Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your Saturday.

- As pointed out by Paul Krugman, Kathleen Geier recognizes an obvious possible cause of a declining life expectancy for some less-wealthy Americans:
I will offer an alternative hypothesis, one which is not explicitly identified in the Times article: inequality. In the U.S., the period between 1990 and 2008, which is a period that saw such steep declines in life expectancy for the least well-off white people, is also a period during which economic inequality soared. Moreover, there is a compelling body of research that suggests that inequality itself — quite apart from low incomes, or lack of health insurance — is associated with more negative health outcomes for those at the bottom of the heap. One of the most famous series of studies of the social determinants of health, Britain’s Whitehall Studies, had as their subjects British civil servants, all of whom health insurance and (presumably) decent enough jobs. Intriguingly, these studies

found a strong association between grade levels of civil servant employment and mortality rates from a range of causes. Men in the lowest grade (messengers, doorkeepers, etc.) had a mortality rate three times higher than that of men in the highest grade (administrators).
I believe that inequality-related stressors are likely to be the determining factors in declining American life expectancies, as well. I’m surprised, in fact, that the Times article did not specifically identify inequality as a causal factor, because the health risks associated with economic inequality are well-established in the scientific literature. For decades, the United States has been making a series of political choices that has distributed wealth and power upwards and left working Americans not only poorer and sicker, but also feeling far more burdened and distressed, and experiencing far less security and control over their lives. The consequences of these choices have been devastating, and absent a dramatic reversal in our political course, they are likely to get even worse. Where inequality is concerned, Republicans have their foot on the accelerator, while the best the Democrats seem to be able to do is to (temporarily) put their foot on the brake.
- And Adam Davidson-Harden recognizes the need to reverse the trend of social backsliding arising out of increased inequality as a crucial reason why we need fight back against attacks on labour and other progressive forces:
If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'd put my money behind the idea that the Ontario Liberals thought they could win a majority government out of declaring war on teachers in the recent round of byelections. Of course, they were wrong on that score, but they are still working on a strategy that banks on austerity as a key plank in their platform, from the Drummond report on.

The snake-oil consists of a fairly simple, business and bank-approved message: we can't afford social programs anymore. We need to retrench them and cut everything in the public sector. We don't have the money (repeat that last five times or more to get the general point). Meanwhile, Ontario sports some of the lowest corporate taxes in any developed economy.

Rolling over sends a message to the political prophets and priests of austerity. It says to them: 'well, maybe we have things too good after all. Maybe the rights, benefits and working conditions/learning conditions we've won are too much. Maybe we don't deserve them.' Rolling over under assault is giving up, and giving up is interpreted by employers and governments as simply acknowledging that they're right, that austerity is the default, inevitable, unavoidable, a universal fate of retrenching social programs.   
- Meanwhile, Althia Raj reports that Ontario is just one of far too many provinces with no interest in protecting its interests while negotiating the CETA. But it's worth noting that such agreements are normally designed to ensure the ongoing erosion of democratic power no matter who holds office at any given time: exemptions can't be added without other parties' agreement, but can be permanently destroyed by a single term of a right-wing government.

- Finally, John Geddes' profile of Tom Mulcair is well worth a read.

On single issues

Apparently today is Stadium Cheerleading Day in the Leader-Post. But in correctly noting that this fall's election will be decisive in determining whether a stadium goes ahead, Bruce Johnstone seems to me to give away the real choice voters face:
Of course, this doesn't mean that the stadium is the only issue in the coming municipal election. But it's the biggest single issue to face this council and this city in a generation.

Who isn't in favour of building a new water treatment plant, or fixing the roads or broken watermains, or recycling, or keeping taxes down? The stadium project is the big wedge issue in this campaign that very quickly divides voters into one camp or the other.
Now, it's probably true that few candidates want to admit they couldn't care less about such obvious needs as infrastructure and city services. 

But it's also obvious that the council incumbents mouthing their interest in those subjects have done nothing during their time in office to address them. Which makes for a stark contrast against how the current council has closed ranks and agreed to a long-term tax increase - just as long as it's directed toward the circus rather than bread, water or housing. 

