Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is Stephen Harper Determined to Make the Same Mistakes as His Republican Counterparts?

I've posted often about Stephen Harper's close relationship with high-powered Republicans, but it goes beyond shared campaign organizers, think-tanks and backroom boys.

It would appear that Stephen Harper is determined to repeat every mistake ever made by his comrades South of the border. Republican strategies for the past 40 years, have their country in such a bloody mess, it seems unlikely that they will be showing signs of recovery anytime soon.

And I'm not just talking about recovery from the recent economic crisis, but recovery from the horrendous results of Republican policies created by political strategists, instead of experts in their chosen fields.

I watched a panel discussion on Bill Maher the other night, and I slapped my hand to my forehead so many times, I started to feel faint. Eureka!

Because rather than just dwell on the impact of the corporate sponsored Tea Parties and the dumbing down of Republicans, they went back to when the real domestic problems began. Not wars or aggressive foreign policies, which have been devastating and will give Americans blowback for years to come. But domestic policies.

And it was suggested that this current downward spiral began with the War on Drugs. According to Time magazine:
It's a war without a clear enemy. Anything waged against a shapeless, intangible noun can never truly be won — President Clinton's drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey said as much in 1996. And yet, within the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen ...
But the result, as the panel reminded us, is that the Americans now incarcerate more people than any other developed nation. They have more prisons per capita than any other country and spend more on policing.

Yet the Harper government has created a law and order agenda that includes their own war on drugs. I mean it failed so badly in the United States, why not see just how badly it can fail here.

And they are building more prisons in preparation. There's something about our low crime rate that just doesn't sit well with them. The right-wing echo chamber dictates that they be tough on crime, instead of being tough on the root causes of crime, something we have tried to do, and has worked.

When someone on the panel asked why so many prisons and prisoners (I forget names. Remember all that forehead pounding), everyone responded: money. The free marketeers have allowed the private sector to take over and they can't make money if their beds aren't filled.

And though it's not getting a lot of media attention, the Harper government is also working behind the scenes to create private "super prisons" in this country (watch video below to see just how bad they are). He hired Mike Harris's former, 'even if it's nailed down we'll sell it', hawker, Robert Sampson, to garner interest from American investors. His experiment in Ontario with privatizing our jails failed miserably, but he believes it will work if done on a grander scale.

But what American is going to invest money in private prisons, in a country with such a low crime rate? (Did you just pound your forehead?)

The next area discussed was rehabilitation, or the lack thereof, again blamed on putting profit first. They don't want prisoners to be rehabilitated, and thus the U.S. also has the highest number of repeat offenders.

The Harper government has closed the prison farm program, despite the fact that it has done so much to rehabilitate. Again, profit first. There's no money to be made if the prisons aren't filled to capacity.

But another consequence of this war on a noun and a "law and order" agenda, has been that other areas of their domestic responsibility, have been allowed to fall to ruin. Healthcare, education and infrastructure, have all taken a backseat to "crime and punishment".

Beyond the Panel

Another area debated on the show was taxation and how the Republicans have it so wrong. For decades, again through corporate sponsored AstroTurfing, the focus has been on lowering taxes. Taxes, taxes, taxes.

And borrowing from George Bush's "tax relief" campaign, Jim Flaherty is also on a lower taxes (for the rich) agenda. But when you lower taxes, you also reduce your ability to sustain important programs, like healthcare and public education.

In their new book The Trouble With Billionaires, Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks discuss this at some length.
Another well-heeled pressure group, Americans for Tax Reform, has focused its efforts on keeping potentially independent-thinking Republicans from wandering too far from the tax-cutting agenda. The group seeks written pledges from politicians and political candidates that they will oppose all efforts aimed at raising tax rates at the upper end. Although some moderate Republicans originally resisted, increasingly they succumbed; by July 2009, 172 congressmen and 34 senators had signed the pledge. Such is the power of highly focused, well-financed pressure groups to keep Republican politicians from going off message.
In the article I linked to above about Jason Kenney, he did the same thing. Scroll down the page a bit and you'll find a photo of Mike Harris signing Kenney's pledge not to raise taxes (on the wealthy). Even then, 1995, the co-author of this book was sounding the alarm on his agenda.
... well-known tax expert Neil Brooks has stated, the CTF's 'anti-tax rhetoric disguises a view that government should play a minimal role' ... David Perry of the Canadian Tax Foundation ... notes that much of the group's anti-tax sentiment is based on ignorance of the actual situation in Canada .... a perception of reality, rather than reality' .... "Many other tax experts ... have also pointed out that the benefits received from government in exchange for taxes have to be taken into account ... Kenney's response to this, however is instructive. 'We only look at taxes, not benefits'... leading Brooks and many other critics to conclude that the CTF agenda is simply lower taxes, not fairer taxes." (2)
So let's cut to the chase. It's about lowering taxes for the wealthy. Why else would they ply so much money into groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Harper's National Citizens Coalition or Americans for Tax Reform (the parent group of Jason Kenney's Canadian Taxpayer Federation).
With this sort of discipline enforced by the party's wealthy donors, Republicans fell into line, unanimously backing a tax-cut package that would have infuriated a properly informed electorate. Of course, the administration had gone to great lengths to make sure that the public had little sense of what was actually going on; this included the Treasury department releasing some highly misleading statistical information and Bush himself stating barefaced lies, like insisting that "by far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum." The public was further confused by the actual design of the tax cuts, in which the meagre benefits going to the middle class were provided quickly upfront while the really massive benefits directed toward the upper end kicked in a few years later, when public and media attention would inevitably have moved on. (1)
"A properly informed electorate". Be still my heart. As with Harper/Flaherty tax cuts, we are financing our own demise.
The result was a stupendously large redistribution of resources to the very affluent. The richest 0.1 percent of Americans saved 284 times more from the Bush tax cuts between 2001 and 2010 than people in the middle 20 percent of the U.S. income distribution —a result that, as the polling data show, the American public did not want and that will, sadly, make even larger sums available to conservative pressure groups seeking further tax reductions.
And the wealthy used their financial gifts to buy up the media, making sure we were not an informed public, and to gamble on Wall Street.

How do you like Neoconservatism so far?


1. The Trouble With Billionaires, By Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, Viking Canada, 2010, ISBN: 978-670-06419-9, Pg. 191-192

2. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 416-417


  1. Brazil’s level of economic inequality is dropping at a faster rate than that of almost any other country. Between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians. Poverty has fallen during that time from 22 percent of the population to 7 percent.

    Contrast this with the United States, where from 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent of earners. (see this great series in Slate by Timothy Noah on American inequality) Productivity among low and middle-income American workers increased, but their incomes did not. If current trends continue, the United States may soon be more unequal than Brazil.

    Several factors contribute to Brazil’s astounding feat. But a major part of Brazil’s achievement is due to a single social program that is now transforming how countries all over the world help their poor.

    The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

  2. Good stuff Nadine. There are so many things we could including a guaranteed income program.

    Brazil is also now one of the only developed nation that does not import oil. They have switched to renewables.