Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan makes the case as to why wealth equates to far too much power in Canada:
The problem is not that the wealthy are too powerful. The problem is that, with rare exception, as their power has increased, it has not been matched by an increase in their sense of responsibility. On the contrary, the wealthy have been using their power for decades to reduce their responsibilities to anyone but themselves.

The litany, en bref: Taxes are too high. Governments are too big. There are too many rules. Workers feel way too entitled. And boy is it hard to get good help these days.

Any restriction on the freedom of the wealthy is characterized as an attack on everyone’s freedom. Unions — which exist only at the pleasure of a majority of workers in a workplace — are portrayed as pariahs on the productive process. Governments — which are selected by the will of the engaged voting public — are viewed as leeches on the wealth creators. For those with wealth and power, the problem with democracy is that there is too much of it.

That’s not new. G.K. Chesterton said it best, 100 years ago — The poor sometimes object to being governed badly; the rich object to being governed at all.

What’s new is the degree to which countervailing power and voice, far from being viewed as beneficial for preventing a naturally tilted game from tipping over, are viewed as obstacles to be overcome.

The wealthy and powerful want to pursue their interests unchecked. But they’re on track for wrecking the game for everyone.
- Meanwhile, David Doorey notes that the Sask Party's Bill 85 represents yet another attempt to stack the deck in favour of big business - and that the end result will likely be greater difficulty in attracting workers who take a long-term view of their own interests. And Murray Mandryk writes that at the very least, the Wall government should make sure it knows what it's passing before ramming through massive changes to the laws governing work in Saskatchewan.

- Ezra Klein writes that both rules and inquiries which seem trivial on their face - such as Van Halen's much-mocked "no brown M&Ms" requirement - may be telling precisely because they signal whether we're considering our full range of possible options and obligations.

- Finally, Christopher Majka interviews Tom Mulcair, featuring this prime example of the depth of thought we should expect from a responsible government leader:
We have a development model that unfortunately is more akin to what one sees in third-world countries where you let a foreign power and companies come in and take what they want. We let all companies -- foreign and not -- use the air and water as an unlimited dumping ground. We don't internalize costs, in other words we're not including environmental costs, we're not making the polluter pay. It's as simple as that. We think we can do better. And we believe that the government of Canada can play a positive role in obtaining that result. The Conservatives have pulled away from all of that. They make a lovely slip of the tongue: instead of referring to the environmental assessment process, you often hear them talk of an environmental approval process. So the result is pre-ordained. And cabinet has even arrogated the right to change any condition that's been laid down. So that's what we've got to escape from.
In West Labrador there's a lovely college called the College of the North Atlantic. I went in with Harry Borlase, our candidate in a by-election up there. We met young people who are graduating in their one-year course as millwrights. "Have you found a job yet?" [I asked] "No, but it shouldn't be long. We're applying." We get over to the union hall -- we were waiting to see someone -- and we were told he wasn't going to make it. Why? The company had just announced that they were going to going to a model of "fly in, fly out." In Labrador City. We're not talking about an isolated site in the middle of nowhere where there's no development and no community, we're talking about a city in Labrador. And the company has essentially decided that it wanted to start to "de-vitalize" it, sucking the life out of this city by flying in and flying out millwrights. That's a recipe for disaster.

Those cities, which used to be mining towns, basically run by the mines -- with an appointed council, for example -- a lot of them don't even have primary sewage (treatment). There are a lot of things that are not being done up there. We need infrastructure. We need a vision, so that if we're going to have development, we look at the social, the economic, and the environmental [aspects] constantly, and in everything we do. We need a development model that allows communities to be vital, living places, and not places that are going to have the life sucked out of them by foreign companies that are going to come in, take what they want, and then leave.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Musical interlude

deadmau5 feat. Chris James - The Veldt

All for show

Predictably, the Cons are running through their Rolodex of excuses as to why they're spending public money on partisan media monitoring - with the answer being that they want to make sure that PR stunts achieve additional partisan goals:
The prime minister’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall told HuffPost PCO tracks the coverage of their backbench MPs because they make announcements on behalf of the government all the time. “Of course the government wants to know what kind of coverage gets generated from those announcements,” he said.
But the Cons' abuse of announcement opportunities is far from a new issue. So I'll simply point to my answer to similar issues surrounding past cheerleading sessions:
There's been plenty of debate about the protest which caused Joe Oliver to move a funding announcement. But I'd think there's a more fundamental question we should ask about the event, particularly when the indignant response of the event host was to the effect that "this is an important announcement!".