So the question facing voters isn't merely whether to approve of a stadium, but whether to endorse a council which sees no other priorities as worth anywhere near the same level of time and effort. And I'll argue that anybody who can't see more important problems facing the city which deserve more attention can be dismissed as a viable candidate on that basis alone.

Saturday Morning 'Rider Blogging

It shouldn't come as much surprised that Drew Willy's first CFL start - against one of the league's elite teams - resulted in a loss for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But even an eleven-point loss may have somewhat flattered the 'Riders.

The game story inevitably revolved largely around Willy. And while he again displayed some ability to avoid the rush, he also showed some tendencies which will need some significant work.

In particular, another reasonably high completion rate was built primarily on Willy's tendency to look for short, simple passes to the exclusion of any inclination to throw downfield. And with the exception of Kory Sheets' touchdown reception, those passes also weren't timed to allow for yards after the catch as an alternative to longer throws - with receivers regularly running into traffic or out of bounds as they caught the ball.

That might make for a relatively safe ball-control strategy for a single game. But it also severely limits a team's offensive production - and becomes more and more risky with time as opponents start to attack the shorter routes based on the reassurance they won't be punished for doing so.

Fortunately, Darian Durant will be back in the lineup this week - meaning that the Stampeders won't have quite the same advantage that the Als did. But the 'Riders' offence in general has had trouble connecting on big plays through most of 2012 - and a continued revolving door on the offensive line raises the question of whether Durant will have time to change that for the better.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence and special teams looked relatively effective last week. However, it's worth noting that some of the results had less to do with Saskatchewan's performance than Montreal's: a half-dozen dropped passes by two of the CFL's top receivers went a long way in preventing the Als from putting the game out of reach, while Montreal's special teams failed to capitalize on some significant opportunities (including Jock Sanders' miscue in taking a punt off his helmet).

All of which is to say that there are still far more questions than answers as to what the 'Riders can do to stay competitive against the CFL's top teams. And while the continued struggles of the Esks, Ticats and Bombers have kept Saskatchewan in the playoff hunt, the prospect of the 'Riders developing into more than first-round cannon fodder is dimming by the week.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Business Insider reports on a new study from the U.S.' Congressional Research Service showing that in addition to exacerbating inequality, top-heavy tax cuts rank somewhere between useless and downright harmful when it comes to overall economic growth:
According to a new study by the Congressional Research Service (non-partisan), there's no evidence that tax cuts spur growth.

In fact, although correlation is not causation, when you compare economic growth in periods with declining tax rates versus periods with high tax rates, there seems to be evidence that tax cuts might hurt growth. But we'll leave that possibility for another day.
... The following charts show the correlation between tax rates and economic growth over the periods above. The slope of the solid line in each chart is the key.

The lefthand chart shows that there is no correlation between GDP growth and the top marginal tax rates. The righthand chart shows that there might be a very modest tendency toward faster economic growth with higher capital gains rates.
- Plenty of commentators are continuing to point out the Cons' lies, hypocrisy and broken promises when it comes to cap-and-trade - with Bruce Cheadle, Paul Wells, Stephen Maher and Colin Horgan all blasting the Cons while worrying that their blatant disregard for reality might succeed as a matter of political strategy. But of course, it's worth recognizing that the latter message may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy: if pundits want to encourage more reality-based politics, it helps not to declare new heights of dishonesty as victories.

- Meanwhile, David Pugliese reports on the Cons' latest effort to hide facts about their government from Canadian citizens, as the Department of National Defence is being instructed to look for excuses to keep accurate information out of the public eye.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom salutes Rob Ford for daring to embody the form of self-absorbed exceptionalism which the Harper Cons try to keep hidden:
Modern conservatives believe the rules don’t apply to them. Various loopholes in the U.S. system ensure that Romney pays little or no income tax. But that’s all right. He’s Mitt Romney.

Yet if poor people or seniors use the same rules to pay no income tax, they’re just grifters.

Until he was caught, Romney had the grace to try and keep his real views on the rich and poor private. Ford doesn’t bother with such niceties.
Not that I would get rid of Ford. He may be useless as mayor. But he does have a role — one similar to that of a medieval king’s royal fool.

