Saturday, July 09, 2005

More new victims

According to the AP:
Four mosques were vandalized in northern New Zealand overnight Sunday, leaving windows smashed and walls splashed with graffiti, police said...

In Bloomington, Ind., meanwhile, the FBI was investigating an apparent arson Saturday as a hate crime, officials said. No one was inside the Islamic Center of Bloomington when the fire occurred at about 2 a.m. and damage was confined to the kitchen area, said Nathan Ainslie, president of the centre.

A burned Qur'an was found outside, he said.

Two points on the story.

First, the order and emphasis within the article strikes me as odd. My impression is that arson is generally a much more severe crime than vandalism, the burnt Qur'an should be particularly significant after the coverage of Guantanamo, and nothing else aside from the number of incidents seems to justify putting the focus on New Zealand. Both should be reported, but the way it's set up now the Indiana attack seems to be unduly hidden.

Second, New Zealand's Prime Minister rightly condemned her country's attack immediately. It presumably shouldn't take long for a similar message to come from the States - though it bears mention that the Indiana attack occurred earlier, and the article doesn't indicate any statement yet.

NHL Labour Pains

There's no deal yet, but it's pretty clear that the NHL and the NHLPA will soon reach a new collective bargaining agreement, and that the owners will be getting by far the better of the deal.

While the owners in the NHL dispute have the usual advantage of being wealthier than their employees, a second advantage has also contributed to the owners' win: namely, a public-relations win that resulted in a large number of fans blaming the players for the lockout.

It's always struck me as odd that athletes are seen as the villains when bargaining with their owners. In most labour negotiations, I can better appreciate some public tension, as unions typically argue for across-the-board wage standards and workers' rights while management argues for a freer market in which individuals are able (in theory) to negotiate better deals for themselves.

Naturally, I generally side with the unions based on their vital role as workers' counterbalance against corporate organizations designed to hold down wages and safety standards. That said, I can see the appeal of parts of the free-market side, especially to the extent that it's difficult to reward particularly good workers in a unionized environment.

In sports bargaining, it's usually a different story. Not only is the union the side arguing for a safer workplace and more of an industry's profits going to its workers, but it's also the side trying to pursue an individual's ability to negotiate contracts based on that individual's contribution to the industry. Meanwhile, management's sole goal is to hold salaries down through artificial means such as salary caps, luxury taxes and the like, with no pretense of rewarding merit.

Yet somehow, to the extent that there is any public sympathy for one side in labour disputes (and I can understand the "pox on both their houses" position) it's the owners who seem to have won it.

Part of the reason appears to be union negotiating styles which focus more on pressuring the owners directly rather than winning public approval. I suspect this one will change quickly, and certainly a good number of players went out of their way to set up charity games while the lockout was going on in order to maintain some positive public perception.

Part of it seems to be explained by fan jealousy of the players, particularly when the salaries paid to the players are far higher than those paid to most people. Of course, this argument usually includes language such as "for playing a game!", while ignoring the insane amount of work that goes into maintaining oneself as a professional athlete.

Finally, part of it seems to come from the owners' arguments that salaries must be suppressed through the CBA to help competitive balance, or or to make the league profitable. I'm not sure how anybody buys these claims, but apparently it happens.

Obviously, I consider the PR battle to be a huge issue in current negotiations. In that regard, with their salaries set to take a huge drop now, I'd love to see the NHLPA and other sports unions try to establish links to the wider union movement. The sports unions can provide vital funding, while the other unions can provide manpower as well as a more public view of the costs of lockouts. I'm far from sure that it'll happen, but suspect it would benefit both groups in the long run.

In any event, it looks like the NHL will soon be back with a cowed players' union, reduced salaries all around and effectively guaranteed profitability for most teams. A lot of people, myself included, will be glad to see hockey back; much less people, but again myself included, will be hoping for a more fair CBA next time out.

Satisfaction with police

Next time your friendly neighbourhood Conservative candidate starts ranting about how crime is out of control, keep these numbers in mind:
City police got a ringing endorsement from survey respondents, with about 92 per cent saying local police do a good or average job of enforcing the law, and only about six per cent saying police doing a poor job.

Local satisfaction rates in this area were slightly above the national satisfaction rate.

