Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Murray Dobbin points to the oil sector's utter domination of Canada's federal political scene. And Dr. Dawg sums up the problem:
Briefly, the Harperium has now taken to grossly misusing the state apparatus to spy upon and intimidate citizens who dare to disagree with the Prime Minister. The RCMP and CSIS have been improperly deployed against perfectly non-violent folks who happen to oppose the development of the filthy, polluting Alberta Tar Sands—including a story-telling seniors’ group.

The cop-and-spook brigade have, as it turns out, been meeting in cabal with oil company execs, the Department of National Defence and National Energy Board honchos: the last meeting was sponsored by energy heavies Enbridge, Brookfield, and Bruce Power. (Meanwhile, our ultra-secret spy agency, CSEC, has been busy keeping tabs on ordinary folks in airports, perhaps just because they can. They, too, have been attending these top-level meetings.)
The Harper regime is now doubling down. In response to a question on the anything-but-random audits, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty attempted to connect these organizations to international terrorism. And the new budget contains monies to be used to counter this alleged threat to national security.

It’s not hard to connect the dots here. The audits are a deliberate form of harassment. Much of this can be traced back to Environment Minister Joe Oliver’s outlandish claim that environmentalism is a plot by foreign radicals to destabilize Canada. And we now know that Harper will pass legislation on request: all Big Oil need do is send a nice letter.

This is, to put it bluntly, exactly how corporatist regimes operate. Coercive state apparatuses are used to squelch dissent. Political opponents are demonized as traitors, amid grave talk of foreign influences and terrorism. And business and government operate as one to get the job done.
- Meanwhile, Bruce Cheadle reports on the consequences of the Harper regime's view of itself as a fully-owned subsidiary of the tar sands, as climate change and the environment have been wiped out of any government plans.

- Matt Taibbi writes about the financial industry's latest scheme to extract massive profits by effectively placing bets on industries which they control directly - when the result is to favour that extraction rather than productive economic development:
(B)anks aren't just buying stuff, they're buying whole industrial processes. They're buying oil that's still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they're also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.

Allowing one company to control the supply of crucial physical commodities, and also trade in the financial products that might be related to those markets, is an open invitation to commit mass manipulation. It's something akin to letting casino owners who take book on NFL games during the week also coach all the teams on Sundays.

The situation has opened a Pandora's box of horrifying new corruption possibilities, but it's been hard for the public to notice, since regulators have struggled to put even the slightest dent in Wall Street's older, more familiar scams. In just the past few years we've seen an explosion of scandals – from the multitrillion-dollar Libor saga (major international banks gaming world interest rates), to the more recent foreign-currency-exchange fiasco (many of the same banks suspected of rigging prices in the $5.3-trillion-a-day currency markets), to lesser scandals involving manipulation of interest-rate swaps, and gold and silver prices.

But those are purely financial schemes. In these new, even scarier kinds of manipulations, banks that own whole chains of physical business interests have been caught rigging prices in those industries. For instance, in just the past two years, fines in excess of $400 million have been levied against both JPMorgan Chase and Barclays for allegedly manipulating the delivery of electricity in several states, including California. In the case of Barclays, which is contesting the fine, regulators claim prices were manipulated to help the bank win financial bets it had made on those same energy markets.
- Finally, Laura Payton finds that the Cons' excuses for eliminating anything resembling voter turnout from Elections Canada's mandate lack any basis in fact - as motivation, not information, is the main current obstacle to voting (though of course the Cons want to make accessibility a problem for more voters as well). And Bruce Anderson wonders whether voters will rightly punish the Cons for rigging the electoral system for partisan gain rather than the public good.

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