Showing posts with label mike de souza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mike de souza. Show all posts

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses the need to address inequality through our political system. But that will require significant pressure from exactly the citizens who have decided they're not well served by today's political options - and Trish Hennessy's look at Canadian voter turnout reminds us of the desperate need for improvement.

- Meanwhile, Tim Harford points out just how far we've gone in focusing on dollars over all other considerations - as even Scotland's referendum on independence is being spun mostly as a matter of dueling fiscal projections rather than community, culture or other policy questions.

- Tavia Grant's report on the deadly legacy - and continued danger - of asbestos is well worth a read, particularly for this reminder that the Cons' offical policy is to promote the material which serves as Canada's largest source of workplace deaths:
In asbestos policy, Canada is at odds with other developed countries, almost all of which have both banned asbestos and launched national campaigns to educate their citizens on its dangers.

Regarding exports and imports, Canada’s long-standing position is that “safe and controlled use” of the mineral poses little risk to human health.

Health Canada’s website maintains that chrysotile (the form of asbestos mined in Quebec) is safer than other types of asbestos, and that asbestos poses risks only when its fibres become airborne and “significant quantities” are inhaled. It plays down the causal relationship between asbestos and some forms of cancer. The website does not inform Canadians that asbestos is the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths. (In contrast, the U.S. Acting Surgeon General, Boris Lushniak, reminded the American public in April that there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.)

Between 2006 and 2011, Canada was the only developed nation to oppose bringing asbestos under the control of the Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations-sponsored treaty, signed in 1998, that requires the exporters of hazardous substances to disclose the risks.

Indeed, the Conservative government has been a stalwart friend of the industry. “Only the Conservative party will defend this industry here and everywhere in Canada,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Quebec on the campaign trail in 2011. While the Tories were fighting international efforts to restrict trade in asbestos, the government was simultaneously spending millions to remove asbestos from the Parliament buildings and the prime minister’s residence.
- In a similar vein, PressProgress finds that the Cons' cheerleading for the oil sector has reached the point where they're trying to paint the extraction and burning of dirty fossil fuels as a win for the environment. Mitchell Anderson discusses Canada's massive subsidies to big oil (as well as the Cons' pathetic attempts to pretend they don't exist), while Mike de Souza finds that the National Energy Board is spending twice as much moving its offices into a sinkhole as it could muster for new pipeline monitoring, and the CP finds that Alberta's new environmental policy for fracking is "do what you want". And Bruce Johnstone writes that the Cons can't be taken seriously on climate change.

- Finally, David Dayen discusses the astroturf effort to challenge Elizabeth Warren's work in making student loan payments more affordable.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- PressProgress digs into the PBO's report on tax giveaways to look at what Canada has lost from the Cons' cuts to federal fiscal capacity - and how little has been gained as a trade-off:
(T)he Harper government, by starving the public coffers, is losing $43 billion that could be used to boost investments in axed services, build needed national programs, as well as balance the budget and pay down debt.
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Finance Canada's own data suggests every $1 billion spent on corporate tax cuts generates a measly 3,310 jobs. Not very effective.

And the PBO's report indicates that median income taxpayers with kids (averaging between $42,450 and $56,505) would see between 2.8% to 2.9% increase in their after-tax income. But those tax savings can be quickly eaten up by increased costs that would otherwise be covered through public programs.

For example, tax credits for children cost Canadians $2.74 billion. But a month or two of childcare in Ontario is equal to the total after-tax savings from these tax credits, while an affordable national childcare program would cost less to implement -- and saves families thousands of dollars.
- Of course, one would hope to be able to point to the difference between the Harper Cons' actions and the principles most prized by Canadians. But as Sean Holman points out, the Cons are also going out of their way to make sure that policymakers don't have access to accurate data about Canadians' values:
As a result of a lack of federal government funding, Canada wasn’t included in the most recent World Values Survey — one of the few means we have of knowing what our values are, how we differ from people in other countries and whether those values have changed over time.

The survey — which uses individual, face-to-face interviews rather than phone calls — has happened six times over the past 33 years, with the most recent being conducted in 59 different countries. Respondents answer a questionnaire that measures nearly 250 indicators covering everything from someone’s feelings about race to their political leanings.
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Past surveys have also told us 64 percent of Canadians in 2005 would have agreed or strongly agreed to an increase in taxes if the extra money was used to prevent environmental pollution — an (sic) seven point increase over 2000.
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Findings such as these are valuable for everyone from journalists and researchers to politicians and everyday voters — potentially leading to stories, studies and policy-changes. But Canadians won’t know if those values or any others changed between 2010-14 because our country — which has been part of the survey since 2000 — wasn’t included in its most recent wave, the results of which were released late last month.
- Meanwhile, Mike De Souza reports on the Cons' edict that environmental scientists stay silent about environmental science. And Devon Black writes about the Cons' archaic, position-based negotiating strategy - though I'd argue they've consistently shown themselves determine to pursue a philosophy of "getting to 'Yes, Master'" rather than "getting to Yes".

- Geoff Leo confirms the less-than-surprising conclusion that complaint-based regulatory systems aren't doing anything at all to preserve the rights of temporary foreign workers who can be deported for complaining. And Cathie highlights why we can't expect the Cons to fix a mess based on their own combination of toxic anti-worker ideology and incompetent management.

- And finally, Jim Stanford studies the effect of CETA on Canada's auto sector, and finds that once again the Cons' trade plans will make matters worse for major industries.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Doug Saunders interviews Thomas Piketty about the need for checks on the undue accumulation of capital, and the readily available means of achieving that end:
To solve the problem of rising inequality, you propose small worldwide taxes on capital transfers and on wealth, and prohibitive taxes on extreme incomes and inheritance. But such taxes are not popular today, and there is little sign they will catch on. Does this make you pessimistic?

I believe in the power of ideas, I believe in the power of books, but you have to give them time. Books have a very long-term impact, and it’s never a deterministic impact – you can never say “this book has had this particular impact on policy.” It’s much more complex.

The kind of policy conclusions I derive in the book are already in the public debate. For instance, we have this talk about tax havens. Five years ago, people were saying that nothing would ever happen; Swiss banks would keep their accounts secret and would never accept having automatic transmission of information. And then suddenly there were U.S. sanctions against Swiss banks and things began to change. I think these general moves will continue.
- Kayle Hatt takes a look at the spin behind Tim Hudak's slash-and-burn plan for Ontario - as well as what the province stands to lose through the wanton destruction of public services. And Esther Epp-Tiessen explains why we should see a contribution to the social good in the form of taxes as part of our duty to each other.