To wit: how exactly is it important for the Cons to be able to dictate that a public venue serve as a resistance-free backdrop for their PR efforts?
(W)e've all too often come to accept that it's the divine right of Cons to assemble a compliant media and no dissenters wherever they please (and at our expense) to deliver talking points. And I'm sure the lesson they'll take from Oliver's press conference is that they should crack down even further on anybody who might disagree with any of their policies.

But there's a more basic question worth asking as to how publicly-funded political propaganda fits with the need for genuinely free speech. And the answer may be that we shouldn't be so ready to see our money and civil service co-opted to PR stunts in the first place. 
Needless to say, if there's no public value in holding press events which serve as nothing but personal promotions for Con MPs, then surely there's even less value in spending even more public money to assess whether the media has sufficiently parroted the Cons' talking points. And the Cons only seem to be confirming that they've utterly given up on actual governance in favour of focusing solely on public appearances.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Yes, it's for the best that some of Canada's pre-eminent scientists are offering to walk Joe Oliver through the realities of climate change. But Nik Beeson's offer of political detoxification looks like the more important step for those of us who aren't in denial about the science:
When pushing an oil addiction to a planet in the midst of catastrophic climate change is called 'ethical,' we have indeed entered a very Orwellian world, where words come to mean their opposites. Calling Canada's oil more 'ethical' is precisely as logical as saying my crack dealer is more 'ethical' than yours.  If I was buying crack I might buy Canada's ethical crack but crack addiction is, not uncommonly, a terminal affair.

Canada needs to kick being the most savvy fossil fuel pusher in the world. It needs to start pulling its weight on limiting its carbon output. If it wants to live up to its claim of being 'ethical' in its resource extraction industry it needs binding legislation to ensure that Canadian mining companies live up to international human rights and environmental standards. It needs to accept opponents of global warming as concerned and decent citizens of our democracy. It needs to offer renewables the same kind of subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives so that they can compete in a fair market.

Canada needs to affirm that dissent is healthy in a democracy, that federal scientists require free speech, and that mining companies don’t need to supplement their profits with federal funding previously targeted to development aid. The steroid boost given to the Canadian Revenue Agency needs to be directed to offshore tax evasion and a financial transaction tax, not towards promoting the controversial ideological agenda of a single political party.  It needs to respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which it signed in 2010, affirming the need for the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples with regard to the use of their land and resources.
 - Diana Mehta reports on how the abuse of temporary foreign workers has already distorted Canada's labour market. And Peter O'Neil finds that both Harper Cons and Clark B.C. Libs actively pressured Citizenship and Immigration Canada to facilitate those abuses.

- But fortunately, not all Canadian governments are buying in to the philosophy that we should simply hand public resources and policy decisions to the mining sector for free - as Quebec is taking at least some steps to improve its tax and royalty revenues.

- CBC reports on what looks to be the prime example of international trade agreements interfering in public policy-making, as Ontario's feed-in tariff program may be destroyed by an effort to incorporate local manufacturing.

- Finally, Phillip Inman discusses Paul Krugman's battle against austerity.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

On party positioning

Leaving aside whether Stephen Harper's previously-undisclosed media monitoring is actually right in substance, Brian Jean isn't entirely wrong as to why he and other Con MPs are facing it:
Conservative MP Brian Jean, who is on the list, said he’s not sure why he was flagged, but also said he isn’t troubled by it.

“They must be interested in what their colleagues are doing, right? I mean the government must be. It seems to make sense from a party position that you would be interested in what your members are saying,” he said.
The only problem is that so far, it's the public rather than the party picking up the tab for an effort aimed strictly at the Cons' partisan interests:
The Harper government has spent more than $23 million over the last two years on media monitoring — including more than $2.4 million tracking some of its own backbench MPs in television interviews, radio and print, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons earlier this week.

The names of 65 Conservative backbench MPs — or just about 64 per cent of all Tory MPs who have no ministerial or any parliamentary secretary duties — are included in a list of search terms the federal government paid third-party contractors to monitor in news media from April, 2011 to December, 2012, although some of the terms were also monitored in early 2013.

