Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Michael Moss writes about the amount of time and money spent by corporate conglomerates to push consumers toward eating unhealthy food:
The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
- Thomas Walkom comments on a new CCPA study theorizing that the tar sands are just the latest example of Canada's history of "staple traps":
Vast quantities of money would be spent (usually by government) on infrastructure needed to extract whatever resource was in demand. And then, suddenly, things would change.
Maybe the commodity would fall out of fashion — as did felt hats made from Canadian beaver pelts. Or maybe technology would make the staple irrelevant, as the steamship did to masts made from Canadian white pine.
In all instances, Canadians would be left paying the costs.
The Bitumen Cliff applies this analysis to the tarsands. Again, vast quantities of money are required, not just to extract the heavy oil but to transport it by rail, pipeline or ship.
Again, other economic activities are given short shrift. In this case, the high dollar created by Canada’s soaring oil exports has eaten into the ability of manufacturers to compete abroad.
And again, the political system wraps itself around the staple, with Ottawa’s Conservative government gutting environmental laws for fear that they might interfere with pipelines and resource extraction.
Can this last? Unless tarsands oil is a very unusual staple it cannot. Prices rise; prices fall. Tastes change; things happen. We are beginning to see some of that now.
- Meanwhile, Michael den Tandt wonders whether the Cons' over-the-top anti-environment spin is one of the main reasons why Canada's shameful climate change record is attracting attention abroad:
Why then, Conservatives ask plaintively, would U.S. VIPs such as Ambassador David Jacobson, or Secretary of State John Kerry, doubt Canada’s climate bona fides?

Hint to Harper brain trust: It may have something to do with the daily, mind-numbing effluvium emanating from your backbenches, vis-a-vis a “$21.5-billion, job-killing carbon tax,” ostensibly planned by Mulcair’s New Democrats. The “carbon tax” was in fact a cap-and-trade plan, proposed by the NDP in the 2011 campaign, not materially different from one offered by the Conservatives themselves in 2008. Implicit in both plans, as well as Dion’s Green Shift, was that a price be set on carbon, something every economist acknowledges is necessary to change consumer behaviour.
In beating this drum so vehemently, therefore, the Conservatives have cast themselves as do-nothing, care-nothing laggards. Environmental provisions in their 2012 budget, which gutted protections for lakes and rivers, haven’t helped.
- Bruce Johnstone writes about Jim Farney's theory that the tendency toward top-down government has made outside lobbying ineffective and restricted policy influence to political staffers.

- And finally, speaking of ill-advised policies imposed without consultation or apparent thought, Paul Orlowski points out why the Sask Party's focus on standardized testing figures to do nothing but damage to Saskatchewan's education system.

1 comment:

  1. Outside lobbying ineffective? Well, I guess . . . unless the lobbyists have plenty of money rather than just representing citizens with interests.