Friday, November 24, 2017

Bill C-27: A Followup

In yesterday's post, I discussed Linda McQauig's article about the purpose of Bill C-27, the Trudeau- Morneau pension bill that would eviscerate Defined Benefit Plans for those working for the federal government and those industries that are federally regulated, including the obscenely profitable banking sector.

In today's Star, readers express sentiments that few would disagree with:
Morneau and Trudeau looking out for the rich, McQuaig, Nov. 23

Thanks to Linda McQuaig for highlighting the Liberal government’s plan to convert guaranteed pension plans to the much riskier defined plans, which guarantee nothing.

I have only read about this issue in articles about the conflict of interest issues around Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

In my opinion, people would be less outraged about Morneau if they were made aware of the pension change that could drastically change their lives.

I’m hoping that the Star will run a front-page weekend editorial about this pension issue, because I’m betting most people know nothing about the changes the Liberal government is quietly planning to pass.

We frankly have no opposition in the federal government to hold the Liberals accountable.

We should all be outraged and frankly very afraid about our financial futures.

The rich continue to get richer and the middle class poorer.

Marnie Archibald, Barrie, Ont.

It’s clear that the Trudeau government, for all its noise about the plight of the middle class, is still primarily in the service of the wealthy and the corporate elite. Why else would they follow Harper’s Tory path and try to put an end to defined pensions?

Thanks to the Star’s opinion piece by Linda McQuaig, we are reminded again of Finance Minister Morneau’s determination to maintain the priority and preferential position of corporate CEOs and shareholders over the interests of employees who thought they had a contractual retirement deal they could count on.

Of course, employers would rather have employees take their chances on retirement security. Of course, corporate officers prefer to maintain their own defined and generous pensions. But these are feudal attitudes. Our society is less and less fair, more jobs are more and more precarious and retirement security is available only to the wealthy. This is a situation that deserves far more editorial attention and the big headlines as well.

Bruce Rogers, Lindsay, Ont.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Secret Handshake

In her column in today's Star (which does not yet appear to be available online), Linda McQuaig points out the remarkable similarities between the government of Justin Trudeau and that of Stephen Harper when it comes to facilitating the erosion of defined benefit pension plans. She observes that as a consequence, it is becoming easier for the rich to get richer while ordinary citizens become poorer.
An example of this is currently being played out in Ottawa as the Trudeau government — ostensibly a “progressive” government that champions the middle class — is moving forward with legislation aimed at stripping away pension benefits from potentially hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.
The most immediate problem stems from Finance Minister Bill Morneau's Bill C-27, whose details MoneySense recently provided:
Bill C-27 is an Act to amend the long-standing Pension Benefits Standards Act. Those in favour of pure Defined Benefit (DB) pension plans have criticized Bill C-27, saying it would allow federally regulated employers to replace DB plans, which provide a guaranteed retirement income for life with no risk, with Target Benefit Plans (TBPs) which are also generous pensions but because they count on employees taking on some risk, final retirement guaranteed payments may not be as iron-glad.
Both private sector and government employees will be affected by this bill:
It would allow federally regulated private sector and Crown Corporation employers to offer a TBP to their employees, or to convert an existing DB pension plan into a TBP [Target Benefit Plans, also known as Defined Contribution Plans].
While Moneysense, with its own biases, sees this as a good change, Linda McQuaig offers a different interpretation:
... Certainly, Morneau’s legislation puts the Trudeau government fully on the side of corporate interests who, in recent decades, have been trying to take away hard-won workplace benefits that helped workers enter the ranks of the middle class in the early postwar years.

A key corporate goal has been to replace old-style workplace pensions, where workers are guaranteed specific benefits in retirement, with new-style pensions, where benefits aren’t guaranteed and can shrink if markets fall.
When this kind of change was first championed by Harper, Trudeau appeared to be on the side of the angels, as he
sided strongly with the outraged workers, denouncing Harper’s pension changes as “wrong in principle” and “unacceptable.”

But, after Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, workers were surprised when his new government quietly introduced a strikingly similar version of Harper’s pension changes.
Mr. Trudeau appears to want it both ways, his public image apparently never far from his mind:
The Trudeau government defends its proposed changes on the grounds that workers must “consent” to having their pensions converted to the new riskier format.

