Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Aviva Shen looks at Monsanto's history of regulatory capture - with the recent "Monsanto Protection Act" serving as just a minor example in a long list of control over U.S. law:
Monsanto insists that its revolving door is in overdrive because Monsanto employees are simply the best qualified for positions in these agencies, who certainly don’t hold onto their loyalty to the company in their new roles.

Yet it’s hard to ignore how Monsanto has benefited from these connections. The USDA has never denied a single application for Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops. USDA chief Tom Vilsack briefly considered limiting Monsanto’s alfalfa planting to protect organic crops from contamination, but deregulated it entirely instead. In another win for the company, their controversial growth hormone for cows was approved under Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist-turned-USDA-administrator-turned-FDA Deputy Commissioner, even though it was banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada over health concerns. The hormone was approved in the US after Monsanto employee Margaret Miller oversaw a report on its safety, took a job at the FDA, and promptly approved her own report. Another Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, later wrote the USDA’s organic food standards, allowing irradiated and genetically modified foods to label themselves as organic...

The controversy behind the Monsanto Protection Act is a case study in Monsanto’s cozy relationship with regulators. In 2010, a federal judge chided the USDA for violating environmental law by rushing through approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Round Up Ready sugar beets. The judge ordered a halt on all planting of the beets until an environmental study was completed. Ignoring the court, the USDA deregulated the beets anyway, claiming that the delay would result in a sugar shortage.

That’s because Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet market, making it virtually impossible for farmers to find alternatives. Industry consolidation among a handful of corporations has driven up seed prices and stifled innovation by smaller firms. It’s no wonder, then, that a massive beet shortage would have occurred if Monsanto’s beets had been delayed for a couple years of environmental review. With the help of complacent federal regulators, Monsanto is the only game in town.
- Matthew Yglesias writes that corporate excesses are making longstanding Marxist critiques of capitalism look entirely accurate. Dave Cournoyer compares the kid-glove treatment of billionaires illegally funnelling money into Alberta's political system to the reprisals against workers concerned for their own safety. And the Vancouver Sun writes about the choice of the Harper Cons and their provincial cousins to develop a P3 industry to systematically convert public infrastructure projects into private profits.

- All of which is to suggest that there's reason to be skeptical of John Geddes' view that corporate tax cheats will ultimately get what's coming to them as a result of greater public awareness of tax avoidance. And indeed, I fully expect to see a few isolated cases of obvious individual abuses touted as having fully resolved any problem as an excuse to avoid a real look at questionable transfer pricing and other means of corporate tax evasion.

- Meanwhile, Althia Raj reports on the effect of the Cons' wage suppression policies on actual temporary foreign workers - who figure to wind up stuck in "low-wage ghettos" due to their inability to pursue alternate employment or point out employer abuses.

- Finally, Tom Kott writes that Justin Trudeau falls comfortably within the elite corporate consensus, planning to win over Con voters primarily by parroting their right-wing policy prescriptions.

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