Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ish Theilheimer writes about the opportunity progressives should recognize in the scandals engulfing Rob Ford, Stephen Harper and other conservative leaders:
(W)hile you'd think the (Ford) situation would be a golden opportunity for Toronto left-wingers to win back the public, this isn't necessarily happening. Left-wing opponents of Ford's have not used the situation to drive home a unified message -- that Ford is a liar with criminal friends who can't be trusted to deliver good and effective government.

Instead, their focus has been to harry Ford and drive him from office, a tactic that only plays into the left-wing conspiracy viewpoint and sympathy vote.

Toronto's -- and Canada's -- Left needs a unified and emotionally charged message that will cause people to doubt, of their own good sense, the claims of the right-wingers. Something like: "Stop selling off public property and services at fire-sale prices to rich cronies. You wouldn't buy a car from greedy liars like Ford, Harper and Duffy, and you shouldn't let them run your city or country either."

The Ford debacle should not be allowed to be a crusade to drive one icky man from office. It should be a holy war to discredit every lie this creep stands for.
- Elizabeth Renzetti explains how the Cons and their corporatist allies are trying to make worker-bashing into the norm in any discussion of wages or economic policy. But Jenny Lee discusses one of the consequences of that default position of attacking labour - as retirement is becoming a thing of the past for many Canadians who can't afford it in the absence of the types of pension plans and social programs which develop through union pressure:
Nearly one in five Canadian workers expect they will never be able to fully retire.

Compared to workers in a broad cross-section of 15 industrialized nations, Canadians are among the worst off.

Seventeen per cent of Canadian workers expect they’ll always have to work. This compares to the global figure of 12 per cent, according to The Future of Retirement: Life after Work, a large HSBC survey of people in Canada, Australia, France, Hong Kong, India and Mexico, among other countries. Canada rated just above the U.K. (19 per cent) and the U.S. (18 per cent).
- Grant Robertson and Kim Mackrael report that the oil industry is flouting Transport Canada's stopgap regulations in the wake of the Lac-M├ęgantic explosion by refusing to actually test petroleum products to be shipped by rail.

- Finally, full credit to Susan Delacourt for recognizing how the media can unduly influence elections through its own (however poorly-founded) impressions and predictions.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Musical interlude

Andrew Rayel feat. Jano - How Do I Know

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last week, I noted that the Saskatchewan Roughriders' semi-final win against B.C. reflected a team just barely adjusting to an opponent who thoroughly neutralized its strengths. But in case there was any doubt whether the 'Riders could play exactly their preferred type of game against a playoff-ready opponent, Sunday's win over Calgary should put that to rest.

This time, the 'Riders' defence was able to force another pile of turnovers out of a strong team - including two at the end of the Stamps' biggest offensive plays of the first half. And the 'Riders did everything needed to hold a lead - running out the clock with a highly effective two-back running attack on offence, and stifling the Stamps' comeback attempts in the second half.

That win of course sets up a first for the 'Riders: an opportunity to play in a Grey Cup at home. But can the 'Riders match their previous week's performance against the Ticats - who were the lone team the 'Riders were able to sweep during the 2013 regular season (albeit in weeks 4 and 5)?

On paper, the Ticats seem weaker than both of the 'Riders' previous playoff opponents in most facets of the game. Hamilton was able to post a winning season record thanks in large part to a healthy starting quarterback and an efficient performance against the dregs of the East. But if the Ticats' strength lay in their ability to beat up on weaker opponents, then their 1-5 record against the West's playoff teams seems to signal a disadvantage.

But the small sample size of the regular season aside, Hamilton may be as well positioned as anybody to pull off a David strategy.

Henry Burris' athleticism and strong arm will allow him to keep a wider range of options open than most quarterbacks on any given play, making it more difficult for the 'Riders' turnover-oriented defence to attack him aggressively without leaving some dangerous openings. And he'll have a fairly deep set of receivers to help him - with C.J. Gable's pass-catching out of the backfield serving as a particularly useful release valve.