MPs and staff in every office The Huffington Post Canada contacted Wednesday were bewildered to learn who was named on a list of politicians the Privy Council Office (PCO) tracks. (The PCO is the prime minister’s department).
All Conservative MPs were meant to be included, Rivet added. “Things may have been missed. It was our intention to include everyone,” he said. (Most opposition MPs are not being tracked according to the documents tabled Monday).
So the real question for the Harper regime is this: why is he forcing the public to pay for media monitoring which is obviously aimed at party management rather than any legitimate function of government? And when will the Cons reimburse Canada's public purse for the money they've taken already?

New column day

Here, on how all of Canada could lose out if Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals are able to follow through on their plans to eliminate the Therapeutics Initiative which has provided needed information about the effectiveness of prescription drugs.

For further reading...
- More background about the current status of the Therapeutics Initiative is available here and here.
- And the efforts to reduce public purchasing costs for generic drugs discussed in the column include the national initiative reported on by CBC, as well as Alberta's more recent push.
- But hopefully my concern will be rendered moot by the election of a new B.C. government. And the latest revelations in the long-running B.C. Rail scandal may go a long way toward making that happen.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot writes about the absurdity of the right-wing choice to promote inequality in the name of competition among the wealthy when the ultimate results are worse for everybody:
The capture by the executive class of so much wealth performs no useful function. What the very rich appear to value is relative income. If executives were all paid 5% of current levels, the competition between them (a questionable virtue anyway) would be no less fierce. As the immensely rich HL Hunt commented several decades ago: "Money is just a way of keeping score."

The desire for advancement along this scale appears to be insatiable. In March Forbes magazine published an article about Prince Alwaleed, who, like other Saudi princes, doubtless owes his fortune to nothing more than hard work and enterprise. According to one of the prince's former employees, the Forbes magazine global rich list "is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature".

The result is "a quarter-century of intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening when it comes to his net worth listing". In 2006, the researcher responsible for calculating his wealth writes, "when Forbes estimated that the prince was actually worth $7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears. 'What do you want?' he pleaded, offering up his private banker in Switzerland. 'Tell me what you need.'"

Never mind that he has his own 747, in which he sits on a throne during flights. Never mind that his "main palace" has 420 rooms. Never mind that he possesses his own private amusement park and zoo – and, he claims, $700m worth of jewels. Never mind that he's the richest man in the Arab world, valued by Forbes at $20bn, and has watched his wealth increase by $2bn in the past year. None of this is enough. There is no place of arrival, no happy landing, even in a private jumbo jet. The politics of envy are never keener than among the very rich.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Can we not rise above this? To seek satisfactions that don't cost the earth and might be achievable? The principal aim of any wealthy nation should now be to say: "Enough already".
- Meanwhile, Andrew O'Hagan writes about Margaret Thatcher ultimate legacy in leaving the U.K. a "greedier and seedier place". And Frances Russell points out the futility of a race to the bottom on taxes.

- Haroon Siddiqui and Stephen Gordon discuss the damage the Harper Cons have done to Canada's census. And Jennifer Ditchburn writes that rural Canada will be particularly hard hit by a lack of reportable data to allow for evidence-based policy.

- But then, Jonathon Gatehouse reminds us that Harper is generally eager to make sure that facts don't find their way into public debate - as evidence by his muzzling of federal scientists. And Andrew Coyne notes that the Cons' abhorrence of pure research makes little sense even from the most restrictive of libertarian viewpoints.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

On public evils

Yes, there's plenty of reason to wonder what the Canadian public is getting for millions of dollars in ads intended to advertise...nothing at all. But I'll point out that the answer may be even worse than one might suspect at first glance.

Here's the background to the latest set of ad spending:
Taxpayer-funded government ads are supposed to inform citizens about programs and services, according to Treasury Board guidelines.

But when the Conservatives recently put out a tender for a major new ad agency contract that could see the feel-good "economic action plan" brand continued until 2016, they highlighted consumer confidence and the direction of the country as key objectives.

The government acknowledged Tuesday that "action plan" TV ads currently blanketing broadcasts of the NHL playoffs don't contain any actual measures from this spring's federal budget — although the ads are tagged with the budget's #eap2013 handle.
Despite the current radio disclaimer, the Harper government has not included any caution about MPs still having to approve the "economic action plan 2013" claims being made in its TV ads.

