Saturday, July 06, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz makes the case for free trade talks to be based on the public interest rather than the further entrenchment of corporate power and siphoning of wealth to the top. But there's little reason to expect a meeting of corporate and government figures to produce that result - particularly when (as the New York Times editorial board points out) the main area of agreement between the U.S.' main political parties involves a mutual willingness to make public services and regulatory bodies subservient to the immediate interests of the business sector.

- Meanwhile, Leigh Phillips offers a suggestion to ensure that health is properly treated as an issue of social benefit rather than private profit, proposing that the U.S. shift toward a public model for pharmaceutical development and production.

- CBC reports on the spread of unpaid internships in Canada - with a six-figure number of workers being exploited based on a lack of paid opportunities, while others see career paths recede when they can't afford to work for free.

- Finally, further to this morning's post, the Star weighs in on Stephen Harper's deception over his party's Senate coverup scandal:
(T)hanks to the RCMP we now know that the Conservative Fund Canada was prepared to repay what Duffy owed when they thought it was $32,000, but $90,000 was deemed too much to ask the fund to cover. That appears to shatter two fictions: that Wright’s offer was a spontaneous act of personal generosity, and that it was all about making sure taxpayers weren’t on the hook.

In fact, it looks like a Plan B to extricate Duffy from a problem. And had the Tory fund stepped in, taxpayers would indeed have been “on the hook” insofar as political parties benefit from per-vote taxpayer subsidies, and donations that are subsidized by tax credits. The RCMP documents note as well that Wright’s lawyers indicated that part of his role was to “deal with matters that could cause embarrassment” to the Conservative party.
This is no private, isolated matter between Wright and Duffy. It reaches deep into the PMO and into the party.
And it has left the RCMP believing that the Wright/Duffy agreement was part of a deal to see that a Senate committee probing Duffy’s improper expenses would go easier on him, “constituting an offence of frauds on the government.”
Given the gravity of all this, Harper had a duty to tell Parliament all that he knew or could reasonably have found out. He could have found out that the Conservative Fund was prepared to step in and help, but didn’t. He could have found out that Sen. Gerstein and three members of PMO knew of Wright’s offer. He could have tabled the bank draft. He didn’t have to float the fiction that Wright had only the taxpayer in mind.
Instead, he stonewalled Parliament and misled the public. It will take more than a cabinet shuffle to restore trust in this government.

The death of plausibility

"It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible."

Tom Flanagan's unusually candid statement about the Harper Cons' view of politics received plenty of attention. And rightly so, given how it signals a party and government with absolutely no interest in anything approaching honest discussion or debate.

But the Flanagan view of the world now looks to have been only a first step toward something else entirely. Now, the Cons can't even be bothered to try to be plausible - even in areas where their immediate self-serving assertions can be refuted through evidence which is bound to emerge publicly.

Plenty of stories and columns are now highlighting the revelations emerging from the RCMP's investigation into Mike Duffy's fraudulent expense claims, as well as the joint coverup attempt by the Conservative Party of Canada and Stephen Harper's Prime Minister's Office. And the two most important points look to be the fact that the Conservative Party itself offered to pay hush money to Duffy before haggling over the price, and the the fact that the Duffy payoff was discussed among a number of actors within the PMO rather than being the product of Nigel Wright acting on his own.

Now, both of those revelations are damning enough to begin with. But both also reflect areas where somebody was bound to uncover facts which would contradict the Cons' lies.

Surely nobody writing or dispensing talking points on the Cons' behalf could possibly have believed that the story would simply go away based on a smarmy spokespuppet providing false assurances in the face of multiple ongoing investigations. Which means that the Cons look to have definitively crossed the line between at least trying to maintain some shred of plausibility, and simply saying what they wish to be true with no interest in whether it has any basis in reality or even possibility.

Of course, there are plenty more angles worth covering on the Con/PMO/Duffy payoff - including the Cons' history of such payments documented by Paul Wells and Alison. But the more fundamental story looks to be this: the falsehood-industrial complex encompassing the Cons, their astroturf groups and their political appointees has reached the point where nothing a Con says should be given an ounce of weight absent independent verification.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Richard Eskow offers up some ugly facts about corporate wealth accumulation and tax avoidance.

- David MacAray writes about the challenge facing labour activists when much of the public has been trained to engage in gratuitous union-bashing even while fully agreeing with union priorities:
A union official I correspond with (the International Vice-President of a West Coast labor union) recently shared an interesting anecdote.  He said that whenever he meets someone for the first time and they casually ask what he does for a living, he answers by saying he’s a “workers’ rights activist.”