Meanwhile, the Ticats' defence may not have been a huge strength, but it was effective against the run in the latter half of the 2013 season. And if the 'Riders can't control the ball and the clock quite as easily as they did against the Stamps, that will put more pressure on Darian Durant to throw the ball in less-than-ideal conditions.

Of course, there may also be some opportunities to turn the Ticats' tendencies against them. In particular, Burris' continued propensity for turnovers (including a league-high interception total) could offer the 'Riders exactly the opening they want to generate points defensively.

But a high-risk, high-reward strategy likely represents the Ticats' best hope of coming away with a Grey Cup win. And so the most important question in Sunday's game may well be which team is able to generate the most big plays when the Ticats have the ball.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Hakan Bengtsson offers some useful discussion about the challenges facing Sweden's social democratic system - as the same factors being used to prevent the development of a more equitable society in Canada and elsewhere are being cited as excuses to tear down the model many countries aspire to reach:
The Swedish experience has shown that deregulation has not resulted in a considerable number of non-profit alternatives, as many people believed and which they used as an argument for change. Instead, it has meant the emergence of private companies, large corporate groups and venture capitalists in the Swedish welfare system. This was hardly envisaged when these “reforms” were discussed and implemented. There is every reason for other countries to study developments in Sweden in this respect. Today a much more stringent regulation of schools and medical and care services is on the agenda. This is, at any rate, what the labour movement is currently discussing and proposing.
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The future of the welfare state touches on, by implication, how much of our consumption should be handled by individual citizens in their private capacity, and how much should be paid for jointly in the public sector and in collective forms. The question of the rate of taxation will have to be discussed. The Swedish welfare model covers many areas and relies on financing via taxation to a considerable extent.

As early as the late 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith was arguing that a greater proportion of our consumption should be channelled through the public sector rather than disbursed in the private sphere – otherwise the private sector would become rich and the public sector poor. This risk is just as obvious today.
- And Larry Hubich writes about the need to deal with a massive (and growing) income gap in Saskatchewan.

- CBC reports on the Cons' latest attempt to revive lawful access legislation (this time while talking about cyber-bullying instead). Paula Simons recognizes the civil liberties at stake when telecoms are encouraged to hand over sensitive personal information to the state without notice to anybody affected, while David Fraser is working on a thorough review of the bill.

- Finally, Tim Harper and Mohammed Adam both take a moment to highlight Chris Montgomery as the lone person advising the upper echelons of the Cons' leadership who spoke out against the bribery and cover-up carried out by the PMO and its Senate flunkies. But Montgomery's role only highlights the unethical behaviour of the rest of the individuals involved - who can't claim they merely went along with a plan that wasn't questioned by anybody, but who actively labeled a public servant who pointed out its ethical frailties as "the Problem" while pushing ahead with their scheme.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Toby Sanger highlights how the Cons (following in the footsteps of the Libs before them) have already slashed federal government revenues and expenses to levels not seen since the first half of the 20th century - even as they continue to call for more blood:
Total federal government spending as a share of the economy is projected to drop to a 14% share of the economy by 2018/19.  This would be the lowest since at least 1948.  Because the government has tied the federal public service up in knots, actual spending will likely continue to be even lower than planned.   And if the Harper government follows through with its plan to allow income splitting for tax purposes and to increase the annual limit for Tax-Free Savings Accounts, revenues will be even lower.

The Harper government has already cut overall federal taxes and other revenues to the lowest rate they’ve been in over 70 years.   Total federal revenues as a share of the economy declined to 14% in 2012/13, with tax revenues down to 11.5%.  The federal government’s revenues and taxes haven’t been this low as a share of the economy since 1940.
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While the federal government’s tax revenues have declined as a share of the economy, many Canadians might not feel any better off, or more lightly taxed.   That’s because there’s been a major shift in where the federal government gets its money.

Tax rates on top incomes and corporations have been cut, while the use of tax loopholes and tax havens have proliferated.   The conversion of retail sales taxes to value-added taxes such as the GST/HST has shifted the costs of these taxes to consumers and away from businesses.   And with downloading of responsibilities to provinces and municipalities, these levels of government have relied on increasing more regressive taxes.    Our tax system has become so regressive that the top 1% pays a lower overall rate of tax than the poorest 10%.
- Meanwhile, the Star laments the Cons' broken promises on social housing - though it's hard to be surprised that the Cons are far more willing to feign interest than to actually act to ensure the basic needs of Canadians are met.

