Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Reconnect to the Earth Day

What’s with a national holiday being named after a dead foreign monarch? Give me a break. I know we were once part of the ‘glorious’ British Empire, but let’s get over it and move on. And that goes for my Quebecois friends, who today celebrate la fête des patriotes. Truth be told, almost no one here has the faintest recollection of what events we are supposed to hold dear in our collective memory.

So, let’s celebrate what we actually do on this much deserved long weekend. All across this country we get our hands dirty by planting vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and trees. Let’s celebrate our connection to the earth and let’s become faithful stewards of that part of the planet we call home.

One other thing, on this meaningful day let’s also pay homage to Canada’s First Nations Peoples, who struggle to this day to maintain their spiritual connection to the land and who have never defiled it in the name of unsustainable economic growth. We can learn a lot from them.

By the end of the day, I hope you have all had the opportunity to reconnect to the earth. Dig in the garden, spread some seeds, plant some flowers in a pot if you have to, swim in a lake, park the car, or ride a bike.

Let’s live in the present with an eye to the future and put aside things that no longer matter.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

24 Hours for the Tax

Today, people across Canada are speaking out in favour of a tax on financial transactions. Having written about this in the past, I want to add my voice to those who have identified a much needed measure to rein in the greed of those who would impose any cost to society in order for them to rake in unearned profits.

In case you haven’t heard, yesterday Germany took a bold step forward and banned a financial practice called naked short selling to take away one of the more popular financial derivatives that is purely speculative in nature. As could be expected, the financial markets took a tumble.

What must be remembered is that over the last ten years, the fuel of economic growth has been the rise of the importance of the financial sector. This has come at the expense of the real economy that produces goods and services that people actually use in their everyday lives.

In my early posts, I called the financial speculative economy the zombie economy because it sucks the life of real economy and everyday people.

From a purely economic perspective, a financial transaction tax makes a lot of sense. In fact, there is a great deal of empirical evidence that supports Hyman Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis, which explains that as assets rise in value, this rise sets into motion a dynamic in which increasingly riskier investments come to market that are gobbled up by investors without the means to withstand a sudden decrease in asset values. Eventually, when the downturn inevitably arrives, the decrease bursts the asset value bubble and everyone begins to scramble to protect themselves from the fallout of debt obligations that can’t be possibly be met.

This is the scenario that played out in the global financial markets, which necessitated a multi-trillion dollar intervention backed by public funds.

Of interest, the federal government recently intervened into the housing market to make it more difficult for financial speculators to flip a house. By increasing the required down payment from 5% to 20% for a CHMC backed mortgage for the purchase of a rental property, the government essentially squeezed the profit margins for those who would use the housing market for speculative gain.

Using a regulatory regime instead of a imposing a tax to achieve the same end is simply a matter of choice. Ideologically, both types of measures are consistent with the idea of state intervention into the market to advance the common good.

If anything, the present government is being ideologically inconsistent in its opposition to a financial transaction tax.

So, why are they giving preferential treatment to large investors and interfering with the ability of smaller investors to turn a profit?

Big money can afford to hire lobbyists to influence public policy.

Little folk like you and me can only get the government’s ear when we make some noise.

So, it’s time for ordinary folk to make some noise, and I’m not talking about setting fire to a local bank branch like what happened in a posh section of Ottawa last night by an anarchist group that certainly has a good grasp of how to use the media to get their message across.

OK, call me old school.

Power to the people, right on.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quebec's Jean Charest and His Regressive Conservatives

In today’s politics, the liberal banner can mean many things. In Quebec politics, it means a federalist party similar in kind to the Ontario Conservatives under Mike Harris.

As a personal aside, I moved from Ontario to Quebec to escape the ideological wrath of a government that was hell bent on sticking it to anyone who had come to rely on public services. One day, I got a call at work from my son’s Ottawa elementary school to tell me that my son had been hit in the face with a chair by a special needs child who had just lost his teacher’s aide because of a quick and no-too-well-thought-out staff reduction. I didn’t want to stick around to see what else Mike would be doing in one of the greatest bullshit political movements of recent memory: the common sense revolution, so I moved across the river to Gatineau.