Ford reminds us of the absurdity of the powerful in general and the political right in particular. He is a piece of walking self-satire. Long may he reign.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Musical interlude

Jonas Steur - Sonrisa

Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission Submission

As Noah has noted, I appeared in front of the federal electoral boundaries commission this afternoon. Here's a somewhat abridged and polished version of what I had to say - with a general focus on the value of being able to define boundaries based on better evidence in future revisions than we have available now.
In its interim report, this commission identified dissatisfaction with Saskatchewan's boundaries as they stand today. But that dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily point to a particular solution: precisely because Saskatchewan's cities are all divided up into pie-slice ridings, we don't have any frame of reference as to what options might work better.

As a result, I see two goals which we should meet with our new boundaries.

First, there's the need to better recognize communities of interest based on the information we have now. But in addition, there's a need to gather some more meaningful data to ensure we can make more clear choices in the future.

In my view, the development of some purely urban ridings is a huge step forward on the former front. But the commission's interim boundaries are equally useful on the latter - based on both the comparisons we'll be able to make to the present-day ridings, and the range of boundaries set up for the future.

In particular, we'll be able to directly compare:

 - whether bedroom communities be paired with urban areas (as in White City and Balgonie) or rural areas (as in Martensville and other bedroom communities of Saskatoon);

- whether Moose Jaw in particular is best represented if it's linked to Regina (as in the current Palliser configuration), or if it becomes the major centre in a largely rural riding of Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan;

- whether urban boundaries should be drawn primarily based on major arteries (as has mostly been done in the new Regina ridings) or geographic factors (which seem more prevalent in Saskatoon); and

- whether ridings should be drawn as exclusively urban or include some rural component - which can be determined both based on a contrast among the new ridings (comparing the exclusively-urban Regina Lewvan, Saskatoon Centre-University and Saskatoon West to the partially-rural Regina Qu’Appelle, Wascana, and Saskatoon Grasswood), and based on a comparison to the discontent with today's boundaries.

Now, the above isn't to say I don't see some room to tweak the proposed boundaries. In particular, I suggest:
- Treating suburban or commuter areas as a separate type of neighbourhood which should be grouped together where possible;
- Establishing lower initial population levels for urban centres based on the expectation that urbanization will continue;
- Matching boundaries at the municipal and provincial levels where possible; and
- Making minor changes to ensure that the new boundaries better capture communities of interest without - including by dividing both Regina's Walsh Acres/Lake Ridge areas and the new ridings of Lloydminster-Battlefords-Rosthern and Kindersley/Rosetown/Humboldt on a north/south basis rather than east/west

Ultimately, though, the goal in designing our new boundaries should be not only to reflect communities of interest now, but also to encourage further evolution of our boundaries based on better information. And again, the commission's proposal is a significant step forward on both fronts.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- The Cons' latest line of talking-point addiction isn't passing without some substantial comment from Canada's political press. Today, Jeffrey Simpson lambastes Stephen Harper and his party for trying to wipe out their own history and promises, while Dan Gardner considers the Cons to be a Monty Python skit in progress (minus the humour of course). And Aaron Wherry continues to document the farce. 

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt suggests that we should expect any government to leave out democracy in no worse condition than when it took power - and I'll readily agree with that as a general principle. But it's also worth noting that the surest way to continue in the wrong direction is to focus solely on the problems with any given government, rather than holding all parties to the standard.

- Likewise, I appreciate the purposes behind Steve's proposal for a political code of ethics (including a requirement that public statements have some basis in fact). But I'm rather wary of any policy which may give top-down parties just one more way to force MPs to stay on a predetermined script - as MPs will surely see it as safer to take their party's word for the facts than to strike out on their own.

- Christopher Majka thoroughly reviews the effect of voter suppression in the 2011 federal election.

- Finally, Peter Prebble rightly criticizes the combination of Con neglect and Sask Party coal boosterism that's locking Saskatchewan into a needless dependency on coal power.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Common Dreams discusses the prevalence of inherited wealth among the U.S.' richest individuals (as pointed out by a report by United for a Fair Economy):
Forbes claims that their list of the 400 richest people is 'the definitive scorecard of wealth' in the United States, but UFE rebuffs that assertion, saying that the narrative of wealth and achievement pushed by Forbes ignores the other side of the coin— namely, that the opportunity to build wealth is not equally or broadly shared in contempory society.

