Saturday, December 31, 2016

No Time For Complacency

Tomorrow, we enter our 150th year. In 1867, John A.Macdonald's dream seemed like a shot in the dark against Manifest Destiny.  We've flirted with failure, but we've managed to survive in North America's Attic. And we've survived because we've refused to become complacent.

Now that 150 is just around the corner, Peter MacLeod writes, we must not become smug. There are all kinds of questions which we must face head on:

Does a mature and self-respecting country tolerate the systemic injustices that persist between its indigenous and nonindigenous citizens?
Is it satisfied after 150 years of effort to see families still struggle for decent housing, good child care and meaningful employment?
Has its history depleted the land on which it rests or has its ingenuity made possible a gentler balance?
Are its civic and cultural institutions inventive and edifying?
Is every child welcomed into a society that will nurture their talents and invest generously in their future?
Has the country grown overproud and complacent or does it still dream restlessly of a better version of itself?

Whatever our faults -- and they're many -- we've always maintained a sense of humour and a sense of perspective. As we enter the New Year, we will have to work hard to maintain both.

Happy New Year to all. 


Friday, December 30, 2016

The War Against Medicare

We live in an age where the rich get to buy their way to the front of the line. And, Linda McQuaig writes, they are pushing to have that privilege extended to medical care:

The push for private, for-profit medicine really got going after the Chrétien Liberals deeply cut federal health-care funding in 1995. Ottawa had contributed 25 per cent of total health spending in 1977, but that contribution dropped down to just 9.8 per cent by the late 1990s, leaving the provinces reeling and sending hospital wait-times climbing.

Advocates of private health care eagerly moved in, and have been a loud part of the public debate ever since.

Since the late 1990s, Ottawa has been increasing the federal contribution, restoring it to about 23 per cent today. Now the Trudeau government, roughly following the course laid out by Stephen Harper, plans to slow the growth of the federal contribution. The provinces insist the Liberal offer would reduce the federal share back down to about 20 per cent, leaving them struggling with rising health costs.

Canadians have long forgotten that, when medicare came into being, it was funded on a fifty-fifty basis -- with costs being shared equally between Ottawa and the provinces. What's interesting is how the costs of care  have changed:

The publicly funded portion of our health-care spending -- doctors' fees and hospital stays -- has remained fairly stable as a percentage of GDP for more than 30 years. What is out of control is the part controlled by the private sector -- drugs, home care, physiotherapy, etc.

If we want to control health-care costs, we should extend the publicly funded portion, not open more services to the private sector. But that would require more public funding, which provincial and federal governments, after years of deep tax cutting, are reluctant to commit to.

The first logical step to curbing costs would be to establish a universal pharmacare program. But Big Pharma is working hard to see that doesn't happen. And advocates for private health care are working just as furiously as climate change deniers. If they can undermine public faith in medicare, they will be home free -- while the planet burns.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Utterly Dysfunctional

For two decades, Joe Stiglitz  has argued that the prevailing economic orthodoxy is pure folly. In this week's Vanity Fairhe dissects Trumponomics and concludes that it -- like the man himself -- it's a fraud.

Consider Trump's plan to build infrastructure. It will be privately financed and supported by tax cuts. One of the major sources of capital will be hedge funds:

America has a major infrastructure deficit. Both Hillary Clinton and Trump recognized this. Trump’s plans for $1 trillion in infrastructure investment seem grandiose, but as with so much of Trump’s program, there is less here than meets the eye. His infrastructure program is supposed to be financed out of an 82 percent tax credit to hedge funds and others who undertake this investment. But unless one is willing to be patient—to wait three to six years—one has to rely on the long discredited “shovel ready” projects, which may create jobs willy-nilly, but won’t constitute the strategic infrastructure revolution the country needs.

To see how the game is played, at our expense, let’s assume that a trillion dollars actually goes to new investment (an unlikely assumption). If the government itself had made the investment, the annual cost to the taxpayer would be $20 billion, assuming a 2 percent interest rate. Now assume that hedge funds borrow 80 percent, adding in $200 billion of their own money. But with the 82 percent tax credit, the Treasury is out $820 billion.

Note the Houdini arithmetic: the hedge funds only had to put up $200 billion, but they get a check from the Treasury for $820 billion. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that a tax credit is a form of government spending. That’s why we call such spending “tax expenditures.” His trillion dollars for “infrastructure spending” will not translate into a trillion dollars of new infrastructure. It will translate into a trillion dollars of additional deficit.

Trump promises to bring back jobs to the United States by slapping tariffs on imported -- particularly Chinese -- goods:

The real danger, however, is that Trump is edging America towards a trade war, a war in which we—and the rest of the world—are all likely to be losers. One of the oldest principles in economics is that of comparative advantage—if each country produces the goods in which they have a comparative advantage, each country will be better off. During the past few decades there was a bipartisan failure in not recognizing that even if the country as a whole is benefitting from trade, some groups may lose out—but the fault lies especially with the Republicans, who resisted any form of assistance to those whose jobs were lost as a result. That said, cutting off trade will result in a weakening of overall G.D.P.

But matters are worse: markets on their own are not good at making smooth adjustments, and learning to live without imports, or to live with much higher prices for imports, will not be easy. More jobs will be lost as the country loses comparative advantage across a wide swath of products. Without access to competitive imports, our exports themselves can’t compete. American workers will again lose twice: first because of the loss of jobs, and second, because of the higher prices for consumer goods.
American workers may be deceived by Trump’s blustering; and they may trust that our governmental institutions will prevent him from doing anything totally irresponsible. But foreign governments are likely to be less trusting—and less forgiving. They may resort to international laws and agreements that we have signed—and from which we can disengage ourselves only slowly, and at significant cost.