- Which means Victor Adebowale and Henry Kippin are right to comment on the need for people to feel they have some say in how our public services are set up - rather than being stuck with a corporate model (italics removed):
[Citizens'] notions of public good appear increasingly out of step with reforms being made to our current public service model. The highest proportion of those surveyed see public services as ‘important to the whole community’ (33%), and ‘available for everyone to use’ (33%) – somewhat at odds with a dominant narrative that has focused on targeting, cuts and, at the extreme, ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ welfare recipients. No major party talks any more in terms of universal entitlements or the ‘same services for everyone’ – partly because of public finances, but also because a batch of studies tell us postcode lottery is already a reality.
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 It is not enough for future actors in public service markets to prove delivery competence, financial integrity and an appetite for risk. Private profit and producer interest has clearly been pursued over public purpose in some cases, and this must change – again, a relationship with two sides.
- Meanwhile, the Mowat Centre offers a proposal for corporate tax reform - featuring a far greater focus on rents and windfall profits rather than normal rates of return on investments.

- Finally, Mike de Souza reports on how the public interest is being left out of the National Energy Board's considerations in enforcing the rules governing pipelines.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dan Leger and Leslie MacKinnon both theorize that 2013 represented a new low in Canadian politics. But while the Cons may have taken some new steps in petty scandals and cover-ups (and Rob Ford's clown show managed to attract an unusual amount of attention), I'm not sure how any of it reflects much of a change from the attitude on display by Canada's right for the past several years.

- Similarly, while Robyn Benson recognizes the past year as raising the Cons' gratuitous union-bashing to a new level, it's hard to see that development as anything more than the continuation of a longstanding trend.

- The Star decries the Cons' selfie level of scientific discussion. Mike de Souza reports that the Cons went out of their way to avoid so much as admitting that climate change is a serious issue in response to the most recent IPCC report. And Peter Moskowitz reports on the giant ring of mercury deposits surrounding tar sands developments.

- Bruce Campbell looks back at 25 years of North American free trade, and finds that it's primarily served the corporate sector rather than citizens of any of the countries involved:
The FTA/NAFTA was a big business-driven initiative whose primary purpose was investment deregulation. Trade was important, but as a second order rather than a primary goal.

The agreements did make it easier for business to ship goods and services across the border. However, at its core were new powers and freedoms granted to corporations to facilitate their pursuit of shareholder value.

These provisions enabled corporations to move with minimal restrictions on the North American continent, shifting production to jurisdictions that offered the greatest returns in terms of regulations, subsidies, taxes, labour costs, etc.
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Between 1950 and 1990, there was a steady drop in the share of national income appropriated by capital (profits) and a rise in labour’s share. In the wake of the FTA/NAFTA, that relationship reversed. Capital’s share rose dramatically; workers wages and salaries’ share fell in lockstep.

Contrary to assurances given Canadians prior to the FTA/NAFTA, big business lobbied hard to reduce program spending and taxes.

Unemployment insurance, health and education transfers, social assistance and housing programs, etc. were “harmonized downward” toward U.S. levels.
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In the end, the FTA/NAFTA failed to meet the fundamental test of any major policy initiative: to better the lives of its citizens. And it helped weaken the bonds of nationhood embodied in the Canadian social state. 
- Finally, Chris Dillow discusses how gross inequality has led people with the most money and power to think they're above even the slightest interaction with the mere public - and theorizes that we won't be able to restore any level of mutual respect until we've significantly reduced income and wealth inequality. And Lydia DePellis writes that even business groups (at least in the UK) are willing to acknowledge the need for shared rather than hoarded prosperity.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that Canadians care plenty about the well-being of hungry children even if the Cons don't:
After a firestorm of shocked responses from Canadians, Mr. Moore apologized for his “insensitive comment” uttered days before Christmas. What he did not apologize for or reassess was his belief in the kind of fend-for-yourself country his remarks support.

The apology came likely because this is the season of goodwill and it is no time to remind Canadians what drives the current federal government, begging the question of why it is tolerated any time of the year.

Yet despite the outrage, despite their unending troubles, this government marches on towards its goal of building a country where we no longer truly care about the plight of our neighbours.
- PressProgress highlights the unregulated growth of the tar sands and other closely-related industries - including a massive increase in private air traffic. Terry Glavin suggests that there's only one right answer for the Harper Cons in making the final call on the Norther Gateway pipeline. And Stephen Hume isn't buying the Cons' attempts to demonize all opposition to it:
[The Conservatives are making] an argument that non-governmental organizations vowing to stop the proposed project following its approval by the National Energy Board — subject to more than 200 conditions — are somehow undermining the democratic process through intimidation, threats of violent protest, political sabotage, slander and disinformation.

This is all code. It is intended to define a category to which those who think the pipeline is a bad idea can be routinely consigned. Thus, opposition may be dismissed without assessing the merits of the objections — simply opposing the pipeline invites automatic framing of that protest as the work of enemies of the Canadian way of life.

British Columbians have heard all this rhetoric before. It is a propaganda strategy devised by giant public relations firms. It was first deployed here more than 20 years ago by the forest industry in response to protest and civil disobedience aimed at preventing the denuding of great swaths of the province with vast industrial clearcuts.
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A word to the enthusiasts for this approach: It didn’t work in the early 1990s; it won’t work now.
- Meanwhile, Mike de Souza reports that having eliminated any environmental protection for nearly all of Canada's fisheries and waterways, the Cons are now slashing funding for what few water protection programs were left - even though the department itself has made clear that it needs more resources rather than less.

- Finally, Robin Sears comments on how a scandal-filled year in politics may serve to undermine trust in our political institutions. (Though the sad reality is that the politicians most responsible for that loss of trust are exactly the ones whose ideology might benefit from public antipathy toward politics.)

[Edit: added link.]

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Nick Cohen writes that the corporate sector is home to some of the most dangerous cult philosophy in the world:
(T)he language of business has become ever more cultish. In the theory of "transformational leadership", which dominates the business schools, the CEO is a miracle worker. In Transformational Leadership, by Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio, he is described, not by some gullible Forbes hack, but by two supposedly intelligent American academics. The transformational leader "inspires" his follower to "achieve extraordinary outcomes", they say. He "empowers them" to "exceed expected performance" and show ever greater "commitment to the organisation".

I don't see why anyone should find the comparison with fanatics so hard to accept and not only because the idea that CEOs can manufacture new and better subordinates matches Trotsky's belief that the revolution would create a "new man who raises himself to a new plane".

The nearest you are likely to come to experiencing life in a dictatorship is at work. Unless you are fortunate, you will discover that the management is the source of all ideas and all power. Executives will have privileges that bear no more relation to real achievement than the fat and ugly cult leader's expectation of sex. In 2012, the median pay for CEOs in the USA was $14.4m, the average salary for employees $45,230. In Britain, the High Pay Commission found that the average annual bonus for FTSE 300 directors had increased by 187% in 10 years even though the average year-end share price had gone down by 71%.