Approximately 85 per cent of respondents said local police do a good or average job of being approachable, informing the public on ways to reduce crime, treating people fairly and keeping neighborhoods safe overall...

Statistics Canada analyst Maire Gannon says the survey shows Canadians are feeling safer overall than they have in the past decade. Atlantic Canadians were the most likely to report feeling "very satisfied" with their personal safety.

Of course there's some room for improvement. That said, there's at most a limited need for changes within the police system...and certainly no basis for a substantially more draconian policing philosophy.

Saving small towns

A couple of sources of note on the question of life in rural areas.

Macleans and CBC sent out a few top photographers to chronicle life in Hazelton, B.C.; Theodore, Saskatchewan; and Fogo Island, Newfoundland. Macleans now has the galleries online.

Meanwhile, Time discusses a less-than-original strategy being used by some U.S. towns to attract people to rural areas:
Hoping to reverse the decline, enterprising small towns across the Great Plains have begun offering land at little or no cost to anyone who will build a house and move in.

It's useful to remember just how and why rural areas were settled to begin with - sadly it appears that it may take a new wave of free land to bring people in again, but this may be an idea worth using in Canada as well to try to narrow the urban/rural divide.


In a sense, I'm surprised this didn't start happening sooner:
This week when the execs at McDonald's announced the company was investing $80 million and contracting the services of an international fashion designer to develop its newest line of street-inspired uniforms, burger flippers across the continent flipped out.

McDonald's is hoping that if the uniforms are cool enough, employees will want to wear them, even when not at work...

Paul Vandenburg, a 28-year-old employee at a McDonald's on Yonge St., laughed at the idea of wearing uniforms with labels by Sean John or Tommy Hilfiger. He said no matter what it looks like, he wouldn't wear it outside work. And he doesn't think teenagers would either.

"I don't know why they would want fashion uniforms to stroll outside in," Vandenburg said.

A teenage employee at the McDonald's inside Union Station also balked at the thought of hip and trendy uniforms. "That's ridiculous," the girl said. "Just because I could get away with wearing it outside of work doesn't mean I would."

If anything, I'd suspect that customers would be more interested in the redesigned clothing than employees. As pointed out in the article, an employee working lots of hours for minimum wage in a sweltering kitchen probably isn't going to be eager to do anything to promote the restaurant (particularly if that involves clothing which carries the smell of that kitchen). On the other hand, a truly loyal customer might be a lot more willing to advertise on the restaurant's behalf.

That said, you also have to wonder about the effectiveness of any campaign brought to you by the same minds as this:
(I)n further efforts to reshape the brand as hip and active, even the cheesemeister himself has been given a new look. Ronald has emerged from clown boot camp leaner, energetic and hipper in a fierce red jogging suit.

Nothing like a slightly slimmer clown in a jogging suit to say, "this is a restaurant to take seriously".

Friday, July 08, 2005

New victims

Yesterday, Brad at A Little Bit Left reminded us of an important point: we're all worse off when people point fingers at Muslims and Arabs as a whole in response to the acts of a few fanatics.

Unfortunately, the attacks have already started in the UK:
The first indications of a possible backlash against British Muslims came yesterday with reports of suspicious fires at a mosque in Leeds and a Sikh temple in Kent, as police confirmed that tension around the country was increasing...

Police were classing as actual bodily harm two attacks on Muslims in the past 48 hours and at least two Muslim organisations have been subjected to "malicious communications", with one, the MCB, receiving more than 30,000 hate messages via email, which crashed its server.

While the individual Muslims involved were the first to be lose out, we're all ultimately worse off as a result of the intolerance and the resulting polarization.

One less barrier

Good news for beef producers: New Zealand has lifted all BSE-related restrictions on Canadian beef.

Protecting nuclear material

The IAEA takes an important step:
ElBaradei, whose Vienna-based agency acts as the UN nuclear nonproliferation watchdog, said the agreement reached in the Austrian capital over five days demonstrates "a global commitment to remedy weaknesses in our nuclear security regime."

The Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material originally obligated the 112 countries that have accepted it to protect nuclear material during international transport. The amended version expands such protection to materials at nuclear facilities, in domestic storage and during domestic transport or use.