Because people are, typically, intrigued by his reply and want to hear more, he goes on to explain that his job consists of doing things like making sure retired workers get their pensions, meeting with management to clear up wage or hours disputes, helping laid-off employees get unemployment benefits, representing employees who feel they’ve been unfairly reprimanded, and discussing with company officials such on-the-job issues as bullying and sexual harassment.

Almost invariably, people express their approval of what he does for a living.  They respond by saying things like, “Wow, what a cool job,” or “I didn’t even know jobs like that existed,” or “Hey, we need more people doing stuff like that.”  But when he ends the conversation by telling them he works for a labor union, he gets a totally different response.

People are stunned.  They appear shocked or confused.  According to this fellow, some people actually exhibit hostility at hearing he’s a union officer, believing they’ve been unfairly tricked into momentarily respecting a person they would otherwise have nothing but contempt for.  Such is the warped perception of labor unions.

When I was a rep, I used a slightly different approach with union-haters.  After listening to their tiresome litany of complaints (i.e., unions are corrupt, they go on strike too much, their economic gains are eaten up by monthly dues, they’re undemocratic, etc.), I would respond with this:  “Say what you will about unions, but name another institution that’s solely dedicated to the welfare of working people. Name me one.  Just one.”  Of course, no one could name any because there aren’t any.
- And Jonathan Glennie discusses the disconnect between the rich and the poor by pointing out a few laughable theories as to how poverty continues:
I have lost count of the number of well-educated, well-off people I have spoken to who seem to believe that poor people somehow "want to be poor" or are simply too dim to escape from poverty.

The banana-businesswoman's view that "poor people suffer from a culture of poverty". The ex-beauty queen who told me that she had once begged at a traffic light as part of her studies and had come to the conclusion that it was an easy way to make money – poor people must just be lazy, she said. The USAid consultant who explained to me over lunch that "some indigenous people just don't want to develop".

It is not only failed economic and social policies that are barriers to poverty reduction; it is this failure of so many people – voters, politicians and so-called "development experts" – to empathise with the reality of poverty and the problems poor people have to overcome.
- Pogge notes that the Libs' excuse for human rights protection in Canada's free trade agreement with Colombia is being predictably flouted by the Cons - who care so little about human rights abroad that they aren't even bothering to acknowledge the existence of the abuses within Colombia that made an agreement a dubious proposition in the first place.

- Finally, Mark Lemstra observes that we should be skeptical of a health care system that's increasingly reliant on the selective and self-serving reporting of trial results by exactly the actors who stand to profit by proclaiming they've discovered a miracle cure.

New column day

Here, marking yet another year of broken Conservative promises when it comes to climate change.

For further reading...
- CBC reports on the the continued lack of regulations for the oil and gas sector, while offering the questionable theories about the Cons' lack of interest in actually getting work done.
- Linda McQuaig rightly notes that there are forces beyond the Cons trying to stifle such work on a global scale, while Jane Mayer highlights the Koch brothers' efforts to block any environmental legislation in Congress. But it's still worth noting that the Cons have been comparatively more willing to implement regulations in sectors that don't affect their oil-patch puppetmasters.
- The Economist wonders whether Calgary's flooding will serve as a wake-up call, while at the same time noting that Jason Kenney for one has simply retreated further into denialism.
- And finally, Mike de Souza confirms that the Cons have been treating the environment as purely a matter of communications rather than policy - deciding on massive cuts to Environment Canada without actually including anybody associated with Environment Canada in the process.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Michael Harris nicely describes what the Cons are actually doing with power while pretending to be innocuous fiscal managers:
The PM and his government are not good managers. The nauseating repetition of the claim that the Tories know what they’re doing with the country’s finances will not make it so.

They’ve pissed away more money than Madonna on a shopping spree — a billion on the G 8-20 meetings that put a dent in the world’s Perrier supply and little else.

They just plain lost $3.2 billion and the guy in charge over at Treasury Board is still there, rumoured to be on his way to Finance.

They are such good fiscal managers that we now have the highest deficit in our history.
...
No, Steve and the Impersonators are not about hockey, Tim Horton’s, and purring more innocuously than Paul Wolfowitz while taking a crowbar to the country’s institutions.

It’s all about deconstructing democracy, channelling public money to a venal corporate sector, and kneecapping anyone who gets in the way. It’s about turning Canada into a militarized petro-state with Beatle music playing in the background.

The way this electoral monstrosity has worked up until now is through secrecy and a poisonous communications model. It’s the school of thought in which there is only one voice and the truth never figures in. Smother all opposition. All that matters is optics.

