Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lie like a rug

If the Liberal's promises of HST rate reductions influence your vote, consider past announcments of this government:
NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
2010PREM0193-001340
Oct. 27, 2010
Office of the Premier


PREMIER ANNOUNCES TAX RELIEF FOR BRITISH COLUMBIANS


VICTORIA - Premier Gordon Campbell tonight announced a 15 per cent reduction in personal income tax rates, for the first $72,000 of personal income for all British Columbians. This is the second-largest personal income tax relief measure in B.C. history, ensuring B.C. individuals pay the lowest provincial income tax in Canada, on incomes up to $130,000.

Gabriel Yiu: The bankrupt promises of the B.C. Liberals' HST

From The Georgia Straight
"Last October, in order to slow his sharp slide in popularity caused by the HST, B.C.'s then-premier, Gordon Campbell, spent $240,000 to buy a half-hour TV advertisement to make an important announcement.

"The premier spent the first half to promote the so-called advantages of the HST. Then, he declared that in order to relieve the burden on consumers caused by the expanded sales tax, the government would introduce a 15-percent cut in personal-income tax, starting January 1, 2011.

". . . Campbell’s tax cut came as a shock to many because not that long before, he and then-finance minister Colin Hansen had challenged those opposed to the HST by asking them whether they wanted to cut health care or education to repay a $1.6-billion signing bonus to the federal government.

"But suddenly, the B.C. Liberal government had the money to cut income tax within two months!

"Unfortunately, Campbell’s promise was simply another B.C. Liberal dishonoured cheque to deceive British Columbians. . ."
Continue reading
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Planks in their own eyes

Reporting on taxation, commerce and consumer issues and serving the interests of business funded think tanks, the Vancouver Sun never lets truth get in the way of its agenda. In a rather flippant piece by James Kwantes, the newspaper promotes an internet video posted by a person from the pro-HST Smart Tax Alliance. Kwantes notes the YouTube video relies on a statement extracted from a 30-page paper by an economist associated with the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies and also published by the Fraser Institute.

The result is a false exposition, not surprising since business agencies promoting HST are driven by their obvious self-interest. They love to accuse tax opponents of circulating misinformation but, instead, that is their own style. They conveniently ignore words from a famous Jew of ancient history,
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Professor David Murrell's HST paper is less than outstanding in examining British Columbia's resource based export economy. It is not easily compared to that of Ontario, the hub of Canada's secondary industry, as well the country's corporate office and national distribution centre. In this work, Prof. Murrell focuses more on the commerce of central Canada than west coast economics. As an example, in reviewing HST, Murrell assumes that,
"60% of input tax savings . . . are passed on to consumers."
That is a guess but not a good one for British Columbia. No one can demonstrate that prices to consumers of BC's major products (mining, oil and gas, forestry and logging, etc.) have reduced because of HST. The evidence is lacking because these prices are determined by international markets. Cost inputs matter less to large consumer product distributors than most people realize, and almost all economists claim. British Columbia subsidizes movie production hugely but consumers here pay the world's highest admission rates. There is no pass-through savings to movie goers.

In 2002, the Canadian dollar traded below the 62-cent U.S. level. Today, it is almost 2/3 higher. Strangely though, as noted in the preceding Northern Insights article, Canadian prices of cars and most imported consumer products remain higher than in the U.S., often by 20-25%. Prices are influenced less by the country's tax structure than by Canada's lack of competition in key product distribution. Oligopoly or monopolistically-competitive markets are Canada's reality, a situation not accidental.

Prof. Murrell also justifies HST in British Columbia because of what he calls "accompanying personal income tax relief measures." This statement is false. There were HST rebates for the poor but no income tax relief. Premier Campbell and his Finance Minister associated no personal income tax rate relief with the July 2009 HST announcement. No easing of personal income tax in any budget prior to then was amelioration of the consumption tax. Nor was a change announced by Hansen months later when he was struggling to save Campbell's sinking administration.

In the autumn budget of 2009, Hansen provided modest personal income tax relief through an increase to the basic personal tax credit. However, that was largely clawed back by increased Medical Services Plan premiums announced concurrently. Economist Murrell considers that subsequent tax measure tempered the effect of HST but Liberals also claimed it as a moderation of MSP premium increases. It cannot be both and, of course, MSP fees were only a part of user fee increases imposed by Liberals in the time frame.