But this is like the “consent” given by women who get groped by a powerful boss; employers can get their unionized workers to “consent” by locking them out if they don’t agree to the pension change at the bargaining table.
To provide some penetrating perspective, McQuaig discusses banking, one of the federally-regulated industries that stands to benefit from Trudeau's 'change of heart.'
The corporate keenness to foist riskier pensions on their workers is not driven by necessity. Corporate profits have risen significantly in recent years, even as companies have switched to the stingier pensions that transfer all risk to employees.

Even fabulously rich corporations are adopting the new pensions — not because they can’t afford to pay workers fixed pension benefits like they used to, but because they’d rather not be obliged to do so.

Take the Royal Bank — with staggering profits of $10.5 billion last year. In 2011, RBC adopted the new-style pensions for all new employees.
Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. With the secret handshake that exists between government and private interests, that seems guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fighting The Good Fight

That is what Robert Reich continues to do.

Losing Our Hubris, Or The Truth, According To George Carlin

Religious belief can be a marvelous thing, It can give strength in times of trouble, comfort in times of grief, and direction in times of confusion.

It can also be the source of unspeakable hubris.

My own beliefs do not hew to the traditional, although I am convinced that what we see in the here and now is only a minuscule portion of a much greater reality. I do not believe that we are a species specially favoured by God, nor do I subscribe to the anthropomorphic notion of deity. I do believe that we live in a universe of potential, a potential expressed through the mechanism of evolution which I see as an ultimate expression of the transcendent. Sadly, it seems we have squandered that potential.

No one can know the ultimate truth, but it is those who claim such knowledge that I regard as especially dangerous. Those who see humanity as the supreme expression of creation often fail to approach that belief with humility, instead embracing a hubris suggesting that our 'dominion' (not stewardship) over the rest of nature comes with special entitlements. Consider where that has gotten us: wars, crusades, jihads, genocides, environmental degradation and destruction, overpopulation and climate change.

All of which calls for a reality check. And who better to provide it than the late, great George Carlin, an unsparing critic of arrogance, entitlement and presumption. His take on the Earth is both sobering and instructive, and should give the smug some pause, if only they come down from their certitude. I especially like his reflection on our serendipitous appearance and development on this planet.

If you are pressed for time, I recommend especially the insghts Carlin offers in the first five minutes of the following:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

That's Quite The Product Placement

As a keen observer of the crazed evangelicals who seem a permanent fixture/blight on the American television landscape, I hereby nominate ex-felon Jim Bakker as the most crazed media evangelical in the U.S. today, a worthy replacement for the increasingly doddering Pat Robertson.

I offer in evidence the following to support my nomination. You will note that as certifiable as he is, he is also quite the wily promoter:

And I do hope readers will appreciate the considerable risk I am taking by focusing on this demented 'emissary':

Saturday, November 18, 2017

On Tax Fairness

Ed Broadbent recently wrote on the need for real tax reform, calling for an end to the various favours our government bestows on the ultra rich. His thesis was compelling:
Tax avoidance and evasion by the rich ultimately undermines democracy: it starves social programs and public services, increases after tax income and wealth inequality, and further concentrates economic resources in the hands of a few. The overall message to a majority of Canadians is that the rules of the economic game are rigged against them.
He went on to excoriate the Trudeau government for its hypocritical failure to pursue real tax reform:
The Liberals promised change. In their 2015 election platform, they promised to “conduct a review of all tax expenditures to target loopholes that particularly benefit the top 1 per cent.”

But there has been no broad public review in which citizens could participate. And action to date has been limited to stopping abuse of some private corporation rules. Minister Morneau has said he will impose higher taxes on the small number of private corporations that shelter investment assets of more than about $1 million, which is an action that should be supported.
While I did not agree with all of his suggestions, I doubt there would be many who would dispute Broadbent's thesis. In today's Star, readers offer their views on his piece as well as the sickening truths made evident in the recently-released Paradise Papers. Here is but a sampling of their thoughts:
Ed Broadbent writes, “The case for taxing investment income on the same basis as employment income on the grounds that ‘a buck is a buck’ dates back to the Carter Commission of the 1960s when another Liberal government failed to act on it.”

The problem is the ultra-rich are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal friends and he prefers to run defence for them than to do what is right for the public good.