Above all, whether you are in the public or the private sector, John Lewis or Barclays Bank, you will learn that if you challenge authority you will lose the chance of promotion and if you challenge it in public, you will lose your job. To prosper in the workplace, as in the dictatorship, you must tell leaders what they want to hear.
- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman calls for reasonable wages - including a livable minimum wage - to ensure that workers aren't at the mercy of the worst corporate leadership. And Digby explains why big business is working to bury the very idea of public service:
They must have a reason for their dedication to austerity. And that reason is simple greed: the government is competing with them for "insurance" dollars. They are rent seekers and every time the government provides a service efficiently and at lower cost, it takes the provision of that "service" away from a private entity that could make a profit at it. All the propaganda about government being the problem and the private sector being the solution is in service of creating wealth for the rent-seekers. Obviously.
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(T)here is a great deal of money to be skimmed by financial wizards and insurance company share-holders from health and pension programs. Everybody needs them. They've already managed to grab hold of virtually all the private pension management in this country and all that's left is Social Security. By starving it of funds, they hope to force more and more people to put money into market based schemes from which they can siphon off even more profit. They see every penny the government extracts for the common good as stealing from them their rightful share.   
- Michael Harris criticizes the Cons' full devotion of Canadian diplomacy to the service of our corporate overlords. The Council of Canadians notes that a strong majority of Canadians disagree with the elimination of buy-local policies in the Cons' CETA sell-out. And Erin Weir points out how the Wall government has given away tens of millions of dollars in uranium royalties without any discernible benefit to anybody besides Cameco.

- Mike de Souza reports that Joe Oliver has been aware of uncontrolled and unexplained leaks at the CNRL Primrose tar sands site since this summer - and hasn't missed a beat in denying any knowledge of risks associated with oil development of any kind. Which means that we now have our water source for the Tar Sands Taste Test Challenge - just as soon as somebody other than an oil executive is allowed in the same room as Oliver.

- And the Globe and Mail confirms that the Lac-Mégantic derailment and explosion can be traced in large part to a complete lack of regulation of oil shipment by rail, together with decreasing enforcement of existing rail regulations.

- Finally, Tim Harper wonders whether the last week's developments in the Senate scandal will produce the bumper-sticker messages which spell the end for the Cons' stay in power.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Monday Morning Links

This and that for your Labour Day reading.

- Jared Bernstein writes about the fight for fair wages in the U.S. fast food and retail industries. And Karen McVeigh notes that political decision-makers are starting to try to get in front of the parade of workers seeking a reasonable standard of living:
Organisers said the strikes, scheduled a day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and a few days before Labor Day, were being held in 60 cities and had spread to the south – including Tampa and Raleigh – and the west, with workers in Los Angeles and San Francisco taking part.

In New York, the Democratic mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn took part in a march with several hundred workers and protesters before entering a McDonald's near the Empire State Building on Thursday morning.
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The US labour secretary, Thomas Perez, said the strikes showed the need to raise the minimum wage. Perez told the Associated Press that for too many people, "the rungs on the ladder of opportunity are feeling further and further apart."
- But there's always room for the labour movement itself to work on being more responsive to the needs of rank-and-file members and marginalized workers - as both Glenn Wheeler and Kev point out.

- Meanwhile, pogge notes that there's still a stark gap in Ontario between perpetually-expanding profits for the banksters, and austerity being imposed on the poor. Joseph Stiglitz observes the risk that Australia may abandon a highly successful stimulus program to follow the same path of austerity that's led to so much misery elsewhere around the globe. And Mark Taliano reminds us that the Trans-Pacific Partnership represents just another effort by the Cons to shift decision-making power away from citizens and toward the corporate sector.

- Justin McCurry reports that the Fukushima nuclear power plant is emitting 18 times as much radiation as previously claimed - and that nobody seems to be able to figure out why. And Mike de Souza highlights a similar lack of risk management and regulation in dealing with the ongoing Cold Lake oil spill.

- Finally, Erin Weir draws a needed distinction between social insurance which protects everybody's interests and self-insurance which protects only those who can afford it - and finds former Con cabinet minister Monte Solberg trying to push us toward the latter model.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that it's long past time for Newfoundland and Labrador to boost its minimum wage:
Last year, a statutory review of minimum wage, conducted by a government-appointed panel, called for action to be taken on the minimum wage. The panel recommended an increase to restore any erosion to the wage since 2010 as well as a formula, tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which would see annual, incremental increases in the wage to ensure that it keeps pace with the increases in the cost of living.

The report and its recommendations sit on a shelf...

The lack of action denies thousands of workers a pay raise. Indeed, the lack of action results in a continued erosion of their wage - as time passes and the cost of living steadily increases, the minimum wage is worth less today than it was three years ago, the last time the wage was increased.

This inaction is a stunning reversal from a minimum-wage policy that had been aimed at making sure the province's lowest-paid were not left totally behind. In 2010, the government also said that minimum-wage increases proved the government's commitment to improving the quality of life of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians while making the province more competitive with respect to attracting workers.
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The Newfoundland and Labrador government's minimum-wage policy had been a success. Three years later, after all that hard work of playing catchup and making sure some of the prosperity is shared, the current government appears to have abandoned its commitment to helping the lowest-paid achieve "increased self-reliance."

The big question is, why?
- Meanwhile, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is pushing for that province's government to keep its promise to combat poverty.

- Martin Lukacs wonders whether the great pipeline swindle will succeed only in building a mass movement against petro-politics, while Mike de Souza tracks down briefing notes which nicely expose the Cons' anti-carbon pricing rhetoric as a sham. And Graham Thomson catches Alberta's PC government refusing to acknowledge an actual series of pipeline leaks in what was supposed to be a review of the province's regulatory system:
The review of the regulations does not dig into the spate of pipeline leaks that have plagued Alberta the past few years and it doesn’t delve into whether the Alberta Energy Regulator is properly enforcing the regulations.

It’s a bit like asking, after a rash of crimes, if the streets of Edmonton are safe and then investigating the regulations that govern the police rather than looking at the actual crime spree and how the police handled it.
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The pipeline safety review does not directly address any of the pipeline spills that prompted the government to call for the review. Those would include spills in 2012 such as the accidental dumping of 3,000 barrels of oil into the Red Deer River and the spillage of 5,000 barrels into Rainbow Lake.

And let’s not forget the Plains Midstream pipeline spill of 28,000 barrels in northwestern Alberta in 2011 — the largest spill in the province in 30 years. That spill warranted its very own public inquiry, or maybe an inquiry into pipeline safety in general.

