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"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 29 sec ago

Retirement Is For The Rich

6 hours 29 min ago

                                                                                 http://lewisbarton.com


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

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

Stephen Harper’s government hiked the eligibility age for Old Age Security benefits to 67, effectively depriving all future Canadian retirees of two years of basic retirement income.And it has steadfastly refused to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan, leaving retired Canadians with an average income of $18,000 a year in public pension benefits — far less than what a full-time minimum wage earner makes in Ontario.
The prime minister has no intention of halting the juggernaut:

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

In what amounts to a radical overhaul, it announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.
All of this has been done under the radar. And the Harperites intend to keep it that way. It makes it easier to serve their clientele:

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

When it comes to new hires, many employers now offer only the new-style pensions. But the legislation proposed by Harper would create a way for employers to open up existing pension deals — effectively changing the rules in mid-stream, after workers have spent years paying into their plans.
While employees wont be able to afford retirement, CEO's will do just fine:

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

RBC CEO Gordon Nixon didn’t see the need to modify his own pension deal, however. When he retires later this week at the age of 57, he’ll receive a pension of $1.68 million a year, which will rise to an even more comfortable $2 million a year when he turns 65.
It's another example of how the champions of accountability are doing everything they can to remain unaccountable.

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


The Enemy At The Top

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 06:01


                                                                       http://www.reuters.com/


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

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

Putin did so by stoking nationalist fervor, crafting a narrative of a Russia beset by enemies, inside and out. Putin told a story of traditional Russians fighting back against both physical and existential threats.
And, so, he moved into Crimea and he keeps pushing the envelope.

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

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

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

We should be wary when our own politicians try to exploit certain flavours of nationalism for political gain. There’s nothing wrong with, for example, celebrating Canada’s athletic achievements, as Prime Minster Harper did when his Vancouver Olympics jacket became ubiquitous on the 2011 campaign trail. But Harper has taken to peppering his speeches and policy positions with militaristic bombast.
Putin and Harper are creating straw men in an attempt to divert attention away from themselves. If Russians and Canadians begin to realize that the real enemy is within -- worse still, that he sits at the top of the political pyramid -- both men will be finished.


He Must Be Laughing

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 06:33


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

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

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

Well, no one really knows. These audits overwhelmingly target environmental groups opposed to oilsands development. Many of these are the same organizations former Natural Resources and current Finance Minister Joe Oliver called out as being "radical groups" trying to undermine Canadian development. Yet the government maintains it has no control over who the CRA investigates.
Lawrence Martin was stationed in Moscow during the Cold War. He has noted that Harper's information control is reminiscent of what went on in Russia before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly there was no such thing as free speech.

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

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

Have They No Decency?

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 06:22


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

These exact words – “cruel and unusual punishment” – resonate in history. They were written into the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and were then repeated in the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution: “Cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” These are not words used loosely.
He points out that they were at the heart of Joseph Welsh's response to Senator Joseph McCarthy:

“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
We have insisted -- at least until recently -- that our elected officials display a modicum of decency. But any sense of decency disappeared with Stephen Harper. Caplan writes that "cruel and unusual treatment" is at the heart of two other Harper policies:

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

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


He Would If He Could

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:50

                                                                       http://theinternetpost.net/

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

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

According to the logic offered up by many Conservatives lately, what the boss did back in 2000 amounted to an attempt to undermine Parliament. Dan Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, recently told CBC that interest groups are trying to “… do an end-run around our democratic process and turn to the courts where it seems some judges are quite happy to engage. This can result in decisions contrary to what have been decided in our democratic process.”
The Harperites are nothing, if not hypocritical. They would prefer that there was no Supreme Court to second guess their decisions. However:

The courts play an essential role in our democracy by interpreting and applying the laws passed by government — acting as both check and balance on the other two branches of government, the executive and legislative. No true democracy anywhere in the world gives governments unlimited powers. In Canada, the job of the courts is to make sure that what the government does is consistent with the charter and the Constitution. Our legal rights mean precisely nothing if governments can override them simply by passing a law.
While they loudly celebrated the anniversary of the War of 1812, they let the 25th and the 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pass without notice, even though,

time and again, Canadians have told parties and pollsters that they treasure the Charter of Rights — that it’s part of the bedrock of our society, something that unites us.
But Stephen Harper has never been about uniting us. He has found success by dividing us. And, if he could abolish the Charter, he would.