- Peter Gumbel discusses another noteworthy referendum in Switzerland - this time to cap the pay divide between executives and other employees. And I'd think it would be particularly interesting to see how executive incentives changed based on that type of law - since rather than having an incentive to slash wages and claim a share of the amount cut, they'd instead have reason to push for higher salaries among all employees (while ensuring they're worth the investment). 

- Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert and Thomas Walkom all note that yesterday's revelations in the Cons' Senate bribery scandal only confirm that a deeply-ingrained culture of corruption starts with - and includes - Stephen Harper, who by all indications personally approved a party payment to Mike Duffy. 

- Finally, Matthew Millar documents how the National Energy Board (which is of course suppose to make unbiased decisions about development), other federal government agencies and the oil sector are in cahoots to spy on environmental and activist groups.

New column day

Here, on what Saskatchewan can learn from some significant developments in privacy law in Manitoba and Alberta.

For further reading...
- Paul Broad and Daniel Michaluk introduce Manitoba's new private-sector legislation.
- Alberta's similar legislation is here, while the Supreme Court of Canada's decision striking it down is here. In particular, see paragraphs 37-38:
PIPA imposes restrictions on a union’s ability to communicate and persuade the public of its cause, impairing its ability to use one of its most effective bargaining strategies in the course of a lawful strike.  In our view, this infringement of the right to freedom of expression is disproportionate to the government’s objective of providing individuals with control over personal information that they expose by crossing a picketline.

This conclusion does not require that we condone all of the Union’s activities.  The breadth of PIPA’s restrictions makes it unnecessary to examine the precise expressive activity at issue in this case.  It is enough to note that, like privacy, freedom of expression is not an absolute value and both the nature of the privacy interests implicated and the nature of the expression must be considered in striking an appropriate balance.  To the extent that PIPA restricted the Union’s collection, use and disclosure of personal information for legitimate labour relations purposes, the Act violates s. 2(b) of the Charter and cannot be justified under s. 1.
- And I'll post a bit more commentary on the Supreme Court decision later today here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Michael Den Tandt and Jonathan Kay both point out the willingness of conservative (and Conservative) supporters to brush off the obvious misdeeds of their political leaders. And Glen Pearson rightly concludes that the responsibility to elect deserving leaders ultimately lies with voters:
We are guilty of asking to little of ourselves. We find it remarkably easy, natural even, to blame our representatives and yet we put them there. They have no real answers to our unemployment situation, but we either continue to support them because of the party we serve or because we have just given up altogether. We turn away in disgust at all the corruption trials, the hanging around with nefarious types, and the constant role-playing to populist politics, and in that very act of walking away we poison the wells for our children’s future. We will continue to dote on our kids at Christmas, providing what they require, but we won’t fight for their cheaper post-secondary tuitions, their future healthcare requirements, their ability to purchase their own homes or to have meaningful jobs. Our children will be entrusted with billions of dollars in public infrastructure deficits and our way of dealing with it is to walk away from the public space instead of fighting for it – for them.

Apathy is a kind of public trap, with no challenges and therefore no rewards. It just is and the consequences are inevitably bone chilling. Most of us care, just not enough, and if we maintain that attitude then we need to prepare ourselves for more mini-tyrants overrunning our public space. This isn’t about Left or Right, is it? It’s about competence and our ability as a people to overcome our challenges and build on our past successes.

The simple reality is this: it’s not really about Rob Ford and his ilk; it’s about us, and how much incompetence we are willing to endure. We got what we voted for and now we’re paying for it. We need better politicians, but our only way of achieving that target is to be better citizens.
- Meanwhile, Frances Russell writes that any attempt to hand more power to the Senate only figures to render the federal government ineffective in responding to Canadians' needs.

- Josh Eidelson discusses McDonald's instructions to employees to break their food into pieces and stop complaining (as an apparent alternative to being paid enough to avoid hunger and stress). And Jillian Berman finds Walmart going a step further - holding a food drive for its own employees who plainly aren't paid enough to feed themselves.