A spokesman for the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister, said that's because there's nothing new in the TV ads.

"The recent radio ads launched by the Department of Finance contained new measures for consideration by Parliament as part of the March 21, 2013 budget," spokesman Raymond Rivet said in an email.

"This is why a disclaimer was included. The recent EAP television advertisements did not contain new measures and aired before Budget 2013."
So what would we expect to be the result of advertising which is expressly aimed purely at "confidence" rather than actual outcomes, at expectations rather than reality?

The most obvious possibility - and the one which we likely see as both the Cons' intention and the primary source of outrage - is that it's purely a matter of partisan gain. If Canadians are more satisfied with the economy (whether or not that satisfaction is based on their actual interests), then the Cons have a greater chance of clinging to power in 2015. And Stephen Harper has never been reluctant to spend as much money as he can get his hands on to benefit his own political future.

I'll take at face value that political interests likely reflect the Cons' main intention surrounding the EAP ads. But distortion of Canada's partisan landscape is far from the most dangerous possible result of a massive confidence-boosting campaign.

Instead, the greatest risk may arise if the ads succeed in achieving their goals. If the Cons actually reach nearly every Canadian with constant messages about "jobs! growth! prosperity!" and drown out any voices of concern or countervailing considerations, then the result may simply be to widen the gap between perception and economic reality. Or in other words, to inflate an expectations bubble which is doomed to pop at some point.

Now, the Cons may figure that irrational exuberance is a public good - or at least a risk worth taking if it helps to win an extra term in office. But those of us whose real lives are at stake may have reason to disagree.

Which isn't to say that any given scheme to short Canada is particularly likely to succeed. But we should expect that our federal government would be primarily focused on improving the actual lives of Canadians, rather than deliberately putting perceptions first. And since the Cons have made it abundantly clear that they have their priorities wrong, we should be eager to put somebody more responsible in charge.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses Stephen Harper's class war:
Canadians don’t like Harper’s anti-worker agenda — when they notice it. That’s why there’s been such a public outcry since the temporary foreign worker program was exposed as a mechanism by which the Harper government has flooded the country with hundreds of thousands of cheap foreign workers, thereby suppressing Canadian wages in the interests of helping corporations.

Apart from this clumsy fiasco, the Harperites have been adroit at keeping their anti-worker bias under the radar. Instead, they’ve directed their attacks against unions, portraying them as undemocratic organizations run by “union bosses” who ignore the interests of ordinary workers.

It’s revealing that this harsh critique of unions largely comes from business think-tanks and conservative politicians — folks who aren’t generally known for championing workers’ rights but who apparently can’t sleep at night at the thought workers aren’t being well represented by the people they elect to run their unions.

Of course, the real reason Harper attacks unions is because they’ve been effective in promoting the interests of working people over the past century. By establishing norms for higher wages and benefits in the workplace, and by pushing governments to implement universal social programs, unions are largely the reason we have a middle class in this country.
- Meanwhile, Carol Goar laments that Ontario's Wynne Libs chose not to make a meaningful effort to cut down on poverty. And Dr. Dawg documents the federal Libs' latest attempt to be indistinguishable from the Harper Cons.

- In the latest in conservative transparency, Alison Redford is covering up her own government's pipeline safety report - presumably to avoid the possibility that its conclusions might get noticed in the review processes for new pipelines. Michael Harris discusses the Cons' strategy of blaming their own scandals on unnamed bureaucrats (who are of course prevented from defending themselves with the truth). And the Star finds that the federal government won't answer questions about $2.4 billion in consulting contracts - while contracts ranging up to nine figures seem to have bought the public little more than the contractor's silence:
(S)everal departments and agencies refused to say what services they bought as part of the roughly $700 million in taxpayer money they spent on management consulting.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), in charge of delivering social programs and services, has billed more than $420 million since 2004.

One of the department’s most recognizable divisions, Service Canada, has spent another $129 million for management consulting — more than 70 per cent of which was given to a single recruitment company, according to the government’s contract records.

What consulting work was done for all that money? A spokeswoman with HRSDC refused to say.

The company, Quantum Management Services, was just as tight-lipped.