Instead what we got was the Alberta Pipeline Safety Review.

It would seem to be a classic case of bait and switch. We walked into the store for an Apple MacBook Pro with retina display and left with a Commodore 64.
 - Finally, Paul Hanley and Christine Stark both discuss Canada's appalling (and all-too-rarely-acknowledged) abuse of First Nations people. But have no fear: the Cons are hard at work using public money to search for scapegoats.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Martin Lukacs offers up the definitive response to the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy:
The deeper evidence about this event won't be found in the train's black box, or by questioning the one engineer who left the train before it loosened and careened unmanned into the heart of this tiny town. For that you'll have to look at how Lac-Mégantic was hit by a perfect storm of greed, deregulation and an extreme energy rush driving companies to ever greater gambles with the environment and human life.
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It's little wonder, then, that today's oil and rail barons have cut corners with ease. They've been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20 years ago. A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be "subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials." All were ignored. To top it off, the federal government gave the go-ahead last year to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate with just one engineer aboard their trains.

All of which means it will not suffice to find out if a brake malfunctioned the night of the disaster, or limit ourselves to pointing at the failings of lax regulation. The debate should be about the need for another kind of brake, over the mad pursuit of infinite resources, and the unshackling of reckless corporations, on a finite and fragile planet.

Canada's political class will not be pleased by the lessons to be drawn. The government needs to get back into the business of heavily regulating corporations – through incentives, through taxes, and through sanctions. And this will involve not just grappling with the dangers of the transport of oil – which will remain unsafe, whether by rail or by pipeline – but starting a rapid transition away from an extreme energy economy entirely. That will not happen as the result of any government inquiry, but a noisy social movement that puts it on the public agenda.
- And Mike de Souza finds the Cons characteristically lying about their responsibility for lax regulation.

- Rick Smith tries to take some solace in the expected replacement of Peter Kent as the federal environment minister. But while I fully agree with his criticisms of Kent, I'd see little evidence that any Con in the same role could be expected to produce better results. 

- Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simpson recognizes that the Cons won't take a single step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sector beyond what they're forced into by outside actors. Nick Fillmore writes that any such pressure is limited by corporate influence over some environmental groups. And Clare Demerse offers a look at what we should expect from a changing climate.

- Finally, Richard Wolff discusses how more sophisticated rent-seeking and tax-sheltering at the top is cutting off most of the U.S. from the promised benefits of economic development:
Capitalism's great relocation places a remarkable political question on history's agenda today: can the system survive its relocation?

Capitalism grew successfully in its old centers despite working-class oppositions, expressed by labor unions, socialist and communist parties, anti-capitalist intellectuals and artists and by the resistances of its colonized subordinates. Part of that success – a basis of its 200-year global hegemony – was the ability of its working classes to wrest rising wages and/or standards of living.

In sharp contrast, capitalism's great relocation now underway both presses and enables capitalists to cease raising wages and standards of living in its former, old centers (Europe, North America and Japan). Indeed, it is lowering them.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Scott Sinclair discusses how CETA could create extreme and unnecessary risk in Canada's banking and financial system:
The failure of a single company (such as Lehman Brothers in October 2008) or unchecked growth in markets for high-risk financial products (such as sub-prime mortgages) can quickly cascade out of control, threatening the integrity of the entire system. Especially during a crisis, financial regulators need to act decisively, without worrying about expensive lawsuits from disgruntled foreign investors. But that’s precisely the toxic ingredient the CETA negotiations have introduced into the mix.

The EU insists that foreign investors must have unimpeded rights to challenge banking and other financial regulations through investor-state dispute settlement. The Canadian Department of Finance is arguing that financial sector regulation is of such critical importance to the economy that regulatory measures must be shielded from direct challenge by foreign investors.

Negotiators reportedly are at an impasse and this issue is now on the list to be resolved by politicians. Given the intense pressure to close a deal, politicians could overrule Finance officials and undermine the ability of regulators to avert or stem future financial crises.
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Ironically, Europeans are learning the folly of this approach the hard way. Foreign investors have turned to investor-state arbitration to try to recover losses from Europe’s seemingly interminable financial crisis. In the first investor-state case ever by a Chinese mainland investor, a Chinese financial services company is suing Belgium under a 2005 Belgium-China investment protection treaty. Ping An, the largest single shareholder in the Belgian-Dutch bank Fortis, allegedly lost $2.3 billion USD when government authorities, who stepped in to rescue the financial giant, subsequently sold off assets over the objections of minority shareholders. Foreign investors have also filed investor-state claims against both Greece and Cyprus to recover losses incurred under financial restructuring programs.

While the risk of an investor-state dispute is highest during a crisis, under Europe’s proposed CETA approach, more routine financial regulations could also be vulnerable. For example, the Canadian government has tightened mortgage regulations four times since 2008. Canadian officials have publicly confirmed that these are just the sort of regulations that the Europeans want to see exposed to challenge.
- And Matt Taibbi exposes the dirty truth behind the ratings agencies whose word has been relied upon as the basis for far too many economic decisions:
Ratings agencies are the glue that ostensibly holds the entire financial industry together. These gigantic companies – also known as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations, or NRSROs – have teams of examiners who analyze companies, cities, towns, countries, mortgage borrowers, anybody or anything that takes on debt or creates an investment vehicle.

Their primary function is to help define what's safe to buy, and what isn't. A triple-A rating is to the financial world what the USDA seal of approval is to a meat-eater, or virginity is to a Catholic. It's supposed to be sacrosanct, inviolable: According to Moody's own reports, AAA investments "should survive the equivalent of the U.S. Great Depression."
It's not a stretch to say the whole financial industry revolves around the compass point of the absolutely safe AAA rating. But the financial crisis happened because AAA ratings stopped being something that had to be earned and turned into something that could be paid for.
- Mike de Souza reports on the latest revelations about the Cons using public money to do PR work for the oil sector - explicitly working to "support" the Northern Gateway pipeline even as they claim to be carrying out an unbiased regulatory process. But Barbara Yaffe notes that British Columbians aren't buying the spin - and yet another Enbridge spill won't do much to help the impression that the Cons' oil-industry funders are far more concerned with papering over serious concerns about health and the environment than actually operating safely. 

- Meanwhile, in the department of policies the public actually wants to see Canada's government working on, Steve Morgan discusses EKOS' polling showing 78% popular support for public funding for needed prescription drugs:
Canadians have good reasons to want such reform. Every developed country with a universal healthcare system provides universal coverage of prescription drugs… except Canada.