According to the report:
  • The net worth of the Forbes 400 grew fifteen-fold between the launch of the list in 1982 and 2011, while wealth stagnated for the average U.S. household.
  • The racial wealth divide is starkly apparent from the overwhelming whiteness of the list. The 2011 Forbes 400 had only one African American member.
  • Women accounted for just 10% of the 2011 list, and of the women on the list nearly 90% inherited their fortunes.
In addition, the report points out that (and the new 2012 list from Forbes shows continuation of this trend) the rich in 2011 got richer as the poor got poorer. The growing wealth inequality, the report says, is not due to any inherent brilliance or dynamism of the wealthy, but because of carefully crafted policy and legislative reforms enacted by government at the behest of the these same individuals.

Two examples cited by the report which directly impact the ability of the rich to retain and pass along their enormous assets:
  • Tax rates on capital gains have been slashed, which especially benefits members of the Forbes list. The richest 0.1% receive half of all net increases in capital gains.
  • Drastic cuts to the federal estate tax passed in the Bush tax cuts and the 2010 Obama tax deal allow the Forbes 400 to pass on more of their massive fortunes to their heirs, contributing to the growth of inequality and entrenching a class of super-wealthy heirs.
- Thomas Walkom weighs in on the anticipated effects of the CETA - noting that the problems with the deal go far beyond billions in giveaways to big pharma, while the supposed gains are tiny even based on the Cons' blind faith in the almighty market:
As the Council of Canadians has pointed out, CETA also promises to go far beyond tariff reduction. The Europeans want to prevent provinces and municipalities from favouring local business.

If as expected they get their way, this would wipe out Ontario’s remaining bus and train manufacturing capacity — and play havoc with Premier Dalton McGuinty’s green-industry strategy.

As well, Europe’s demand for greater patent protection is sure to raise the price of drugs. One study cited by Jacobs calculates the annual extra cost to Ontarians at $1.2 billion.

Why then has Canada chosen to take this path? The federal government’s answers are not convincing.

Ottawa cites a 2008 study it helped finance, which calculates the usual gains to trade predicted by economic theory. But such gains won’t be massive. In this case, the federal study says, they would amount to less than one percentage point of Canada’s gross domestic product, or about $12 billion.

If, as the Harper government assumes, all of this extra money were used to hire Canadians, then the deal would create 80,000 new jobs nationwide — which would help, if not solve, the problems faced by the 1.4 million who are currently out of work.

But Canadians know from grim experience that in the real world businesses don’t always spend their extra profits on domestic job creation.
- SOS Crowns points out that plenty of rural Saskatchewan communities will be losing broadband Internet access from SaskTel due to the latest anti-Crown edict from the Sask Party.

- Finally, Rick Mercer rants about the Cons' latest omnibus monstrosity in the making:

On diverging paths

Earlier this morning, I noted that the NDP is developing on a promising line of economic messaging - highlighting the Cons' determination to place the interests of the wealthy and privileged over those of mere working Canadians. And I'd expect that principle to factor into the NDP's foreign policy as well.

But Campbell Clark suggests otherwise - reporting that the party plans to make the mistake of trying to match the Cons' "free trade" spin word for word. So let's take a quick look at another option available to the NDP if it's indeed searching for a foreign-policy theme.

Just as the NDP is rightly standing up for the principle that corporate interests are only one, overfed part of the broader policy picture at home, there would seem to be plenty of room to emphasize that trade is only one form of necessary and desirable interaction around the globe. And the Cons' obsession with the right-wing desire to promote trade and war only means that they've been refusing to engage with our diplomatic partners around the world when it comes to a bevy of other areas of shared concern, including immigration, human rights, health, the environment and democratic development.

In contrast, the NDP can plausibly point to its interest in that wider range of issues as better reflecting how Canadians see their country as a global actor.

Once that framework is established, there's still room for a message of "we like trade" as one of the forms of global engagement. But the openness to trade needs to be tempered with the recognition that several decades of focus on free trade have resulted in little benefit for many outside the world's elite. And in considering any given agreement on the merits, we should ensure that we don't merely hand multinational conglomerates yet more power to dictate that governments shall put no other priority above their interests.

So how does such a message compare to the one mooted in Clark's report?