Donald Trump may be the most ignorant man ever to occupy the White House. Be that as it may, one thing is certain: his economic policy is as  utterly dysfunctional as the nation he is about to lead.

Image: reCareered

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Justin's Nixon

The election of Donald Trump was not what Justin Trudeau expected or hoped for. Nonetheless, Bob Rae writes, when it comes to dealing with our neighbour, The Great Orange Twitterer is the man Justin will have to talk to. The Conservatives have decided that the sincerest form of flattery is imitation:

Conservatives are rushing to mimic his style and rhetoric, in the unlikely persona of Kelly Leitch and Kevin O’Leary. Conrad Black and Brian Mulroney have gone out of their way to reassure Canadians that we have nothing to fear from Trump and that he will be a good president for Canada.

Rae advises Trudeau to steer clear of that path:

He would be wise to [avoid] the twin temptations of “don’t worry be happy” and “the sky is falling.” But that does not mean there is any room for complacency. The Keystone pipeline may get presidential approval, but not because Trump thinks he owes us a favour. Domestic priorities for the Republicans will rule the roost, which could mean greater receptivity to Canada’s oil exports but not for softwood lumber.  

Still, Trump will present Trudeau with a number of conundrums:

The opening of NAFTA would put issues on the table that are decidedly harmful to Canada — the status of our dairy and poultry industries for example — and there are countless ways in which protectionist interests can be brought to bear against us.

It is not just the bilateral relationship that will be affected. We can’t pretend the premise of Trudeau’s vision and policies are the same as President Trump’s. We don’t have to pick fights or have rhetorical quarrels, but Trudeau’s political raison d’être can’t be thrown under the bus either. It will take every ounce of political skill and sophistication to articulate a different view of the world without sounding like the “anti-Trump” every day.

Justin's father had to deal with another deeply flawed president, Richard Nixon. Trump is Justin's Nixon. Let's hope the son learned a few things from his father.

Image: Huffington Post

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Long Twilight Stuggle

Chris Hedges writes that the election of Donald Trump signals the triumph of a New McCarthyism. The moment has been forty years in the making:

The late Lewis Powell, a general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and later a Supreme Court justice, in 1971 wrote an eight-page memo outlining a campaign to counter what the document’s title described as an “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo established the Business Roundtable, which generated huge monetary resources and political clout to direct government policy and mold public opinion. The Powell report listed methods that corporations could use to silence those in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals” who were hostile to corporate interests.

Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes. He proposed that ideological assaults against government regulation and environmental protection be directed at a mass audience. He advocated placing corporate-friendly academics and neoliberal economists in universities and banishing from the public sphere those who challenged unfettered corporate power—especially Ralph Nader, whom Powell cited by name. Organizations were to be formed to monitor and pressure the media to report favorably on issues that furthered corporate interests. Pro-corporate judges were to be placed on the bench.
Academics were to be controlled by pressure from right-wing watch lists, co-opted university administrators and wealthy donors. Under the prolonged assault the universities, like the press, eventually became compliant, banal and monochromatic.  

Looking back, it's easy to trace Trump's rise. The future looms large, ugly and cloudy. But it will not be sanguine.

Trump and his Christian fascist minions, sooner than most of us expect, will seek to shut down the small spaces left for free expression. Dissent will become difficult and sometimes dangerous. There will be an overt campaign of discrimination and hate crimes directed against a host of internal enemies, including undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans and dissidents. The Christian right will be given a license to roll back women’s rights, insert their magical thinking into school curriculums and terrorize Muslims and the GBLT community. The Trump administration will hand our Christian jihadists a platform to champion a repugnant religious chauvinism that fuses the symbols and language of the Christian religion with American capitalism, imperialism and white supremacy. 

Repressive measures, I expect, will be implemented swiftly. Speed blinds a captive population to what is happening. Already anemic democratic traditions and institutions, including the legal system, the two major political parties and the press, will crumble under the assault. Trump will use the familiar tools that make possible the authoritarian state: mass incarceration, militarized police, crippling of the judicial system, demonization of opponents real and imagined, and obliteration of privacy and civil liberties, all foolishly promoted by the political elites on behalf of corporate power.

What's to be done?

We must begin again. Any hope for a restoration of civil society will come from small, local groups and community organizations. They will begin with the mundane tasks of holding back the expansion of charter schools, enforcing environmental regulations, building farmers markets, fighting for the minimum wage, giving sanctuary to undocumented workers, protesting hate crimes and electing people to local offices who will seek to mitigate the excesses of the state.

It will be, in John F. Kennedy's words, "a long twilight struggle."


Monday, December 26, 2016

Genuflecting In Tandem

At first glance, an alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin might seem strange. But it's not, really. Andrew Nikiforuk writes that what unites the two men is a petro-bond:

The basic facts are self-evident: the world still runs on fossil fuels (86 per cent of our energy consumption) and Russia now tops the list of petroleum’s three main global players with production of 10 million barrels a day. Next comes Saudi Arabia, followed by the United States at nine million barrels — a short-term feat largely engineered by the brute force of hydraulic fracturing. (The U.S. still must import 52 per cent of what it consumes — largely from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.)