Former finance minister Allan MacEachen tried to reform the tax system under then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau but, like Carter before him, the government of the day distanced itself from any idea of true reform and let both of these truly honourable men get practically eviscerated by all the real (rich) powers. It’s all about the Golden Rule: “Them that’s got the gold makes the rules.”

Jennifer A. Temple, Welland, Ont.

After decades of tax avoidance by Canada’s wealthy, we now have the exposure in detail of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers.

Our current federal government assures Canadians it will restore the principle of tax fairness. Why should Canadians believe this promise? It is the political process and our elected MPs that preserve this economic injustice.

As the Star reported, Parliament and those who bankroll them control the law. It is highly unlikely the wealthy will forfeit their advantage simply because Canadians think it’s unfair.

Talk is cheap and the government won’t move until pushed. I challenge all Canadians to organize a Canada-wide tax boycott. Until tax fairness is achieved, we should refuse to pay any taxes owing, beginning April 2018.

And every MP should be lobbied to support an immediate tax overhaul. Tax fairness can only be achieved by law, not mealy mouthed promises by those concerned only with preserving their own self-interest to the detriment of the rest of us.

Gordon Wilson, Port Rowan, Ont.

Ed Broadbent shines a bright light on the biggest issue of our time: tax reforms that will cut through many complex aspects of our socioeconomic system.

A progressive and clearly defined tax system would address many issues we have been struggling with since the dawn of the 21st century.

We need a tax system that encourages savings and productive investments, while it shifts the tax burden from working people to the wealthy and big corporations. For many years, the middle- and lower-class have been paying taxes while the rich have been taking advantage of it.

A reformed tax system will prevent the creation of generations of wealthy individuals and corporate monopolies, which have taken advantage of societal privileges without paying their fair share. The wealthy have made their money on the backs of the working people.

The Paradise Papers show how the rich, with the help of law firms, have parked 12 per cent of the world’s wealth in offshore accounts, which does nothing to improve the economy. The sheer number and diversity of people and corporations involved in these tax havens is frightening. It is truly like discovering a galaxy of hidden money that public officials have a hand in helping hide away.

Reforming the tax system is possible if there is political will.

Ali Orang, Richmond Hill

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Political Shakespeare?

Looking back at the pleasure I always took in teaching Shakespeare's tragedies, I realize my attraction to The Bard had a great deal to do with his eerily penetrating insights into human nature, arrived at long before the advent of modern psychology. Similarly, for a non-fiction titan, I have long looked to George Orwell for his ability to pierce the patina of civility that hides what are often monstrous political realities.

On Literary Hub, Kristian Williams has published an essay discussing Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, which he wrote in 1945. Considering the fraught nature of political discourse and alliances we see today at both ends of the political spectrum, Orwell's insights, like those of Shakespeare, seem timeless.

First, Orwell defined his term:
By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly—and this is much more important—I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.
That definition alone paves the way for his theme.
Elsewhere he describes nationalism more simply as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”
In nationalism, Orwell was considering ties that go beyond state affiliation:
... “the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation. . . . It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”
Clearly, one does not have to look far in the world today to see why those can be such poisonous allegiances.
Within this framework, Orwell lists three “principal characteristics of nationalist thought”:

1. “Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” His special mission is to prove that his chosen nation is in all respects better than its rivals. Therefore, even to the outer limits of plausibility, any question may be traced back to this central issue. No detail is indifferent, no fact is neutral.

2. “Instability.” The content of the nationalist’s belief, and even the object of his devotion, is liable to change as circumstances do. “What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind”—the relentless, reductive, uncompromising fervor. The point is to keep oneself always in a frenzied state concerning vicarious contests of honor, whether indulging in spasms of rage over perceived insults or in sadistic ecstasies celebrating some new triumph. It is the single-minded intensity that matters, not the ostensible cause.

3. “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists achieve by instinct the kind of doublethink that the denizens of Airstrip One cultivated by conscious effort: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” His fundamental belief, he feels sure, must be true; therefore, the facts will have to be made to fit it.
I won't insult you by pointing out the obvious truth of these observations, but one needs only check out social media, the blogosphere and online commentary to get some quick and easy examples.

There is much, much more to essay, but I will end with this powerful paragraph, which could have been written yesterday, taken from Orwell's diary:
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgment have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting [forward] a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. . . One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless toward people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. . . . I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.