Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Anti-Merger Liberals - La grande délusion

There is a party in Canada that has an enormous amount of IQ to spare.  The Liberal party of Canada, or at least the members and candidates representing it, has historically been composed of “intelligentsia” representing diverse sectors of society: doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, academics, athletes , and all sorts of other leaders in their respective professions.  Granted, such people are drawn to politics in general and can be found among the other parties’ ranks as well, but the Liberal party’s historical success was partly founded on the unique ability to draw high numbers of such respectable, high income types into its partisan ranks.

The key word in that sentence is “historical”.

Because in 2012, six years after Stephen Harper kicked this country in the balls and grabbed it by the throat before it knew what hit it, these same enlightened, prosperous, card-carrying Liberals are perpetually shocked and awed by the Conservative government’s daily recasting of the country in their mold.  They are incredulous at the omnibus bill that contains, in addition to a budget, laws permitting resource companies to turn this entire country into a clogged toilet.  They see the endless undeserved insults to civil servants and charities, the shameless patronage, the hidden costs of prisons and jets, the outright waste of taxpayer money we see under a conservative majority and ask why?

Why do Canadians stand for this and ignore us?

The Liberals do not see, in their indignation, in their incredulity, in their outrage, that Stephen Harper is in the position he is in for one reason.

The Liberals.

The 60% plus of Canadians who are disgusted with our arrogant and incompetent government see one person taking it on.  One person in the news every day, on the road, in the house of commons mixing it up, talking trash, taking names, and keeping his elbows and his head up.  His name is Thomas Mulcair.  He is the leader of the previously fringe New Democratic Party of Canada, a party now regularly commanding 30% plus support nationwide on a regular basis.  They’ve come a long way, for sure.  Where did all this support come from?

It came from people opposed to the government who saw only one alternative.  Sure, the NDP has some questionable chapters in its history, like every political party does (J.S. Woodsworth's Strangers Within our Gates reads like an English Canadian Mein Kampf).  But if you don’t fit into the resource-guzzling, don’t-tax-me rural/suburbanite crowd the Conservatives have firmly stood in the corner of, the NDP are the only party currently putting that crowd's vision into question.

The Liberals?  Oh, you’ll be happy to know after the raging success of that last arrogant, out of touch, windbag of a pretentious snot who they ordained Prime Minister and who couldn’t even win his own riding, they are holding a leadership vote sometime in 2013.  As if anybody cared now.  I get these mass emails from the party executive about a thousand people tuning into a conference call or a twitter town hall about "rebuilding a movement" that would be hilarious if they weren’t actually serious.  The requirements to enter Liberal leadership contest amount to this: You have to be one person, who thinks they know everything about Canada, and stand for absolutely nothing.  And I mean nothing.  No ideas.  No principles.  No vision.  Just constant, angry, partisan bitching about the Conservatives and NDP.  That is what it means to be Liberal in 2012.  That’s what you see on their mass emails.

It’s not that complicated.  The Liberals are aghast of the state of the country under the Conservatives.  Yet, they see no irony at not having elucidated a single thing they would do differently themselves in…years.  These intelligent people keeping the LPC alive, many of them with phds earning multiple six figures, cannot see what the Reformers and PCs saw in 2003 – that there is more that unites them with the NDP than divides them, and staying apart over their own petty close-mindedness and arrogance serves the interests of only one person: Stephen Harper.

Ever assiduous to cast the widest possible net and not alienate middle of the road voters, the Liberals have long regarded the NDP as too extreme and have steered clear of them to avoid alienating this support.  Yet this stuck in the past view not only turns voters off with its misguided arrogance, it has absolutely no basis in reality.  Why can’t Liberals ditch this hang up? They demonstrate as much flexibility as the Vatican and want to form a national majority government?

Making fun of a party that can’t crack the upper teens in support yet considers itself a relevant institution of national importance has become a national sport.  It wasn’t so when the shoe was on the other foot and the NDP was at 17 to the Liberals 30.  It was because that party was patient and kept its head down.  It didn’t hector people every day about how it was the only credible alternative alongside its endless bromides about “grassroots” and “rebuilding.  With the Libs, the delusion just worsens every week.  Justin Trudeau?  He’d get slapped even harder than Ignatieff, whom he adoringly gazed at in 2009, while Iggy thundered from a podium to a Quebec audience about what a national source of pride the oil sands were.  The Liberal Party of Canada needs to be put out of its misery, as the thousands of voters who have fled to the NDP can attest.