Drug coverage is provided in all comparable healthcare systems because, when prescribed and used appropriately, prescription drugs can be among the most cost-effective forms of providing healthcare. The architects of these other systems know that charging patients for prescriptions will impede the use of essential medicines – which can cost the healthcare system in other ways, such as increased hospitalizations.

In Canada, many patients cannot afford to take medicines prescribed by their doctors. The recent poll by EKOS suggests that, in the past five years, about one in five Canadians (23%) have chosen not to fill a prescription because of out-of-pocket costs. That’s a lot of missed prescriptions.

Such access problems are prevented when medically necessary prescriptions are covered as part of the healthcare system. Countries with such access – every other developed country with universal healthcare – also spend considerably less on pharmaceuticals than Canada does. This is because healthcare systems that purchase medicines on behalf of entire populations have significant bargaining power in price negotiations with drug manufacturers.
- Finally, Andrew Coyne offers a handy guide to the rights and wrongs involved in Justin Trudeau's massive speaking fees and the Cons' publicly-funded response.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Mike Konczal discusses the distribution of U.S. tax breaks and incentives, and finds that measures normally presented as offering breaks for everybody in fact serve mostly as giveaways to the wealthy:
(T)he government is very responsive to the interests of the top 20 to 40 percent of Americans, and so far it has been very difficult to approach scaling back the tax expenditures in deductions and exclusions. Again, since these benefits scale with income, these tax expenditures disproportionately benefit those up the income scale.  Obama’s signature proposal for raising taxes right now is limiting the value of these itemized deductions and expenditures for couples making more than $250,000 a year to just 28 percent.

This, then, is the fight in American politics. Democrats want to expand the tax break state for the poor and cut it for the rich. Republicans want to keep it for the rich, or possibly use it to lower tax rates on the rich, but they’re uncomfortable with the part of the tax break state that benefits the poor. Although shrouded in arcane tax terminology, this is one of the most important battles over who will benefit from our economic progress, and how.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Goodall writes that reining in offshore tax avoidance will require both better laws (reflecting a commitment by governments around the globe to eliminating loopholes) and more ethical corporate behaviour:
Vanessa Houlder of the Financial Times has pointed out: "Governments are complicit in the problems they are condemning. It is their tax systems that have created incentives for businesses to behave in this way."

Law journalist Edward Fennell wrote in The Times: "Recent tub-thumping by politicians over the alleged tax avoidance by the likes of Google and Amazon is creating a cacophony of vituperation. It may seem a neat way to claw back a few votes, but whether it actually addresses the underlying problems is less clear." 

He quoted Miles Dean, of Milestone International Tax Partners, as saying that companies are using the tax system in the way intended, and that the OECD model convention – on which most double taxation agreements are based – is designed to facilitate international trade by "allowing multinationals to trade internationally without necessarily creating a taxable presence in each country".

Pascal Saint-Amans told the OECD forum that big business was not to blame. "What we have seen is that the elimination of double taxation [by means of bilateral double tax agreements] may have [resulted in] double non-taxation, which is not politically or economically acceptable. You have some players who are not exposed to international transactions being taxed at the statutory rate." He added: "It's legal. If you don't like the outcome you need to change the law."

I am not sure he's right – business must take a share of the responsibility. But the priority now must be to fix the system, and international agreement is essential.
- Steven Shrybman weighs in on Judge Mosley's finding that the Cons' voter database was used to commit widespread election fraud in 2011. But the Cons have moved on from claiming vindication, to complaining that they're enveloped in a cloud of dishonesty caused by their own party's efforts to cover up the identities of those responsible.

- Mike de Souza reports on the Cons' petulant response to his earlier stories on how omnibus budgets were used to eliminate environmental assessments for the vast majority of tar sands development - as DFO scientists were prevented from discussing the story in retaliation.

- Finally, Tim Harper writes that the scandals surrounding the Senate have been caused by patronage enablers as well as by individual senators. Michael Harris explores how the Cons have used BS tactics in trying to hide from their responsibility for Clusterduff.  Joanna Smith documents a two-party culture of entitlement, with Con and Lib bagmen alike asserting that voters are somehow better served if unaccountable partisan hacks can use their cushy sinecures to win votes for their party. And Ralph Surette rightly notes that the only answer to abuses by a narrow privileged class is broader public participation.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- For all the talk of fraud and cover-ups among the Cons this week, the most important story on that front looks to be the release of Judge Mosley's decision on Robocon - featuring findings of fact based on the best evidence presented by the Cons (and affected voters) that the 2011 election was marred by electoral fraud facilitated by the Cons' voter database, and that the first Cons covered it up by destroying the records which would have allowed investigators to determine who was actually responsible, then engaged in questionable tactics to keep the facts from seeing the light of day.

- Don Lenihan sees the glaring gap between spin and reality on the Cons' Clusterduff scandal as a revelation as to the Harper government's contempt for the truth, while Michael Harris also treats the Senate scandal as a comparatively new development. But Paul Wells is right to note that this is merely another example of a long-standing Harper philosophy that facts and other people are to be thrown under the bus whenever it suits his political interests - meaning that the bigger question is why anybody has taken the Cons' word for anything in the meantime.

- And lest anybody think that the Cons' culture of compulsive concealment is limited to scandals, Colin Horgan finds some prime examples of blatant lies about simple facts in Question Period, while Mike de Souza reports that Joe Oliver is trying to keep the contents of a $16 million, publicly-funded oil industry propaganda campaign secret from the Canadian public.

- Finally, the Senate itself is certainly looking all the worse based on David Tkachuk's remarkable admissions that he kept in touch with the PMO to make sure that his committee's report on Mike Duffy's expense claims fit with the Cons' political interests. But Althia Raj reports that there's plenty more ludicrous abuse of public trust and money where that came from - such as substantial annual payments to the chairs of committees even when they're not meeting.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Helene Leblanc argues that we should make sure the Internet is treated as a commons accessible to all, rather than a privilege denied to many (particularly in rural areas):
Many Canadians living outside urban centres do not have access to high speed broadband Internet and a significant number connect at speeds of 1.5 megabits per second — only marginally faster than dial-up.