As a consequence, the energy intensity of American and Russian oil extraction help to explain why these two nations now account for more than one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The global energy industry contributes more than 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump and Putin are acting out of  mutual self interest. And their self interests are entwined with oil -- because oil makes the world go round:

Energy, not capital, drives the global economy and that economy is now shrinking because shale oil, bitumen and Arctic oil provide lower returns, more volatility and more dangerous debt loads than conventional oil. Their exploitation is not a solution, but a trap that will lead to the collapse of institutions — and societies — built on the assumption that cheap energy would last forever.

Putin’s government, for example, gets half its revenue from oil and gas sales to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Oil accounts for almost 60 per cent of Russia’s exports and a third of its capital investments. The global 2014 oil price crash severely undermined the country’s economy and lowered living standards for ordinary Russians. As a consequence Putin’s oil locomotive is now stagnating and needs foreign investment and higher oil prices.

The U.S., of course, is the world’s original petro state. Although oil doesn’t dominate the economy the same way it does in Russia, its revenues have contaminated the country’s politics. ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest corporations, funded climate change-denying lawmakers and lobbyists for decades and remains one of the largest donors to the Republican Party. Blue states tend to consume energy and vote Democrat, while red states extract oil or gas. Most supported Trump.

In recent years two right-wing U.S. oligarchs, the Koch brothers, have changed America’s political landscape. Using billions made by processing Canada’s cheap raw bitumen into value-added fuels at their refineries, the Koch brothers conducted a concerted campaign to undermine U.S. democracy by weaponizing philanthropy. In the process they disguised corporate self-interest as a populist revolt against government political elites. 

And so the Chairman of Exxon Mobil -- who has deep ties to Putin -- is now Secretary of State. And Rick Perry -- the former governor of Texas and climate change denier -- is the Secretary of Energy. It all makes sense in a perverse way. The oil barons are still in charge. Trump and Putin are merely genuflecting before them, Now they will genuflect in tandem.

Image: Yahoo

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Around the world, hatred for migrants is on the rise. Michael Harris writes:

The National Front in France is flat-out anti-immigrant. The ultra-right mayor of Beziers was quick to point out that the terror suspect in Germany was once again a refugee. “The wave of migrants,” he said, “is a wave of death.”

Austria now has its Freedom Party, which spouts the same anti-immigrant line.

Even in Germany, which has been a beacon to the world in its acceptance of over a million desperate people displaced by war in the Middle East, the extreme Right is rising.

The Alternative for Deutschland party, once mired at 3 per cent in the polls, could get as much as 16 per cent of the vote in the 2017 elections. They want to ban minarets and calls to prayer and march under the slogan “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

The Great Orange Twitterer wants to ban all Muslims from the United States.

When World War II ended, this country welcomed hundreds of thousands of those who had been our mortal enemies:

After the universal slaughter ended in 1945 and millions had to leave a shattered Europe, 270,000 Germans made their way to Canada to start a new life. Despite having been the mortal enemy of Canada and the Allies for five brutal years, they were taken in.

Like the Germans, the Italians also came to Canada, though they arrived in two distinct waves after both great wars. For part of the time in between those wars, they were designated as ‘enemy aliens’. Italy was the enemy in the Second World War and yet 500,000 Italians came to Canada for the same reason as the Germans — to start a better life, in what they hoped would be a better place.

History shows that we are better than the hate mongers who presently strut their stuff upon the world stage -- something to think about in this time of  "good will to men."

Happy Holidays -- and good will -- to all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Ask Mitt Romney

These days, everyone is talking about the rising tide of populism. But, Paul Krugman writes, when it comes to Donald Trump, it's all a scam -- a classic bait and switch. The giveaway is his cabinet appointments:

Both his pick as budget director and his choice to head Health and Human Services want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and privatize Medicare. His choice as labor secretary is a fast-food tycoon who has been a vociferous opponent both of Obamacare and of minimum wage hikes. And House Republicans have already submitted plans for drastic cuts in Social Security, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

Their immediate focus will be on "repealing and replacing" Obamacare with something "terrific:"

Converting Medicare into a voucher system would also amount to a severe benefit cut, partly because it would lead to lower government spending, partly because a significant fraction of spending would be diverted into the overhead and profits of private insurance companies. And raising the retirement age for Social Security would hit especially hard among Americans whose life expectancy has stagnated or declined, or who have disabilities that make it hard for them to continue working — problems that are strongly correlated with Trump votes. 

The very people who voted for Trump are going to get hammered. And, Krugman warns, the Trumpists will try to shift blame to the people who battled to produce Obamacare in the first place:

These will include claims that the collapse of health care is really President Obama’s fault; claims that the failure of alternatives is somehow the fault of recalcitrant Democrats; and an endless series of attempts to distract the public.

Expect more Carrier-style stunts that don’t actually help workers but dominate a news cycle. Expect lots of fulmination against minorities. And it’s worth remembering what authoritarian regimes traditionally do to shift attention from failing policies, namely, find some foreigners to confront. Maybe it will be a trade war with China, maybe something worse.

The worst thing the Democrats could do would be to cooperate with a con man. Ask Mitt Romney about the wisdom of cooperating with Trump.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The World We Hoped We Had Outgrown

Twenty-five years ago, some people were writing obituaries for the nation state -- and Francis Fukuyama  was proclaiming the end of history. But, Robert Muggah writes, they got it wrong:

The end of history has not arrived and liberal democracy is not ascendant. According to British journalist Misha Glenny, Fukuyama and others under-estimated Western hubris and the greed of financial capitalism that contributed in 2008 to one of the most serious political and economic crises since the Great Depression.

