Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Steven Hoffman highlights the Cons' utter refusal to recognize that foreign aid - as defined by global treaties - doesn't mean the same thing as corporate giveaways:
Reports and commentary on Canada’s new foreign aid policy reveal the extent to which international development means different things to different people. Some see it as public charity, others as the way a country projects its values to the world. Still others, including International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, argue that it’s “a part of Canadian foreign policy” and the fulfilment of “a duty and a responsibility to ensure that Canadian interests are promoted.”

These are all valid perspectives – international development can be any one or all of these things combined. But, unfortunately, official development assistance, to which we have made international commitments, can’t. This system, in effect since 1969, defines aid as official financial flows that are concessional in character and intended to promote the development and well-being of developing countries. Excluded are grants intended to advance donor countries’ interests, including admirable objectives such as economic growth or security from terrorism. Grants to private for-profit companies are also excluded because, by law, they primarily serve commercial objectives.

Donor countries such as Canada can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, despite skill or best intentions. Our government’s new foreign aid focus on private-sector partnerships and self-interest – which, in Mr. Fantino’s words, is for “Canadian values, Canadian business, the Canadian economy, benefits for Canada” – deserves reconsideration. It unwittingly represents a dramatic departure from the established global development system and brings Canada out of sync with the rest of the world.
- Which means Tim Harper may only be understating matters in arguing that the Cons are gutting Canadian foreign policy alone, rather than trying to attack basic international principles.

- pogge highlights a few more sad examples of the Cons' government by ill-fated improvisation, while Michael den Tandt reports on the most glaring example as the F-35 debacle is apparently wound down. And the Cons are still trying to cover up everything they do - with the latest example being their stonewalling against Kevin Page's request to see shipbuilding contracts in order to be able to assess them.

- But while Bob Hepburn may be right in his assessment of MPs when it comes to most of the Cons as being enemies of democracy, we should be careful not to tar all of our elected representatives with the same brush. After all, an unduly sweeping, "they all do it" message (in contrast to recognition where MPs represent their constituents properly) will only make it easier for the worst offenders to avoid answering for their wrongs.


  1. your last paragraph is especially plangent. One of the ones that drives me nuts is people saying "it's capitalism". No, it's not. Capitalism is a tool, not an agent. By blaming the tool, you're letting a a lot of people who made a lot of terrible decisions for gain off the hook.

    1. That strikes me as a completely distinct complaint. The problem is rather people complaining "It's government", thus discarding the possibility of good government, democratic accountability and so on, and giving in to a basic tactic of the right, which is to govern malevolently and incompetently and then triumphantly exclaim "There, you see? Government is the problem!" and use the very damage they cause as ammunition for their small-government mantra.

      "It's capitalism" is a very different thing to say, with very different sorts of implications. As it happens, no, capitalism is not a tool--or at least, it is only a tool for capitalists, people who own stuff that makes them money. Capitalism does have structural implications, and complaining about it implies both a long term agenda of getting rid of it and a short term agenda of limiting its scope and power. Such as for instance, by public campaign finance and rigorous rules to block the influence of big money on elections. Or by making and enforcing strong laws governing the media, media concentration and so forth. Or by enacting strong labour laws, or any of dozens of other reforms. If you don't recognize that capitalism implies political/monetary forces pushing in certain dangerous directions which must be fought, you lose the fight by default. You end up worrying about "people who made terrible decisions", a "few bad apples", while leaving the pressures that led to that kind of person who will make that kind of decision getting elected intact.

      Even progressives who don't want to get rid of capitalism, who think it can be used productively, need to be realistic and recognize that it does drive political tendencies which are dangerous and must be resisted; the price of mixed capitalism with social democracy is eternal vigilance, because the capitalists will always want to get rid of that stuff. Given that recognition, anticapitalists and more moderate social democrats can co-operate on shorter term reforms to limit the power and excesses of capitalism. Without that recognition you have Tony bloody Blair.

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