Biased selection of data raises issues about Murrell's entire paper. A quick glance at the professor's CV may offer clues. Not surprisingly, Murrell is a member of the Research Advisory Board at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), another part of the right wing think tank network that cares for the interests of Canada's economic elites. He is also editor of WatchDog Newsletter, a quarterly newsletter of right-wing opinion and has consulted for and advised various business organizations.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Little known wisdom

A regular reader forwarded the opinion piece about efficiency that is shown below. It seemed relevant after my sad account of an unnamed person delaying and inconveniencing my important technical efforts, in the middle of complex electronics repairs, simply because that person thought bits and pieces, screws and screwdrivers, disks and drives ought not to be stored for days on the largest horizontal surface in the family dining area.

Sensitive to matters of proficiency, regular reader also knows the secret of effective work is to keep needed resources close at hand. In my career's work, I was a piler, with a very organized hierarchical structure of piles. The importance of a document was signified by its position in the vertical axis of a particular pile. That which was atop the most urgent stack always got immediate attention. Similar to granular convection, old, less significant items of business work their way to the bottom while large ones rise to the top. Eventually, documents that stay near the bottom can be discarded without ever having been given direct attention. In fact, papers worthy of being ignored completely always found the bottom without even minimal handling.

I intend to someday publish a book about my document storage system. Right now, I'm missing the third and seventh chapters. They're here somewhere though because I never lose anything important, permanently.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After warning of benign dictatorships, he now heads one

With the Harper government finally holding a majority in Parliament, it's worth re-looking at the radical milieu that gave early inspiration to Canada's Prime Minister. Some years ago, writer Marci McDonald wrote The Man Behind Stephen Harper for The Walrus magazine.  McDonald's piece talked of fears that Tom Flanagan was "the man poised to become the real power behind [Harper's] prime ministerial throne."

Flanagan and associate Rainer Knopff are old boys of the “Calgary School,” which provides academic badges for what McDonald calls a "rambunctious, Rocky Mountain brand of libertarianism." They are also Senior Fellows of The Fraser Institute, a 'non-partisan' charity that channels millions each year to libertarian and pro-corporate political causes.

In December, Northern Insights offered a look at Tom Flanagan in Prince of the racist radical right, or just a moron?

When developing strategies for future political influence, Harper and Flanagan published a 1997 opinion piece titled "Our Benign Dictatorship." It boasted:
"Canadian conservatism is at its strongest level in many years. The oldest conservative institutions -- the National Citizens' Coalition, the Fraser Institute, Alberta Report and its sister magazines -- have been joined by new research institutes, mass organizations and publishing houses. The Donner Canadian Foundation,with real money to spend, has accelerated the growth of a conservative intellectual network. In the media, conservative columnists are multiplying "like zebra mussels," as Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn put it."
The right wing activists knew full well that gaining power required  "real money to spend." Money that enabled astroturf groups such as the National Citizens' Coalition and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to gain prominence, that funded "research institutes" and handsomely rewarded media members who treated the libertarian, neo-con and neo-lib agendas with sympathy and support. Money was the key that enabled all the other resources to be marshalled.

Where was the money to come from? Harper's coterie were comfortable but not powerfully wealthy. To afford success, Harper and his mentors — less principled that they pretended even to themselves — were prepared to make Faustian bargains for access to wealth. Canada's rich and super-rich citizens became the "conservative" movement's usurious financiers. In return, the elites merely wanted legal and taxation systems that guaranteed an ever widening gulf between rich and poor. This required political dedication to what Naomi Klein calls the “policy trinity” of the Chicago-School program:
“the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending.”
Self-styled conservatives, having gained for themselves financial strength and media dominance, began efforts to deny resources to political opponents. Specific strategies aimed at undercutting influence of public sector employees and labour unions, undermining public broadcasting and ending public financial support to opposition political parties. In 2008, Stephen Harper reaffirmed his intention to remove taxpayer support of political parties but his government's minority status prevented action, an obstacle now removed.

Of course, Harper's Conservatives are willing to forgo public financing. They can afford to, having raised more in personal donations in 2010 than all other federal parties combined.  That multi-million dollar advantage is made even greater by Harper's absolute control over government spending. For example, shortly before the 2011 election, the Government of Canada launched an unprecedented advertising blitz to sing praises of the budget, the Conservative Economic Action Plan and countless other federal initiatives. Under Harper Conservatives, government "informational" advertising" has grown to about $80 millions a year. Gordon Campbell's Liberals, by the way, cynically allocated an even larger proportion of total government spending to public relations.