In the year 2000 Estonia declared Internet access a fundamental human right, something essential for life in the 21st century, and launched a program to expand rural access. Finland has declared that by 2015, access to a 100 megabits-per-second connection will be a legal right. The U.S.’s National Broadband Plan has set a similar target of Internet service speed of 100 megabits-per-second in at least 100 million homes by 2020.
...
It is essential that residents of Canada’s Arctic region have access to reliable, affordable communication networks — not only to protect our nation’s sovereignty and for emergency response, but to benefit from the many opportunities living in the 21st century can afford. Emergency responders also need the means to communicate rapidly in the event of disasters in the Arctic and elsewhere.
...
As government, it is the Conservatives’ responsibility to do more than repeat mindless rhetoric on the economy; they must take action to promote Canadians’ long-term prosperity. Canada needs to be strategic in securing broadband infrastructure for rural and remote regions. A lack of equitable access to high‐speed broadband will leave businesses in rural and remote regions behind in a global economy.
- Ishmael Daro reports that the Cons are already planning for three more years of publicly-funded economic propaganda, while Mike de Souza confirms that the Cons plan to spend yet more money claiming credit for past programs as a substitute for doing anything about climate change. All of which is to confirm that we should be far more concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars being burned by Stephen Harper's central command than the comparatively trifling cost of MP communications.

- Angella MacEwen points out why we shouldn't simply assume away the problem of unemployment. And Haroon Siddiqui confirms that the Cons are still pushing to use temporary foreign workers to drive down Canadian wages and opportunities.

- Finally, Adam Radwanski recognizes that the Ontario NDP has been effective enough to force Kathleen Wynne to at least give some substance to her party's rhetoric about a "fair society". But Trish Hennessy and Hugh Mackenzie rightly note that Libs' overarching plan still involves long-term austerity rather than social progress.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- We shouldn't be surprised that the corporate sector is reacting with contrived outrage to the Cons' tinkering with a severely flawed temporary foreign worker program. But Jim Stanford points out what it would take to actually move labour standards upward rather than including Canadian workers in a race to the bottom:
(T)he Harper government is now moving to avert a political disaster in the making. Advance coverage in the Globe and Mail indicates its proposed changes will include a new fee for temporary foreign worker permits, and requirements that employers promise to step up their advertising and training to eventually recruit Canadians for the jobs.

But those promises won’t be worth the paper they are printed on. Federal bureaucrats have no concrete basis on which to judge whether training or recruitment promises are realistic or not, let alone have power to meaningfully enforce them. So long as access to migrant labour remains open, companies can always come back complaining about “shortages.” Even today, the so-called Labour Market Opinions which must be issued before employers can tap the program are no more than a symbolic ritual; approving employers’ “training plans” will be just another rubber stamp.

If we really want employers to find qualified Canadians instead of importing cheap replacements, the whole loophole must be closed down. The low-skill window currently allowed under the program should be cancelled completely (along with the provision allowing employers to pay 15 per cent less-than-going wages). There is absolutely no legitimate reason unemployed Canadians can’t be tapped to fill every one of those jobs: from coal mines to factories to hotels to donut shops. Employers in these industries tap the program only as a handy source of cheap, compliant labour. This whole section of the program gives the lie to the claim that we need migrant workers for their “skills” in the first place.

For genuine, specialized high-skill vacancies, the guest worker program must only be used as a temporary stop-gap, with hard caps on both numbers and length. Specialists should be allowed in for six months only, with a maximum of one renewal. That gives employers ample time to recruit Canadians – so long as they are willing to pay them. Employers who use the program for skilled-trades positions must set up their own apprenticeship programs to meet future needs.

Every migrant should be entitled to normal employment rights (including access to EI and CPP benefits), as well as having access to normal immigration opportunities. After all, if their skill truly cannot be replaced from within Canada, then they should be invited to live and work here like the rest of us, with full legal protections (instead of being fenced off in low-wage, unpoliced job ghettos).

Finally, full transparency should be required – regularly publishing which employers hire temporary foreign workers, in which jobs, and for how long. Apart from providing unemployed Canadians with a valuable source of information on job opportunities, this sunshine would help ensure that companies use the program for true skills shortages only.
- Meanwhile, Shiv Malik discusses the latest gratuitous slaps at the unemployed in the UK - as the Cons' cousins are forcing anybody out of work to participate in utterly frivolous psychometric testing.

- And Dr. Dawg offers a modest suggestion as to how outsourcing could actually benefit workers in less-developed countries. (Needless to say, I don't see our corporate overlords taking him up on the proposal.)

- Mike de Souza reports on the Cons' latest decision to eliminate any environmental assessment of major projects ranging from pipelines to chemical explosive plants. Which fits nicely with Justin Ling's interpretation of the Cons' agenda - but doesn't exactly provide reason for confidence among those of us paying attention to what laissez-faire zealotry is doing elsewhere.

- Finally, Sean Reardon discusses how income inequality - particularly between the middle class and the plutocrats - is translating into inequality of opportunity through educational outcomes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- George Monbiot discusses the fallout from decades of corporate-controlled governments abdicating their responsibility to consider the public interest:
In other ages, states sought to seize as much power as they could. Today, the self-hating state renounces its powers. Governments anathematise governance. They declare their role redundant and illegitimate. They launch furious assaults on their own branches, seeking wherever possible to lop them off.

This self-mutilation is a response to the fact that power has shifted. States now operate at the behest of others. Deregulation, privatisation, the shrinking of the scope, scale and spending of the state: these are now seen as the only legitimate policies. The corporations and billionaires to whom governments defer will have it no other way.

Just as taxation tends to redistribute wealth, regulation tends to redistribute power. A democratic state controls and contains powerful interests on behalf of the powerless.
...
This is an example of what happens in a market-based system: any clash between generating profit and protecting the natural world is resolved in favour of business, often with the help of junk science. Only those components of the ecosystem that can be commodified and sold are defended. Nature is worthy of protection when it is profitable to business. The moment it ceases to be so, it loses its social value and can be trashed. As prices fluctuate or crash, so do the fortunes of the ecosystems they are supposed to protect. As financial markets move in, with the help of the environmental bonds and securitisations the taskforce champions, the defence of nature becomes ever more volatile and uncertain. The living planet is reduced to a subsidiary of the human economy.

When governments pretend they no longer need to govern, when they pretend that a world regulated by bankers, corporations and the profit motive is a better world than one regulated by voters and their representatives, nothing is safe. All systems of government are flawed. But few are as flawed as those controlled by private money.
- And Jonathan Bernstein rightly describes Republicans in particular as having left the very idea of public policy in the rear-view mirror.

- Mike de Souza reports on the attempts of the Harper Cons and the Redford PCs to claim that air and water pollution from the tar sands doesn't count because they'd rather people not think about it. And Frances Russell writes that Canadians are once again being left out of any say and any consideration in decisions about our publicly-owned resources.

- Pat Atkinson reviews the dangers of unduly relying on temporary foreign workers:
The temporary foreign worker program is supposed to allow employers to hire foreign workers only when Canadians or permanent residents aren't available to fill the job. In most cases employers can access the program only after they have obtained a Labour Market Opinion confirming the unavailability of Canadians to fill the vacant positions.