But that 17-21%, rock solid core of voters who identify so strongly as Liberals yet, like the party, cannot articulate any actual reasons why anyone should vote for them, are the bottleneck in the Canadian political landscape.  They are what is preventing a merger and dividing the progressive side, consequently keeping Harper in power.  Whatever they might say about Harper, however eruditely they might express it, their delusion is keeping him in power. 

Oh, but I guess there still are some people in power that bleed Liberal red who they could turn to for inspiration.  Three out of four of the country’s most populous provinces are governed by Liberals, after all.  And these three tired, used-up, out of gas provincial Liberal leaders are more scared of the electorate than anybody.  Jean Charest is falling apart, besieged by the student strike, the construction-mafia inquiry, and the population’s negative view of his government’s collusion with big business.  For all his tough talk following the recent tense minority budget negotiations with the NDP, Dalton “Pretzel” McGuinty doesn’t want a summer election. Hitting the campaign trail 8 months after the last election to defend more expensive boondoggles like ORNGE and the Mississauga gas plant cancellation, while the OMA and teacher’s unions are at his throat? I think he’ll pass.  Then there’s radio host Christy Clark, who was parachuted in to lead the BC Liberals when Gordon Campbell resembled a sickly version of current McGuinty/Charest.  With the possible exception of Ontario (because of subpar opposition leaders, not because of the government), all of these premiers look set for a heavy walloping whenever the next elections are called.  For good reason.  Politicians who listen to nothing but the whispers of pollsters one minute and captains of industry the next, never making any gut, instinctive, or tough decisions, are simply doomed to fail.  And that is all Liberal politicians know how to do.  It may have worked well for 100 years or whatever, which helps explain Liberals’ collective refusal to remove their heads from their buttholes, but it doesn’t in 2012.  People see through this bullshit now.

So the federal liberals could really do some good for the country by joining up with relatively untainted Tommy and asking to go under his banner.  He is, after all, in the better negotiating position.  Or they could go with yet another uninspiring and ridiculous candidate and watch that person’s contradictions and stumbles lead the party to even bigger embarrassment in 2015.  What are you going to do then? Ask your supporters to wait for another rebuild on top of your 10 year rebuild? Jesus, this is the goddamn country  - we can’t afford for a national party to be managed like the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I’m gonna say this again: all you holdout Liberals need to get over yourselves and merge with the NDP.  Or else just go join the conservatives.  A minority of very smart people who cannot do very basic math should not be permitted to hold this country hostage while it continues to get flushed down the toilet for another whole electoral cycle.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Debate About The 1%

Ah, the poor one percent.  They’ve been sliced, diced, analyzed, and vivisected repeatedly in the media in the nine months since the onset of Occupy Wall Street.  While the range of opinions in the media about these people’s role and responsibility varies, there is no denying that they have attracted more attention in the past year than any time I can remember in my twenty-or so year cultural reference period.  Attention I’m sure they would be just as happy to do without.

There is irrefutable evidence that this 1/100th size slice of the population has seen both its income and its overall share of the economic pie (assets/income streams) significantly increase over the past few decades.  And they have experienced a marked increase since 2000, even as most people’s real wages have stagnated or declined for thirty years or more.  Yet everything is more expensive.  Not hard to see, then, the reasons for the increasing scrutiny “the 1%” has increasingly come under.

If you want a grisly play-by-play of the runaway gallop of the 1%’s income, you should read the uber-heavyweight Princeton professor Joseph Stiglitz’s columns in Vanity Fair.  Unfortunately, Professor Stiglitz’s research and observations are not informing the North American debate.  What we have there instead is a bunch of noisy rhetoric that is impossible to sort through, and while we’re bickering and arguing, the 1% is slipping out the back door under our noses, hoping to duck into their mansions and Muskoka spreads and hoping this whole anti-rich trend will get blown over by tuition protests, the playoffs, high-profile murder cases, etc.

It won’t.  Even with all the flaws in the main arguments you hear which I am about to enumerate.

At NDP conventions, union rallies, and V-for-Vendetta conventions resembling demonstrations, we hear one strident and easy to understand battle cry over and over again:  “TAX THE RICH”.  Ah yes, if it were only that simple.  Upon further investigation, we do not find a smoking gun of a few idle fat cats, middle-aged balding fat white guys drinking cognac and smoking cigars on the golf course, their Aston Martins and Bentleys are parked out front, laughing about the plant closures and outsourcing their hedge funds caused, avoiding lonely wives who are pacing the floors in Victorian and Georgian mansions a few kilometres away, awaiting their old boys' return from golf and admiring pink bow-tied little white dogs after afternoons at the plastic surgeon’s.