“I’m not going to answer your questions,” said Anne Cote, a vice-president in the company’s Ottawa office. 
- Fortunately, at least some individuals are working to shed lights on the increasingly-hidden operations of our state and corporate sectors. And Dennis Gruending highlights a few of the examples noted by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

- Finally, Joe Bower discusses the effect of standardized testing in Alberta - which has enabled the Fraser Institute to take pot-shots at a school for student parents based on its failure to be sufficiently choosy in recruiting pupils.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Sprung cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading...

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the abuse of intellectual property law to turn publicly-funded research into privately-held profit centres (no matter how many people die as a result):
(A) Utah-based company, Myriad Genetics, claims more than that. It claims to own the rights to any test for the presence of the two critical genes associated with breast cancer – and has ruthlessly enforced that right, though their test is inferior to one that Yale University was willing to provide at much lower cost. The consequences have been tragic: Thorough, affordable testing that identifies high-risk patients saves lives. Blocking such testing costs lives. Myriad is a true example of an American corporation for which profit trumps all other values, including the value of human life itself.

This a particularly poignant case. Normally, economists talk about trade-offs: weaker intellectual-property rights, it is argued, would undermine incentives to innovate. The irony here is that Myriad’s discovery would have been made in any case, owing to a publicly funded, international effort to decode the entire human genome that was a singular achievement of modern science. The social benefits of Myriad’s slightly earlier discovery have been dwarfed by the costs that its callous pursuit of profit has imposed.
Sadly, the US and other advanced countries have been pressing for stronger intellectual-property regimes around the world. Such regimes would limit poor countries’ access to the knowledge that they need for their development – and would deny life-saving generic drugs to the hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the drug companies’ monopoly prices.
Intellectual-property rights are rules that we create – and that are supposed to improve social well-being. But unbalanced intellectual-property regimes result in inefficiencies – including monopoly profits and a failure to maximize the use of knowledge – that impede the pace of innovation. And, as the Myriad case shows, they can even result in unnecessary loss of life.
- Lana Payne writes that the Cons have at least blinked in acknowledging problems with their preference for cheap, disposable temporary foreign workers over Canadian job-seekers. But lest there be any thought that they're doing anything more than the bare minimum to respond to a public-relations firestorm, CBC reports that they've been aware for at least a year that TFWs were being used in the same industries and locations where workers were receiving EI benefits for want of work. Tavia Grant confirms that the Cons' economic strategy is creating three times as many temporary jobs as permanent ones. And Tim Harford is the latest to weigh in on the corrosive effects of long-term unemployment on an individual's career prospects.

- Dennis Howlett highlights another failure of the Cons in government - noting that even after tax havens have emerged as a widely-known public issue, Con MPs have rejected any recommendations which would meaningfully address the problem.

- Meanwhile, the Cons are trying to deflect blame for their losing $3.1 billion of public money by's somebody else's fault for not identifying their failures sooner. Sound familiar?

- Finally, Paul Krugman comments on the Republicans' chutzpah in blaming everybody else for their own regular deficits. Suffice it to say that Christy Clark would fit right in:

The key measure you want to look at is the ratio of debt to G.D.P., which measures the government’s fiscal position better than a simple dollar number. And if you look at United States history since World War II, you find that of the 10 presidents who preceded Barack Obama, seven left office with a debt ratio lower than when they came in. Who were the three exceptions? Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. So debt increases that didn’t arise either from war or from extraordinary financial crisis are entirely associated with hard-line conservative governments.
And there’s a reason for that association: U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs.

The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.

To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah — namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you’re an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.

Monday, May 06, 2013

On measured responses

Shorter Enbridge, responding to the revelation that a tidy 94% of its Canadian pumping stations are missing required backup generators and/or shut-off buttons:
So the question is whether we'll take steps to comply with environmental laws if nobody's bothering to enforce them? Let's consider that for a moment.

In summary, the answer is "not generally".

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- As would-be frackers show us exactly why it's dangerous to give the corporate sector a veto over government action, Steven Shrybman suggests that corporations are mostly doing only what we'd expect in exploiting agreements designed to prioritize profits over people:
Canadian businesses are simply playing by the rules of free trade which encourages the outsourcing of everthing that isn't glued to the local Tim Hortons or the tar sands (to cite two prominent examples): that means value-added processing (where the jobs are) of natural resources that are simply ripped and shipped to the US or Asia, virtually all manufacturing, and an awful lot of services -- from accounting, and computer programming, to retail (online) sales.