“These shocks”, he argues, “enabled alternative (governance) models to reassert themselves … China and Russia most importantly … and the consolidation of illiberal democratic nation-states.”

History -- the old fashioned kind, where nations compete against each other and occasionally go to war -- is reasserting itself:

Far from experiencing a decline in hard power, the larger nation-states are shoring up their military capabilities. The top ten spenders in 2015 included the U.S., China, Russia, India, Japan and Germany. Some of these countries are clearly preparing for confrontations in the coming decade. They are not alone. Global defence expenditures increased steadily since the late 1990s and topped $1.6 trillion last year. These trends are set to continue.

These same nation states are also continuing to dominate economically. The above-mentioned countries also registered the largest GDPs in 2015. If adjusted for purchasing power parity, China comes out above the U.S. and Russia also rises up the rankings.

As these ascendant nations flex their muscles the global order will be transformed. The post World War II consensus is crumbling:

Established 20th century powers such as the U.S. and EU are ceding importance and influence to faster-growing China and India. Old alliances forged after the Second World War are giving way to new regional coalitions across Latin America, Asia and Africa. While these reconfigurations reflect underlying economic and demographic changes, they also increase the risk of conflict breaking out.

At the same time, there is a new level of government emerging:

Indeed, nation states themselves are busily establishing legal and physical enclaves to contract out core functions to private entities. There are already more than 4,000 registered special economic zones spread out around the world. While some have been more successful than others, these para-states deliberately fuse public and private interests and pose interesting questions about the purchase of state sovereignty. 

 It's very much a brave new world which is emerging. And yet, in some ways, it's the same old world we hoped we had outgrown.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Flu

I'm a little under the weather today. The Christmas Flu seems to make an annual appearance at our house. Today it's my turn -- even though I got the flu shot. I'll be back when the flu has flown.

Image: Natural News

Monday, December 19, 2016

Today It Becomes Official

Donald Trump has just about filled his cabinet. And, Henry Giroux writes, it's clear that White Nationalism will be firmly ensconced in the White House. Consider two prominent Trump picks -- Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon:

Sessions has a long history of racist rhetoric, insults and practices, including opposing the Voting Rights Act and addressing a Black lawyer as "boy." He was denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s because his colleagues claimed that he made racist remarks on a number of occasions. Sessions has also called organizations, such as the ACLU, NAACP and the National Council of Churches "un-American" because of their emphasis on civil rights, which he has portrayed as being shoved down the throats of the American public. He was also accused of falsely prosecuting Black political activists in Alabama for voting fraud.

Sessions' racism often merges with his religious fundamentalism. As Miranda Blue observes, he has "dismissed immigration reform as 'ethnic politics' and warned that allowing too many immigrants would create 'cultural problems' in the country. Earlier this year, he cherry-picked a couple of Bible verses to claim that the position of his opponents on the immigration issue is 'not biblical.'"

Steve Bannon has championed some scary folks and ideas:

Bannon is an incendiary figure whom critics as politically diverse as Glenn Beck and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have accused of being a racist, sexist, anti-Semite. While the head of Breitbart News, Bannon courted white nationalists, neo-Nazi groups and other far-right extremists. In doing so, Amy Goodman points out, he helped to rebrand "white supremacy [and] white nationalism, for the digital age" under the euphemistic brand of the "alt-right."

Bannon is on record stating that only property owners should vote; stating to his ex-wife that he did not want his twin daughters "to go to school with Jews;" calling conservative commentator Bill Kristol a "Republican spoiler, renegade Jew;" and publishing incendiary headlines on Breitbart's website, such as "Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?" and "Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy."

One of the founders of the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, was quoted as saying that Trump's victory has resulted in a "reboot of the White Nationalist movement." The same article also quoted Richard B. Spencer, another prominent figure in the so-called "alt-right" movement, who without apology argues that his organization, the National Policy Institute, is dedicated to "the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent" and that "Race is real, race matters. Race is the foundation of identity." This is simply neo-Nazi dribble dressed up in the discourse of difference. There can be little doubt that these antidemocratic and racist tendencies will play a major role in shaping Trump's presidency.

Then there is Rick Perry, the new head of the Department of Energy, who is on record as favouring the department's abolition.  And, of course, there is climate change denier Scott Pruitt at the EPA. It's clear that the United States is about to receive a major dose of repression:

The call for regime change, a term used by the White House to designate overthrowing a foreign government, seems certain to intensify under Trump's administration. This means a more militant foreign policy under Trump. But it also signals a domestic form of regime change as well, since this authoritarian neoliberal government will deregulate, militarize and privatize everything it can. With this regime change will come the suppression of civil liberties and dissent at home through the expansion of a punishing state that will criminalize a wider range of everyday behaviors, expand mass incarceration, and all the while enrich the coffers of the ultra-rich and corporate predators. The hate-filled discourses of intolerance, chauvinism and social abandonment are already creeping further into the ever-widening spheres of society bent on blending a militarized war culture with a totalizing embrace of corporate capitalism.

And today the Electoral College will make it official.