For one thing, it actually leaves some room for contrast against the Cons on turf that's relatively favourable for the NDP. I'd be shocked if there's any prospect of actually gaining any leverage against the Cons by accusing them of being insufficiently devoted to signing free trade agreements, and I'm not sure it would be worth the damage to the NDP's broader message about the need for democratic decision-making even if it was possible. But a contrast between "trade only" and "trade only as part of the bigger picture" looks to allow for far more development among voters interested in that bigger picture.

And I'd have a hard time seeing it as less viable from the standpoint of demonstrating the NDP's fitness to govern. Again, any litmus test that suggests we should consider corporate approval as a precondition to forming government is bound to harm the NDP's wider interests. And there are plenty of friendly voices around the globe to send the message that a focus on broader well-being rather than doctrinaire free-trade promotion will make for better governance at home and abroad.

In sum, foreign affairs and trade policy look to be one more area where the NDP has to choose between defining a contrast with the Canadian public on our side, or choosing a supposedly easier road which ultimately leads exactly where our opponents want to go. And the party's grassroots may have plenty of work to do in making sure our leadership makes the right call.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

New column day

Here, taking a quick look at the early-campaign strategies of Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates.

For more analysis on the race...
- Pat Atkinson offers her take on what the NDP needs to do while building through the leadership campaign and beyond.
- Murray Mandryk focuses largely on Trent Wotherspoon's crowd as defining the race so far.
- Bernadette Wagner endorses Ryan Meili.
- And Scott Stelmaschuk has been contributing plenty of thoughtful discussion about the leadership campaign at his blog.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ish Theilheimer highlights why the corporate right is so eager to snuff out organized labour - and why progressives need to fight back:
Since the 1980s under Reagan, US Republicans have worked to "de-fund the Left," going after advocacy groups, university student councils, progressive lawyers and legal clinics, charities, and, of course, unions.

The Harperites understand the importance of this directive better than any conservatives in Canada before them. When they had a minority government, they worked systematically to eliminate funding for any of the issues they don't like, such as feminism, environment, and social justice. Now they have a majority, they are gunning for big game — unions — and only widespread public outrage can stop them.
It's not too late for the labour movement to rebuild its image, was the message of speaker after speaker at SGN's workshop. Doing so, however, will require hard work, open minds, a lot of listening and research, and making key people in every organization responsible for a focus on improving the reputation and image of their union and unions in general.
There has to be a solution, because without strong unions, every progressive cause will be hobbled.
- Meanwhile, Bob Hepburn writes about some of the efforts to save and strengthen Canadian democracy in the face of the Cons' attacks.

- Karl Nerenberg observes that the Cons' immigration policy looks to be a throwback to the 1800s in terms of both an undercurrent of bigotry and a disregard for immigrants' well-being:
More than any government in recent memory, the current Conservative government has made immigration a central part of economic policy. Its overarching goal is the holy grail of neo-conservative economists, "more flexible labour markets." One way to achieve those is by strategically exploiting temporary migrant (workers).
Yesterday the privately endowed, non-partisan Toronto based Metcalf Foundation released a new study by social researcher Fay Faraday: "Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers' Insecurity." 

The Report points out that Canada is now taking in more temporary migrant workers (over 190,000 in 2011) -- who have very few, if any, basic rights -- than economic immigrants (a bit more than 156,000 in 2011).

The author concludes that this practice is creating a widespread situation of exploitation which, in the report's words: " not isolated and anecdotal. It is endemic. It is systemic. And the depths of the violations are degrading. There is a deepening concern that Canada's temporary labour migration programs are entrenching and normalizing a low-wage, low-rights 'guest' workforce on terms that are incompatible with Canada’s fundamental Charter rights..."

As the settlement of the west was Laurier and Sifton's legacy, the growth of a new temporary worker class without rights will be part of Harper and Kenney's legacy.
- But just as the New York Times is starting to call out Mitt Romney for his explicit class war against lower-income Americans, there would seem to be plenty of room to point out the same phenomenon in Canada. And the NDP looks to be headed in that direction by contrasting the Cons' privileged cronies against the millions of workers whose wages and prospects are being suppressed by corporatist policies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tim Harper weighs in on the Cons' latest campaign of coordinated lies, and notes that the NDP looks to have learned one important lesson in how to respond:
The NDP may be here at the federal level for the first time, but they appear to have learned the first lesson when dodging such volleys — respond.

