Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Martin Lukacs offers up the definitive response to the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy:
The deeper evidence about this event won't be found in the train's black box, or by questioning the one engineer who left the train before it loosened and careened unmanned into the heart of this tiny town. For that you'll have to look at how Lac-Mégantic was hit by a perfect storm of greed, deregulation and an extreme energy rush driving companies to ever greater gambles with the environment and human life.
It's little wonder, then, that today's oil and rail barons have cut corners with ease. They've been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20 years ago. A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be "subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials." All were ignored. To top it off, the federal government gave the go-ahead last year to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate with just one engineer aboard their trains.

All of which means it will not suffice to find out if a brake malfunctioned the night of the disaster, or limit ourselves to pointing at the failings of lax regulation. The debate should be about the need for another kind of brake, over the mad pursuit of infinite resources, and the unshackling of reckless corporations, on a finite and fragile planet.

Canada's political class will not be pleased by the lessons to be drawn. The government needs to get back into the business of heavily regulating corporations – through incentives, through taxes, and through sanctions. And this will involve not just grappling with the dangers of the transport of oil – which will remain unsafe, whether by rail or by pipeline – but starting a rapid transition away from an extreme energy economy entirely. That will not happen as the result of any government inquiry, but a noisy social movement that puts it on the public agenda.
- And Mike de Souza finds the Cons characteristically lying about their responsibility for lax regulation.

- Rick Smith tries to take some solace in the expected replacement of Peter Kent as the federal environment minister. But while I fully agree with his criticisms of Kent, I'd see little evidence that any Con in the same role could be expected to produce better results. 

- Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simpson recognizes that the Cons won't take a single step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sector beyond what they're forced into by outside actors. Nick Fillmore writes that any such pressure is limited by corporate influence over some environmental groups. And Clare Demerse offers a look at what we should expect from a changing climate.

- Finally, Richard Wolff discusses how more sophisticated rent-seeking and tax-sheltering at the top is cutting off most of the U.S. from the promised benefits of economic development:
Capitalism's great relocation places a remarkable political question on history's agenda today: can the system survive its relocation?

Capitalism grew successfully in its old centers despite working-class oppositions, expressed by labor unions, socialist and communist parties, anti-capitalist intellectuals and artists and by the resistances of its colonized subordinates. Part of that success – a basis of its 200-year global hegemony – was the ability of its working classes to wrest rising wages and/or standards of living.

In sharp contrast, capitalism's great relocation now underway both presses and enables capitalists to cease raising wages and standards of living in its former, old centers (Europe, North America and Japan). Indeed, it is lowering them.

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