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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Ontario budget and the ONDP caucus salaries by the numbers...or how being a part of the 2% really works.

So...let us go through it by the numbers.

The ONDP and and its defenders on the issue of the Ontario budget have been quick to talk of  "making parliament work" and of being "responsible". The Liberals, obviously, have embraced this.

But make parliament work for who, exactly?

Many have applauded the so-called ONDP tax that applies to almost no one. The miniscule charge on the ULTRA wealthy that only comes into effect over $500,000 in income, non-inclusive! A tax that McGuinty has already said would be used to pay off capitalist creditors....making it, for what it is, a tax from the very rich to the very rich.

Meanwhile the appalling fact that welfare recipients must accept what is in reality a cut and the fact that no one at all has put the minimum wage on the table goes unmentioned.


Perhaps, in part, because the austerity budget agreed upon by the Liberals and the ONDP does not effect the pocket books of the ONDP caucus at all.

It is really easy to take a "sensible" and "reasonable" stand on the poor, minimum wage workers, and public sector workers when you have no connection to their reality in anyway. Especially when you have made no attempt to ensure that their wages or paltry benefits are not either frozen or might as well be. Your "contribution", which would normally take the form of increased taxes, amounts to exactly nothing.

Despite twenty years of personal income tax cuts, most pronounced on the income brackets the MPPs lie within, income tax cuts that have caused the entire "crisis" we exist in now, the only "reversal" of this that is being called for does not apply to the ONDP (or Liberal) caucus members who made this deal and whose incomes still fall well within the top 2% of earners.

So what does that mean in terms of numbers?

Well, in 2011 Andrea Horwath made $158,156.96. Cheri DiNovo 129,722.63. Peter Taubuns $123, 334.34. etc.

Meanwhile, a frozen minimum wage yearly income amounts to $21,320 a year and remains FROZEN. Which means, given inflation over the last year it has declined by over 3% relative to the cost of living.

Much, much worse is an income of a single person on welfare.

That was $597.92 a month prior to this budget. It will increase by 1% to, stunningly and appallingly, $603.90.

That means a yearly welfare income of, for a single recipient, approximately $7246.80.


It also means an increase of only around sixty dollars a year while none of the ONDP caucus members will see their taxes increase by even that same amount. In fact, their personal taxes will not increase by one penny. While, yet again, welfare and disability rates will decrease on the most vulnerable versus inflation.

By over 2% this year and by, stunningly, at least 10% over the last decade.

But, even staying with this year alone, to equal the "sacrifices" that those on welfare are making, by having their taxes increase at inflation in lock step to the actual, in real terms, decrease of those on welfare versus inflation, the ONDP caucus members should pay, at minimum, in excess of  $2,400 a year in increased personal taxes.

They are not doing this, needless to say.

So before we talk about the alleged "courage" of a tax increase that will not even apply to them, let us at least recall that the ONDP caucus members that made this choice, (and it was a choice), made at minimum 16.5 times a year what a welfare recipient does, and around six times what a minimum wage worker does.

Per year.

And let us remember what living on these lower "incomes", especially in the face of other austerity cuts, really means,

Next time you wonder about income inequality in our society and why MPPs of any stripe don't seem to want to seriously do anything about is worth considering these numbers.

Dear Comrade Fatah...

Dear Comrade Fatah,

We hope that this letter finds you well, and that you have not been the victim of yet another round of vicious twitter and facebook spamming from the Islamofascists and their left-liberal allies in the "lamestream" media.

 We listened with great intent to your recent diatribe:

We truly do live in dangerous times, comrade, and they are only going to get worse.  All of us have followed with unceasing attention your recent talk and must commend you on your courage in exposing the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration of the White House.  Who knew that the conspiracy had reached this far. Clearly those, unlike us, comrade, who warned that this was what Obama was all about were right. We were his willing dupes, and we feel slightly better to hear that you too, ever vigilant as you are, were fooled.  Sadly, the only news outlet to carry the story of this fifth column operating in the highest political office of the world has been Fox News, a tiny oasis of truth in a sea of white, liberal guilt masquerading as "tolerance".  Let's see how tolerant they are when al'Qaeda terrorists are raining  bombs through downtown Toronto, destroying the CBC building on Front St that the useful idiots in the left-wing media use to push their multicultural values on us.
The old left that you were a part of would've never stood for this.  Think of the kind of left we had in the 1930s, faced with the sort of brutality we see today.  They would never even have waited for the Canadian Army to go to war.  They would've reformed the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and launched suicide attacks at all those homophobic, misogynistic, fascist, religious nutbars.   And then, after they wiped out Charles McVety and the Wildrose Party, they would've gone overseas and taught the Taliban a thing or two about "tolerance"... with a C7 rifle.
We know, brother, that if we rise up against the Christian fascists, when we stand in solidarity against the American Taliban, you will be there as long, of course, as we can afford your speaker fees.
Alas, that old militant left is nowhere to be found.  If they're not out somewhere calling on Israel to not bulldoze Palestinian homes, they're wallowing in materialistic decadence.  All they ever seem to go on about is money.  Why, listening to these so-called "intellectuals", you'd think that the biggest problem facing Canada is the $600 billion in mortgage debt that the government will have to cover for the CMHC when the housing bubble collapses. Some of these "leftist" stooges of the Islamofacists actually think that fighting around poverty and austerity issues, or trying to stop the creationists and pro-life folks that have infiltrated our parliament in the Conservative government is a priority. Obviously, we need to make sure you reach a broader audience to show that the REAL problem is a minor bureaucrat or two being hired by Obama. This will, indeed, bring down the foundations of our freedom.
For our part, we've tried to convince them of the gravity of the situation, but to no avail.  Just the other day, a friend related to us a story, about how a Muslim woman in full Niqab managed to renew her driver's license at the Ministry of Transportation simply by asking to be served by a female attendant.  This is how it begins: first, they came for the Ministry of Transportation attendants, but one of us does not drive, so we said nothing.  Next, they asked to let them have two hours to pray on Friday, but we sat on our asses surfing the web, so we said nothing.  Then, they opened a Falafel shop in our neighbourhood, and there was no one left to stand on the corner with us and chant pro-Canada slogans... well, no one except a few neo-Nazis, the JDL and Hindu fascists,  but it's also so awkward standing with them - they still have a problem with our Marxism.
We don't know what to do anymore, Tarek.  Prudence says that we should simply move up north.  One of us has a friend who can build an underground bunker about 50 miles north of Kenora.  Most Muslims have probably not acclimatized themselves to the cold yet, so we should be safe there.  We plan to stock-pile on canned food, ammunition and have our own solar powered generator so we can survive indefinitely when the caliphate is declared.  Until then, Comrade Fatah, we stand by, your loyal readers, your faithful comrades in arms.  And when someone says that every Islamic person is just a damned Quaran thumping, alcohol hating terrorist in training, we think of you and we say: "Hey!  Think about Comrade Fatah"
Yours, in revolutionary solidarity...
Michael Laxer
& Comrade Al Frankenstein

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The austerity insanity. Coming soon to your Ontario.

So, its official. No matter what happens, Ontario is getting austerity.

The "brinkmanship" around the McGuinty budget has made this clear.

There is the Hudak slash and burn version that seeks to implement the full Drummond Report; a virtually guaranteed way to greatly exacerbate inequality and to drive Ontario back into recession.

There is the McGuinty version, which seeks to balance the books directly on the backs of labour, workers and the poor, while, perhaps intentionally from the start, trying to appear moderate by not bringing, for now, the full Drummond Report apocalypse that they themselves commissioned.

And then there is Horwath "populism" that confuses a miniscule tax increase on the extremely wealthy (and that, by the way, would not effect the pocketbooks of her or her caucus colleagues, despite their rather generous incomes relative to those of the "ordinary" citizens that they constantly ramble on about) and cutting the HST on the home heating of Bridal Path mansions with real progressive taxation. Instead of the reversal of the Harris era tax cuts, they offer an "austerity lite" that would presumably sing Kumbayah and Sixties protest songs while balancing the budget on the backs of, you guessed it, labour, workers and the poor.

Given that there is no reason to believe that anything will change, in terms of the positions of the parties on these issues in the event of an election, we can safely assume that Ontario, whether the budget is defeated or not and regardless of who is elected, will get an austerity budget either now, or just after the next election.

Both myself and others have pointed out that the alleged need for austerity is due, almost entirely, to a generation of reckless, irresponsible and immoral personal and corporate tax cuts that have fueled the massive growth in social inequality and have depleted the coffers of government to such an extent that their reversal alone, in-and-of itself, would balance the budget.

In addition to this, the Liberal government refused to allow Drummond, in the unlikely event that he would have, to even discuss tax increases. Horwath's farcically minor increase on the incomes of the ultra wealthy aside (an increase that would ONLY apply to income ABOVE $500, would not even increase taxes on the first $500,000 of income), no party in Ontario's parliament is willing to even float the idea of genuine progressive tax increases and the reversal of the Harris era personal and corporate income tax cuts. Given that fact, there is no other way to balance the budget, if this is your priority, other than through program and public sector wage freezes and cuts. It is a self-fulfilling set of policy priorities.