I'm curious about the definitions involved: will "storage" or "use" include the handling of nuclear material after use in a nuclear facility? If not, that too seems like a rather important priority. But even if it doesn't go as far as it could, the IAEA is headed in the right direction with this one.

Creating inevitability

Pollara issues a completely biased poll, and the Globe buys it:
Sixty-three per cent of those polled said they would be willing to "pay out of pocket" to gain faster access to medical services for themselves or their family members.

It also showed that 55 per cent of Canadians agree with the Supreme Court decision that they should have the right to buy private health insurance if the public system cannot provide medical services in a timely fashion.

Seventy-three per cent of those surveyed believed that the ruling was a step toward creating a two-tiered health-care system in the country.

Of course, looking at the poll itself:

- The first question is an entirely intuitive answer, but the fact that people are willing to pay large sums of money to cut to the front of the line is precisely the reason why private funding makes the system more expensive, and why single-payer health care is the only system that can provide reasonable care for every Canadian. Try asking the question, "Would you mind having a wealthier person cut ahead of you on a health-care waiting list?" and we'll see how committed people are to the two-tiered system.

- The second question relies on the premise that "the public health system cannot provide services in a timely fashion". It ignores the fact that the public system can provide services in a timely fashion when properly funded.

- And finally, the third is descriptive rather than normative - it doesn't ask whether those polled actually want a two-tiered system, simply whether they believe the decision was a step in that direction. (And of course the result reflects the media's pro-two-tier coverage since the decision was handed down.)

The blitz is on from both sides in the health-care war. We need to make sure disinformation like Pollara's poll doesn't become the conventional wisdom.

Technical Change

My XML feed will now be limited to a summary rather than full posts. (I figure it's best not to clutter up the Progressive Bloggers page more than I have to.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Productive writing

Declan from Crawl Across the Ocean points out that if we have a productivity problem (and we can't be sure of that), it can probably be traced to high profits and a good job market which are driving Canadians to work more hours. The punchline:
I'm sure our business leaders (led as always by Thomas d'Aquino) will be sending out the message loud and clear that what Canada really needs in order to be prosperous is a more competitive business climate. Look for the bosses at Westjet and Air Canada to be promoting the opening of the skies to foreign carriers. Look for the big bank heads to be asking the government to say 'No' to mergers and 'Yes' to more foreign competition. Look for all business leaders to agree that record high corporate profitability (and the accompanying record high CEO compensation) has been dragging down productivity and that something must be done.

Very nicely put. As observed by Declan, there's little reason to think government can do much about productivity numbers, even less reason to think that the current trend is a negative one in any event, and absolutely no reason to think that the people actually decrying the current numbers would like to see the changes that would be most likely to push productivity upward. So let's put this one on the back burner for now.

More new media

Once again, the Tyee points out new media before anybody else:
With over 100 reporters and freelancers based in 30 countries, many of whom work for big names such as CNN, The New York Times, CBC, Time, National Geographic, Rolling Stone and BBC among others, Dragon Fire editor Amy Webb says readers can expect international reporting not focused on war. "We're trying to be a place where people can come and interact with each other and become part of a more sophisticated global community," she says.

From the introductory editorial:
Our goal is not to break news in a traditional sense. We produce two issues per month, which may seem counterintuitive given that we’re a digital publication. After our inaugural issue, which we’ve made live in its entirety, we’ll publish a different section of Dragonfire each day of the week during a two-week cycle. We’re shooting for interactive quality rather than quantity. As we’re about to explain, the Internet isn’t remarkable because of its speed and endless space but because it has the unique ability to bring millions of people together at any time to share ideas and gain cross-cultural awareness.

Dragon Fire is headed to my list of news sources for now, and looks like it'll be a good one. And it's not only free, but also advertiser-free. Check it out.

(Edit: typo.)

Flows of information

I've mentioned before the shoddy treatment given to current Information Commissioner John Reid. While Reid has been given a temporary reprieve, his term is set to expire again in three months.

Today, The Globe has this web comment on the haphazard process used select information commissioners in the past:
Why, then, do we handle the business of appointing a commissioner so incompetently? One obvious answer might be that the government can't resist the opportunity to pick a referee who is more likely to resolve disputes over the release of information in its favour. But it lacks the skill - or ruthlessness - to get what it wants. Instead, its ham-handed efforts to stack the deck merely reinforce the public perception of its hostility to open government.