Currently the use of temporary foreign workers in some parts of Canada has nothing to do with a shortage of skilled workers, and everything to do with maximizing profits. Stephen Harper's Conservative government changed the rules a year ago, allowing employers to bring in overseas workers at wages that can be as much as 15 per cent below the average regional rate for a particular occupation.
(W)hat about those who are looking for work, such as unemployed Canadian miners who are being replaced by temporary workers from China? What about those information technology employees at RBC who are being replaced by temporary foreign workers?
Why did Finley's ministry give approval in the first place to HD Mining bringing in 200 workers from China, and to the outsourcer retained by RBC to bring in workers to replace 45 bank employees?

Outsourcing is about replacing middle-income domestic employees with lower wage workers abroad. Importing temporary workers to many sectors of the economy with a 15 per cent wage differential is about lowering wages and not having to pay benefits to Canadians.

We as Canadians need to think about how this will affect our young people and their future. If we are all a bunch of low wage earners, who will pay for important public services such as health care or education? As for the banks, who will be able to qualify for one of their mortgages?
- Finally, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the CCPA's appalling finding that we're 228 years away from achieving gender equality in Canada.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Daniel Cohn theorizes that the only real problem with RBC's outsourcing of Canadian jobs is that they called attention to the government policies which facilitated that outcome. But for those of us who think there's actually a problem with an economy designed around minimizing wages and employment, Susan McIsaac and Matthew Mendelsohn offer some suggestions to turn the tide. And Tavia Grant points out that the Cons' preference for cheap, disposable foreign labour might help employers, but certainly doesn't produce positive results for Canada as a whole.

- In the same vein, Andrew Jackson discusses how the last great set of attacks on workers in the name of economic efficiency proved an utter failure in producing any policy outcome other than increased inequality:
Thatcherism did not provide an enduring solution to the problem of how to attain stable growth. Business profitability was indeed restored, but this did not flow though into much higher levels of productive investment. In both Britain and the United States (especially the former), finance expanded as a share of the economy at the expense of industry, which has collapsed.

London has become the most important global financial centre and home base to much of the global oligarchy, leading to great wealth for a few and many low-paid jobs catering to their needs. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, has never fully recovered from massive de-industrialization.

In Britain, as in the United States, “flexible” labour markets and the erosion of unionization led to the decoupling of wages from productivity growth, making growth dangerously dependent upon an unsustainable inflation of house prices and the growth of household debt.

A hands-off approach to regulation of business also set the stage for the growth of a speculative and destructive financial system, which would have collapsed in 2008 if the government had not come to the rescue.

Thatcherism did nothing to raise the living standards of the great majority. In the Britain, as in the U.S. and Canada, the incomes of the great majority have stagnated in real terms since the early 1980s, as most of the fruits of economic growth have gone to the top 1 per cent. Economic security was undermined by deep cuts to unemployment insurance and public pensions, and by the erosion of public services.

Margaret Thatcher was indeed a pivotal historical figure. But her legacy is one of heightened inequality, economic stagnation and instability.
- Chantal Hebert points out the limitations on the Cons' attack strategy:
If the Conservative black ops against Trudeau succeed, a significant chunk of those voters could be as likely if not more to turn to a centrist-led NDP as to want to help Harper secure a fourth mandate.

That trend is not based strictly on a cyclical tide for change. At this juncture an overwhelming majority of Canadians — around 70 per cent — agree as to the prime minister that they do not want, even if it means replacing Harper with an untested Liberal leader or an untried federal NDP.

Harper’s predicament is more akin to a multiplication of slow leaks than a major puncture. That could make it harder to fix. To reduce the current battle to a personality contest that can be won with attack ads is to miss the central point that it is also unfolding on the field of values.

Polls suggest that despite sustained Conservative efforts, Canadians are more likely to identify with Liberal- or NPD-inspired policies such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and medicare than with the favoured icons of the Canadian right. 
- And Bruce Johnstone notes that the Cons' attacks on Justin Trudeau are far from the first inaccurate ads of their majority tenure:
In the Machiavellian world of politics as practised in Ottawa these days, the end justifies the means. If defeating Justin Trudeau or NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair can be achieved by attack ads, so be it.

Case in point, Mulcair was vilified in Tory attack ads for his comments that Canada was showing symptoms of Dutch disease, in which the manufacturing sector suffers declining output and competitiveness as a result of high exchange rates caused by high energy prices.

Yet a recent study by Statistics Canada indicates that Central Canada saw the largest decline in economic output and labour productivity between 2000 and 2010. And the Ontario and Quebec manufacturing sectors bore the brunt of that decline. At the same time, there was a shift in capital investment from east to west due to increased investment in the natural resources sector. And what were the reasons for this shift in capital investment, economic output and labour productivity? Changes in exchange rates, commodity prices and global competition, the study said.

Sounds a lot like Dutch disease to me.
- Finally, Mike de Souza continues his run of important reports on the Cons' environmental policy - first by highlighting the Cons' willingness to give Exxon a veto over the terms of a new national park (featuring approval to drill horizontally under Sable Island), then by pointing out that tens of millions of dollars of public money are being used for research intended to do nothing but benefit tar sands operators.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom adds another piece to the picture showing the Cons' efforts to shift both jobs and wealth offshore, pointing out that lax visa rules have only encouraged RBC-style outsourcing schemes. Craig McInnes recognizes that a cheap, low-rights worker strategy is a problem whether labour is imported to Canada or exploited abroad. Haroon Siddiqui, David Doorey, Heather Mallick and Barbara Yaffe express their own outrage about the deliberate elimination of Canadian jobs. And the Alberta Federation of Labour calls attention to the scope of the temporary foreign worker program.

- Mike de Souza offers a detailed look at how the Cons encouraged the oil industry to completely rewrite (and gut) Canada's environmental laws through omnibus legislation.

- And in case anybody was under the illusion that nobody has noticed the Cons' ethical abuses beyond the editorial pages, a new poll should put that to rest:
Fifty-eight per cent of Canadians disapprove of the Conservative government under Harper’s leadership, compared to 42 per cent who approve.

Canadians are especially troubled by the government’s actions in one area — secrecy and ethics.

The poll found that 69 per cent of people believe “the Harper Conservatives are too secretive and have not kept their promise to govern according to high ethical standards.” Thirty-one per cent believe the Tories have kept their promise.

Similarly, the poll found that 63 disagreed with the statement the “Harper Conservatives are living up to the promise they made when first elected in 2006 to provide an ethical, open and transparent government.”
- David Climenhaga exposes the Fraser Institute's main method of ensuring that their corporatist propaganda never faces any direct rebuttal.

- And finally, Peter Graefe rightly comments that with two parties with a combined legislative majority jockeying for position on the left in Ontario, now would be an ideal time for some significant action to combat poverty in the province.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellanous material for your Monday reading.