And what it amounts to is that every mainstream political party in Ontario has consciously chosen to place the maintenance and continuance of these personal and corporate tax cuts ahead of the social benefits, youth programs, anti-poverty and housing programs, welfare and disability benefit increases, public sector wages and public sector services, and so many other government efforts that their reversal would fund.

It is that simple.

Beyond the immorality of this choice, one might note, despite all the pathetic preening of the parties to appear to be the most "fiscally responsible" managers of the economy, it is also pure idiocy as economic policy.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, the "Austerity Delusion" consists of the manifestly false idea that, emerging from the 2008 economic crisis that was both caused by and showed the bankruptcy of neo-conservative free market ideas and forced even right wing governments back to Keynesian interventionist, stimulus based spending models, somehow now is the time to reduce the budget deficits nominally "caused" by this stimulus through spending cuts. The same stimulus that saved capitalism itself in North America from a broad collapse into a long term depression. He has framed the appallingly self-destructive increasing austerity agendas of, for example, European governments in these terms: "This is, not to mince words, just insane".

And it is insane. Greece style insane. It is insane because the cuts proposed remove billions of dollars that stimulate economic activity through not only jobs, but also the direct impact that the personal spending of those who will be hit by austerity has on the economy. Just as the Ontario economy appears to be recovering, you begin to remove the reason it was recovering; government spending.

Instead of, as the right wing pundits would have it, preventing a Greek style debacle and social collapse, you start to engineer it. And that is due to the fact that what happened in Greece, for example, was not a result of irresponsible public spending, but rather of irresponsible activity by the European banking sector.

In Ontario, any "crisis" is also not a result of irresponsible spending (and the corporations had no trouble lining up for the spending when it was coming their way), it was due to irresponsible tax cuts and, as in Greece, the effects of the near collapse of a socially irresponsible unregulated capitalist model due to the actions of corporations themselves. Even in spite of the tax cuts, the Liberals were balancing the books until the crisis of 2008. Had it not been for the failure of the the "free market" capitalist economy and the need to bail-out corporations for their own reckless activity, there would have been no deficit.

It was not the fault of government or government spending, it was the fault of the neo-conservative corporate capitalist model.

And worse, of course, is that once austerity and its negative impacts have begun, they become self-perpetuating. The cuts will hurt the economy, depressing economic activity by removing the stimulus effect of government spending, thereby reducing revenue further, necessitating further cuts, etc.

We now know, thanks to a twenty year public policy detour, that tax cuts do not stimulate the economy, result in direct investment, or prevent capital flight. This has been proven repeatedly and the 2008 crisis should have, but did not, put an end to the entire neo-liberal fantasy that everyone from the NDP to the Tories continues to read as a bedtime story to the restive citizens of the province. But further, we know that they do not even stimulate personal spending to replace the lost stimulus of government spending due to the demonstrable and rather obvious fact that the vast bulk of the transfer of wealth that occurs due to these cuts is a transfer from direct stimulus in the form of spending by both government and the citizens that government spending most benefits to the massive and increasingly disproportionate amassing of non-productive and non-economically stimulating paper empires of personal wealth concentration.

Simplistically put, the proportion that one spends directly on products and services due to what one receives from personal tax cuts is in inverse proportion to one's wealth. The wealthiest, to whom by far the most wealth and revenue has been transferred by the tax cuts spend a far smaller proportion of it on goods and services as they have the least reason to.

Conversely, of course, a transfer of wealth, with tax increases, from upper income brackets to the bulk of the population through social programs, higher wages, government spending and so on is almost entirely used by those citizens in ways that have an obviously beneficial, direct, and even community centered economic impact.

If the goal is to be fiscally and economically responsible, then it is obvious that to do so there should be progressive tax increases on, at the least, the top thirty percent of income earners and that the revenue that this generates should be put into job creation programs, social spending and infrastructure expenditure.

That the media will howl with accusations of "class warfare" is irrelevant. The tax cuts were class warfare. They were the assault of the upper-middle class, the wealthy and the professional classes on everyone else. They successfully created an economic "policy" and political ideology centered around the transfer of wealth and social power from society as a whole to them.

Until we reverse these ideas, in terms of the economic and social equality impact of the policies of the various parties, no matter who you elect you will get the same basic economic and income equality result.