Monday, 30 December 2013

Political thoughts while chipping away at the Ice Storm...

Politicians and the New Year. Depressing thoughts as I chip away five centimetres storm ice from my driveway.

by Tom Thorne

We are one day away from the New Year and the start of 2014. I would like to begin this new year on a positive note but despite my desire to remain positive I sadly drift into negativity. Each time I think of our politicians and their lack of leadership in this country I begin to despair for our future.

They feed us pap, and they utilize Facebook and Twitter snippets so they don’t have say very much. Their newsletters for their ridings are bland and one sided and there is a ruse that they want your opinions for matters that ordinary members of parliament have no control over without a Prime Minister’s Office nod. 

They live in a world of soundbites and try to ruin each other’s reputations with attack advertisements. They talk about action plans, balancing budgets, but only answer questions and concerns in vague and evasive ways. Harper government ministers are noted for their lack of response to media questions and public concerns.

They wrap the parliamentary legislation into omnibus bills that are so opaque that they defy analysis even by their own caucus and need hoards of overpaid bureaucrats to unravel whether new funding or some pile of unspent dollars is now finally being applied.  

The Harper government uses unelected staff to interfere with Parliament and the Senate. Members of Parliament are expected to vote on issues like trained seals although there is a flickering of hope on this front with some reforms in a private members’s bill.

In all of this there is little evidence of responsibility or accountability and leadership is no where to be seen unless it is implementing Star Chamber methods that smack of tyranny to get rid of or suspend without pay allegedly miscreant senators who fall foul of the Prime Minister. They deny of due process and political expediency is their modus operandi.

The upcoming year portends a bleak prospect of preparing us for the 2015 federal election. Every effort will be made to balance the budget by 2015 for the first time in years by cutting back everywhere. This debacle masquerades as sound fiscal management in the eyes of the Harper right wing ideologues who must now play to their “base” of right wing supporters to get re-elected.

My despair may of course may be brought on by our recent Eastern Canadian ice storm that has left us in a state of frozen greyness when there is no sun for many days. The prospect of a hard winter combined with the usual political ineptitude in Ottawa is enough to drag one into a state of despondency.

Usually at this time we think of our upcoming winter visit to Cuba but this year we are stuck here because of other commitments to the travel budgets later in the Spring. So I despair as I read the Globe and Mail each morning and then watch people trying to forget the greyness by attending the Boxing Day sales in an attempt to remove bleakness from their lives with an Xbox 4 purchase.

The last thing on the public’s mind at this time of year is further information and revelations about the Ottawa crowd. On TV news shows their political debacles are incessantly reviewed as the big stories of 2013. It’s depressing how what purports to be news has sunk so low. No wonder people retreat into games where armed avatars in Call of Duty can unleash violence and mayhem and destroy bad guys. 

Perhaps a new game could be devised and named Recall Ottawa. In this game if politicians fail to lead us or answer questions directly and honestly, the Kraken from Fall of the Titans is released to deal with them. If they bad mouth a political opponent they are subjected to a fiery hell where attack ads about their lies and ineptitudes are played to them for eternity.

Sadly such justice fleetingly passes through my mind as I chip away at five centimetres of ice on my sidewalk.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Harper Government sees social programs as cost items not investments. The Canada Pension Plan payouts and Old Age Security create economic activity.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The Harper Government's 
re-election hope and chief fiscal ideologue 

The economics of the federal Canada Pension Plan  (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs are in the news. Below is a modest proposal to rethink these programs not as costs but as creators of economic activity.

The economy is not as “fragile” as federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says it is. There is good evidence for a US recovery.  It’s the 2015 election prospects for the Harper Government and the political need balance their budget that holds Flaherty back.

One of the biggest Canadian (in fact North American) demographic groups are Baby Boomers turning into ageing geriatrics. They are now and into the near future actively drawing pensions that some of them have built up working for the private sector and governments. 