If this is the intent, there's apparently a new idea afoot. At least one question period in the Senate this week featured hints that the office of the Information Commissioner could be merged with that of the Privacy Commissioner. (I'll post a link when the page is back up - the Senate's debates page is always spotty about recent archives.)

I'm sure that in addition to using up added resources, the idea would be in part to force the officer to essentially pick "all information" or "no information" on both sides of the issue; there'd be a ton of cognitive dissonance for the same office to issue rulings saying that government information should be freely accessible, while the use of individual information should be restricted.

The problem is that while it may be difficult for any one person or office to uphold such a seeming double standard, there's ample reason for actually having different standards.

Individuals are entitled to privacy. When information is released for a particular purpose (and particularly to corporations, which is where the Privacy Commissioner is usually involved), each individual has a strong stake in knowing that any information granted is used only for permitted purposes - and has a right to avoid granting any information at all if a high standard isn't in place. There's no real countervailing societal interest in allowing corporations to sell, reuse, etc. information as they see fit, contrary to the wishes of the individual.

The state apparatus is not entitled to privacy. Information in the hands of (and about) the government is collected through statutory schemes whose products should be open, and its release will be desirable from the standpoint of the people of Canada being able to understand the government they elect.

Conflating the two standards has the danger of eroding one (or both) of the principles.

For now, I'm rooting for John Reid to get another year at the Information Commissioner post. For the future, the government should put more thought into its appointments, and more importantly should make sure to keep the Information Commissioner's office separate and properly funded.

A moment for mourning

Needless to say, this is absolutely horrific.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Occupiers' liability

A great piece from a Vietnam War veteran on how civilian deaths are ignored by an occupying power:
After reporting another civilian death, Beaumont makes his point with, "What is perhaps most shocking about their death is that the coalition troops who killed them did not even bother to record details of the raid with the coalition military press office. The killings were that unremarkable."...

Because few if any in the current Bush administration have personally witnessed any sort of combat in their lives, out leadership in Washington probably has not a clue of the scale that this is happening nor why. We have been told over and over again that we no longer count the bodies of those we kill, so we have no idea of the impact of these deaths on the Iraqi population...

Most people the world over have seen what invading or "occupying" armies can do. Millions of people the world over have lost loved ones, unarmed loved ones, to people who said they were trying to set them free or bring them liberty. It is reported that in South Vietnam alone, a million civilians were killed while we were at war in that country. Sure the VC and NVA killed many, but it was the Americans with the extreme fire power. We even had special programs like the Phoenix Program, set up to assassinate civilians who were suspected to be playing both sides. I have no doubt we do something of the same in Iraq; it is part of warfare and has been throughout history.

Americans don’t want to think about things like killing civilians, it just doesn’t seem right. We hide the facts about how cruel and horrible war really is and paint our troops with goodness and glory, but those who have been to war know it is not about being good, it is about staying alive and if a few or even many civilians get killed…well that is too bad.

Important thoughts to keep in mind next time your neighbourhood world power is revving up for an invasion.

Mismanagement, Small and Large

The argument against giving African aid based on corruption has focused largely on large amounts of money lost to corruption during a span of decades. The National Post's numbers are $148 billion yearly spread over a continent...and up to $6 billion over a five-year period by dictators such as Sani Abacha, who presided over the largest country in Africa.

But before that's taken as reason to condemn Africa, compare to the amount of money frittered away by the occupation in Iraq. According to an audit cited in the Guardian, Paul Bremer managed to lose $8.8 billion worth of government funds alone in eight months:
The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. They have also discovered that $8.8bn that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it has gone. A further $3.4bn appropriated by Congress for Iraqi development has since been siphoned off to finance "security".

Never mind that a "corruption estimate" would undoubtedly involve much more money in graft and patronage. And keep in mind how little actual reconstruction has happened since the U.S. took over despite that money: less electricity this year than last, maternal mortality is on the fact, the priorities are so messed up that one Iraqi journalist had to ask Bush when the reconstruction was going to begin, with the sole answer being that "money is being spent". Which as far as Iraqis can tell, is only helping the Green Zone rather than the rest of the country.

