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Corvin Russell is an activist, writer, and translator based in Toronto. His current focus is Indigenous solidarity and environmental justice work.

Random rants on this day in politics

| October 2, 2008

I’m in a pissy mood about the sad state of politics, so here goes. I’m not even going to try to pretend that I have any respect for these politicians. Frankly, I don’t understand how they, as human beings, remain excited and motivated to strive so assiduously for the simulacrum of power to do the inconsequentially little they propose to do in the face of the great crises soon to overwhelm the planet. And I’m just talking about the good ones there.

The debate

Was it just me or was Harper on tranquilizers in tonight’s debate? As long as we’re drugging it up, I propose a “pass the bong” format for the debate, in which each leader has to take a bong hit before answering a question.

I really didn’t like the format of the debate. It allowed Harper to fake being  dégagé. Dion looked slightly less pathetic than he otherwise might have, as he was in his element jabbing a finger across the seminar table. He seems to have resisted all efforts at grooming him. May’s French was quite horrible, so mad props to her for courage at least. What a disastrous answer she gave on the national question though. Apparently she does not understand Quebec at all. Or perhaps she is going after the blue-rinse Trudeau-loving set in English Canada.

Politicians who can’t go for the kill

I’m sorry, but in all of Stephen Harper’s years of being a right-wing economist, the national policy chief of the Reform Party, or the head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, can no one find a case where he has argued for financial deregulation on American lines? He has certainly argued his admiration for American capitalism - make him wear it now that American capitalism is engulfed in crisis and the more regulated Canadian banking sector is, for the moment, secure. Perversely, Harper is claiming this as evidence of his own sound policies, and not the legacy of policies he has tried to undo.

Why on earth can no other politician simply point out the obvious, that Conservatives have the worst record of financial management, federally and provincially, of any of the parties? We are still paying the debts Brian Mulroney ran up, and Stephen Harper’s tax cuts are driving us into deficit again. Will no one call bullshit on this myth?

South of the border, John McCain has been claiming that he’s the guy to clean up Wall Street and he’s the honest broker in the financial crisis engulfing the US, and soon, the world. I’m sorry, but the last time the US financial sector had a major crisis, during the Savings and Loan meltdown, McCain was one of the Keating Five implicated in corrupt dealings on behalf of the chairman of the Lincoln Savings And Loan Association, which was then under investigation. Why isn’t anyone calling him on it? He’s standing neckdeep in bullshit.

On the subject of the financial crisis

The bailout is a crock of sh*t. The raising of the ceiling on federal deposit insurance goes some way to addressing the possibility of generalized panic, and new provisions for taking equity stakes in beneficiary institutions are good changes, as is the modicum of oversight introduced. But the core of the plan is a crock, equivalent to Hank Paulsen buying $700 billion dollars worth of lottery tickets from his friends. It does nothing to stop the engine driving this cycle: consumer insolvency resulting in foreclosures, resulting in more housing stock dumped on a depressed market, depressing prices further, which puts more people in negative equity, resulting in jingle mail and more houses on the market, a generalized decline in credit which has buoyed consumption in the face of stagnant wages, and so on. Only a plan that directly helps distressed homeowners does that. By the way, the world is already in recession.

Here’s a plan that might actually do something about those things!

1. After allowing the worst-off banks to fail, recapitalize and socialize troubled banks, wiping out shareholders and clearing out executives.

2. Restructure the mortgage market. Allow bankruptcy courts to cram down mortgages on primary residences and reset high rates and payments to levels that distressed consumers can afford. This would arrest or at least slow the spiral of foreclosures and negative equity that is driving the financial devastation.

3. Raise federal deposit insurance levels.

4. Issue massive amounts of debt at near-zero interest to fund much-needed infrastructure projects which will provide jobs and stimulate consumption.

5. In the longer term, regulate the trade in over the counter derivatives and require them to be traded on open, transparent markets.

6. Regulate the ratings agencies to make them accountable. Fraudulent securities could never have been sold by the trillions if ratings agencies hadn’t put their “AAA” lipstick on those pigs.

Now, maybe this plan isn’t the answer. But it seems a lot smarter than anything any of the politicians have been saying lately.

Speaking of which, isn’t it humiliating that Jack Layton’s diversionary tactic on the financial crisis was to ask Stephen Harper to call a summit where government experts would brief the party leaders on the crisis? Isn’t this just a roundabout way of saying “I have no clue what is happening here! Help!” The NDP is always yammering about how they are perceived as weak on economics, but they seem to make no actual effort to correct this weakness by coming to grips with finance and economics in their organizational culture. As a result, they have nothing interesting to say and are completely blindsided by a crisis that was already being discussed 3-5 years ago in the financial press. Memo to the NDP: take out a subscription to the Financial Times, and make sure you actually read it!

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