity and close-mindedness. These are also attitudes unlovely among the unafflicted but lethal to addicts.

Ford may look a little better. But he doesn't sound as if he has recovered. Which leads to the question, "Why would Torontoians elect the same old Rob Ford?

He's not new and improved.  

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Wynne's Two Headed Beast


Kathleen Wynne's budget is a two headed beast. One head talks about investing in infrastructure and training. The other head talks about spending restraint. As with all two headed beasts, when the heads quarrel, the animal is paralysed. Tom Walkom writes that the beast was born of a traditional Liberal strategy -- campaigning from the left, but governing from the right:

[Jean] Chrétien was elected on a centre-left platform that made no mention of cuts to public services. Yet once in power, he and finance minister Paul Martin took an axe to the pillars of the welfare state — including employment insurance, welfare and medicare.

And Moody's -- by lowering Ontario's credit rating -- is suggesting that Wynne follow that path. But Moody's was part of the economic boondoggle six years ago. Walkom hopes that Wynne doesn't take her cues from either Moody's or Chretien:

The current slowdown has pushed Ontario’s net debt to GDP ratio to about 40 per cent. That’s higher than the ratio faced by other provinces, save Quebec. It’s also higher than Ottawa’s.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is too high. Throughout its boom years, Japan’s government debt to GDP ratio exceeded 100 per cent. But creditors never stopped lending to Tokyo because — then at least — the money was used for productive purposes.

And that really is the point: the money must be spent productively:

When Wynne speaks of governing from the “activist centre,” she is speaking directly to that tradition. Ontarians disapprove of governments that waste money. But they don’t mind seeing their tax dollars spent on useful endeavours.

It's all about which head does most of the talking.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Before It Stops


 The ground is shifting. Jeffrey Simpson writes that the Conservatives still have "yellow dog" ridings -- where they could run a yellow dog on the Conservative ticket and it would win.  But across the country, momentum is shifting to the Liberals:

Apart from these kind of yellow dog seats, predominantly rural ridings, things are bordering on precarious for the Conservatives, to judge by recent by-elections. Yes, by-elections are uncertain weather vanes, since winds do change. Read too much into them at your peril. However, there are patterns.

In urban Canada, the Conservatives are in full-scale retreat. In Toronto, they went backward by 5 points in losing Scarborough-Agincourt and barely registered in Trinity-Spadina this week, echoing their results from Toronto Centre and Montreal’s Bourassa last year. Shockingly, they nearly lost Calgary Centre in 2012, when candidate and former media personality Joan Crockatt just squeezed in, winning 36.9 per cent of votes to beat a well-known Liberal challenger by just four percentage points.

And the New Democrtas are losing traction, too:

These by-elections have been almost as discouraging for the New Democrats. Despite presenting strong candidates, the NDP lost three inner-city ridings (Toronto Centre, Trinity Spadina and Bourassa) of the type the party needs to win.

But it was the Liberals who won them. The New Democrats did take Victoria in a 2012 by-election, but that’s been it. Overall, the NDP’s share of the popular vote declined by 10 points. A swing like that in a general election would drop them from the heady heights of Official Opposition to barren-lands third-party status.

Stephen Harper is supposed to be a sly political strategist. One wonders if he has been thinking strategically of late. Perhaps he is pondering if he will stay and face the music or get out before it stops.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

It Takes Imagination


When it comes to climate change, Murray Dobbin writes, knowledge isn't the problem. We have plenty of it. And it's growing everyday:

We have seen especially alarming predictions in the past few months. Two studies released almost simultaneously claim with a high degree of certainty that the glaciers in the western Antarctic are irreversibly melting. The first, by NASA and the University of California-Irvine, examined a group of large glaciers that collectively contain the equivalent of four feet of sea level rise. They are in "continuous and rapid retreat and there is "no [major] obstacle that would prevent the glaciers from further retreat." They have "have passed the point of no return."

Another study by the University of Washington came to the same conclusion and suggested the melting of the Thwaites Glacier could undermine the rest of the Antarctic ice shield holding 10 to 13 feet of sea level rise. None of this will happen soon and the maximum rise could take centuries, yet Greenland expert and glaciologist Jason Box concludes we have already set in motion 69 feet of sea level rise.

Our problem is our lack of imagination. We are stuck in an old way of thinking, and we can't imagine a new paradigm. But there is such a paradigm. It arises when we rethink the fossil fuel industry -- in the same way we re-imagined the tobacco industry:

The mega-corporations that peddle fossil fuels and effectively sponsor climate change and the melting of the ice caps are not an "industry." They are a plague. And indeed their impact is already tantamount to a plague -- the fastest rate of species extinction since the end of the dinosaurs -- and will over the next hundred years kill exponentially more people than all the plagues in world history combined. Speaking of dinosaurs, if we mobilized to confront the criminal negligence of the fossil fuel empire in the same way we would mobilize to divert a collision-course comet, perhaps we might achieve a realistic sense of the scale of the coming catastrophe and what needs to be done to avoid it.

 One of the major political factors preventing serious consideration of major and rapid policy changes is the sheer power of the fossil fuel industry. Unimaginable wealth translates into unimaginable power worldwide. To imagine bringing the industry to heel in a serious effort to slow climate change, we have to imagine treating the industry like we eventually treated the tobacco industry: as an existential threat to human health. For decades the tobacco giants exerted so much political influence they were virtually untouchable. To the extent that this changed (it is obviously still a health scourge especially in the developing world), it changed because the notion of corporate "rights" was successfully challenged.

We live in a world which is controlled by the oil barons. They have worked very hard to thwart the collective imagination. And they buy governments. Until they are seen as a threat to life on the planet, things will not change.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Inequality Is Not Inevitable


Milton Friedman and his disciples worked very hard to transform economics from a social science into a natural science -- which, they claimed, obeys certain ironclad rules. One economist who refused to buy that piffle is Joseph Stiglitz. In last Friday's New York Times he wrote:

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality.

Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation.

Like Pharisees from time immemorial, the movers and shakers lived by the principle, "Don't do as I do, do as I say." And, as their money flooded into the political system, they got the nation's elected representatives to do as they said:

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

So corporate welfare increases as we curtail welfare for the poor. Congress maintains subsidies for rich farmers as we cut back on nutritional support for the needy. Drug companies have been given hundreds of billions of dollars as we limit Medicaid benefits. The banks that brought on the global financial crisis got billions while a pittance went to the homeowners and victims of the same banks’ predatory lending practices. This last decision was particularly foolish. There were alternatives to throwing money at the banks and hoping it would circulate through increased lending. We could have helped underwater homeowners and the victims of predatory behavior directly. This would not only have helped the economy, it would have put us on the path to robust recovery.

Canada -- particularly in the last decade -- has followed the same prescription.  Our current prime minister tells us that economics is grounded in certain iron lad rules. One of the basic rules is that inequality is inevitable -- which is, of course, balderdash.