Many others, however, are relying on the federal public purse. They have no savings or pensions  except The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security.  Although they work often at two or more jobs they have not the resources to save for retirement. This demographic cadre is still growing as a percentage of the total Canadian population and many may have difficulty supporting themselves in old age unless changes are made.

All Canadians with an employment record have assets being paid out from the CPP and most Canadians draw the Old Age Security and those with lower incomes the draw the top up Income Supplement amount. Too many Canadians only have these federal programs in their old age and so hover on or live in poverty. The Provinces want to increase the premiums and the payouts of the CPP.

A week or so ago federal government Finance Minister Jim Flaherty met with provincial governments to discuss what should happen to the CPP in the near future. Many provinces in Canada want to build up this fund with escalating premiums shared equally by employers and employees increasing contributions over a reasonable time to ensure that those without work place pensions have enough or at least more money in their old age. Their ideas also include provisions so employers don’t see CPP increases as killers of business opportunities.

Ontario is particularly inclined to do this but Jim Flaherty said at the Meech Lake meeting that the economy is too fragile to take increases in premiums to build up a CPP with better payouts.  Since the CPP and Old Age Security are federal programs this means that the Stephen Harper Government has decided to do nothing. The provinces are unamused. The current Harper government may have lit the fuse of a social and political time bomb. 

I have a different view of the CPP and Old Age pensions provided by the federal government. I see these programs as net increasers of economic activity. Without them the economy would be greatly curtailed. Let’s look why that is.

The federal government can create money supply by printing what my laconic Estonian university economics professor called “Queen’s pictures”. During my brush with two economic courses back in the 1960’s the one dollar and twenty dollar bill had pictures of the Queen on them. Hence the name “Queen’s pictures”.

Currency printed on paper (or now that new dreadful plastic material) they only work because we accept them as a medium of exchange. They are worthless if the recipients say they are. In early Russian post Soviet currency markets Canadian Tire dollars were accepted as representing one Canadian dollar equally well as the real thing.

Today we accept the Canadian dollar, the Euro and the US dollar and the low pegged Chinese Yuan as useful and their relative values to one another make up an economy for the world. However the brutal truth of this situation is they are valued because they are accepted even when they are stressed by crisis like European countries recent near defaults and later the USA nearly defaulting on their national debt ceiling.

Now this is along way of saying that the government of Canada and other national governments create money by issuing pretty bank notes. Another way they create money is by issuing cheques that can be exchanged in a bank account for Queen’s or Prime Minister’s pictures. Whether you use your debit card or use pretty bank notes they create economic activity with nothing to back them except your belief that the system works for you and others.

It is my contention that CPP and Old Age cheques or electronic impulses sent to banks make a credit in your bank account that you can spend. These programs are wealth creators and they stimulate the economy when the money they create is used or distributed for goods and services. Most recipients of these programs tend to spend all of these value creators each month.

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the economy is too fragile I really don’t understand. Government currency printing and the issuance of cheques for the CPP and Old Age create economic activity. And the CPP is backed by employee and employer contributions.  Therefore it is possible to increase the contributions and the eventual payouts for these programs if it is carefully phased in over five years or so. In addition, when these federal government sit as a deposit in a Canadian chartered bank they can be lent out at a ratio of better than seven to one and that is really money creation.

Today business has pent up capital that sits in low interest investments waiting to be put to work. Jim Flaherty says the economy is fragile and it is because new business investment is tardy after the melt down in 2008. However in 2013 we are at the five year point and time and an economic breakout is in the air. The economy is as fragile as the Harper Government’s inability to risk anything on the cusp of the 2015 election. For them good fiscal health is their re-election prospects and so they are cutting back to look like responsible stewards of the economy after years of spending.

What is Jim Flaherty afraid of doing to the economy? First the CPP is solvent because it is a fund that constantly gets money paid into it. If that money is increased through higher employee and employer contributions the fund will grow. If self-employed people are also allowed to contribute that will also further build the fund for the future.