In sum: nobody should be backing any involvement in Iraq while claiming that Africa is too corrupt and poorly-managed to receive aid.

Riding a bike is hard

Bush has his second bike accident of his presidency, this time on the grounds of the Gleneagles golf course.

I'm not sure there are enough snide comments one can make in response. But to go for the glaringly exactly is Bush running a country when he's now proven incompetent in operating bikes, Segways, and pretzels?


Apparently Bono is more influential than the entire House of Commons. Now Martin says Canada will eventually reach the .7% target for foreign aid.
"We will ultimately [go forward] on the 0.7 but we're not going to do it – and that's what Bono was just making reference to – until we can basically say to Canadians — here's how we're doing it and here's when we are going to do it and there are no caveats, no conditions."

So according to the PM we'll get there. But that's not a promise. And we're not bothering to figure out how. But we will. Eventually.

To think I thought he was looking for a label other than "Mr. Dithers".

I'm sure that's much more reassuring to potential recipients than the European timetable, contingent on stated policy changes, which Martin was decrying a couple of weeks ago.

Multilateral disarmament

From the AP: Russia has ratified an accord where Canada, as part of a G8 initiative, will contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons and nuclear submarines.

Not much to say other than that it's a great plan, and well done on both sides. Let there be no doubt that Canada's foreign policy is helping (in at least some measure) to build a more secure world.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Revitalizing liberalism

The Tyee has this piece by Crawford Kilian on a perceived reversal between liberals and conservatives over the last half-century. Before I get into the more interesting points, a couple of obvious problems with the article:

(1) Anybody who thinks that current Canadian conservatives are happier and more optimistic than liberals is missing some obvious signs.
(2) The American military history in the article doesn't seem in touch with reality. It was a direct attack on the U.S., not a triumph of liberalism, that rallied the country in WWII. And I'm not quite sure how the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam and (especially) the overthrow of Allende are supposed to be examples of liberal hubris.

With that nit-picking out of the way, on to the substance. I'll readily agree with Kilian's viewpoint that today's liberals (and I don't mind using the term interchangeably with "progressive" so long as nobody tries to make it a large L) need to start taking a long-term view, starting by reshaping the frames of reference within which political conversations are conducted. This isn't news.

The more important questions are: first, in what directions do we want to reshape the discussion? And second, how do we go about reshaping it?

The foreign-aid debate is an important example, even if it doesn't seem like a winning domestic issue at first glance. There should be far more of a debate on issues such as what we hope to accomplish through foreign aid, whether .7% is a realistic target (or enough to accomplish our goals), and whether other policy changes such as removing trade barriers can benefit us as well as poorer countries. And by pointing out the plight of the least-fortunate globally and demanding concrete action, we can also hint at similar problems (and solutions) in the first world.

Climate change is another issue where we can put forward solutions to an important and immediate problem. Note that even Bushco (aside from the whole "refusing to accept science" element) seems to be adopting interesting language on the issue - though we should be the first to point out that his backing for new technologies can't hide his consistent pro-oil policies. The key on this issue will be to propose both new technologies, and new means of promoting existing ones. While we should aim to reach the Kyoto targets, it should be as a side effect of good policy leading to greater emission declines in the future, not as an end in itself.

Health care is another problem that presents an opportunity for meaningful change. Rather than merely defending the status quo, progressives should emphasize that we can bolster the system through added funding, and more importantly that we can focus in new areas (greater prescription care, preventative medicine, etc.) to resolve access issues that have remained despite our public system. Yes, people have a lot to take for granted now - but there's still a lot more to be won if we're willing to fight for it. We need to make the case as to why the fight is worth it.

The more important conclusion out of Kilian's article is that we shouldn't shy away from tough issues based solely on conventional wisdom about immediate political gain. While it's important to keep the apple cart upright, it'll be able to stay that way longer if we have the foresight to confront obstacles before they're unavoidable, and the ingenuity to build a smoother path.

If liberalism's past strength lay in confronting problems such as the Depression and a world war, surely the above issues involve equally important problems, with an equal amount of need for great ideas to solve them. Let's get to it.

Election Planning

The Hive starts the discussion on what the NDP's tactics should be going into another election campaign. I agree with the point that the NDP needs to learn from the past election and not make the same mistakes - but what were those mistakes, and what can we do differently this time out?