No charge is too ridiculous or over-the-top to be ignored.

The term Swiftboating entered the North American political lexicon because John Kerry took a holiday in 2004 rather than respond to Vietnam Swiftboat vets who questioned his war record.

So far, New Democrats have been up to the task, but when facing a government that never stops campaigning, the opposition will have to use a lot of its time in the spotlight parrying rather than proposing. 
- Meanwhile, Elections Canada is considering regulating at least some of the most obvious potential sources for abuse of citizens' information by political parties.

- Dan Gardner longs for the day when evidence-based policy will be a basic expectation for government of all stripes. But that vision seems rather far off when the Cons can't discard anything which might produce evidence fast enough - especially if that means that useful data will be solely in the hands of their oil-sector benefactors.

- Finally, pogge compares the McGuinty Libs' consistent pattern of cuts and attacks on public services in the name of deficit reduction to their mealy-mouthed waffling when it comes to earning value for the province's own resources. And John Jacobs notes how the Harper Cons' CETA fetish figures to make matters worse.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at dusk.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Ottawa Citizen asks whether Stephen Harper's Conservatives think Canadians are stupid enough to fall for their asinine carbon tax spin. Aaron Wherry confirms that the answer is an emphatic "yes".

- But then, we shouldn't be surprised to see the Cons unveiling ever more blatant distractions to try to call attention away from their continued contempt for democracy.

- The Star-Phoenix editorial board echoes Erin Weir's call to ban corporate and union donations to Saskatchewan political parties:
For a government that cites concerns about the undue influence unions have wielded over the decades on Saskatchewan labour legislation and has expressed annoyance with unionpaid ads that criticize its policies, it's a cynical stance to respond to Mr. Weir's proposal by saying, "We have no plans to change the current policy, which has been in place for many years under both NDP and Sask. Party governments."

Mr. Wall could well end up regretting poking a stick into this hornet's nest. Not only will it bring into sharper focus the policy choices being made by a governing party that's backed heavily by the corporate sector, but it also raises questions about the role of third-party advertising during writ periods. After all, if unions shouldn't be spending their members' money on political ads, what about corporations spending money from shareholders - among them mutual funds investing union members' pension money, for instance - for the same purpose?

Rather than remain the wild west of political party financing, with no limits on donations - even perennially conservative Alberta has a limit, albeit a whopping $30,000 per union or company during an election year, while Ontario's limit is $9,300 - Saskatchewan should act to put the control back in the hands of actual voters by eliminating corporate and union contributions.
- And finally, a new Ipsos Reid poll makes clear that Canadians don't want to hand over billions in free money to big pharma for the sake of closing a free trade agreement with Europe.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The big lie and the bigger truth

Yes, it's inevitable that Tom Mulcair will have to answer the Cons' (however farcical) talking points about some nonexistent carbon tax. But there's more to the story than the "big lie" currently being pointed out by Mulcair - and the best way to turn the issue back around on the Cons is to take them at their word from four years ago.

After all, the Cons' commitment to a cap-and-trade system in 2008 doesn't just make them hypocrites for bashing the same idea now. Instead, it also looms as a massive broken promise in an area where the Cons have so often gone out of their way to prove they can't be trusted. And it also serves as a signal as to what the Cons really value rather than the best interests of Canadians.

Yes, Harper has pretended to agree with greenhouse gas emission regulation for the purpose of deflecting from the environment as an election issue. But he's only been willing to feign support for whatever policy seems furthest from being implemented - with the apparent goal of making sure that no single form of regulation gains enough momentum to be seen as an inescapable consensus.

Moreover, in government Harper has consistently refused to implement any policy which actually results in the oil sector (rather than the general public) taking responsibility for the damage unregulated greenhouse gas emissions can do to Canada's environment and the global climate. And the fact that a majority Con government is managing to be even more reckless than the previous minority versions only drives that point home.