Young people saddled with educational debt and doing McJobs are a real drag on the economy and don’t build much equity in the CPP because minimum wage earners probably contribute at minimum levels. They are underemployed and often in jobs with no prospects or pension building opportunities. We need a radical look at how we fund post secondary education and put youth to work after graduation. 

Student loans are a poor idea. This money should not be loans.  These funds should be seen as an investment in human capital and the Canadian economy. The current funding of post secondary education or trades training is frankly set up as an economic negative with a low percentage going to grants.  

Vicious bureaucracies go after payment from new graduates within six months. Four years of post-secondary study can mount $30-40,000 of debt. The result is new grads take crappy jobs to keep money coming in. In expensive cities like Toronto GTA and Vancouver it is almost impossible to get out of the economic hole created by these student loans and it is just as bad elsewhere in the country. Let’s rethink this situation.

In my plan young people who are acceptable and perform well at a college or university get paid a grant each month. The university or college gets a portion electronically each month for its tuitions and operating costs.  The students get a living grant which is enough to live very carefully. If students want a larger lifestyle they fund it themselves or work part time. Parents who can contribute are encouraged to do so by generous tax incentives much better than the current tax credit percentage. This parental or grandparent tax advantage only lasts for four years per student.

Student needs are seen by stupid government bureaucracies and politicians as a debt. If the heat was taken off repayment and that repayment was seen as an increased CPP contribution, then we would be doing something in this country that recognizes that cheques cut by the federal government is the first stage of currency circulation creating economic activity. For the Harper ideologues this would be seen as rampant socialism. I argue that it is not socialism in the context of a knowledge-information society.

The funding of education as much as a CPP retirement and later the Old Age Security funds should be seen as generators of money circulation and economic health. They should not be debits for anyone if attitudes can be altered from the status quo and removed from the relocation prospects of short sighted politicians and bureaucrats. 

When we see BitCoin starting a web virtual currency I argue that governments have been doing this for a long time with CPP and OAS electronic impulses building credits at  Canadian Chartered Banks for their depositors and customers.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 13 December 2013

Political correctness now extends to any alleged objectionable tone of your voice. This stuff has a high Silliness Quotient.

Political correctness is narcissism when a tone of voice can be objectionable.

by Tom Thorne

The other day on the radio I heard an interview which caused me to reflect on political correctness and its place in our daily lives. A woman was on air talking about individual rights when she suddenly said to the radio host that she detected a tone in his voice that she found objectionable.

She forced the issue to the point where the radio host, mostly to retain any kind of decorum, apologized for his alleged negative tone of voice. The woman was quite strident and from her point of view she detected a pejorative tone.

My instinct was to confront her rudeness because her tone was certainly obnoxious and insulting to a very professional radio host. My first response to this woman’s rudeness was shock. Her confrontational tone was alright but the alleged tone of the radio host was not. It was one sided and in my view, did not deserve any apology.

And even when she got an apology she continued with her tone to hammer home her problem with the radio host never defining the problem she had with his tone. Eventually the on air host cut her interview short and called for a station break. She was right and he was wrong there was no ability to interact with ideas and certainly not discuss her views about tone of voice. Narcissism raised its self-centred head. Hopefully when off air he confronted her rudeness.

This kind of ardent political correctness seems to becoming more prevalent. It seems that some individuals must interface others and society only on their terms. There is no restraint or give and take. If a practitioner of this kind of lifestyle discovers something they consider to be objectionable they can unleash a torrent of rudeness which of course they consider to be alright because they are correcting a wrong from their perspective.

Well in my way of thinking this is rampant narcissism. Almost anything anyone can say can be deemed objectionable if tone is used as a measure. Where would such a social convention come from? Why does the individual trump normal social convention? Why are we allowing individuals to declare something objectionable and force apologies when they are not needed?