When the Conservative Prime Minister ends public funding of political parties, he will follow that by privatization of the CBC. His actions will ensure those with deep pockets can steamroller others who cannot afford to have their voices heard. Harper's objective is to weaken further opposition to the “policy trinity” of the Chicago-School program. The neo-liberal movement wants an insurmountable political advantage. It hungers to combine unfettered control of public expenditures, obedient support of mainstream media, intellectual assets funded through right wing think tanks and the financial muscle of Canada's super-rich elites.

Well meaning commentators have suggested that opponents tread lightly in the face of Harper's win in 2011, arguing that Conservatives deserve a chance to implement their policies. This ignores the devious strategy Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan made public in 1987.  Rather than warning opposition parties to tread carefully, we must remind Harper and friends that 39.6% of the popular vote is not a mandate for massive change in Canada.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Returning soon

Thanks to all the readers asking about my whereabouts these last few days. I can blame Google's Blogger platform only for yesterday. The rest of the time results from technical difficulties at the home front. Like its owner, my 'highly experienced' laptop began to exhibit symptoms of aging: languor, contrariness and occasional paralysis.

As with most intermittent difficulties in electronics, troubleshooting was bothersome, perhaps not worth pursuing. Eventually, my tolerance was exhausted and repair became the priority. However, a dirty little secret of electronics is that service is mostly guesswork. Technicians replace parts until the acute problems go away. Sometimes, curing one fault merely discloses that others exist.

The consensus of self-identified experts was that I needed a new hard drive. Replacing a machine's main disk is itself simple but dealing with hundreds of gigabytes of data in tens of thousands of distinct files is anything but easy. Many home computer owners have backup strategies in mind but seldom are these put to the test until we are forced to rely upon them. A newly installed disk may be ready to work but until it is loaded with necessary software and data files, it is useless.

I readied my tools to complete the repair. Those included the new hard drive, original system disks and backups archived in various forms. Relying upon promises of the marketing people, I expected to merely install the new drive, transfer the archived system image onto it from an external storage device and proceed with no further difficulties. Let us merely say that the plan did not unfold as expected.

A new strategy was needed. During adjournment, the senior housekeeper decided all elements of the unfinished repair should be stored away, out of sight. Soon, I was ready to complete the job so I petitioned the related occupant to return all goods to the repair table. Unfortunately, in our home's supply management chain, retrieval is much less efficient than storage. The computer's original system disks could not be found. More delay resulted.

Eventually, the disappeared items were recovered from a place where they could not not possibly be. The new round of study and strategic planning allowed the laptop repair to be completed successfully. Sadly, fate has a way of snatching away triumph merely by substituting a new problem for the one you manage to resolve. While I relished my successful disk repair, the laptop's screen hinge broke on the right side, then the left side.

Of course, availability of a new larger disk drive called for an improved file and backup system to ensure at least the hope that future recoveries would proceed without difficulties. On top of that, the family car suffered its unexpected demise, shortly after a four-figure repair bill. 

So, my spare time recently was dedicated to examining car options and reorganizing vast quantities of data files. I have been collecting audio information from around the world for years and now have a vast library of material that ranges from serious subjects like ancient history and particle physics to inane British comedy from the days of Kenneth Horne and Tony Hancock to today's youthful favourites such as David Mitchell and Matt Lucas.

To be honest, I've enjoyed a rest from daily examinations of political hypocrisy demonstrated by leaders of this nation and province. Nevertheless, I've also been reading and watching and itching to add to the commentary. Happily, the BC blog world has grown to be a real legitimate place for the exchange of ideas. 

I read about it first at Laila Yuile's site but Ian Reid republished a picture that, in one shot, demonstrates the mainstream media's sickness. Here is the Premier of British Columbia wilfully disregarding the Election Act - during a by-election in which the result was uncertain - and the media paparazzi enjoy the photo opportunity without once mentioning that her presence offended the law. That was left to the unpaid citizen journalists to explain.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Real journalism is . . .