- Will Hutton recognizes that an unregulated market can lead to disastrous results for everybody concerned - and that conversely, effective regulation can help to ensure the success of businesses which best meet the long-term needs of their workers and customers:
What the Paterson worldview has never understood is that effective regulation is a source of competitive advantage. If Britain had a tough Food Standards Agency, it would become a gold standard for food quality, labelling and hygiene. British supermarkets and food companies could become known for their quality at home and abroad, rather as "over-regulated" German car companies are, rather than first suspects when something dodgy is going on. Capitalism does not organise itself to deliver best outcomes, whatever rightwing American thinktanks might claim. There has to be careful thought, law and regulation about the obligations that accompany incorporation and ownership, how supply chains are organised and how companies are managed and financed. Otherwise disaster awaits.
- Frances Russell notes that as a result of limited direct federal powers, equalization is the most important means to ensure that entire provinces aren't left behind - making it all the more insidious that the Canadian right is attacking equalization at every opportunity.

- Caroline Fairchild points out a Centre for Economic and Policy Research study on the minimum wage - showing that if it had kept pace with productivity, U.S. workers would make a minimum of $21.72 per hour. But perhaps more jarring is the fact that by at least some accounts, the average U.S. wage level is now lower than that productivity-adjusted minimum wage.

- Mike de Souza reports that Joe Oliver has been well aware for some time of dangerous contaminants spreading from the tar sands to Alberta groundwater. No word yet on Oliver's eagerness to take a tasty drink of the samples involved - but the fact he hasn't been interested enough to withdraw his claims that he'd happily encourage people to consume tar-sands byproducts speaks volumes about his government's lack of interest in healthy water.

- Finally, from the department of people I'd like to hear from more often...
The early surveys show as many as a quarter of those who remembered seeing the (Con's "Action Plan") ads in 2009 took some action, such as registering for a home renovation credit.

But that number steadily declined in 2010 and 2011, and by April 2012 only about seven per cent of people who said they saw the ads did something as a result.

One of the actions described by respondents in last year's survey included "expressed my disbelief."

Monday, January 21, 2013

The litmus test

It's now the official rule of thumb for Canadian journalists: if the Harper Cons aren't attacking you for having the nerve to point out their falsehoods, then you're not doing your job.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Broadbent responds to the Fraser Institute's attempts to minimize the importance of growing inequality:
Economists tell us the chances of finding and keeping a good job today depend more than ever on a high level of education and skills required by new technologies in the marketplace and the loss of unskilled jobs to developing countries. But we have largely failed to equip the unemployed and precariously employed with the skills they need to survive in a new economy. Nor have we adequately increased income supports like the Working Income Tax Benefit for those who work hard but still cannot get ahead.

We cannot dismiss growing inequality by pretending, as the Fraser Institute does, that all Canadians are still getting the equal chances that existed a generation ago. Gross income inequalities destroy equality of opportunity, and even the advantages of any rising incomes for the poor can be wiped out by a less progressive system of taxation or cuts in public investment. The gap between the rich and the poor, and the eating away of the middle class, are cementing the privileges of the most affluent and undermining the legitimate hopes of those who want to do much better.

Canadian values demand that we do something about rising inequality before we turn into a winner-take-all society with a permanent underclass. We are in this together, and that means we must once again care and share. 
 - Petti Fong reports on the Cons' choice to allow HD Mining's illegal whims to override a court order when it comes to the disclosure of temporary work permit records, while Dr. Dawg wonders whether this means we're officially granting China extraterritorial rights over Canada.

- Meanwhile, Will Campbell notes that civil servants pointed out the weakness of the Cons' voluntary drug shortage reporting long before patients started to suffer from a lack of notice that their medications were disappearing. And Mike de Souza's year-end feature reflects on the Cons' attacks on the environment.

- But let's listen to a couple of voices pointing out that we need to focus on what can be done to improve matters, not merely what isn't being done by our current rulers. Zoe Williams writes that defeatism ultimately helps the right-wing cause by ruling out the possibility of change for the better - and most of her message is readily transferable to the Canadian scene:
On the subject of benefits, can we pause to consider how incredibly low that figure of fraud is? In so many other areas of dishonesty – tax avoidance, expenses claims – the rot is never contained to a small core, it always spreads over time, it becomes peer-normalised and then grows exponentially, until the only people who aren't doing it are cranks. And yet, here we are, with this body of people among whom the number of fraudsters is tiny. On top of the honesty, consider in-work benefits, the number of people doing jobs that won't cover their rent, won't cover their childcare, won't put food on the table without government subsidy – working, in other words, for the sheer joy of work. This is a work ethic to die for.

The housing crisis is not a threat, it's an opportunity. We need more social housing, we need a more vigorous construction industry, and we need things for a government to invest in, rather than rounds of quantitative easing, delivering money into the hands of the top 5% and eroding pension annuities. We could climb out of recession on the back of this "crisis" at the same time as halting the hegemony of the private landlord, which is perverting wage spending-power and intensifying inequality. This is one of the few levers the government could actually pull to influence the economy.

UK education is ranked sixth best in the world, and not because Toby Young has set up a free school. The NHS is amazing: not because it's a socialist project, but because it is mind-blowingly good, and efficient, at what it does.

This government wants to govern a nation of crooks, fighting over the last crust of bread. In fact, we are an honest, industrious people with natural resources coming out of our well-educated, disease-free ears. Happy New Year.
 - And finally, Aaron Genest makes a more general case for basing our attempts to speak out and organize on optimism rather than fear:
I think that we (as campaigners) should be telling people up front that it will be a long haul. Tell them that the issues are complex, that interests for the status quo are well entrenched, and that, despite lots of people and investment, it may take years of continued effort before we see significant progress.  On any issue. This means, of course, that the fear-based approach to galvanizing action will fail.

As well it should.

Making people afraid, whether for good or for evil, is the wrong way to approach change. It makes them reactionary, less likely to recognize positive movement (on either side of an issue), and less likely to be taken seriously. It polarizes a debate. So while fear-based tactics are highly successful in getting people to click a Like button or to donate $10 right now, they harm the long term goal of creating an active, politically astute (populace) willing to have serious policy discussions at every level.

So let’s commit to the long game. Regardless of the issue, its apparent urgency, or the value of winning this particular fight, let’s take a page from Lessig’s #rootstrikers campaign. Always build to the next fight. Engage your supporters at the highest level you can and help them move into a more nuanced role. All the while, build your database, encourage engagement, foster discussion, and be up front about the longevity of the campaign. Frame things in terms of battles, if necessary, but never lose sight that they are only skirmishes in a greater theatre.