- Which leads nicely to Alexandre Boulerice's view of the proper role of government in allowing workers some recourse in dealing with employers whose strategy includes grinding them into poverty:
But how do you better advocate for those people who are working at Walmart?
I think as legislators our responsibility is to let the workers decide by themselves. I’m not saying that it’s the role of the government to create unions but it’s the role of government to create an environment where it's possible to create a union when you want it -- you can have legal capacities to fight back if you are against an employer like Walmart or McDonalds that clearly doesn’t accept a union in their workplaces.
- CAUT studies how corporate funding is warping Canadian university research projects.

- Finally, Paul Adams contrasts the NDP's clear position on referendum standards against the Libs' well-practiced ignorance.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Hatted cats.



Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Angella MacEwen rightly slams the Cons' attempt to use Employment Insurance funds as a subsidy for employers at the expense of workers. And Don Lenihan sees the Cons' structure as a cynical means of trying to claim success by ignoring the actual purpose of funding for training:
This reassignment of resources from one social group to another is neither open nor transparent. On the contrary, as we’ve seen, the CJG requires an investment by the sponsoring employer. The unspoken point here is that employers are highly unlikely to sponsor anyone other than their own employees or an individual they already planned to hire.

In short, the program criteria will engineer a huge selection effect that will effectively remove highly vulnerable people from the programs.

Will this lead to better employment outcomes? Well, technically, yes … but it’s like the university student who drives up his GPA by signing up for “bird courses” and avoiding the hard ones.

The provinces are right to resist. Indeed, they have no real alternative. To endorse the program in its present form would be to send a devastating message about the government’s willingness to abandon its most vulnerable citizens.
- Meanwhile, Annie Jollymore writes about the damage done to those same most vulnerable citizens who are stuck in poverty - while proposing a means of setting up support systems which make it easier to overcome barriers to long-term planning.

- Paul Waldie reports on Canada's ignominious place at the bottom of a ranking of developed countries for environmental protection - not to mention our status as the only country which has gone backwards since 2003. And Chantal Hebert reminds us that the Harper Cons' consistent anti-environment message has contributed to other countries' decisions about Canadian resources.

- Finally, Chris Selley compares the federal cabinet of 25 years ago - which contained genuinely differing viewpoints which were all taken into account in policy development - to the current assumption that mindless repetition of talking points is the only relevant qualification.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Sean McElwee discusses the crucial distinction between wealth and merit - while recognizing which actually serves to improve the condition of those around a particular individual:
Because the wealthy are no longer willing to use their wealth for good, they have decided to glorify the wealth itself as good, thus, Harry Bingswanger writes in Forbes,
Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)
Here we see the Randian vision in all its idiotic glory. If you could make a profit by pressing puppies into coffee, you deserve more moral praise than someone who dedicates their life to the poor. As E.F. Schumacher observed about capitalism, “Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation to man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations: as long as you have not shown it to be ‘uneconomic’ [unprofitable] you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper.” To justify their wealth, the titans of industry must make themselves the center of economic progress and society, but the dirty little secret is that they aren’t; they’re just along for the ride. As Richard Hofstadter observed about American capitalism, “Once great men created fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men.”
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It seems almost axiomatic that no good person has ever done something great merely for a profit. They seek something more important than material possession. So why should we fear if the wealthiest left us? I would fear for the world if the empathetic, the intelligent, the compassionate, the fearless and the creative left us. We don’t celebrate these virtues unless they somehow lead to monetary gain, but often they don’t. Norman Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that by some estimates saved 1 billion people from starvation and who was hailed as “… a towering scientist whose work rivals that of the 20th century’s other great scientific benefactors of humankind,” didn’t work for money; he worked to help people. A Dallas Observer story about him noted that he,  “rarely indulged in the comforts of the industrialized West for any extended period of time. His choice has been to immerse himself in locales where people stare death in the face every day.” When a reporter saw Mother Teresa helping a disfigured leper, he said to her, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Theresa said, “Neither would I.”
- Meanwhile, Konrad Yakabuski convenes a panel discussion on inequality in Canada. And Justin Ling comments on the differing views of inequality and plutocracy at play in Toronto Centre.