Image: Self Archeology

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Everyone Disbelieves Everything

Sixteen years ago, David Irving -- who called himself an historian and who denied that the Holocaust  actually happened -- accused Deborah Lipstadt of libel. She had attacked his version of World War II. He lost the case and was found by the judge to be a "pro-Nazi polemicist." At the time, Jonathan Freedland wrote:

“If we start to doubt corroborated facts, how can we prevent ourselves being swallowed up in doubt, unable to trust anything we see? It might all be a conspiracy, a legend, a hoax. This is the bizarre, never-never world inhabited by David Irving. Now the court has to decide: is this our world too?”

Today, after the election of Donald Trump, Freedland asks the same question:

As Aleppo endured its final agonies, the simple act of circulating any account – a video, a photograph, a news report – would trigger an unnerving response. Someone, somewhere would reply that the photograph was doctored, the source was a stooge, the rescued child was not really a child or not really rescued.

Of course, we’re used to people taking different sides on conflicts far away, arguing bitterly over who is to blame. At its most extreme, it results in a newspaper like the Morning Star sinking so low that it hails the human devastation of Aleppo – where every hospital was bombed and where the slaughter of civilians became routine – not as a crime, but as a “liberation”.

But this is about more than assigning blame for this death or that bombing. This is about refusing to accept that the death or bombing occurred at all. This is about defenders of Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian and Iranian enablers, coming on television to say that what is happening on the ground is not happening, that it is all an illusion. The late US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say: “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” But that distinction seems to have broken down. Now people regard facts as very much like opinions: you can discard the ones you don’t like.

When everyone disbelieves everything, we have entered a brave new world.

Image: Slide Player

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It's Gone Viral

They used to call economics the "dismal science." Actually, it's never been a science -- despite recent attempts to make it so. However, in the last fifty years, the dismal discipline has been elevated to the status of a religion, its practitioners having taken on the role of oracles. Murray Dobbins writes that the discipline went off the rails when its oracles bought into the dogma of neo-liberalism:

If it were a science the facts would long ago have prevailed and they would have denounced the ideology from the rooftops.

But, no, instead we get articles on a weekly basis about Canadians' staggering debt load and the only attempt at explanation is so-called "human nature" -- i.e. "Gee, people just don't seem to be worrying -- they're ignoring the warnings." Then there's the ingenious concept of "recency bias" developed by someone in the field of  "behavioural finance" (who knew?). Recency bias means, according to the Globe's Rob Carrick, "People are looking at recent events and projecting them into the future indefinitely." 

How are people doing when it comes to living a middle class lifestyle?

Carrick's article detailed just how serious the problem is -- repeating numbers that have been quoted numerous times: over 700,000 people would be financially stressed if interest rates rose by even a quarter of one per cent. One million would face that circumstance if they rose by one per cent. The Canadian Payroll Association regularly tracks people's financial stress and its recent survey revealed 48 per cent of people said "[i]t would be tough to meet their financial obligations if their paycheque was delayed even by a week. Almost one-quarter doubted they could come up with $2,000 for an emergency expense in the next month."

I'm sorry, but that's insane in a country that creates as much wealth as Canada does. But don't expect "the profession" to shed any light on this situation. Why? Because economists suffer from SIB -- Self-Interest Bias, a condition rooted in their elitist role in society. Actually it's not unlike "recency bias" -- they've been doing fine for the past 25 years rationalizing this madness, so they will just project that success "into the future indefinitely."

That's what neo-liberalism is all about: rationalizing madness:

The economic policies [neo-liberals] keep endorsing are a disaster for all but the few. The middle class can only sustain its standard of living through ever-increasing debt; the vast majority of the new wealth created every year (such as it is) goes to the top 5 per cent; the working class has been largely relegated to service jobs (we have lost 540,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000) with no security, lousy pay, no benefits and -- increasingly -- part-time work. There is not a single minimum wage in the country that comes anywhere near a living wage. The gap between rich and poor is now the same as it was in 1928. Young people's university degrees are both outrageously expensive and often worthless.

And small and medium businesses are virtually all struggling because the government's obsession with foreign trade leaves them (over 90 per cent of whom export nothing) on their own to cope with the stagnant incomes of their customers. And what do economists say about all this? Not much. They observe and then move on, waiting for the next batch of statistics proving, once again, that the brave new world of unfettered markets and unregulated corporate power cannot and will not deliver the goods. Of course, if they were honest they would acknowledge it was never intended to: these outcomes were predicted from the start by the handful of heretical economists who choose not to join the courtiers of masters of mankind.

Rationalizing madness. It's gone viral.

Image: Creative Guerrilla Marketing

Friday, December 16, 2016

Light In The Tunnel

No one should be writing obituaries for the NDP. Michael Harris writes that, even though Justin Trudeau's personal popularity remains high, his party's brand is slipping:

Small wonder, with so many of his ministers stepping in cowflops. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told worried businesspeople in Calgary that the police and the military would deal with any civil disobedience by anti-pipeline protesters. This was not music to the ears of First Nations chiefs, or environmentalists, or anyone who has been watching the debacle of Standing Rock. The Liberals apparently have forgotten that it was the Harperites who saw these people as terrorists. Carr’s subsequent backflip was unconvincing.

And with the PM presenting himself as a champion of youth, Finance Minister Bill Morneau invited young Canadians to prepare for a future of short-term contract positions and “job churn” — otherwise known as living hand-to-mouth. Remarkably, Trudeau picked up on this hopeless, defeatist message when he told a youth labour forum that precarious work is now a fact of life.