I strongly agree with Stephen that we can't simply say we'll get the Liberals to act more like Liberals, for two reasons.

First, contrary to Vicky's comment, a mere split of progressive voters is a recipe for permanent fourth-party status, not "the preferable thing". We should be critiquing the Liberals as being neither progressive nor a deserving governing party in the first place, not as merely needing a small NDP push to express their true progressive selves in government.

Second, voters pay attention to a party's goals. I've mentioned before my frustration with the "we can be an important small party" angle, even if it is the most realistic assessment of the party's position for the immediate future. People want to vote for a winner, and will run away in droves from a party which aspires merely to be the lesser part of a coalition.

So what's the alternative? Based on point two, I don't think there's any option but to campaign based on the premise that the NDP is a better government option than the other federal parties.

Compared to the Conservatives, I'm not sure that'll be as tough as conventional wisdom would hold. Harper's ratings are in the tank, the party's popularity has declined despite a rough session for the Liberals, and of course Layton hasn't lost the bulk of his personal advisers in the last couple of weeks. Make the message "If Harper can't run his own party, how can he run a country?"

What about compared to the Liberals? That'll be a lot tougher this time out, though "in power too long" is always a good message to have on one's side. And of course there are lots of accountability issues to point out, especially in contrast to the NDP's productive role in Parliament.

The above message almost certainly won't be successful in reaching a stated goal of government this time out, but it's still the right message for both the short and long term. The realistic upside for the NDP is to narrowly place itself as the official opposition - but with an eye toward forming government next time out, not merely trying to have the most influence possible as a minority party.

Whatever strategy the NDP chooses, there's no doubt that it's going to have a tough fight on its hands. But the potential gains are greater than Stephen suggests: if the NDP plays its cards right, it can both reach close to the maximum set of potential Dipper voters, and shift the public's expectations such as to expand that set for Election 2010. The only problem is that the NDP has to believe this is possible before the public will believe it.

Speaking of great Web content

The CP points out the ultimate repository of info on the current Parliament.

I'll note that I'm a huge fan of a sabermetric movement in baseball based on the idea that we should always be striving both for more information, and for a better understanding of the information we have. Knowing the amount of time spent on this effort in sports, I've wondered why nobody applied the same scrutiny to our political leaders that we apply to our star athletes.

Now we have the data for the current session of Parliament, and hopefully it'll expand based on historical records as well. Kudos to Cory Horner for getting the ball rolling.

We're not worthy!

It's Robert's blahgosphere. The rest of us just live in it.

Corruption and aid

The Globe and Mail has this web comment on why the mere presence of some corruption doesn't mean we should avoid aid to Africa:
No one who works with the poor denies the corrosive effect of corrupt regimes.

Yet, the reality is that there are ways to make debt cancellation and aid effective in such environments. Moreover, such resources should be deliberately channelled into building the very institutions that combat corruption.

Read it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A Dipper in the other place

While the House of Commons has adjourned for the summer, the Senate isn't finished just yet, and there may be some material worth watching for. In particular, watch for the presence of NDP appointee Lillian Dyck, though her party status is still being negotiated in light of the NDP's official policy of Senate abolition.

As best I can tell, Dyck's first appearance in a Senate debate took place last Thursday, as she reminded her fellow freshman Art Eggleton of the NDP's contribution to C-48.

(Scroll to the end of Eggleton's speech if you want to see the full details. As best I can tell Dyck had made one member's statement in May, but hadn't previously been in on the debates.)

It'll be interesting to see both what kind of arrangement Dyck can reach with the NDP, and how much of an impact she can have in the upper chamber. Even if the institution itself is archaic, to the extent that anybody still pays attention it's a plus to at least add one NDP-like voice to the mix.

Canada's real economic position

Contrast the whining of the CCCE and other business apologists with the actual views of businesses:
Canadian business remains optimistic about the state of the economy, reporting strong sales momentum and expecting inflation to remain under control...

The Bank of Canada's latest business survey reveals the strongest growth and highest degree of optimism is in Western Canada, where high prices for oil and gas are fuelling increased economic activity. The report notes that capacity restraints are more evident in the west than in the rest of the country, and pressures on production capacity are more pronounced in the primary, construction and transportation sectors.