And yet, nary a mention of so-called free trade from Enright -- which is really no more than domestic market de-regulation and the principal cause of our present predicament.
- But then, it's not as if corporatist policy has emerged without some massive business lobbying - and Alison documents some of the connections between outsourcing firms and governments which have fed into the temporary foreign worker fiasco. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post points out some of the effects of temporary foreign worker abuse in Alberta, while the Canadian Media Guild notes that the Cons have made sure the floodgates are still wide open.

- Pogge writes that in limiting access to future project review proceedings, the Cons seem to have succeeded in taking the "public" out of public policy. But Robyn Benson confirms that the labour movement isn't about to be silenced.

- Jason Fekete offers a few early caveats as Statistics Canada gets set to release the results of the Cons' census vandalism.

- Finally, Paul Adams notes that after Jason Collins' decision to come out publicly was met with broad support, the North American conservative movement may be the last place where gays and lesbians are uniformly forced to stay in the closet. But I'm not sure we can expect that to change for the better when the likes of Brad Wall won't so much as deign to say the words "gay" or "homophobia" (while defending a choice not to support gay-straight alliances).

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Aviva Shen looks at Monsanto's history of regulatory capture - with the recent "Monsanto Protection Act" serving as just a minor example in a long list of control over U.S. law:
Monsanto insists that its revolving door is in overdrive because Monsanto employees are simply the best qualified for positions in these agencies, who certainly don’t hold onto their loyalty to the company in their new roles.

Yet it’s hard to ignore how Monsanto has benefited from these connections. The USDA has never denied a single application for Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops. USDA chief Tom Vilsack briefly considered limiting Monsanto’s alfalfa planting to protect organic crops from contamination, but deregulated it entirely instead. In another win for the company, their controversial growth hormone for cows was approved under Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist-turned-USDA-administrator-turned-FDA Deputy Commissioner, even though it was banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada over health concerns. The hormone was approved in the US after Monsanto employee Margaret Miller oversaw a report on its safety, took a job at the FDA, and promptly approved her own report. Another Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, later wrote the USDA’s organic food standards, allowing irradiated and genetically modified foods to label themselves as organic...

The controversy behind the Monsanto Protection Act is a case study in Monsanto’s cozy relationship with regulators. In 2010, a federal judge chided the USDA for violating environmental law by rushing through approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Round Up Ready sugar beets. The judge ordered a halt on all planting of the beets until an environmental study was completed. Ignoring the court, the USDA deregulated the beets anyway, claiming that the delay would result in a sugar shortage.

That’s because Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet market, making it virtually impossible for farmers to find alternatives. Industry consolidation among a handful of corporations has driven up seed prices and stifled innovation by smaller firms. It’s no wonder, then, that a massive beet shortage would have occurred if Monsanto’s beets had been delayed for a couple years of environmental review. With the help of complacent federal regulators, Monsanto is the only game in town.
- Matthew Yglesias writes that corporate excesses are making longstanding Marxist critiques of capitalism look entirely accurate. Dave Cournoyer compares the kid-glove treatment of billionaires illegally funnelling money into Alberta's political system to the reprisals against workers concerned for their own safety. And the Vancouver Sun writes about the choice of the Harper Cons and their provincial cousins to develop a P3 industry to systematically convert public infrastructure projects into private profits.

- All of which is to suggest that there's reason to be skeptical of John Geddes' view that corporate tax cheats will ultimately get what's coming to them as a result of greater public awareness of tax avoidance. And indeed, I fully expect to see a few isolated cases of obvious individual abuses touted as having fully resolved any problem as an excuse to avoid a real look at questionable transfer pricing and other means of corporate tax evasion.

- Meanwhile, Althia Raj reports on the effect of the Cons' wage suppression policies on actual temporary foreign workers - who figure to wind up stuck in "low-wage ghettos" due to their inability to pursue alternate employment or point out employer abuses.

- Finally, Tom Kott writes that Justin Trudeau falls comfortably within the elite corporate consensus, planning to win over Con voters primarily by parroting their right-wing policy prescriptions.