- Tim Harper discusses how the Cons' tough-on-crime standards don't apply to Rob Ford (or anybody else within their political tent). Ivor Tossell recognizes that Ford has always preferred celebrity status to political responsibility - and that his consistent abuses of public office only feed into the former even as they make him unfit for the latter. And Tom Mulcair rightly points out that the Cons' constant support for Ford means that they own his reckless behaviour.

- Finally, Margaret Munro reports that the Cons' philosophy of not letting bad news get out has led them to suppress information about antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Canadian hospitals - making it far more difficult for health care providers to actually limit the damage from superbugs.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Chris Dillow discusses how a shredded social safety net may turn into a vicious cycle - as voters are more prepared to cast ballots based on resentment when their own livelihood is less secure:
Marko Pitesa and Stefan Thau first manipulated subjects' perceptions of their income by inviting some to compare themselves to high incomes ($500,000 per month) and others to low incomes ($500 per month). They found that people primed to believe they had low incomes then expressed harsher judgments about violent acts than those who were primed to think themselves rich.

This, they say, supports the idea that when people feel themselves to be poor, they feel more vulnerable to others' harmful acts, and this caises (sic) them to make harsher judgments about them. If you can afford to replace your iPod you'll be less censorious of muggers than if you can't. If you're driving your children around all the time, you'll be less hysterical about paedophiles than if your kids have to walk everywhere. And so on.
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I say all this to make two points.

First, moral judgments are influenced by our economic positions. Marx was right to say that "the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life." For more evidence of this, consider Matteo Cervellati and Paolo Vanin's discussion of how moral norms are shaped by family wealth.

Secondly, when liberal leftists complain about working class illiberalism, they should remember that the failing here lies not (just) with the working class themselves, but in social democracy itself. This has - so far - failed to sufficiently reduce the sense of vulnerability among the poor which produces illiberal attitudes.
But of course, the "so far" in the final sentence carries plenty of weight. And the flip side of Dillow's point may well make for a reasonable summary of the goals of progressive politics: to ensure that all citizens enjoy enough security (in terms of both income and protection from social harm) to be able to participate in public life based on positive goals rather than aversion to the type of vulnerability exploited by the right.

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt comments on the massive income gap within Toronto Centre (which is being exposed to light by the federal by-election). And Alice discusses how the current set of by-elections seems to reflect the Libs' final step toward realigning themselves as Mulroney-style PCs - even if Chrystia Freeland can't afford to admit it when it comes to Keystone XL.

- Huffington Post takes a look at the drastic gap between Canada's energy exports, and its massive trade deficit covering everything else. And Brent Patterson notes that imbalances in production will exacerbate the added prescription drug costs the Cons want to impose under CETA.

- The Mound of Sound points out that Boeing offers one prime example of a business built on exploiting public-sector connections. But Digby (citing Colin Crouch) looks at the problem more generally:
Outsourcing is … justified on the grounds that private firms bring new expertise, but an examination of the expertise base of the main private contractors shows that the same firms keep appearing in different sectors … The expertise of these corporations, their core business, lies in knowing how to win government contracts, not in the substantive knowledge of the services they provide. … This explains how and why they extend across such a sprawl of activities, the only link among which is the government contract-winning process. Typically, these firms will have former politicians and senior civil servants on their boards of directors, and will often be generous funders of political parties. This, too is part of their core business. It is very difficult to see how ultimate service users gain anything from this kind of managed competition.
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To me, it seems obvious that the "contractor state" cannot be defended on democratic or capitalistic grounds. It certainly shows that simply outsourcing various necessary functions inevitably leads to corruption --- as any 7th grader should be able to predict.  That this concept of "reinventing government" was pushed by certain New Democrats on the basis of gibberish makes it even more astonishing that it's taken so long to be exposed for what it is: patronage for rich (mostly) white guys who all know each other. How sad that health care reform had to be the ultimate guinea pig.
- Finally, Haroon Siddiqui muses that "fraud politics" may be the undoing of Rob Ford and Stephen Harper alike.