Monday, January 30, 2012

The Assault on the OAS is the Beginning of an Attempt to Strengthen Neoliberal Principles

Yesterday on CTV Question Period, Dan Gardner's argued that it a was good thing to raise the entry level for the OAS by at least two years because everybody else has done it. Well, Dan, just because everyone else has done it doesn't make it right, especially when the reasons for doing so are the same old neoliberal ones that are always an implicit assault on social programs. It would seem, old chap, you got sucked in by the sustainability spin.

Do a little research, Danny boy, and you'll see that beginning around 2020 OAS gross funding will begin to decline when babyboomers begin dying off - a decreasing trend that will rapidly accelerate in 2030. In other words, this is not the problem the Harper Regime has made it out to be, and in fact the percentage of increased funding is a mere 5.6% per year over this time period, and the ratio of expenditures to GDP will increase from 2.4% to to a mere 3.2% - hardly the catastrophic amount Harper pretends it is. Of course lying has always been a political tactic for the Harper Regime, so we really shouldn't be surprised to discover the reality beneath the spin once again. 

Bob Fyfe was right when he said on yesterday's QP show that the Harper Regime's agenda is not a social one, but an economic one. What he didn't say is that the basis of this economic agenda is a concentrated effort to strengthen the already established Harper Regime's neoliberal principles through the usual neoclassical economic tools. We can see only the beginning of this process now, but the coming changes will amount to the destruction of a socio-economic foundation on which we have sat for 50 years or so. They may be impossible to reverse in four to ten years' time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Some Canadians are snoozing while Harper continues his destructive crusade through democracy, the environment, and the Canadian economy; but not all

As Susan Riley suggests in the Citizen today, most Canadians are snoozing through President Harper's vicious assault on democracy, the environment, and - more noticeably recently - the Canadians economy.  If you've read any of my other posts here about the Harper Regime's extraordinary misspending and misguided attempts to manage the economy - which are the real reasons we have a deficit - you'll know how deeply audacious, arrogant, and hypocritical it was for Harper to chastise  the European community at Davos for not getting its house in order. Of course his address wasn't really about the world economy. It was a political opportunity to prepare us for the spring Canadian budget, which, when released, will probably make us all puke.  Journalists, bring your barf bag to the press conference. Seniors, start making your placards.

Those of us who are acutely awake through this travail of destruction sometime wonder whether all the little subversive and critical things we do are making a difference.  I think they are but not in terms of swaying the fundamentally ignorant Harper base, which would seem to just let all this moral corruption slip by, or even the non-committed or indifferent, who are the majority of snoozers; but of bonding our progressive movement of concern here in Canada and around the world wherever neoliberalism has sunk its greedy, self-serving teeth in, or - to use a phrase of Max Keiser's - where, through banksters and "the markets," neoliberalism has been "strip mining" the economy. There's a never before seen powerful force slowly growing in this  global resistance capable of effecting real transformational change in our socio-economic structures.

And, let me remind you, the occupy movement is not dead:  it's hibernating to be waken in the spring with a ferocious roar. In the meantime, we must keep up our small and large actions here and everywhere because they are incrementally creating an expanding awareness of just how mean, nasty, and corrupt the Harper Regime and its policies really are - nowhere better illustrated than in the example of Keystone XL and now Gateway, in the latter of which, as Nathan Cullen suggests, Harper may have overplayed his hand despite his usual wedge politics. Hang in there.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Debt Continues To Smother Us All Thanks to the Banksters

So here's how it works.  Although coming off record profits in 2011, Canadian banksters have decided to nickel and dime us in 2012 with their new chequing and ATM fees.  Why?  Because, on the one hand,  healthy corporations are hoarding their Flaherty tax cuts cash, are understandably reluctant to invest given a shaky global economy, and consequently simply don't need to borrow, while , on the other, sick corporations are clearly unable to borrow even if they wanted to do so.  

From where does profit come then? Why little ol' Canadian householders, of course, who are already in deep debt with a 154% debt to income ratio  and who will continue to borrow because their income is shrinking and because their households need to be maintained. These circumstances are bad enough, but the housing market is beginning to wobble seriously too: Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa are already showing rippling signs. It remains discouraging that the Harper Regime has done nothing about this economic misery and yet is partially responsible for it through misguided neoliberal economic policy and the absence  of job creation initiatives. 