No wonder they booed him. Youth unemployment is double the national average; after a year of Trudeau, and despite his promise to create 125,000 new jobs for young people annually, that number remains stubbornly high.

Moreover, some of Trudeau's recent moves have angered some of his strongest supporters:

The plundering and blundering of the cash-for-access fundraisers has up to now been restricted to rhetorical volleys against the government in QP. But now Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has decided she’s heard enough: She plans to personally interview the PM to see if he put himself in a conflict of interest by mingling with corporate aquarium-suckers seeking influence with ministers at political fundraisers for $1,500 a pop. (I hope he has better sense than to tell her that he attended these mating rituals for lobbyists to “champion” the middle class.)

And his decision to green light Kinder Morgan certainly looks to the past, not the future:

While Trudeau is expanding tar sands projects, others are dropping out, in part to go green. Statoil, the Norwegian oil giant, is dumping its Canadian assets. The company spent US $2.2 billion for its tar sands lease in 2007; it is selling it for $832 million Canadian.

So, light is appearing at what has been a dark tunnel for the NDP. But who the party chooses as leader will make all the difference. 

Image:Like Success

Thursday, December 15, 2016

His Achilles Heel

Wesley Wark writes that Donald Trump should not ignore the reports about Russian cyber activity during the last election:

The epicentre of concern over Russian cyber aggression, for the foreseeable future, is going to be the United States. The reason is that the issue has now become highly politicized, with Mr. Trump denying the validity of any claims about Russian electoral meddling and casting aspersions on the credibility of the Central Intelligence Agency, a throwback to Richard Nixon’s loathing of the CIA as a bunch of “clowns.”

For Mr. Trump, allegations of Russian interference in the election are a deep blow: to his credibility; to his desire for a much friendlier relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a hallmark of a new style of foreign policy; and to his control of the machinery of Washington. He has responded in a manner familiar from the campaign trail – by denying and lashing out. These tactics won’t serve him well once he enters the White House.
Wherever the current investigations into Russian cyber disruption of the U.S. election ultimately lead, President Trump will have to confront two realities. One is that the United States is a major target of cyber attacks from foreign actors, both state and non-state, and as Commander-in-Chief he will have to come up with ways to strengthen cyber defences and make tough decisions on the extent to which the U.S. engages in its own brand of cyber offensive attacks.

Despite his claims about his special relationship with Putin, Trump clearly does not understand Putin's Russia: 

Mr. Putin runs a security state of a kind very unfamiliar to Westerners. Part of the makeup of that security state is a profound belief that Russia is the constant target of malicious information warfare and intelligence activities conducted by unfriendly Western states.

From a Russian perspective, information warfare and cyber attacks targeting the West are just a form of tit-for-tat, in the Russian lexicon, the “new normal” of international relations. If they can use their power to influence domestic politics in the West, so much the better for them.

Trump's Achilles Heel has always been his ignorance. And you can bet that Vladimir Putin plans to take full advantage of it. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Will He Stand Up To Them?

When it comes to Israel, Gerry Caplan writes, Justin Trudeau's policy is the same as Stephen Harper's policy. Do nothing to annoy Benjamin Netanyahu:

The new government’s policy towards Israel and Palestine, as articulated by the G-G, just happens to be identical to the old government’s policy. Canada may be back, but in the Middle East it’s Stephen Harper’s Canada that is back. And both governments’ stands are curious given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has flatly said he will never accept an independent Palestinian state. Everyone but Canadian governments seems well aware of this.

Trudeau says he is for a two state solution. But that's empty rhetoric. Meanwhile, things keep getting worse for the Palestinians:

The unjust status quo continues to be steadily reinforced. Constantly increasing numbers of Israeli settlers have moved into Palestinian lands that Israel has been occupying for fully half a century. In the past decade or so, their number has increased from 249,000 to 370,000. These “facts on the ground” give settlers ever-greater influence in the centres of Israeli power and leave the Palestinian West Bank, says [Roger] Cohen, a collection of “countless little self-administering enclaves … broken up by Israeli settlers.” There are in actuality 165 of these separate little Palestinian islands.

Netanyahu has vowed he will never agree to force those settlers off Palestinian lands, nor can President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, effectively an Israeli collaborator, accept a Palestine that is not viable.

The reality is that it is madness to imply any kind of equivalence between the two entities. Israel is a normal, thriving independent western nation, except that it receives many billions in “aid” from foreign governments, especially the United States, and its neighbours cause it occasional anxiety.

Barbara Ehrenreich has chronicled the plight of Palestinians:

Ehrenreich paints a haunting picture of injustices repeatedly perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians. Every day, some Palestinians defy the latest form of oppression, mostly by unarmed resistance, and usually they lose. Most Israelis are unaware this rite even takes place.

It’s David versus Goliath, but, this time, the giant Goliath is an Israeli, and the victor. As Ehrenreich watches, his Palestinian friends, together with their possessions, are humiliated, terrorized, abused, insulted, evicted, demolished, confiscated, dispossessed, expropriated, beaten, wounded or killed by Goliath, and imprisoned, often in solitary confinement (which means torture) for long stretches.

Increasingly, the world is stalked not by giants but by bullies. Can -- and will -- Trudeau stand up to them?


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lest We Forget

The American election was tainted from the beginning. It was tainted by Donald Trump's lies, bigotry and misogyny. But, Paul Krugman writes, now that Trump has been revealed as the Siberian Candidate -- combined with the intervention of the FBI -- the extent of electoral corruption comes into clear focus:

Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?