When the focus is only or primarily on me, then how I define the world is only in my terms. I am frankly loath to understand the social origins of such a notion. In my view it is a type of fascism. Everything is defined in the terms of the person or groups with a political correct ax to grind. It is my way is the only way.

Of course we all know life doesn’t work like this but these politically correct narcissists think that what they sense or understand is always right. This must be a simple self-focused way to live. Imagine saying that you are always right. My perceptions are always the right one. My views are the correct way to think. 

That kind of view of social interaction when it becomes political is in my view a branch of fascism. It defies logic, facts and basic social conventions. It’s the kind of idea that gets concentration camps and political re-education camps built. It can turn ugly and become persecution very fast.

This type of thinking does not engage in dialogue or interchange ideas. It is by its nature anti-democratic. It is also anti-intellectual because it shuts out other ideas by putting up road blocks that are defined as too objectionable to discuss including someone’s tone in their speech. 

Even in the case of the radio host he asked the woman to tell him what was objectionable in his tone asking her questions. She was unable to tell him what he had allegedly done wrong. However, she stayed on the attack saying that in her view his tone was by her personal standards deemed objectionable. 

The origins of this type of thinking are old. They are the same as people who deny evolution or even a discussion of the topic in schools. The viewpoint they present is fixed. It is a literal interpretation of the Bible that says the Earth is 6000 years old. It is the Nazi view that Jews are responsible for all of Germany’s post World War 1 ills. It is the mentality that can devise the Final Solution. It is personal censorship.

It is a world of guilty where innocence has no equity or value. It is prejudgement and it can only come from advanced self absorbed narcism. To use their own type of language, these people are listening to discussion and ideas challenged.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Justin Trudeau must begin soon to build Liberal credibility with a solid policy book. His charisma needs substance to unseat the Harper Government.

Justin Trudeau rises in Question Period. 
It will be hard to dislodge the Harper Government in 2015.

What Justin Trudeau has to do.

by Tom Thorne

Justin Trudeau has been basking somewhat in a positive image since he became Leader of the Liberal Party.  Not that he has had nothing to say about Senate scandals and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) debacle but really he has mostly remained sanitized and above the fray. Even his views on marijuana have given little ammunition to Conservatives or NDP opponents except a few sneers in attack advertisements.

As the PMO scandals develop and Prime Minister Stephen Harper begins his potential descent from power, it seems that tedium is setting in.  New Democrat (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair, mounted scathing attacks in Question Period holding the Prime Minister's feet to the fire, but his jibes and jabs have not increased NDP popularity nor fully damaged the Harper Government.  

Justin Trudeau on the other hand has increased Liberal votes and popularity in the recent by-elections. So when Thomas Mulcair tried his jabs and jibes on Justin Trudeau they also have had little effect. Justin Trudeau just keeps positively rolling along without really doing or saying too much. Both the Conservatives and the NDP can't really touch Trudeau's current political mojo. He seems to be surrounded by an invisible shield.

This is all very nice for Trudeau but now to really build on his positive image Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have to come up with more substance about how they can present an alternative to the Conservatives while at the same time knocking the NDP off Official Opposition status in the House of Commons.

It is my contention that the NDP seats in Quebec are soft and that they will not go in 2015 to the NDP as easily as they did last time. In addition, the current Parti Quebecois polls indicate that the public has no appetite for nationalism or separatism.  

It's bread and butter economic issues that matter in Quebec as they do in the rest of the country. Conservatives even with a decent economic record show no promise in Quebec when the party remains in the hands of right wingers following the Stephen Harper brand.

Therefore it can be time for a Liberal resurgence in Quebec and with a good performance in Ontario and British Columbia the worst outcome is that Liberals form the Official Opposition in 2015 to a minority Conservative Government. 

If something happens to take Stephen Harper off the Canadian political stage (the Senate Scandal, PMO implosion with RCMP charges leading to the PM, a Conservative caucus rebellion, or a run in with party big wigs) then the gloves are off in 2015 because the Conservatives could be rudderless even if Stephen Harper went another round because there would no time to replace him in time. Of course I could be wrong on this one if the Conservative Party brass see a longer future for Stephen Harper as leader.

