Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Verhaege discusses how unchecked capitalism is changing our personality traits for the worse:
There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can – you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.
Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich discusses how the U.S. economy is serving only the interests of the wealthy few. And Alan Pyke exposes another egregious (and seemingly widespread) form of tax evasion, as U.S. banks skim off a billion dollars each year as their fee for systematically transferring stock ownership to avoid having the real owner pay taxes on dividends.

- Danielle Martin and Steve Morgan make the case for a national pharmacare plan. But Amir Attaran weighs in on Health Canada's abject failure to protect the public from dangerous drugs under a government which simply doesn't care whether needed medications are either available or effective:
Consider the case of Ranbaxy, a pharmaceutical company from India. Last year, the FDA successfully prosecuted Ranbaxy for manufacturing adulterated drugs and misleading it with false, fictitious and fraudulent drug testing data — crimes for which Ranbaxy paid $500 million (U.S.) in criminal and civil penalties. Fortune Magazine, among other sources, alleges that this fraud was not isolated, but that Ranbaxy managers were aware of data falsification affecting “more than 200 products in more than 40 countries.” No wonder the FDA, after failed inspections, banned several Ranbaxy factories from accessing the United States market.

But not in Canada. Even though former Ranbaxy executives say they are “confident there were problems” with drugs sold here, after the criminal conviction Health Canada refused to ban Ranbaxy’s factories, and instead negotiated with the company to voluntarily pull a few of its medicines off the market for testing; Health Canada won’t say which ones. Worse, Health Canada routinely lets drug importers like Ranbaxy choose who inspects their foreign factories. Private consultants hired by companies, and not arm’s length government inspectors, often do so.

That is the deplorable state of drug regulation in Canada today: rather than enforce the law with vigour as the FDA does, Health Canada negotiates with companies like Ranbaxy that have committed terrible crimes and lets them cherry-pick their inspectors. Ranbaxy medicines banned as unsafe in the United States are on the shelves of Canadian hospitals and pharmacies today.

...(O)ur bigger problem is not legal but cultural, namely the indolent, lapdog attitude of ministers like Ambrose and the public servants at Health Canada, who seem to lack any understanding of how governments should regulate. As we learned by the carnage of Lac-Mégantic and the deaths from the listeriosis outbreak, regulation does not mean bargaining or pleading with the industry that you are regulating. It means ordering them, with a big stick in hand.
(Though I will sound a note of caution about Attaran's desire to instead hand over responsibility for quality control to the FDA in light of the risk that the U.S.' own regulatory structure could be gutted at any time.)

- Chantal Hebert points out that the Cons' fixation on fossil fuel extraction is facing significant obstacles at home as well as abroad.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the Cons' war on relevancy as their basis for opposing a simple requirement that they actually answer the questions posed to them in Question Period, while Kady O'Malley offers a few alternatives to try to keep MPs on topic (though all seem both more complicated and less effective than the NDP's proposal). And Andrew Mitrovica argues that we need to keep our eye on the bigger political picture, rather than being too easily distracted by sideshows like Paul Calandra and Ezra Levant.

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