And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004.

So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.

As the story continues to unfold, it  also becomes clear that Noam Chomsky is right when he claims that the Republican party is the most dangerous organization in the world. So, Krugman asks, what do we do about it?

Politics being what it is, moral backbones on Capitol Hill will be stiffened if there are clear signs that the public is outraged by what is happening. And there will be a chance to make that outrage felt directly in two years — not just in congressional elections, but in votes that will determine control of many state governments.

Now, outrage over the tainted election past can’t be the whole of opposition politics. It will also be crucial to maintain the heat over actual policies. Everything we’ve seen so far says that Mr. Trump is going to utterly betray the interests of the white working-class voters who were his most enthusiastic supporters, stripping them of health care and retirement security, and this betrayal should be highlighted.

But we ought to be able to look both forward and back, to criticize both the way Mr. Trump gained power and the way he uses it. Personally, I’m still figuring out how to keep my anger simmering — letting it boil over won’t do any good, but it shouldn’t be allowed to cool. This election was an outrage, and we should never forget it.

Lest we forget. 


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trumping O'Leary and Trump

Unlike his father, Justin Trudeau doesn't wear a rose in his lapel. To many Canadians, however, Justin was a rose. Lately, the bloom has been coming off that rose. Michael Harris writes:

  • If you are an environmentalist tired of Harper’s abuses, two, maybe three tar sands pipelines, and a monster LNG project were not exactly what you had in mind when you voted for Trudeau. If you happen to be a member of the First Nations living in British Columbia, you may believe along with Grand Chief Stewart Philip that Trudeau has “completely failed” in his duty to protect sacred lands in the name of the “national interest.”
  • If you took Trudeau at his word on electoral reform, you may be disappointed by his washy-washy commitment to change.
  • f you favour transparency in our public discourse, you might think Trudeau is a hypocrite for pulling a permanent shroud over information touching Canada’s jet-replacement plan.
  • And, if you think that one of Trudeau’s biggest promises, amending Harper’s police-state-encouraging Bill C-51, is vital, you might not like what you see in the Department of Public Safety’s survey about its review of this subject. It looks like the Liberals may want to retain some of the controversial elements of the Harper-era legislation, including warrantless access to information about Internet users.  

But, just as buyer's remorse was beginning to set in, a minority of American voters has declared Donald Trump will be president:

Donald Trump hates pretty much everything about Canada, from the political stripe of our government to our publicly-funded medicare plan. Having handed the American Environmental Protection Agency over to a climate change denier, he won’t be a big fan of Trudeau’s recent carbon tax framework, supported by 11 out of 13 other political jurisdictions in this country. Since he hates Obamacare, imagine what he thinks of our publicly-funded medicare system. As for NAFTA, he wants to tear it up and start all over again — and not to Make Canada Great Again.

The only thing that stands between being shorn like sheep at the hands of Donald Trump, and retaining our national integrity is Justin Trudeau. All the pressure will be on him to cooperate with the Americans as our most important trading partner. All the pressure will be applied to accept that Trump is the Elephant and we are the Mouse in most dealings. Potential CPC leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary has already taken to Youtube to predict the outcome of the coming collision. It will be, he said, Godzilla versus Bambi.

It's interesting that the same guy who produces O 'Leary's show also produces Trump's Apprentice. Perhaps O'Leary sees himself as a Canadian Trump. It will be Justin's job to trump O' Leary and Trump.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Drowning In Our Own Waste

Global warming is a clear and present danger. But, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, another crisis is around the corner -- global hoarding:

Human-engineered structures and gadgets from cities to cellphones now represent an enormous mass weight of nearly 30 trillion tonnes on the planet, or vastly more than the world’s forests or life in the oceans.

Scientists call this artificial system created by humans over the centuries “the technosphere,” and they say it is growing and evolving at a rapid rate.

Furthermore, the variety of obsolete and working technological gadgets that litter landfills and cities now outnumber the planet’s biotic species and probably “far exceeds recognized fossil diversity, and may exceed total biological diversity through Earth’s history,” say scientists in a new journal paper published in the Anthropocene Review. 
In contrast to the mass of 30 trillion tonnes created by humans to support technological societies, the total live biomass (animals and plants) on Earth equals about 560 billion tonnes of carbon.

So while we try to limit CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, we increase them in the technosphere.

Professors Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams and Colin Waters from the University of Leicester Department of Geology, along with a team of global contributors, also concluded that the planet’s technosphere is now so extensive that it could cover every square metre of the Earth’s surface with several inches of human detritus weighing an average of 50 kilos, or 110 pounds.

This human-engineered skin would include aluminum, concrete, plastic, fly ash and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet.

The technosphere is composed “of the structures that humans have constructed to keep them alive, in very large numbers now, on the planet: houses, factories, farms, mines, roads, airports and shipping ports, computer systems, together with its discarded waste,” Zalasiewicz said.

It also includes cities, satellites in space, mine waste, plastics, pipelines, subways (human pipelines) irrigation works, fish farms, as well as plantation forests.
Incredibly, technological flotsam ranging from ballpoint pens to transistors now outnumbers the fossils of creatures that once roamed the earth.

We human creatures have always created a lot of garbage -- on earth and in space. We may, indeed, eventually drown in our own waste.