Yes, some rich are obnoxious and such easy people to caricature that they do deserve all the derision they get.  But what if they are caricatures?  Reality is hard to come by when we speak in abstraction and rhetoric.  That botoxed woman drinking a grande latte in her Range Rover with the purse-sized dog sitting shot you saw in midtown Toronto last week was just a mirage.  She wasn't, but obvious symbols do no good for the rich's case.  Country clubs, luxury cars, mansions, and plastic surgeries are subjects astutely avoided by the rich’s defenders on the right.

 On that end of the spectrum you have comment board trolls and politicians who talk about “hard work” “innovation” and “job creation”.  These people got to the top because they are “the best and brightest of our society” and “it’s not fair” to penalize them.

There is only explanation for this.  These people either are members of the one percent themselves (and thus have no credibility since their only argument is arguing their inherent right to their own vested interests) or they idolize and aspire to be like them, but aren’t.  I’m betting on the latter.  These “one percenter wannabes” are more brainwashed by ideology than in possession of a coherent argument about a level playing field and meritocracy.  They are so preoccupied decrying “lazy entitled lefties to bitch and moan about the 1 percent” that they don’t see the 1%’s interest has nothing to do with theirs, the 1% could care less about them and the free service they are providing it, and they themselves have zero chance of ever belonging to the 1% (What does a 1%er do all day? Hint. He does not post on Globe and Mail and Toronto Star comment boards)

Lost in these oversimplifications of the pro-1% ilk are the advantages these 1% people started out with, not available to ambitious people today: lower costs of living, less competition, middle-upper class backgrounds, cheap education, and sustainable demographics.  A recent census of Canada’s one percent found it to be overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, and educated.  Now that these people have their fortunes, which continue to grow, the democratized public is being told to brace for austerity and the gutting of already cut back social programs.

A few rich people, like Warren Buffett, are demonstrating empathy and understanding of the situation.  Most seem to be counting on the right wing politician/media myth making machine to convince a critical mass of people that the wealth has all been earned by the sweat of their brow.

In the United States, you literally cannot run for office without belonging to the 1%.  Too many barriers to entry.  In Canada, you can still snag a $157,000 a year seat in the house of Commons being a 27 year old bartender who’s never set foot in her riding 200 km from where she lives.  Okay, don’t ask.  The point is that the jig is up in the States, and it’s a naked game of by the 1% for the 1%.  The Republican Party is not shy about the fact that that is who they are and that is whose interests they defend.

In Canada it’s not quite at that stage.  And returning to my earlier point, the anti-1% crowd is looking for a captive, dormant, boogeyman pile of ill-gotten wealth that does not exist.  Money and wealth are just too amorphous of things to punitively come down on.  Yes, the top one hundredth has experienced gains overall.  But be not fooled by ostentatious displays of wealth.  I guarantee you there are 1 percenters who drive Honda Civics and live in 1 bedroom apartments.  There are also people with all the toys and status symbols destroying fortunes every year.  Often the wealth was not actually earned by them.

What if I told you I make very little money but eat gourmet very well thank you whatever I want, travel to foreign countries, get around how I wish to get around, have no trouble paying my bills, and save and invest significant portions of my income every month.  Do I sound like a 1%er? I don’t even make the average industrial wage.  Meanwhile, there are thousands of households in the GTA with 200k combined income that can’t save 2 cents and are in debt up to their eyeballs.  When I have a higher net worth than these people (sorry, I’ll take a modest amount of hard assets over a bunch of peak housing bubble equity that is heavily borrowed against), serious flaws are exposed in most 1 percent theorem.  We’ve got to talk about the way wealth is created in our society, the values of what is important to people who hold this wealth, the destructiveness consumerism and keeping-up-with-the-joneses syndrome is wreaking on our whole economy, before we get down to making wealthy people shake in their boots.

It doesn’t matter how much money I make now or if someone hands me 5 million dollars tomorrow – do you think I would ever spend $2,800 on a first class plane ticket when a $600 ticket on the same plane gets me there with the same risk? Do you think I would spend any money on a car when I can get everywhere I need to go using bike, motorbike, walk, transit and rentals?  Do you think I want a massive sprawling mansion when I everything my family needs fits into a two bedroom apartment?

Money doesn’t buy happiness.  And the 1%ers, who made their own money, who came from humble origins, and who don’t bother other people with their obnoxious ostentatiousness shouldn’t be penalized.  Inequality in society needs to be addressed, but Canada (still) has progressive taxation that ensures 1%ers pay much more than the loophole-ridden joke of the U.S. tax system does.  They still avoid paying tax here.  Well, why shouldn’t they? If you don’t want to waste money on the BS I already mentioned, are you inclined to waste it on Bev Oda’s orange juice and Peter Mackay’s helicopter rides?