There will be an general election on 19 October 2015 no matter what happens. To utilize the time leading up to the election what should Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party be doing? First Justin Trudeau has to stop giving the Conservative propaganda machine fodder for its work. You know that in 2015 Trudeau will be in attack ads for his marijuana statements and his comments (out of context) about the Chinese government. 

And although Trudeau gave his seat on the VIP plane for Nelson Mandela’s funeral to Liberal MP Irwin Kotler, who worked as a lawyer to get Mandela freed, I can see  Conservative attack ads in the 2015 election using this as further Trudeau destruct fodder.

The Conservatives will try to show that Justin Trudeau is a lightweight unworthy to become Prime Minister or even the Leader of the Opposition. How do the Liberals counter this stuff? 

A sample of Harper attack ads to discredit Justin Trudeau. 
The Trudeau name and charisma will not be enough to counter this stuff.

One strategy is to ignore it and let it happen hoping that the vitriolic content of such attacks blows back on the Conservatives. Sadly however, these type of attack ads seem to work. With their current record in the PMO and the Senate, the Conservatives must go on the offensive attacking Justin Trudeau’s considerable threat. 

Trudeau now needs to break out with policies for the next election that create hope of for youth unemployment and education debts. He needs to court the vote of disenfranchised youth and marshal them for the Liberal cause.  

They need policy to stem the industrial decline of Ontario and Quebec and get a more entrepreneurial set of policies that will encourage private pent up capital to start working again to build business. That will require confidence in the business world that seems to be fence sitting for the moment concerning new investment. 

Harper has not been able to get business to increase investment in new plant and machinery or start hiring for real jobs. The Ontario loss of the Heinz plant in Lemington and today the Kellogg factory in London sadly demonstrate that Central Canada's economy is not robust even with a lower dollar and continuing low interest rates. We could well ask what Harper is doing to stem this decline in Ontario.

A Liberal government must also show how they would get Canada back on the International stage as an honest broker and country that can be relied on to look after the global environment. We should be showing leadership on all international forums on these issues. At the moment we have lost any initiative on climate, pollution or convincing the world that we can move tar sand oil safely to markets.

The Liberals have an opportunity at this time to really provide alternatives to Conservative Party right wing notions about prison reform, gun control, and law and order issues.Judges are beside themselves deciding how they can implement mandatory surcharges of $100 per sentence on miscreants who have been found guilty even a first offence for minor crime. This is the result of Harper's tough on crime views in legislation. Poor people pay.

The Liberals need to fully articulate how they intend to give a fiscal break to middle class people. They need to have a war on poverty in Canada and especially among native people. Seniors need to be addressed with how they can preserve retirement savings and make a decent return on their investments.

If Justin Trudeau's Liberals articulate a bright future for Canada then they have an excellent chance to form a government in 2015. The status quo we now have is a downer with secretive leadership. It is full of obscuring of facts, tight controls of the Harper PMO over parliament, cabinet ministers and their ministries. 

Trudeau and the Liberals can contrast a better more positive way for Canada but they need to announce this very soon knowing the fight will be tough countering Conservative promotions featuring distain, ridicule and contempt. The recent attack ads concerning Justin Trudeau as a lightweight even before the election begins, demonstrate the anxiety the Harper Government has about Justin Trudeau.

The Conservatives have the funds to do this negative campaign before the election. Liberal spending should not try to counter these ads. It should take a higher road and show Canadians that there is light at the end of the Harper tunnel. The Liberals have this advantage to counter the Harper view of Canada. 

The Liberals are far enough away from their own peccadilloes to break out. It will be a hard test of whether Justin Trudeau has the right stuff to weather negative attacks while putting forth a positive political that Canadians need to hear.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved