Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robert Reich discusses the Koch brothers and their place in the U.S.' new plutocracy:
The Kochs exemplify a new reality that strikes at the heart of America. The vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.

America is not yet an oligarchy, but that’s where the Kochs and a few other billionaires are taking us.
When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.
A new gilded age is starting to look a lot like the old one. The only way to stop this is through concerted political action. Yet the only large-scale political action we’re witnessing is that of Charles and David Koch, and their billionaire imitators.
- Don Martin notes that the Cons' idea of an election seems to dovetail with Vladimir Putin's. And Andrew Coyne tears into both the substance of the Unfair Elections Act, and the thoroughly adversarial process being used to ram it into law:
(U)nder any normal government, this would be considered fairly devastating stuff: not only near universal expert opposition, but a widely held suspicion that the bill, far from merely flawed, is expressly designed to tilt the next election in the Conservatives’ favour. As for Poilievre, the revelations that he had acted in such consummate bad faith on such a critically important bill — failing to consult, ignoring some experts’ advice and misrepresenting others — would ordinarily be career-limiting, to say the least.

But this is not a normal government. It does not operate in the usual way, nor does it feel bound by the usual rules. After all, if this were a normal government, it would not have as its minister for democratic reform such a noxious partisan as Poilievre, whose contempt for Parliament and its traditions registers every time he rises to speak in it.
But as this is not a normal government, Poilievre has instead doubled down. To the detailed objections of its critics, he offers nothing but the same, and I mean exactly the same, talking points, recited without evident effort to persuade but merely to impress upon his listeners how genuinely uninterested in their opinion he is. To Neufeld’s complaints at having his report misrepresented, he responds that Neufeld does not understand his own report. The inaccurate and out-of-context passages he had cited from it were, he told Parliament, quoted “accurately and in context.” If Neufeld did not wish to use these words, he blithely told the CBC’s Evan Solomon, he should not have written them.

And so we face the likelihood, as incredible as it sounds, of the government using the majority it won in the last election to pass a bill widely perceived as intended to fix the next — and contesting that election in the shadow of illegitimacy the bill would cast. It will do so, what is more, not in spite of the opposition it has aroused, but because of it: because it has convinced itself that all such opposition, from whatever source, proceeds from the same implacably partisan motives as its own.
- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt ties the Unfair Elections Act into the Cons' general desire to combine sophisticated and unregulated private control over information with a less-informed public sector:
Conservatives, allergic to registries and census forms in government, have spent the past 10 years scooping up citizen data for their political use, depositing it into a formidable machine they call the Constituent Information Management System (CIMS.)
The proposed electoral reform does promise to crack down on people trying to pass themselves off as voters with inadequate identification — a measure that every election expert says will remove voting rights for thousands of Canadians without adequate ID — seniors, youth and aboriginal people in particular.

It’s as if the Conservatives have been watching a whole different movie from the rest of us. The problem wasn’t fake ID in the 2011 election; the problem was fake phone calls, telling voters that their ballot-box location was changed. We didn’t have too many over-eager voters in 2011. We had someone trying to keep people away from the ballot box.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s say that voter ID is a problem.

Why not spend some money to get voters equipped with proper identification before 2015? Why not use that big CIMS database to find out who doesn’t have the proper ID to exercise the basic, democratic right of voting? What about a Canadian citizenship card, complete with residence details?
- John Geddes points out another area where the Cons aren't letting data inform public policy - as they're choosing what even the Department of Finance recognizes to be less economic development based on nothing more than their distaste for public pensions like the CPP.

- Finally, Mark Kennedy reports on this weekend's Broadbent Institute Progress Summit. And for those of us who can't be there in person, the proceedings are being streamed online here.

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