Image: Our World

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Pulling Together

Yesterday, Canada's first ministers met to finalize a strategy for fighting climate change. The plan puts a price on carbon -- and, as of now, the price is too low. Tom Walkom writes:

The per tonne carbon emission price he suggested two months ago — $10 in 2018 rising to $50 per tonne by 2022 — is simply too low to get the job done.

Experts I’ve talked to say if Canada hopes to meet even the minimal targets it agreed to at the Paris climate-change conference last year, it would have to implement a price of $30 per tonne now — rising to $200 by 2030.

That’s because the whole point of carbon pricing is to encourage people to use less fossil-fuel energy by making it more expensive.

That price is still too high for people like Brad Wall. Getting the premiers to pull together isn't easy. Justin's father knew all about that. But getting Canadians to pull together is even harder. In Alberta, Rachel Notley is feeling the heat:

But [the plan] hasn’t gone over as well at home. A poll earlier this fall estimated that a striking 63 per cent of Albertans oppose her carbon tax plan, which is expected to cost the average family $433 in the first year.

Opposition to the carbon tax was also the rationale for last week’s lock-her-up rally in Edmonton, where demonstrators called for Notley to be jailed.

It will cost money to stop global warming. The jury is still out on whether or not Canadians are willing to pay what it will take.

Image: Times Of India

Friday, December 09, 2016

Must Have A Wooden Head

Donald Trump wants to turn back the clock to the days when low skilled manufacturing jobs were king. That won't happen. But, Paul Krugman writes, Trump's appointment of Scott Pruitt -- climate denier and fossil fuel friend -- to run  the EPA may bring back the heavy smog which used to blanket places like Los Angeles and Huston:

Choking smog was quite common in major cities; in the Los Angeles area, extreme pollution alerts, sometimes accompanied by warnings that even healthy adults should stay indoors and move as little as possible, were fairly common.

It’s far better now — not perfect, but much better. These days, to experience the kind of pollution crisis that used to be all too frequent in Los Angeles or Houston, you have to go to places like Beijing or New Delhi. And the improvement in air quality has had clear, measurable benefits. For example, we’re seeing significant improvements in lung function among children in the Los Angeles area, clearly tied to reduced pollution.

That improvement was accomplished by what the Trumpists and Mr. Pruitt, in particular, are opposed to -- government regulation:

The key point is that better air didn’t happen by accident: It was a direct result of regulation — regulation that was bitterly opposed at every step by special interests that attacked the scientific evidence of harm from pollution, meanwhile insisting that limiting their emissions would kill jobs.

These special interests were, as you might guess, wrong about everything. The health benefits of cleaner air are overwhelmingly clear. Meanwhile, experience shows that a growing economy is perfectly consistent with an improving environment. In fact, reducing pollution brings large economic benefits once you take into account health care costs and the effects of lower pollution on productivity.

The historian Barbara Tuchman argued that the cause of national folly was woodenheadedness -- the inability of leaders to adapt to changed circumstances -- and to fashion policies to deal with those circumstances.

With each cabinet appointment, it becomes clear that the incoming president hires people like himself. First and foremost, they must have woodenheads.

Image: nightshade-keyblade

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Transferring Personalities

Andrew Coyne writes that the Conservative Party has reached a fork in the road. It can, he writes, either be a party of big ideas or small fears:

Will it be the party of big ideas, or small fears? The party of free markets and limited government, or the party of nativism and intolerance? The party of equality, unity and civility, or the party of race-baiting, identity tests and virulent us-and-them polemics?

Will it embrace the conservatism of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney — or the know-nothing populism of Donald Trump, his imitators and idolators?

Clearly, Coyne would prefer that the party be disciples of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney rather than Trump. But there's a problem. Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney's ideas are failed ideas. And the fears  people like Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander are fanning are not small. Now Leitch wants women to  legally be able to carry pepper spray. There's a reason she's now being referred to as Dr. Pepper. More worrisome is the clear indication that she is casting her lot with White Supremacists.

I've always thought of the modern Conservative Party as the Harper Party because it has been -- essentially -- a cult of personality. And with no new ideas to run on, it risks transferring its cult of personality to another personality -- The Great Orange Id.

Image: Slide Player

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Turning The Hen House Over To The Fox

George Monbiot writes that McDonald's has not been good for democracy:

I do not mean that the presence of the burger chain itself is the cause of the decline of open, democratic societies (though it has played its part in Britain, using our defamation laws against its critics). Nor do I mean that countries hosting McDonald’s will necessarily mutate into dictatorships.

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos.

And that phenomenon finds expression in international trade deals:

Above all, the power that should belong to the people is being crushed by international treaty. Contracts such as Nafta, Ceta the proposed TransPacific Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement and the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are crafted behind closed doors in discussions dominated by corporate lobbyists. And those lobbyists are able to slip in clauses no informed electorate would ever approve of, such as the establishment of opaque offshore tribunals, through which corporations can bypass national courts, challenge national laws and demand compensation for the results of democratic decisions.

These treaties limit the scope of politics, prevent states changing social outcomes and drive down labour rights, consumer protection, financial regulation and the quality of neighbourhoods. They make a mockery of sovereignty. Anyone who forgets that striking them down was one of Donald Trump’s main promises will fail to understand why people were prepared to risk so much in electing him.

The rising populist anger around the world is a rejection of the kind of capitalism McDonald's represents. Unfortunately, when nations put men and women like Trump, Putin, Orbán, Erdoğan, Salvini, Duterte, Le Pen and Farage in power, they turn the hen house over to the fox.

Image: Freedom Works