Some in the media have been silly enough to describe this as “discipline” or “effective messaging.” But then, I suppose one could call lying an exercise in information management.
- Meanwhile, Twyla Roscovich points out the Cons' latest attempt to "manage" scientific data - as they've followed through on long-mooted threats to pull the credentials of a research lab which had the temerity to report results showing Infection Salmon Anemia virus in B.C. salmon farms when industry-backed researchers applying a different test declined to confirm the findings. But don't worry: we can still fully trust industry to self-regulate and avoid causing needless damage to the public, right?

- Just look at the fine folks in the U.S. retail industry who are helpfully lining the pockets of their banking brethren by imposing service-fee-laden debit cards as their only means of payment to employees. Or the corporate sector's treatment of the U.S.' own burgeoning temporary work force:
"We're seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship," said Mary Beth Maxwell, a top official in the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. "While it's certainly not a new phenomenon, it's rapidly escalating. In the last 10 to 15 years, there's just a big shift to this for a lot more workers 2013 which makes them a lot more vulnerable."

The temp system insulates the host companies from workers' compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, the temps suffer high injury rates, according to federal officials and academic studies, and many of them endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

The rise of the blue-collar permatemp helps explain one of the most troubling aspects of the phlegmatic recovery. Despite a soaring stock market and steady economic growth, many workers are returning to temporary or part-time jobs. This trend is intensifying America's decades-long rise in income inequality, in which low- and middle-income workers have seen their real wages stagnate or decline. On average, temps earn 25 percent less than permanent workers.
- Finally, Richard Wolff recognizes the inevitable result when our economic and political spheres are dominated by those who can afford to pay to have their interests amplified - and rightly dismisses the argument that some "pure" capitalism will avoid the damage.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Kathleen Geier makes the case for greater progressive activism at lower levels of government - and the point applies with equal force in Canada:

(T)hose of us who want to build a more progressive America would be well-advised to pay relatively less attention to presidential races and more attention to politics at the state and local level. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Because state and local races tend to have lower turnout, you get more bang for your activist buck. A relatively small but well-organized and committed group of activists can make a big difference in a low-turnout election. And because local campaigns are cheaper than national ones, your donations can be more powerful. Think about it: to whom was your marginal political dollar worth more in 2012, Barack Obama in his campaign for president, or Wendy Davis in her campaign for the Texas state senate?

2. Mass political movements with the most staying power and popular support often are enacted first at the grassroots level. Only later do they work their way up the political food chain. Case in point: the modern American conservative movement. In the 50s and 60s, conservative activists tended to focus on local issues, such as school board elections, as this and other histories of that movement document. Only after over 20 years of intense activism did the conservatives finally get their dream president, Ronald Reagan.

3. One way to ensure you’ll have strong progressive candidates for national office (the presidency and the U.S. House and Senate) is by electing strong progressive candidates at the state and local level. That’s where those national candidates are recruited from, after all.
- The Washington Post updates how the U.S.' security apparatus collects and compares personal information from a number of websites to carry out online surveillance. And Timothy Ash writes that plenty of familiar IT businesses have been entirely happy to play along with state surveillance requests.

- Meanwhile, leftdog notes that the vulture capitalists are circling SaskTel among other Saskatchewan Crowns.

- Finally, Stephanie Levitz reports on the Cons' deliberate choice to underfund Canadian culture - and it's not for lack of available projects to be funded:
Figures from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration suggest at least $5 million a year hasn't been disbursed since 2007, and the department's marquee funding program has seen nearly 40 per cent of available funds go unused.

So the department is scaling back the amount of money it sets aside for community multiculturalism projects, despite the fact that an internal government audit suggests demand for the cash remains high and that the government itself is partly to blame for the fact it isn't being spent.
...
In 2010-2011, about $14 million was spent under the program to fund 140 projects and events.
But that money represented only 63 per cent of what was set aside, according to documents from the department obtained via the Access to Information Act.

That year, 751 proposals were received, with the total value of requested funds being nine times the available cash, a 2011 audit found.

Though 567 projects were considered eligible, only 39 were recommended to the minister for approval and only 25 per cent were funded.

"The approval process for projects and events was identified by many stakeholders as the single biggest impediment to the effective operation of the program," the audit said.

"The lack of transparency and lengthy timelines associated with this process made it very difficult for program staff to manage their clients or expend their budgets."
But when it came to spending seven figures to rebrand the military based purely on their own whims, the Cons couldn't burn through public money fast enough

Light blogging ahead

Road tripping for the next few days. I may have a chance to post intermittently, but likely won't quite as frequently as usual. Enjoy the long weekend in the meantime!