I.F. Stone in the 1940s
Amy Goodman, founder, host and executive producer of DemocracyNow!, was co-recipient of the inaugural Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media. The accolade memorializes I.F. Stone (1907-1989), a titan of 20th century political commentary, about whom writer Nicholas Von Hoffman commented,
"He could stand alone and stand apart and therefore stand for what he believed in."
That powerful quote applies equally to Amy Goodman. She has, like Stone had, much to tell and nothing to sell. Her audio and online programs depend upon contributions from non-commercial foundations and individuals from the audience. DemocracyNow! accepts no money from advertisers, corporate underwriters or governments.

Bill Moyers, in the forward to Goodman's latest book, Breaking the Sound Barrier, writes that she is:
"Willing to take on the powers that be to get at truth and justice, then spreading the word of those two indispensable gospels to the republic and the world beyond. Through her reporting, we hear from people who barely exist in news covered by the corporate-owned press.

"Goodman is the journalist as uninvited guest.
"
Talking April 30 to a sold out audience at the Salt Spring Forum, Goodman lamented the dominance of money in politics and journalism. She warns the American experience will soon grow worse because of a recent Supreme Court ruling enabling corporate cash to flood the political marketplace without limit. Of course, British Columbia is about to experience that situation too.

BC Liberals are combining millions in taxpayer funds with major funding from business. Advertising, advertorials, editorials, op-eds and opinion columns will inundate the province to protect the multi-billion dollar shift of taxation from corporations to consumers. The parties who gain financially from imposition of HST will invest only a portion of their receipts buying coverage to dominate public discourse about the tax measure. As a result,  consumers and taxpayers burdened by HST will actually pay for the campaign to continue that privilege.

Indoctrination has been going on since March 2009 and a well planned adverting campaign is beginning, along with coordinated press releases from the kennel of economic "experts" paid to convince citizens that the pain will be good for everyone in the long run. That is because whatever is good for big business is good for ordinary people, allegedly.

Whether it is imposing HST on consumers, eliminating corporate income taxes, privatizing public assets, stripping the gears of parliament or corrupting the judicial system, who speaks for ordinary citizens? Traditional media serves its owners and advertisers. Tax exempt foundations of billionaires use ambitious people to sell the stories. Money greases the wheels and those wheels turn to reward the people at the controls. Corrupt politicians are a dime a dozen, changed like dirty socks by agents paid to keep ready a trunk full of fresh ones.

Who speaks for ordinary citizens? Plainly, it is the journalistic outliers: the independents, the online analysts, the bloggers. The people with journalistic courage and persistence, willing to confront conventional wisdom and official deception. In Amy Goodman's words,
“Real journalism is telling a story somebody doesn't want told. Anything else is advertising."
Not many reporters today agree with Ms. Goodman because, under the common stenographic model, journalism is simply reporting words that important people want repeated. The words don't need to be analyzed or tested, as long as they fit the corporate media's agenda.

Pay attention to Democracy Now! and you will gain a new perspective on international news.  What will you miss by ignoring the mainstream media? Here is an example. It was breaking news that interrupted CBC's regular program. Neil Macdonald, CBC's 20-year veteran of international reporting showed that he is not a journalist, he is a partisan.

Neil Macdonald, by phone, from Washington.
"It's huge. This is remarkable. It's almost as if a war is over. . . [Obama] ended the war, at least symbolically. This is a story of great intrigue and mystery... just the sort of story the American audience loves...
It has a great ending... The Pakistanis, they are being credited for helping us with this..."
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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Call them what they are in Canada too, please.

Jim Hightower, a veteran progressive commentator in the USA, recently published From Democracy to Plutocracy at OtherWords.org. He discusses misuse of the term 'conservative' and his words are relevant to British Columbians as well.

Real conservatives would not favor lumbering our children with tens of billions in future financial commitments hidden off the books and shielded from public view for reasons that favor only private businesses. Real conservatives would not fund corporate tax cuts with borrowed money nor would they gift public assets to non-residents for little or no financial return to the province. They would not hide MLA expenses paid from public funds nor throw millions of dollars in severance at political appointees who were hired outside the public service for terms they knew to be limited. Conservatives would not hire executives to run public services for salaries more than twice those of the private sector nor would they pay millions in bribes to criminals to ensure the masterminds of fraud remain unexamined.