I've said this many times:  prepare for a shallow and long recessionary period - maybe twenty years with little ups and downs and countless mini-crises.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Keystone, Northern Gateway pipelines raise questions that need answers before approval

The Star:  This is the most realistic and sensible perspective I've seen on the environment-oil-pipeline dilemma. Olive is right:  oil as our primary source of energy is not going to go away any time soon. It took well over 50 years to shift from coal as a primary source of energy to oil and natural gas.  Given the slow pace of commercializing innovations in alternative energy, the complexities of implementation, and governments' lack of political will to drive the development of alternative sources aggressively and cooperatively, it will be much longer before we witness a fully established energy paradigm shift - probably not in our lifetimes. 

Bottom line: while living with oil as the primary source of our energy - about which we have no choice -  we must in that context seek energy efficiency and ensure environmental safety everywhere we can in order to lessen the impact on the planet. This may involve focusing on the two pipelines not necessarily with the goal of stopping them since - let's be realistic - that's impossible, but with the goal of ensuring maximum environment safety and energy efficiency. That is actually acheiveable because both Trans Canada and Enbridge so desperately seek approval of these projects, and if we demand such stringency there's a very good chance they will accede.   Is such a position a compromise? You decide.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. said as much in his interview on CTV's Question Period. But David Hughes, a well-known energy analyst, says Gateway is unnecessary and that the pace of extractions from the tarsands themselves should be more evenly paced. Instead of pushing to sell oil to Asia and the U.S., he says, we should develop a comprehensive national energy policy and ship that oil east to central and eastern Canada to wean those regions off foreign oil, which is going to peak long before the tarsands. Agreed, but is there an ounce of political will from the Harper Regime for such a sensible idea?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

More Figures Illustrating Harper Regime's Economic Mismanagement

Okay, here are some new revelations adding  to what I've enumerated before.

This is probably no surprise given the misguided law and order agenda and the Harperites' fondness for locking people up whenever they can, but capital spending by the Correctional Services of Canada is up by 146% in the first six months of the current fiscal year; and, now that they are armed, the Canada Border Services Agency is up by a whopping 270%. Wow! Those guns sure do cost a lot, Tex.

Andrew Coyne points out that from 2006 to 2010 the Harper Regime increased program spending from $175 billion to $245 billion. Per person spending increased from $5,800 in constant  2010 dollars to $7,200. Yeah, these guys do like to spend.

Add to these woes the fact that the implementation of the  U.S. Volcker rule is going to make borrowing by the federal government more costly and, as a report on Flaherty's boutique tax credits this week points out, those credits negatively affect federal tax revenue significantly. 

Who's going to suffer for this spending and political targeting? Why we are of course, but at least we can say Huntsville is happy.

But it isn't just the Harper Regime that is mismanaging money. Mortgage credit is a staggering 1.8 trillion, and overall consumer debt is $48 billion. Credit card debt fell in the last quarter, and the overall pace of accumulating debt has slowed, but, get this, the overall private debt load still rose by 4.5% and lines of credit were tapped to pay down the credit cards - the usual Peter-Paul game that people deeply in debt unfortunately play.  And here's the kicker: sales financing - that is, buy now and pay later schemes designed to suck you into debt - rose in the last quarter by an astounding 18.4%. 

The pressure on the consummer to borrow will be intense from banks in 2012, I predict, since Canadian corporations are sitting on a pile of cash and have curtailed borrowing considerably. And if the housing market  begins to wobble - and the condo scene in Vancouver and Toronto suggests it might - look out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Harper Regime is Playing Dangerous Game

By unleashing strident propagandistic messages aimed nominally at environmentalists but really anyone opposed to or even questioning of the Gateway pipeline, the Harper Regime is playing a dangerous game in attempting to limit legitimate discussion on the Gateway pipeline. This is, as David Eaves argues, given all the complex issues involved, exactly the moment to begin a full and transparent arms-length approval process. Otherwise, I would add, any sort of intervention will potentially result in political blow-back from ordinary Canadians - who of course expect fairness in the assessment - that may turn out to be severely politically damaging, especially since the Regime is already skating on thin ice with so many other policies and practices, including - ordinary Canadians are beginning to realize - mismanagement of the economy through misguided spending and the loss of jobs in the general economy. Watch out once the full force of austerity measures kick in. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Yeah, right, President Harper and his Stepford Wives Are Such Good Economic Managers