So the biggest real economic problems now are:
- a need for added labour in the West, presumably leading to higher wages and standards of living in order to attract employees; and,
- a need to add capacity to meet demand, which will lead to added capital investment.

That's not a bad position to be in - no matter what Thomas D'Aquino tells you.

Inexplicable Nystrom-Bashing

It appears that some people are rather less happy than I am to know that Lorne Nystrom is running again.

My open question all those interested: why wouldn't the NDP want one of its long-time stalwarts taking another run at his seat?

Let's address some of the concerns about Nystrom:

Will he ever try his hand at something other than being an MP?
First, he's obviously managed to be a successful author and consultant when he's been out of office. Second...if he's a good MP (which I don't think is up for debate), why shouldn't he get back into the role which he plays best?

Will he just be seen as a tired old member of the NDP establishment? / The NDP in Sakatchewan badly needs RENEWAL and new young faces.
Sure, I'll buy that the NDP should be seeking some renewal, but that has to be balanced with some experience - and with Proctor not running again, Nystrom is the only Saskatchewan candidate who provides any experience in Parliament. The challengers have had a chance to build their bases and show what they can do, but institutional memory and name recognition do count in politics. We're trying to fight that very problem nationwide; we shouldn't avoid using the advantage of familiarity where we have it.

True he had tough competition, but well known politicians with a following just don't have tough competition for nominations. / Anybody who has been in politics for 30 years should be able to win on the first ballot.
Naturally the nomination meeting was going to be a relatively tough one: it's strong NDP territory (lost in the last election due mostly to a huge dip in provincial NDP popularity), and it looks like a couple of strong local candidates wanted to try out the riding where they have some support. That's called renewal. (See previous answer.)

Standingready, Shesniuk and Stringer will all get other chances - and the NDP will be better off if they can put their support bases into helping current candidates, including Nystrom. But just because more people are interested in a position doesn't mean that the NDP should toss its longtime stalwart out on his ear, or that Nystrom himself should start setting lesser goals than regaining his seat.

No child labour left behind

The Star has a great example of how the first world can't meaningfully change the third world simply by dictating policy.

The article focuses on child labour being used in the Ivory Coast's cocoa industry. Four years ago, U.S. pressure caused most cocoa producers to sign an agreement to develop an industrywide program to prevent children from participating in the most harmful labour in the industry. To date, all that has produced is a pilot program in one region, which the industry says meets the terms of the deal.

The problem is that hardly any funding was provided to actually facilitate the transition:
Some of the $2-million project fund was set aside to build schools and pay school fees, Bredou said. Farmers will have to hire adult manpower in place of their children. But officials say a major injection of aid will be needed to produce real change.

"The basis of this problem is poverty," said Amouan Assouan Acquah, who heads the national monitoring commission overseeing the Oume project. "It will cost money to expand this program, and who will pay for it?"

Surely the obvious answer would be some combination of (a) the U.S. government which decided to negotiate the deal, and/or (b) the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the industry group which signed onto the deal. Instead, these groups reap the benefit of improved public image in having reached the agreement, but pay essentially no cost...while the Ivory Coast is left to try to fund the social changes necessary for the agreement to work.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The right to bear fries

Paul Krugman rightly slams the junk food industry's efforts to lobby against healthier food:
The Center for Consumer Freedom, an advocacy group financed by Coca-Cola, Wendy's and Tyson Foods, among others, has a Fourth of July message for you: worrying about the rapid rise in American obesity is unpatriotic.

"Far too few Americans," declares the center's Web site, "remember that the Founding Fathers, authors of modern liberty, greatly enjoyed their food and drink. ... Now it seems that food liberty - just one of the many important areas of personal choice fought for by the original American patriots - is constantly under attack."

It sounds like a parody, but don't laugh. These people are blocking efforts to help America's children.

As important as it is to pay attention to schools, as discussed in the article, it's even more important to consider how pricing shapes adult preferences - a school meal or two per day won't have as much impact on a child's eating habits as the food consumed at home.

While Krugman notes that obesity is higher in poorer regions (rural, Southern, etc.), he notes only that this gives rise to charges of cultural elitism, without addressing the reasons for the split.