I could go on with examples but the point is made. The BC Liberals are not conservatives, they are servants to the greedy One-Percenters, the elites who cry because their present unprecedented share of national wealth - now about 40% - is too little and must be increased, even at the expense of the poorest citizens in our midst. Roger Ebert said it well,
"Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded. Ordinary people see their real income dropping, their houses sold out from under them, their pensions plundered, their unions legislated against, their health care still under attack."
These are Hightower's words,
Today's media and political powers, for example, keep using the word "conservative" to describe current political trends in our democratic republic. Poor choice of words. . . . an autocratic power grab is underway to enthrone corporate power and moneyed elites to rule unilaterally over our government, economy, and environment. There's nothing conservative about that.

Rather, a word from America's past best encapsulates their goal: plutocracy. It's the direct opposite of democracy, which is government by the many, by all of the people--by us. Plutocracy, on the other hand, is government by the wealthy--by them and for them.

. . . Wall Street banksters, corporate chieftains, speculators, and other pampered plutocrats are out to crush the hard-won laws, rules, institutions, and social compacts that We the People have struggled to put in place over the years to undergird our democratic authority.

Busting unions, unleashing corporate money in politics, restricting access to courts, and gutting financial and environmental regulation--all of these and more are about supplanting our democracy with their plutocracy.

Call them what they are--not conservatives, but self-serving plutocrats. Or nail them with another good word from the past: "Kleptocrats," advocates of government by thieves.
Abby Zimet at CommonDreams.org provides a perfect example in On Ass-Backward Priorities: The Recession Is the Fault of Foster Children and Their Hoity Toity Clothes
This Week's WTF News: Michigan's GOP lawmakers want to close a $1.4 billion deficit and fund $1.8 billion in business tax cuts. They propose to do this by cutting disability assistance, early childhood funding, indigent burial expenses and requiring foster children to spend their $79 clothing allowance only at second-hand stores. This might save as much as $200,000, and thus our national economy and the world as we know it. Sorry but we're speechless.
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Excessive secrecy at Cohen's Public Inquiry

Alexandra Morton is raising another alarm; this time about secrecy surrounding the Cohen Commission into Fraser River salmon. Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail adds a valuable column as well. This is the message from Alex:
Please see article in today's Globe and Mail. There are some fishy secrets that need to be public.

The Cohen Inquiry is a public inquiry, but the further we get into why the Fraser sockeye are in trouble, the more federal government is trying to suppress the Inquiry.

To access the Commission’s database of documents provided by Participants, including the salmon farming disease records, I was required by the Commission to sign an Undertaking that I would not disclose those documents until they became part of the public record as an exhibit. I believed that was reasonable in respect to the database.

However, the Commission Counsel is now saying the "Undertaking" applies to more than the database, that it applies to all Applications, correspondence and legal material filed by Participants in proceedings before the Commission.

On April 13th 2011, I made a formal request to the Commission to be released from the undertaking on a limited basis so that I might report information I consider to be urgent and required by law to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in respect to a very significant risk to wild salmon. The CFIA is the agency that keeps records on reportable disease outbreaks in animals. My concern is the result of correspondence with the CFIA. On April 21, the Commission Counsel ruled on that Application. >

Under the Commission’s new rules, the outcome of this Application cannot and will not be made public, and all Application material, including the submissions of the government and other participants are being kept secret from the public. Commission counsel has directed that I cannot say what the information is, I cannot say whether I have made a report or not, and I cannot say what the position of the Federal and Provincial Governments were.

This is unacceptable to me.

The Cohen Commission is about a public fishery and should be a “public inquiry” information should not be suppressed. This is an inquiry into the fate of wild salmon,not matters of national security! This level of secrecy does not serve the people of Canada, but it does serve Norwegian salmon farming corporations.

I have instructed my lawyers to make a formal Application to the Commissioner to allow public access to my most recent Application and the Application materials, and in future to all other applications and correspondence to the Commission. If necessary, I have asked my lawyers to make application before the Federal Court to get a ruling that will end this secrecy, and any more proceedings behind closed doors.

We will be walking from the Sidney area to the Victoria Parliament on the eve of the election, May 1, to Peacefully and Powerfully make it clear wild salmon are essential to British Columbia for details of place and time see salmonaresacred.org

Alexandra Morton

PS I received an email this morning from Pair Vote, it might be worth checking out.
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Strategic voting does matter

NDP and Green voters in North Vancouver should hold their noses and vote for the Liberal Party of Canada. Two reasons:
  • Conservative Party candidate Andrew Saxton is ripe for return to his lucrative international banking career.

Check your own riding at Project Democracy
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