I thought I had done well. Sure, the taxes were higher, but they paid for some very good social programs, like the $5-a-day, publically-funded day care program.

Little did I know, that a certain Jean Charest, who claimed to be inspired by Mike Harris’s Conservatives, would become the Premier of Quebec.

I remember him running for office in 2003 with his big electoral promise that he would reduce taxes by $1 billion a year for the next five years. Boy, when Jean wants to fib, he goes for the whopper.

Then there was his call of a snap election in 2008 after the financial markets had collapsed. According to Jean, everything was under control, just a little bump on the road, and then we found out that Quebec’s public pension plan had lost $40 billion in 2008. Moreover, in the next budget, we learned that we would be running record deficits for the next five years, and the government had no idea how it was going to balance its books as the law required. That’s when Jean decided that we needed to change that pesky law.

In March of this year, we learned that each adult would be required to pay a annual fee of $200 to help out with our out-of-control health expenditures, in other words, a poll tax. To add insult to injury, we would also be charged a $25 fee for each visit to the doctor.

Again, I don’t mind paying higher taxes if there is social gain that results. However, in this case, I’ll be paying the same fee as my son (who now is living on his own) in spite of the fact that I make about three times his annual income.

Now, that doesn’t seem fair.

When asked about the regressive nature of the tax, our brilliant Finance Minister, Raymond Bachand, replied that Quebec already had too much in the way of progressive taxes.

Wait a minute, I thought to myself when I watched the interview, did he actually say what I thought he said?

This is Quebec, not Alberta. Here, people don’t simply defer to authority when they disagree.

Well, it turns out he meant every word and that also went for the $25-a-visit fee, which if he had taken the time to look at the Canada Health Act, he would know that this would come back to bite him in the ass.

Maybe, this is what happens when fin de regime mentality sets in.

In any case, something that I find quite humorous has occurred. People in Quebec are now looking to the Federal government to intervene to make sure that the guiding principles of the Canada Health Act are respected.

Forget the fact that we haven’t yet ratified the Constitution. We’re stuck with this McBozo as a Premier, and due to our completely out-dated electoral system, we’re stuck with him for another 3 years.

Well, you know what they say, people get the government they deserve. I guess that’s what happens when you fall for the schtick: in tough times, it’s best to have only two hands on the steering wheel. One of Jean's best lines.

Remind me never to get into a car being driven by a neo-conservative.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill

There is a reason why Canadians aren’t getting anywhere with meaningful climate change legislation. The other side just doesn’t get it, they never will, and they hold the reins of power.

Here’s my favourite quote from a recent editorial from the Ottawa Citizen, a newspaper I stopped buying ever since it was bought up by Conrad Black and then sold to CanWest, with regard to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

We’d better get used to this, because unless we want to give up the precious gasoline for our commute to work, drilling for offshore oil is only going to expand. . . . We may not like blackened beaches, or the deaths of 1,600 birds in Alberta tar sands ponds, but these visible spectacles of environmental damage are not enough to stop us from drilling more wells – and guaranteeing there will be future oil slicks.

I find it intriguing that someone would actually publish this crap. Who really wants to get used to this? Not me and nobody I know. Consequently, I guess I don’t belong to this tribe.

Can these people be convinced of the error of their ways?


No matter what evidence you bring up, no matter how sound your arguments, their brains are wired to maintain their allegiance to their group at all costs, and they will either deny a problem exists or they will create an elaborate rationalization in order to extinguish whatever cognitive dissonance that arises.

Cultural cognition is the mainstay of the political brain. As much as evidence-based dialogue offers a hope that we can exit from a tribal mentality, it is no match for our mammalian brains.

So, as long as we are ruled by the self-serving desires of a dominant ethnic group, the will of the stakeholders who support the god-given right to drive to work no matter what the distance, no matter what the size of vehicle prevails.

Spill, baby, spill.