Let me get this straight. This past week we learned that the Harper Regime spent $53.8 million in 2009-10 spinning their "Economic" Action Plan to a gullible populace - a budget that is more than the annual advertising budget for the entire federal government before 2006, the year the Regime took power. That's bad enough, right? But the Regime's spending on spin in general has also tripled since that year, going from $41. 3 million in 2005-06 to $136.3 million in 2009-10.  I wish I could say I'm surprised, but, unfortunately, such bad behaviour from the Harperites has become the norm, to be expected. No one - least of all the media - is shocked any more since it's become so commonplace.

We also learned this past week that Our Glorious Leader (John Doyle's term, which alternates for him with Hair-in-the-Fridge) ran up the PS by 33,000 employees and wages by $5 billion since 2006.   And, now, demonstrable hypocrite that he is, he's instructed one of his bulldogs, Tony the Pork-Barreller, to slash and burn the PS in the interests of  the festishized  deficit, a strategy which of course is a smoke screen for introducing "efficiencies" - a common neoliberal tactic in the private sector - a euphemism for firing people. 

Oh, yeah, and we also learned on the occasion of yet another completely unnecessary corporate tax cut - even several neoclassical economists said it was not called for in these recessionary times -  that Canadian businesses are sitting on more than $583 billion in Canadian currency and deposits and more than $276 billion in foreign currency. That's not to mention what is stashed away in tax havens like the Bahamas. Thanks, Steve, for the New Year's present. See you at the Fords or at our place offshore soon.

And of course before all these revelations this past week, let's not forget who slashed the GST by 2% to keep the red meat hounds from yapping more and who  blew a substantial Liberal surplus recklessly. These indulgences were such sound economic policies, yah? 

We're sinking, as I've suggested several times in this blog, and still we have no job initiating strategies. Why? Because neoliberal captialism thrives on a financial crisis. It's always a marvellous opportunity to introduce measures that will benefit the financial class and their neoliberal buddies - a sort of variation on Naoimi Klein's shock doctrine - in the name of emergency measures while the populace is in a condition of alarm and extremely receptive to spin.

We must find a way to begin educating the mainstream media about how deeply they themselves are inscribed in neoliberal ideology, as the three stories defending CEO salaries this past week clearly indicate, and we may have to begin moving from protest to reveolution of some sort, I'm beginiing to think, before this Regime becomes a full-fledged neoliberal fascist one. What emerges from the occupy movement in the spring is the key.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cuts for Cash: Think about how absolutely appalling and hypocritical this tactic is

Cuts for cash: it can only spur mangers to propose even deeper cuts. Only a nasty neoliberal would use the profit motive to conduct what is supposed to be a rational, considered appraisal of departmental services and staffing needs in the Public Service. And how much is the per diem fee for the consulting firm? $90,000, as I recall.  Think about how smugly hypocrtical this exercise really is too:  who cut the GST by 2%, obviating a simple source of tax revenue, who blew the Liberal surplus, and who ran up the PS by 33,000 employees and wages by $5 billion since 2006? 

So now that we know who's really responsible for this mess and who's going to pay for it - us - consider the real, economic  context for the cuts for cash program: the fact, for instance,  that even many neoclassical economists are now saying - with the EU on the brink of disaster and the world economy slipping - that  this is not the moment for austerity measures but for initiating reasonable stimulus combined with moderate debt reduction. And, finally, ask yourself who benefits from a program that reduces the federal deficit? Certainly not ordinary Canadians, several thousands of whom will now be added to the ranks of the unemployed,  and certainly not the general, industrial economy, which really requires job initiating strategies from government.  That's right - only the financial sector with whom the Harper Regime, like the Obama and Cameron administrations, is in bed ideologically.

We can look forward, it would seem, to prolonging the recession in which we are still enmeshed despite the spin out there that we're not, and if the Canadian housing  market  explodes, as some outside Canada are predicting for 2012, we may have much more than a recession.

Yes, it might be the end of the world in 2012.