File this away as another component of the high cost of being poor. In urban areas, where all kinds of foods are imported in higher quantities, it's presumably easier to find healthier foods for a lower cost. In contrast, rural areas may have some locally-produced fruits and vegetables, but will face much higher costs for any of them that aren't as easy to import. Meanwhile, the relative ease of transporting junk food makes its cost more consistent across the board - and the relative cost lower in the areas where obesity is higher.

The decision is particularly difficult for the less well-off. For people who face a serious budget crunch, it's much easier to eat to get by with a diet of high-calorie, low-nutrient food than to try to buy more expensive meat and produce.

Preventing junk food from being promoted in schools is a start, but something more significant is needed to really stem the tide against obesity.

Another real difference

Next time anybody makes the claim that Canada is basically the same as the U.S., or worse that the only differences are in areas which reflect poorly on Canada, point that person toward this article (via My Blahg News):
New economic research is putting the boots to the long-cherished American notion that any child, regardless of parenthood and class, can rise to the top in the United States by dint of hard work and ambition...

Among rich countries studied, Corak said, Canada ranked with Denmark, Norway and Finland at the top of the pack in terms of intergenerational mobility. The U.S., the United Kingdom and France are the least mobile...

The good news story about Canada's standing has been buried by the more surprising findings vis-a-vis the U.S., Americans are more likely than they were three decades ago to end up in the class into which they were born.

There are warning signs here as well, particularly the lower standard of living enjoyed by recent immigrant families...but the starting point is something that we can already be proud of, and there's ample room to build even from our current leading position.

True supporters

While Blair, Brown and the rest make their pitch for debt relief, African aid and action on climate change at the G8, there's a countersummit involving many people who've been pushing the same ideas for years:
As the leaders of the world's richest countries prepare for this week's meeting at Gleneagles, delegates gathered in Edinburgh for the G8 Alternatives summit...

Speakers include Nigerian activist Ken Wiwa, Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was recalled after complaining of human rights abuses, and ex-UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter...

There were cheers from the audience at Edinburgh's Usher Hall when Respect MP George Galloway called on African countries to tear up their debts and declare "we have already paid".

Some of the rhetoric goes beyond what I'd agree with (in particular the WTO is probably easier to reform to accomplish positive ends than it is to abolish entirely), but we shouldn't forget those who have been trying to push in our current positive direction long before it was the consensus view - particularly when they still have important messages to send.


I suppose this will probably be Martin's next example of a successful step toward democratic reform:
A federal watchdog that's supposed to ensure the government follows the rules when it signs contracts for goods and services has itself been breaking those rules...

The latest improprieties are outlined in a newly released report into how Consulting and Audit Canada - the auditing service run by Public Works - tendered its own contracts...

The review found evidence of contract-splitting in half of the files studied...

The review - which included 102 additional contracts examined by the agency's own auditors - found numerous other problems, including date inconsistencies, inadequate bid evaluation reports, lack of security-clearance paperwork, and biased tendering.

Naturally, the usual strong action is being taken:
No disciplinary action has been taken against any employees, he said. However, procurement problems were raised "where warranted" during individual performance assessments.

Most impressively from the standpoint of sheer audacity, Public Works blocked the release of a draft version of the same report in March. From a political standpoint, that probably made sense at the time - but now that the truth is out, it's another compelling piece of evidence suggesting that the Martin government hasn't done a thing to encourage accountability.

Control or empowerment

Gordon Brown reminds us that Live 8 and the G8 summit won't solve Africa's problems on their own:
"It is not a week's work at the G8 that is going to determine the long-term future of Africa or the developing countries...It is a lifetime's work where we empower the people of Africa and the developing countries to make decisions for themselves."

And what strategy has done nothing but fail in the past?
"For about 30 years, the strategy of the richest countries, that is us, was that if we had strong, sometimes autocratic, leaders in Africa then that might be the best way of getting the modernization necessary...That has led to Zimbabwe and (President Robert) Mugabe and all the problems we have got with people who ignore the wishes of their people."

Absolutely right. While some commentators would rather blame the victims in order to avoid our having to do anything now, we shouldn't forget that it was first-world-backed dictators who ran up huge debts in the first place. Forgiving those debts now is the least we should be doing to try to genuinely empower Third World citizens.