There's Only One Word For It -- Tyranny

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 05:42
                                                       http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is only one word for it -- tyranny. 


The Real Battle Has Begun

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 06:39
                                                      http://www.fordefables.co.uk/

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

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

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

He adds the Mounties have made it clear they don't believe Harper has any knowledge of Duffy's alleged wrongdoing and that there would be no reason for the prime minister to be involved should Duffy's defence team attempt to have him testify.
So we can expect that Stephen Harper will do everything he can to avoid being questioned in court by Donald Bayne, Duffy's attorney. Bayne would destroy the prime minister's shifting narrative and -- worse still -- the myth  that Stephen Harper is the smartest guy in the room.

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


More And Worse Conflict

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 05:47
                                                                          http://en.wikipedia.org/

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

It is axiomatic for Harper’s critics, certainly for those who churn out talking points for the Dippers, Grits and Greens, that this prime minister is a ham-fisted and embarrassingly unsubtle foreign-policy actor. The prima facie evidence is his notorious letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2003, penned with Stockwell Day, lamenting Canada’s refusal to participate in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Never mind that mistake, writes den Tandt:

But here’s the thing: Harper and Baird’s basic positions have been borne out by events — both in the conflict with Hamas, and in Ukraine, since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a rocket attack, killing all 298 people aboard.
Really? Could it be that his minor error on Iraq has helped destabilise the entire Middle East? And could Harper's support of Israel -- while completely ignoring its occupation of Gaza  -- not have something to do with the increased rocket technology which Hamas has now aimed at Israel?

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

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


Sabotaging Responsible Government

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 06:16
                                                                                 www.nationalpost.com/

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

This fracas is instructive for a number of reasons. The prickly issue, however, at the core of the dispute – that is fraying so-called party unity and triggering hard questions about Mulcair’s leadership – are the vague, carefully coded reasons NDP brass have proffered to Manly, his parents and supporters for why the accomplished environmentalist, filmmaker and musician has been barred from the party’s nomination in traditionally NDP-friendly British Columbia.
NDP headquarters, Mitrovica writes, is beginning to look and sound like Harper's PMO. Not only that, Mulcair's stand on Gaza is alienating traditional NDP constituencies:

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

They’re not alone. Among the many other disenchanted party members is a “deeply dismayed” Vancouver rabbi and a “long-time and dedicated NDP member” who has also recently written Muclair, urging him to “reverse [The federal NDP leadership’s] action preventing Mr. Manly from standing to be the candidate from Nanaimo-Ladysmith and its attempt to distance the party from meaningful and forthright action regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
All three party leaders have recently assumed a presidential style of leadership, which asserts that MP's serve at the leader's pleasure.Their constituents have no say in the matter.

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



We Need Duffy's Emails

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 06:02


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

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

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

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

Most important, by declining to lay charges against Wright the RCMP limits damage to his credibility — which can only increase his value as a witness.
Clearly, the powers that be are out to get Duffy. Given his past behaviour, it's hard to feel sympathy for the man. But one cannot escape the suspicion that the RCMP -- like the civil service and the military --  has been politicized by the Harper government.

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


Depraved Policy

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 05:47


                                                                                  http://www.ctpost.com/

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

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

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

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

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

But Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador, noted on CBC TV’s Power and Politics on Tuesday that international law prohibits Israel from, for instance, attacking a military target if it is located in a densely populated building.
Anyone who knows anything thing about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship knows that it's fraught with complications:

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

Harper’s refusal to take any of this into consideration flies in the face of Canada’s long-standing position on the Mideast conflict — a position that still appears on the Canadian government’s website.
Harper has always been comfortable in his ignorance. Moreover, he has the arrogance to think he's the smartest guy in the room. The result is depraved policy.



Harper's Perfect Storm

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:38
                                                                           http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

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

The biggest question to be answered remains: why? Not only why did Mr. Wright make the payment — which, remember, was not to “the taxpayer” but to Mr. Duffy, in secret and on condition that he remain silent about it — but why were so many other senior people in and around the government, as we learned from the trove of emails unearthed by the RCMP, so utterly transfixed with the task of paying Mr. Duffy’s falsely claimed expenses? Why not just leave him to face the consequences of his own actions?
The answer to that question may turn out to be sheer stupidity. But, given who Duffy claims to be -- someone who knows where the bodies are buried -- there are other questions which need to be answered -- questions that involve Stephen Harper:

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

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