So the real story isn't merely that the Cons are lying - it's that they're lying in service to their tar-sands masters, and will say or do anything to ensure a continued flow of wealth from the Canadian public to oil barons. And the best way to highlight that lie is to focus on asking when the Cons will get around to making good on their 2008 promise - and forcing them to argue against their own words and platform.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- If there's anything missing from Mark Weisbrot's musings about the possibility of a U.S. debt downgrade, it's that the only significant threat to the country paying its bills has been the Republicans' reckless willingness to block routine approvals in the name of exactly the austerity policies the bond raters are pushing. But he's right on in his suspicion about the raters' motives:
It is clear that these credit rating agencies have a political agenda. Like most of Wall Street and the politicians that they can buy, they want the US government to cut spending and reduce its deficit. They are not particularly concerned about the more than 22 million Americans who are unemployed, involuntarily working part-time, or given up looking for work altogether. They would prefer a "grand bargain" on spending that cuts senior citizens' social security benefits. This statement from Moody's is a form of political blackmail on the part of the credit rating agencies.

It's perhaps different from the corrupt system that led Moody's to give AAA ratings to more than 46,000 residential mortgage-backed securities between 2000 and 2007, many of which turned out to be worthless. Or the investment grade rating that the agencies gave to Enron until four days before its bankruptcy, or to Lehman Brothers until a few days before its collapse. Many of these ratings were likely influenced by the fees that the credit ratings agencies earned from the institutions whose securities they were rating.

And did I mention that Moody's, S&P and Fitch take about 90% of the revenue earned by the multibillion dollar ratings industry? Or that the three make about 98% of the ratings? There is nothing like a lucrative oligopoly to encourage all kinds of self-serving agendas.
- Meanwhile, public servants in Canada are making a strong case against the Harper Cons' determination to feed that agenda - with PSAC holding an Ottawa rally yesterday, while correctional workers took the argument again dumb-on-crime policies to Stephen Harper's Calgary constituency office.

- Martin Regg Cohn discusses how the Ontario NDP's renewed hold on the balance of power should lead to some policies actually aimed at job creation:
(W)hat good is popularity if you can’t do much good? Happily for Horwath, it’s also been a good summer for her party and policies.

Her bombshell byelection victory this month blocked the Liberals' bid for a majority — and allowed her to retain the balance of power. Without it, Horwath would have been powerless to pursue her party's agenda.

The other piece of good news: An unprecedented public speech by Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney late last month lambasting corporate Canada for sitting on a $560-billion stash of cash.

“This is dead money,” the governor lectured the business world.

Canada's influential central banker wasn't purposely cozying up to Horwath with his comments. But the NDP believes Carney’s musings coincide with one of its major policy planks: Corporations can't be trusted to create jobs with the cash lavished upon them through tax cuts — they need targeted hiring incentives to get the job done.

“What's very obvious is that the use of (reduced) corporate taxes for stimulus doesn't work,” Horwath told me. Now, she wants the minority Liberal government to get serious about her demands.
“I'm very hopeful though, considering what Mr. Carney has said, that our idea will have more cachet.”

For Horwath, the political and economic stars may be in alignment. She is keen to use her new-found political capital to put pressure on big business.
 - Finally, Peter Julian fleshes out the federal NDP's position on economic development - featuring a focus on developing domestic industry beyond resource extraction:
Q The oil industry is gearing up to produce around six million barrels per day in the next 20 years. Is the NDP against that development altogether or would you favour it if all the environmental conditions were met?

A There are two issues. First is the environmental pact. Due diligence is simply not being done, particularly by the federal government in terms of enforcing existing regulation. The rapid pace of the oil and gas development is worrisome in part because sustainability has not been established. But here is the other issue: We need to ensure the resources we develop should have, as much as possible, valueadded done in Canada. We are exporting raw bitumen, raw logs and raw minerals. The Conservative government's plan is to export more in raw state. This is a real problem because when you look at the disastrous trade deficits that we are seeing now in large part because we have a government that is focused on raw exports rather than the development of value-added products. We have lost half a million manufacturing jobs under the Conservatives' watch and they want to fuel raw exports rather than development of refinery capacity and upgrading capacity. When we are exporting raw bitumen, we are exporting jobs. We don't feel that the plan to carve out raw bitumen as fast as possible and ship it offshore is either environmentally sustainable or economically smart from a Canadian perspective.
 [Edit: fixed typo.]