Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Dan Leger points to the Lac-Mégantic rail explosion as an all-too-vivid example of the intersection of privatized profits and socialized risks:
Are we tough enough on corporations that destroy, burn and kill? What’s happening at Lac-Mégantic suggests we aren’t. There’s a scramble on now to stop the company responsible for Canada’s worst rail disaster from walking away with little more than an aching bank account.

The infamous Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway filed for bankruptcy protection last week in Canada and the U.S. It’s a clear attempt to fade into the background while survivors, families and the shocked community of Lac-Mégantic face a lifetime of struggle and grief.

Years of litigation lie ahead, but the railway seems to think the victims and their neighbours should pay the bills; not shareholders or its bizarrely tone-deaf chairman, Ed Burkhardt. Taxpayers will share the recovery costs, which will run to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Forty-seven people are dead, their families and their community permanently scarred. And the company gets to walk away? It seems impossibly wrong, but it could happen.
At the bankruptcy hearing, Justice Martin Castonguay said he was “not impressed” with what he called MM&A’s “lamentable behaviour.” He suggested MM&A’s directors should be held personally responsible.

And so they should. Lac-Mégantic has demonstrated that we need tougher laws in Canada, ones that will bring the pain of the next industrial disaster right back to the corporate boardroom.
- Meanwhile, Charles Pierce rightly notes the media's painfully short attention span when it comes to stories of high-risk corporate malfeasance - with the ongoing flow of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant (contrary to the false assurances of the operator) serving as an example.
- Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas survey a range of sources on the link between political inequality and economic inequality - including some evidence that the views of poorer constituents have precisely zero effect on the actions of elected representatives. And in that vein, Cathy Davis discusses how the UK's Con-led coalition is attacking the availability of housing for the people who need it most.

- Paul Adams wonders whether a focus on inequality can help to reduce both gaps in Canada. And the Toronto Star offers its own call for Tom Mulcair to avoid falling into the anti-tax spin cycle:
(T)axes are not the prohibitive political taboo they were before the 2008 financial meltdown. A recent Environics survey showed that 64 per cent of Canadians say they would pay a bit more to fund health care, pensions and higher education, while 83 per cent favour a tax hike on the very rich. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath both pushed through new taxes last year without suffering any apparent political injuries.

Politicians across the spectrum typically view taxation as a last resort. And that’s probably a good thing. But Mulcair can’t be certain of what, in perpetuity, we will collectively be willing to pay for. By taking possible tax increases off the table, we blinker our vision of what’s possible. The leader of the New Democrats, of all people, should know that.
- Finally, Michael Harris laments the spread of the surveillance state. And Stephen Spencer Davis reports on its use against peaceful Idle No More activists.

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