Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Crawford Kilian interviews Linda McQuaig on inequality, including this comment on how to handle the damaging effects of inequality politically:
On whether inequality is becoming a serious political issue:

"Eventually it will be, especially if we continue on our present trajectory of the next few years. But what kind of political issue? Will we deal with it in a constructive way, or will it be hijacked by the right, as it was with the Tea Party in the U.S.? The Tea Partiers are feeding on resentment of inequality.

"Education as a solution would take generations. In the book, we argue for a progressive tax system that would redistribute income immediately. At the moment, 59,000 Canadians earn more than $500,000 a year, but they're taxed at the same rate as those making just $128,000 a year. Two new top rates on those 59,000 would bring in an addition $8 billion without affecting anyone else.

"Progressive forces have an attractive issue in inequality if only they pick up on it."
- Errol Black and Jim Silver point out in response to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case that the benefits of a union go far beyond wages alone, noting that in high- and low-profile matters alike employees may have much greater ability to report abuses when they have union protection:
The initial focus of the media's coverage of the alleged sexual assault charge brought against Strauss-Kahn was on the implications for him, and on his arrest and treatment by the New York police and justice system. Subsequently, questions were raised about the implications for the IMF. The media were largely silent about the situation of the New York hotel worker and the circumstances that motivated her to report the sexual assault.

A piece posted on Alternet, May 19, 2011 (see:, titled "Accusing DSK of Sexual Assault Took Guts - But Union Protection is Essential”, reports that the victim of the alleged assault is an African woman from a former French colony who works as a housemaid in the Sofitel Hotel. It is, of course, a story far from over. But the author observes that there would be no story at all if the housemaid were not protected by her union contract. "There's a reason why most rapes go unreported. But there was one thing the housekeeper knew could not be done to her for reporting her account. She could not be fired for having done so, because of the contract between her union, the New York Hotel Trades Council and the Sofitel Hotel at which she works."

An editorial in the New York Hotel and Motel Trades paper also stresses the importance of union membership. "In the worldwide hotel industry, New York City has the highest proportion of unionization (75%), and hotel employees here have the strongest union with the best contract. They enjoy the highest wages in the industry, excellent benefits, strong job security, good working conditions, and powerful grievance rights. They also have a militant union - their own organization, governed and funded not by wealthy donors but by themselves - that aggressively enforces those rights."

..."(T)he union does make us strong," both collectively and individually, by creating the conditions that allow workers who suffer abuse in the workplace to retain their dignity and seek redress and justice for the harm done them.
- On a rather more mundane note, I wouldn't have thought that the addition of a new area code would make for an obvious source of inefficiency. But since we're apparently now looking at 10-digit local dialing (including what's sure to be confusion as to which local numbers fall under each code), isn't it worth asking whether there's any particular point to maintaining some nebulous sense of comfort at the expense of unnecessary inconvenience?

- Finally, Dan Gardner once again highlights the difference between the principles Stephen Harper once claimed to stand for and the sad reality of his time in office:
Stephen Harper has held power for more than five years, most of that time with far more control of Parliament and the machinery of government than is normal for a prime minister with a minority. Today, he has his majority, and he has delivered a Throne Speech and a budget.

And the record of Stephen Harper's government doesn't look much like the beliefs of Stephen Harper.

Record spending increases. Surpluses turned into structural deficits. Bureaucratic bloat. Vote-buying tax policies that make economists pull their hair out. Hyper-centralization of power. Slush funds. Pork-barrel politics. Cronyism and patronage that would make a Liberal blush. A plan to fix the budget as credible as Greek bonds.

On and on the list goes. In the 1990s, to elaborate on one of countless examples, Stephen Harper called supply management a "government-sponsored price-fixing cartel." Today, he praises it. In the Throne Speech, Harper went so far as to promise to protect supply management in any future free trade talks, even, presumably, if it kills the negotiations.
The fact that Conservative beliefs and Conservative policies are scarcely correlated does not bother most Conservatives because they do not see it. For this, they can thank what psychologists call "compartmentalization." It's awfully handy in politics.

As a result, Stephen Harper and the party he created in his image exhibit a strange sort of schizophrenia.

In action, they can be as unprincipled as the most ruthless Liberal. In word, they are often as self-righteous as the most idealistic New Democrat.

Or, to put it in the prime minister's terms, they may spend all their time breaking instruments over their opponent's heads, but they really do believe they're making beautiful music.

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